By David Dodd
Is it possible that “Ripple” might be in every Deadhead’s top five favorite Dead songs list? It is definitely on mine, when push comes to shove.
Garcia was quoted once, when talking about “American Beauty,” as saying something approximating: “Yep—every song on that album is a winner.” Side two (and I will always think of albums as having two sides) starts with “Ripple.” Side one starts with “Box of Rain.” What a nice pair of opening songs for album sides those two are!
Robert Hunter wrote the lyric for “Ripple” in London in 1970—a prolific period for him. The Dead first performed it in an acoustic set at the Fillmore West on August 19, 1970, along with first performances of “Brokedown Palace,” “ Operator,” and “Truckin’.” (Yes, “Truckin’” was played in the acoustic set.) Following an initial period of not too frequent performances in 1970 and 1971, “Ripple” disappeared from shows until the shows in 1980 commencing at the Warfield on September 25, and continuing for a run of 25 shows, during which it was played every show at the conclusion of the first (acoustic) set. After that, it was only played twice more in performance by the Dead, with the final “Ripple” played at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, on September 3, 1988. “Ripple” closed the show, and was played electric for the first time since 1971. An interesting performance history, no?
After all these years of thinking about the song, even now, when I put my mind to it, new things surface. I realized, just now, that despite the song’s American folk song quality, I think of it as something from the Far East. Something inherently Asian, and I think that’s because of a couple of things. Early on, I read somewhere a description of “Ripple” as having a gentle, Taoist bent. And then there’s the fact that the chorus is a haiku. Vaguely Buddhist / Asian imagery is conjured by Hunter in a number of his early songs, especially. Think of “China Cat Sunflower,” with its copperdome bodhi. That simple reference to Taoism long ago sent me looking for information about the Tao, and it has proven to be a very rich vein indeed. Same with haiku—I have written dozens of haiku over the years, and without “Ripple,” my experience with the form might have remained at the third-grade level.
But the poetic allusions in the song are not entirely from the East. Perhaps the primary source for the song comes from the 23rd Psalm, with its reference to “still water,” and to a cup that may be full or empty. The deceptively simple language of the song leads us to contemplate sources beyond our immediate knowing—whether human or “not made by the hands of men”—as well as the interplay of life and death. This song has comforted me through the death of both my parents, with its lines about the road between dawn and dark being no simple highway. Each of us has our individual path, for our steps alone. That might seem like a frightening thought, but I find the universality of it a comfort: we’re all in the same boat.
There are lessons about leadership in this song that I wish everyone who aspires to that role would take to heart: “You who choose to lead must follow, and if you fall, you fall alone.”
I had the honor and pleasure of being in the backing chorus for the First Fusion concerts Bob Weir collaborated on with the Marin Symphony Orchestra a couple of years ago, and got to sing “Ripple” with him in a small group as part of the encore set, followed by “Attics of My Life.” I love to play the melody and changes on the piano, and on banjo. It’s part of my small repertoire of songs I think I could play in my sleep.
What place has “Ripple” had in your life? Has it helped you through anything? Have you sung it to your children as a lullaby? Have you played it around a campfire? These are just a few ways the song has lived in my life.
There are mysteries in the song. I’ve had emails from many people over the years, proposing ideas about the ripple of the title—where does it come from? How can a song be played on a harp without strings? (And I don’t think it was actually a harmonica…) What is the fountain? Who made it? (A girlfriend once joked with me that clearly, since it wasn’t made by the hands of men, it must have been made by women.)
Your thoughts? Feel free to offer some interpretative speculation! It doesn’t matter if your thoughts are broken—let there be stories to fill the air!
My mom LOVED this song! When playing acoustic guitar while having friends over, during a beach day, or a family picnic, my mom would eventually and inevitably request 'play Ripple honey, play Ripple', and I of course complied. This song always reminds me of my mom first. When she died in 2010, we incorporated her favorite Grateful Dead song on her headstone reading 'ripple in still water'. Forever in my heart mom, I love you!
