In my music tastes, I long ago left behind, but sometimes revisit, the sounds I enjoyed in my youth, and last night was one of those time-travel occasions. Robert Hunter, lyricist of the Grateful Dead, performed at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester. This is not the same as seeing the Dead, which I had on a dozen or more nights between 1983 and, maybe, 1991. Mr. Hunter is not dynamic; his performance: a man and his guitar. Never a powerful vocalist, his singing today is that of an elderly man who battled cancer and who wants to enjoy playing his music to audiences while he still can.
|Robert Hunter at the Capitol Theatre|
in Port Chester, New York last night.
|Projection upon the theater walls last night.|
Robert Hunter is primarily known as the lyricist for the Grateful Dead, but he has also recorded many albums of his own, and his songs have been recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan. While never quite identifying himself as an esotericist, Hunter has written a whole corpus of visionary verse to rival Coleridge, outlining way stations between death and rebirth (Terrapin Station), celebrating the breaking through of gnosis (St. Stephen, Scarlet Begonias), or warning the seeker of unrealistic expectations of the afterlife (One Thing to Try, Stella Blue). His lyrics, which he readily concedes as sometimes being the work of his muses, have weird ways of becoming self-fulfilling prophecies (Uncle John’s Band, Playing in the Band), and there’s no doubt that his songs have launched thousands of peak experiences, with our without chemical enhancement. His most famous work, Ripple, details the sweet electric shock of suddenly knowing that the Unnamable Presence is in the room:
Without preaching, without dogma, Hunter has provided the voice of the Spirit to a generation, many of whom could no longer find it in their received traditions. References to Christ are multidimensional:
While I’m at it, might as well explain the name Grateful Dead. From Funk & Wagnall’s New Practical Dictionary of the English Language, Britannica World Language Edition, Volume One, 1955. Click the image to enlarge.
Grateful Dead – The motif of a cycle of folk tales which begin with the hero’s coming upon a group of people ill-treating or refusing to bury the corpse of a man who had died without paying his debts. He gives his last penny, either to pay the man’s debts or to give him a decent burial. Within a few hours he meets with a traveling companion who aids him in some impossible task, gets him a fortune, saves his life, etc. The story ends with the companion’s disclosing himself as the man whose corpse the other had befriended.
But about the lyrics, just a few songs to consider: