Keys to the Rain: Celebrating Robert Hunter’s 80th
We celebrate the 80th birthday of the late Robert Hunter, the Grateful Dead’s primary lyricist, exploring his extraordinary partnership with Jerry Garcia and work with other collaborators, as well his poetry, fiction, and solo career.
Keys to the Rain supplementary notes
by Jesse Jarnow
Robert Hunter was the Grateful Dead’s primary lyricist from 1967 through 1995, working often with each of the individual members in the years since. A close friend of Jerry Garcia since 1961, Hunter became a fully salaried offstage band member in 1970, and integral to the Dead world, contributing words to iconic songs by every single member of the band. Alex Allan’s Whitegum.com is an incredible repository of Hunter’s lyrics with the Dead and many others.
Though he played with various folk and bluegrass ensembles in the Palo Alto folk scene of the early ‘60s, he was primarily a writer. Starting his solo career with 1974’s Tales of the Great Rum Runners, Hunter toured on and off for the next decades, recording increasingly elaborate albums like the Flight of the Marie Helena. Starting in the early ‘90s, he began to publish poetry, including 1991’s Night Cadre, 1992’s Idiot’s Delight, 1993’s Sentinel, and 1997’s Glass Lunch. But starting in 1996, his various websites became home to his online journal, his epic 1991 poem A Strange Music as well as The Giant’s Harp, his fantasy novel set in the world of Terrapin. The current online repository for Hunter’s digital works is at HunterArchive.com (though some links might require a dip to the Wayback Machine). I wrote about The Giant’s Harp at length several years ago.
The scholarship on WhiteGum really is incredible, including material from before the Dead, after the Dead, and elsewhere. One partnership that’s especially fascinating to me was Hunter’s work with Bob Dylan, one piece of a long and tangled relationship between Dylan and the Dead that stretched far beyond Dylan and the Dead. I wrote about a long essay exploring their friendships and path-crossings.