Yesterday, after expecting a Sunday afternoon practice, I resigned myself to the
fact that for one reason or another, it had fallen through. Later in the evening I
was getting some work done, and checking in with Facebook and anything else
that would help keep me from accomplishing anything productive, and then up
on the McLovins page popped a new cover video. Not just a new cover, but a
cover of "Ripple," easily my favorite song off of The Grateful Dead's
"American Beauty,” arguably the band's best studio effort. I was blown away
when I read that this was in fact for Mother's Day and as a birthday
gift for me. My daughter Kayla had been speaking to Justin and he and
Atticus thought this up. I thank Kayla and all the guys for such a moving tribute
and in my typical fashion, I will now take a sweet and simple gesture and make
it much more complicated and deeper than it probably is, but it's my job;
another stab at declarative writing 101.
The "American Beauty" album followed hot on the heels of "Workingman's Dead"
itself a reaction to The Grateful Dead moving away from their more psychedelic
experimentation phase, to the reality of their loss of their San Francisco innocence
and their job as a full-time touring and working band. A conscious decision was
made on band's part in focusing a little more closely on their vocals and working
with a more spare instrumental sound was a result of working collaboratively with members of The Jefferson Airplane and David Crosby in Wally Heider's studio.
The late '60's were the true start of the alt-country movement. The Byrd's had
paved the way with their "Sweetheart of the Rodeo," The Dead chimed in with
"Workingman's Dead" and American Beauty" while the influence of Gram
Parsons had been cutting a swath through recording sessions all over America.
Psychadelia had given way to roots rock/americana and this sound would come
to rule the airwaves for the next half-decade. This change in style had occurred
rapidly for The Dead, less than 2 years before they were still ensconced in the
middle of the San Francisco hippie scene, and this musical change seemed very
much in step with what was happening in the modern music scene.
There is a legendary story told by Robert Hunter. He was able to take a rare
tour day off sitting in an apartment room in London. Receiving a case of retsinsa,
he went walking about and spent the ensuing afternoon writing the lyrics to
"Brokedown Palace" and "Ripple" as he polished an entire bottle of wine off.
These songs, along with his "Box of Rain", "Friend of the Devil" and "Truckin''"
provide the backbone to an insanely well polished and musically diverse album. For
me the gem of this album and this renaissance of the Grateful Dead is and will
always be "Ripple".
For those who are interested in a deeper essay on the magic that is "Ripple",
please check this out.