I have spent my life seeking all that's still unsung
September 24, 2019 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Robert Hunter, lyricist for the Grateful Dead, has passed away at the age of 78. In addition to being a formative member of the band, he was a poet and a musician in his own right. Take a moment to explore a thorough collection of his lyrics at dead.net.
posted by vverse23 (68 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Been sitting here for the last hour or so contemplating all the amazing music that he created. I don't have words right now, so I am going to follow the lead of Hunter's family and listen to the music.
“...For his fans that have loved and supported him all these years, take comfort in knowing that his words are all around us, and in that way his is never truly gone. In this time of grief please celebrate him the way you all know how, by being together and listening to the music. Let there be songs to fill the air.”
posted by terrapin at 11:38 AM on September 24, 2019 [13 favorites]


Ah man. Sorry to see him go. A true poet and artist.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:42 AM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


The sunny London afternoon I wrote ‘Brokedown Palace,’ ‘To Lay Me Down,’ and ‘Ripple,’ all keepers, was in no way typical, but it remains in my mind as the personal quintessence of the union between writer and Muse, a promising past and bright future prospects melding into one great glowing apocatastasis in South Kensington, writing words that seemed to flow like molten gold onto parchment paper.
-Robert Hunter
posted by morspin at 11:44 AM on September 24, 2019 [14 favorites]


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posted by Perplexity at 11:51 AM on September 24, 2019


I was 17 when my friend's dad introduced me to Tales of the Great Rum Runners, part of a musical education of sorts.

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posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 11:55 AM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of man

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go, no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

Robert Hunter
posted by ohshenandoah at 11:55 AM on September 24, 2019 [21 favorites]


Tom Russell once told me how grateful he is to Robert Hunter for giving him his first real break in the music business. Here's the story as I wrote it up for fRoots magazine:

"One night in 1981, Russell picked up a midnight fare in Queens and realised it was The Grateful Dead's Robert Hunter. They got talking, Russell mentioned he was a songwriter and Hunter asked him to sing one of his compositions there and then. Russell gave him an a capella version of Gallo del Cielo, and Hunter liked it enough to insist they drive 15 miles back the other way to fetch a demo tape of the song from Russell's apartment. Hunter promised he's pass the tape along to both the Dead and to New Riders of the Purple Sage, with a view to one or other band covering the song.

"Neither took him up on it, but Hunter followed through anyway. "Two weeks after the ride, he got me up on stage to sing
Gallo del Cielo at The Bottom Line, and that yanked me back into the music business," Russell says. "Then I opened for him - we did a few shows at the old Lone Star Café - and it changed my life. Here's a guy who really put it on the line for a taxi driver, you know? It was a life-changing experience."
posted by Paul Slade at 11:57 AM on September 24, 2019 [18 favorites]


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posted by Splunge at 12:08 PM on September 24, 2019


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posted by patrickdbyers at 12:08 PM on September 24, 2019


Going home, going home
By the waterside I will rest my bones
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

RIP thanks for everything

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posted by Bacon Bit at 12:12 PM on September 24, 2019 [11 favorites]


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Having spent a few high school years back in the 80s enthralled with the Dead, I pretty thoroughly moved on, all the while maintaining my interest in music (and eventually making it my career). I maintained all along (including in a conversation LAST NIGHT with a fellow musician) that my biggest problem with the Dead was the execution - the writing is great, but their playing was just too damn sloppy for my ears.

In other words, I loved (and still love) Robert Hunter's (and John Barlow's, and all the others's) contributions.

Let there be songs to fill the air.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 12:12 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


the first concert i ever went to, at age 6 with an irresponsible babysitter, was a dead show, and the music is as cozy and comforting to me as the warm-schmaltz-on-rye smell of my grandmother's kitchen.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:12 PM on September 24, 2019 [11 favorites]


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posted by jacobian at 12:18 PM on September 24, 2019


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posted by mygothlaundry at 12:22 PM on September 24, 2019


I wondered why WWOZ was playing the Dead at 2:30 in the afternoon.

