I have had a secret crush on the Dead ever since the late 70’s.
I had never heard of them growing up, but in 10th grade a girl I liked a lot who was musically gifted had the album Skeletons From the Closet in her collection. Since then, I always associate this band with her. After she transferred to a different school, I bought the album. Later, in the 80’s, I prided my punk-rock self on hating the free-form hippie vibe of the Dead. (Ever heard Pop-O-Pies cover Truckin ?)
I reviled tie-die patchouli-oil types. But in the back of my mind I felt ashamed because I knew I still liked Uncle John’s Band and Mexicali Blues, so I was a punk-rock heretic and a secret hippie sympathizer. As the years rolled by I still associated the songs on “Skeletons From the Closet” with that girl from 10th grade. It was the only Dead album I was familiar with.
Now I have a daughter of my own who is 8 and I played Uncle John’s Band for her.
She immediately loved it and we like to sing it together in the car. I realized how lovely the harmonies are. I perceived, as if for the first time, the Americana roots behind the tune. I appreciated the tripped-out Biblical imagery, even Tea Party 1776 themes, and I realized what an amazing song it truly is. I discovered other Dead songs that I have learned to love: Eyes of the World and Box of Rain come to mind. I like these songs for the fusion of music with poetic lyrics.
I think the Dead mixed country-rock with Hippie ethos like few other bands. And I believe Robert Hunter’s lyrics can stand on their own as poetry without the music.
I still don’t care for the noodling around on extended jams before religiously adoring crowds of acid-laced freaks, but I have a new respect for the studio-recorded music of the Grateful Dead. I am no longer a bad punk-rocker who has to hide my shameful secret; just another person who loves certain songs by the Grateful Dead.