I think this is the only time I ever built a Grateful Dead Hour show around a single song, but hey - "Dark Star" is a huge part of what the Grateful Dead is all about.
The first thing you hear is a studio recording of "Dark Star" that was released as a single in April of 1968, with "Born Cross-Eyed" (according to the Grateful Dead Discography, a different mix of the Anthem of the Sun track) on the B side.
As the track fades at the end, you hear a bit of Jerry Garcia banjo, and lyricist Robert Hunter's voice reading these words:
Spinning a set of stars through which the tattered tails of axis rolls about the waxen wind of never set to motion in the unbecoming round about the season hardly matters nor the wise through which the stars were set in spin.
Hunter wrote those words out for me during an interview on December 12, 1977. "I moved out to New Mexico about the time the Grateful Dead really started working as an entity," he told me. "I wrote 'Alligator' and 'China Cat [Sunflower],' and... mailed them back, and they set them to music."
After returning to San Francisco, Hunter said, "I ran into Phil [Lesh], who said they were going to Rio Nido [on the Russian River, north of San Francisco] to play a gig. I went along, heard the music to 'Dark Star,' and wrote part of the words that day.
"Garcia asked me how I'd like to be 'lyricist in residence' for the Dead. I thought it was pretty far out, but I might like it fine. I thought of myself as a serious writer, and rock'n'roll wasn't exactly what I had planned for myself, but things were changing. It seemed like it might be a nice thing to do."
Hunter laughed and said again, "A nice thing...
"I had written lyrics off and on since I was seventeen," Hunter continued, "but I fancied myself a short-story writer and a novelist. I never thought I was writing rock'n'roll, and I didn't think of the Grateful Dead as a rock'n'roll band. I thought we were creating a new form; I still do, to some degree. There was a feeling of a pregnant somethingness happening."
My transcript ends there, but note I wrote on the same page as Hunter's "spinning a set of stars" text says that he finished the "Dark Star" lyric in the Golden Gate Park Panhandle, a few blocks from the Dead's home at 710 Ashbury Street.
Regarding the 2/2/70 "Dark Star," as I said in my narration: "I've always liked this particular version of this improvisation: very sweet and lyrical."
The December 1992 "Dark Star" is edited together from two performances: the band played the first half on December 12 and then "finished" it four nights later. I thought it would be fun to combine them for a radio broadcast, so I found appropriate musical moments later in the 12/12 performance and earlier in 12/16's, and merged them seamlessly. December 16, 1992 was later released as Dick's Picks Volume 27.
One more note about "Dark Star": In an interview on March 5, 1983, Bill Kreutzmann told me: "'Dark Star' was a free entity. It had a head, it had chords - but man, it could be played in a straight feeling, a shuffle feeling. It just changes. It was a total mood indicator: you can tell how everybody was feeling by the way that song was played."
Thanks for listening!
gdhour [at] dead.net
Grateful Dead Hour no. 242
Week of May 10, 1993
Grateful Dead, What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been
Grateful Dead 2/2/70 Fox Theatre, St. Louis
Grateful Dead 12/12/92 and 12/16/92
Every Wednesday, we post a program from the Grateful Dead Hour archives for your enjoyment and enlightenment. You can browse or search the playlists at gdhour.com or on the GD Hour Search page, and let me know what program(s) you'd like to hear by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.