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posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:34 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


Hunter's original Reuben and Cherise has a sad ending.
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posted by j_curiouser at 12:34 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


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posted by sallybrown at 12:35 PM on September 24, 2019


Oh man, this is a hard one. I feel like some of his lyrics have authored parts of my soul.

In another time's forgotten space
your eyes looked through your mother's face
Wildflower seed on the sand and stone
may the four winds blow you safely home

Roll away, roll away the dew
posted by treepour at 12:39 PM on September 24, 2019 [13 favorites]


i talked to him once in 77 after a songwriting conference - i asked him where he thought things were going and he said "fascism"

he was one of the things that made the grateful dead so special

"Go to sleep you child
Dream of never ending always"
posted by pyramid termite at 12:51 PM on September 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


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posted by loquacious at 12:51 PM on September 24, 2019


I have friends at a Rainbow regional right now and I do not doubt there was or will be a great circle and cry for Robert.
posted by loquacious at 12:53 PM on September 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


children's lament
posted by pyramid termite at 12:54 PM on September 24, 2019


In another time's forgotten space
your eyes looked through your mother's face
Wildflower seed on the sand and stone
may the four winds blow you safely home


I appreciate your post treepour. While I've listened to countless versions of Franklin's Tower, somehow I never appreciated those particular lyrics until now.
posted by patrickdbyers at 12:54 PM on September 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


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😭
posted by captain afab at 12:59 PM on September 24, 2019


Brown-eyed women and red grenadine,
The bottle was dusty but the liquor was clean.
Sound of the thunder with the rain pouring down,
And it looks like the old man's getting on.…
-RH

Thanks for so much, Robert.
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posted by mosk at 1:00 PM on September 24, 2019 [3 favorites]



posted by Gelatin at 1:08 PM on September 24, 2019


Lost one of rock's great poets. I love the Dead and have listened to and sung along with his words countless times. Fare thee well.
posted by friendlyjuan at 1:12 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


I was a Dead skeptic for a while, but part of the reason that I got into the band was that their lyrics would hide sharp, sardonic daggers alongside the good time vibes and downhome mysticism. A lot of that was Hunter, and maybe some of his best lines about the American character lie within "U.S. Blues":

"I'm Uncle Sam, that's who I am; Been hidin' out in a rock and roll band.
Shake the hand that shook the hand of P.T. Barnum and Charlie Chan.
Shine your shoes, light your fuse. Can you use them ol' U.S. Blues?
I'll drink your health, share your wealth, run your life, steal your wife."

No wonder Bob Dylan ended up finding him a kindred spirit by the time of "Together Through Life."
posted by HunterFelt at 1:15 PM on September 24, 2019 [6 favorites]


This is hitting me much harder than I anticipated.

The storyteller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice
his job is to shed light
and not to master

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Fare thee well, Robert. Thank you for everything.
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 1:16 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


So long old fella!

David Dodd's incredible project, The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics is a great place to dive deeper into the references, allusions, and imagery that Hunter is using in his lyrics.
posted by stinkfoot at 1:19 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


I met Robert Hunter at O'Hare once. I was sitting waiting for my flight on a Sunday afternoon from ORD to SFO. I sat in one of those chairs by the gate and he came and sat down next to me. I recognized him right away but decided to not say anything to him. He started a conversation with me about baseball. I think he was a Giants fan, but I do not recall with certainty. We chatted about nothing in particular for 10 minutes. We both stood to board and I finally said to him, "Mr. Hunter, thank you for the music. Much appreciated." He just smiled and said, "You're welcome".