PORTAL ENTRY #7 RIPPLE
Though "I'll Take A Melody" was penned by Allen Toussaint, he certainly followed Jerry's musical lead, while Hunter did his dirty work, tying it all together~
"Would you here my voice?"/"If my words did glow"
"I HEAR YOU TALKING about your troubles"
"It's a 'hand me down' "
I'll take a simple C and G and feel 'BRAND NEW' about it!"
"DA DA DA DA,,,,,, DA DA DA DA DAA DA,
DAA DA DA DA DA,,,DAAA DAAA DAAA"
"I'll take a melody and see what I can do about it.
I'll take a simple C and G and feel brand new about it."
"Ripple in still water, when there is no pebble tossed nor wind to blow,"
"I understand why the old fisherman sail along, sail along, sail along!"
in composite, becomes:
"I understand why the old fisherman, sail along, sail along, sail along, & (the) Ripple in still water, when there is no pebble tossed nor wind to blow!"
"And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone!"
"Someday he'll be gone!"
"DA DA DA DAAAA"
FROM 'MY G.D. FRIENDS PORTAL' ON FB.
Come visit & stay a while & poke around!!
Any comments, thoughts? Just checking for a pulse~~
It seems to me that Ripple is a contemplation of life's greatest mysteries, condensed to their pure and essential essence and translated into simple and universally understandable language.
The singer seems to be addressing a loved one in the first chorus, asking whether they could determine that the source of some impossible, angelic song was the singer in some other inaccessible plane, such as beyond the grave.
In the second chorus he admits that the song is an imperfect cobbling together of older and incomplete songs presented in the best manner of which he, an inherently flawed mortal, is capable. And though not perfect, certainly it is better to have this than no music at all.
I've read 'Morals and Dogma', essentially the bible of freemasonry, and I always remember a specific line in which Albert Pike emphasizes that every action creates infinite and eternal reactions, such as the ripples sent out by the tiniest of pebbles tossed into still water which then have their own effects on all of the water they pass through, and on and on.
In it's simplest and most direct sense I believe the ripple which comes without wind or pebble is life itself, begun by the inconceivable fingertip of God (let's just call it for simplicity's sake) reaching into our mortal world. As we all know scientists have made leaps and bounds but now, the same as thousands of years ago, no human has been able to crack the mystery of taking inanimate matter and transforming it into something that lives. Humanity itself is a ripple originating from a mysterious and unknown source.
The next chorus regarding the cups seems to indicate to everyone, no matter their current fortunes or misfortunes, that the original source of whatever their cup ultimately contains is a divine and unknowable fountain which, again for simplicity's sake, I'll call God. And this is a fact of which we should remind ourselves constantly, particularly in the current state of the world which emphasizes posessions and acquisitiveness.
The road from dawn to night (or in other words a journey lasting a single day) represents, to me, a single human lifetime. Even though we all traverse this road of life openly and in full and well lit view of one another, the specific path, down to the atoms disturbed by our feet, will be totally unique in each and every case. 20,000 people can watch the same 1 Dead concert and be affected differently, and react uniquely and differently. Shoot, that's what happens every single time!
There is however a great comfort in this; because even though you may find yourself in some new and frightening and overwhelming situation, and the urge to look to those who you trust and love and plead "Tell me! What should I do?" is irresistible, this is a situation in which we all have found and will find ourselves again. The people to who you plead for an answer will not have one for you. This does not mean that IF they were somehow capable of knowing the answer of how to find your way home for you, they would not tell you openly and happily. Every fiber of every one of our being's cries out to the person next to us 'Please! I will do anything at all! Just tell me how to help!' And even if it is impossible to express to them exactly what it is you need or want, the knowledge that you are surrounded by others willing to help is an immense comfort and a key idea that keeps us all going.
If I knew the way brother then believe me, please, I would take you right on home. But since I don't, and this is the irreversible situation in which we find ourselves, then what CAN I do to help? Just let me know.