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Old man down
way down
down, down by the docks of the city,
Blind and dirty
asked me for a dime--
dime for a cup of coffee
I got no dime but
I got time to hear his story:

My name is August West
and I love my Pearly Baker best
more than my wine
...more than My wine
more than my maker
though he's no friend of mine

Everyone said
I'd come to no good
I knew I would
Pearly believed them

Half of my life
I spent doin' time for
some other fucker's crime
Other half found me stumbling around
drunk on burgundy wine

But I'll get back
on my feet someday
The good Lord willing
if He says I may
'cause I know the life I'm
livin's no good
I'll get a new start
live the life I should

I'll get up and fly away
I'll get up and
fly away...
...fly away

Pearly's been true
true to me, true to my dying day he said
I said to him:
I'm sure she's been
I said to him:
I'm sure she's been true to you

I got up and wandered
Wandered downtown
nowhere to go
just to hang around
I got a girl
named Bonny Lee
I know that girl's been true to me
I know she's been
I'm sure she's been
true to me

posted by AugustWest at 1:31 PM on September 24, 2019 [13 favorites]


Such a short time to be here. Such a long time to be gone.

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posted by Burgoo at 1:32 PM on September 24, 2019 [10 favorites]


For anyone who feels something like what fingers_of_fire wrote above that "[the] biggest problem with the Dead was the execution - the writing is great, but their playing was just too damn sloppy for my ears.", please check out Joe Russo's Almost Dead.
posted by Perplexity at 1:34 PM on September 24, 2019


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posted by droplet at 1:39 PM on September 24, 2019


JRAD rocks! Have seen them a handful of times at the Capital in Portchester. Having said that, I never cared about the sloppy.
posted by AugustWest at 1:40 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


A friend of the devil is a friend of mine.

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posted by Sing Or Swim at 1:45 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


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To lie with you
once more
to lie with you
with our dreams
entwined together
To lie beside you
my love still sleeping
to tell sweet lies
one last time
and say goodnight


This one hits hard. He wrote so many songs that connect so deep.
posted by octothorpe at 1:55 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


I kind of feel like the sloppy made it more authentic, more real. You and me have bad/off days at work, so why can't Jerry and the boys? It's kind of like life. Some days I'm all out of sorts, like Bobby flubbing the lyrics to a song he's sung tons of times (Truckin', anyone?). I guess it could be frustrating to never know if you're going to get genius or crap, but life is a crap shoot for the most part anyway.
posted by friendlyjuan at 1:56 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


I only got to see him perform once in person but he was great. Saw him open for Jerry in the mid-eighties on Penn State campus.
posted by octothorpe at 1:57 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


it's not having an off night. the baseline if anything got worse over the years. i saw an interview with Croz the night Jerry died, and he said "of course they were still doing drugs! that's why the never got any better!" (if memory serves - which it admittedly may not - it was on nightline.)
posted by fingers_of_fire at 1:58 PM on September 24, 2019


it's a tricky thing with cover bands. the music shouldn't sound slick and precise - which is the problem with the studio recordings - too clean. also, they need jerry's and bob's voices. for me, it's all about europe '72 - AMAZING songs, great live energy, but ample post facto fixing in the studio. would that all the recordings were that good.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 2:01 PM on September 24, 2019


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posted by hypnogogue at 2:07 PM on September 24, 2019


He was a great songwriter but, from seeing him a million years ago, maybe not the greatest singer. But, oh, those words and tunes.
posted by y2karl at 2:35 PM on September 24, 2019


Growing up, his solo albums were the closest my family came to a consistent religion.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:36 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul


Thank you for rocking my soul
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posted by Gray Duck at 2:42 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


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posted by mikelieman at 2:52 PM on September 24, 2019


and he said "of course they were still doing drugs! that's why the never got any better

I thought the conventional wisdom was that they got better, and worse again, several times.
posted by atoxyl at 3:15 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


My name is August West

Username and all that but yeah this is the one.
posted by atoxyl at 3:15 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


That trickling awareness of mortality in one's youth eventually becomes a deluge for the survivors.

By strange coincidence, I've been revisiting his solo work this last week or so. I still find his albums Jack O' Roses & A Box Of Rain to be quite lovely.

He was a huge part of the magic that the Grateful Dead could create when at their best. He will be missed.

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posted by talking leaf at 3:26 PM on September 24, 2019


Wish I could write lyrics like he could...

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posted by Windopaene at 3:32 PM on September 24, 2019


Look out, any window
Any morning, any evening, any day...
posted by Windopaene at 3:40 PM on September 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


Going home, going home
By the waterside I will rest my bones
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul


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posted by gkr at 4:03 PM on September 24, 2019 [3 favorites]


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posted by Thrakburzug at 4:19 PM on September 24, 2019


See here how everything
Lead up to this day
And it's just like
Any other day
That's ever been
Sun goin up
And then the
Sun it goin down
Shine through my window and
My friends they come around
Come around
Come around


The shoe is on the hand it fits, there's really nothing much to it
Whistle through your teeth and spit 'cause it's alright


:-) :-) :-)
posted by birdsong at 5:14 PM on September 24, 2019 [5 favorites]


Hate the first, love touch of grey tho
posted by Windopaene at 5:15 PM on September 24, 2019


Wake up to find out
that you are the eyes of the world
but the heart has its beaches
its homeland and thoughts of its own
Wake now, discover that you
are the song that the morning brings
but the heart has its seasons
its evenings and songs of its own


Winterland 10/19/1974
posted by octothorpe at 5:26 PM on September 24, 2019 [4 favorites]


Uncle John's Band has been nearly a hymn for me since I first heard it, probably around age 10.

What I want to know is, are you kind?
posted by hippybear at 7:00 PM on September 24, 2019 [11 favorites]


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posted by OHenryPacey at 7:33 PM on September 24, 2019


Gorgeous version of Althea here
posted by stinkfoot at 7:47 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


There could be many times this number of memorial periods, and there would still be too many apt things to post. What a bard, he was incredible. Anyways, I was pretty fond of this one:

Standing on the moon, I see a shadow on the sun
Standing on the moon, the stars go fading one by one
I hear a cry of victory, another of defeat
A scrap of age-old lullaby down some forgotten street

Standing on the moon, where talk is cheap and vision true
Standing on the moon, but I would rather be with you
Somewhere in San Francisco on a back porch in July
Just looking up to heaven at this crescent in the sky

Standing on the moon with nothing left to do
A lovely view of heaven but I'd rather be with you

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posted by hap_hazard at 9:58 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


Thank you, Robert, for all the words I could never say, you said them all so well.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:19 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


I hear his words every day. They make me laugh, teach me new things, and help me find strength. They've been a huge part of my life. Once in a while, you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right. If you plant ice, you're gonna harvest wind. Believe it if you need it, if you don't just pass it on. Don't lend your hand to raise no flag atop a ship of fools.

Thank you, Hunter, for all you gave us.

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posted by chbrooks at 10:39 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]


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posted by filtergik at 3:21 AM on September 25, 2019


Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace.

“Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams to another land
Maybe you're tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted with words half spoken and thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
To do for you, to see you through?
A box of rain will ease the pain and love will see you through”
posted by ob1quixote at 6:26 AM on September 25, 2019 [4 favorites]


A couple of other great Hunter collaberations are the songs on Mickey Hart's Mystery Box which is one of my favorite albums ever and Jim Lauderdale's Headed for the Hills.

Full Steam Ahead from Mystery Box.
posted by octothorpe at 5:47 PM on September 25, 2019


Where Love Goes (Sito) - Mickey Hart, Robert Hunter and the Mint Juleps:

What have I got?
Now what have I got?
That I did not have before?
A French revolver I just bought
And a lock on the bedroom door
That don't mean that I don't believe in love
You know I do
Love to give and to receive
I just don't believe in you

Clap your hands
And raise the power
Raise the power
Of love
Root, stem, seed and flower
Prepare for the power
Of love

Where love goes, I will go too
Up twenty-nine flights of stairs
I won't beg you to be true
I just won't be there
I won't say that I'm sad
To bounce back on my own
All considered, it's not so bad
To wake up in the night alone
posted by octothorpe at 5:58 PM on September 25, 2019


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posted by the Real Dan at 8:53 AM on September 26, 2019


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posted by Cookiebastard at 3:36 PM on September 27, 2019


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