American Beauty

If you are having a bad day, I have a solution for you. Find the Grateful Dead album, “American Beauty,” and slide the needle over the first track or plug in your music player. Turn up the volume. Listen to the music. Really listen. Then dance.

I got a little nostalgic last night rewatching “Freaks n’ Geeks,” specifically the episode where Lindsey made the great discovery of this album and began dancing in her room…and I thought, oh boy, I have to download that and listen to it tomorrow on my hike. And I did.

“Box of Rain” is my absolute favorite Dead song. Written and sung by Phil Lesh, the song was a dedication to his dying father and then just kind of wrote itself out more. The metaphor of water, also present on the first track of side B, “Ripple” (another of my favorites), gives the song a really liquid, kind of timeless feel. Wiki says:

Many of the lyrics to this song are reminiscent of the song “Ripple”, which opens the second side of the album. Images of water abound in both, as well as references to “broken” or “hand-me-down” thoughts. According to Hunter: “By ‘box of rain,’ I meant the world we live on, but ‘ball’ of rain didn’t have the right ring to my ear, so box it became, and ‘I don’t know who put it there.'”[5]

The line “moth before a flame” echoes several proverbs, such as “the fate of the moth in the flame”—Aeschylus, Fragments (Fragment #288). The line “long long time to be gone and a short time to be there” echoes the old-time classic “Little Birdie”, which includes the line “I’ve a short while to be here, and a long time to be gone.”

In one of Carl Hiaasen‘s novels, the main character is in a shelter for children stranded by a hurricane, and in a particularly tender moment, sings Box of Rain to the child.

The album’s art is also neat, in that it is an ambigram, where “Beauty” can be read also as “Reality”.

Anyway, upon hearing it today I found myself twirling alone on a wooded path before continuing on my hike. My next run is tomorrow morning, and on my not-running days I’ve been attempting to hike 2-3 miles a day. It’s also getting very hot–to 90+ in the next few days. This means early morning before-work runs.

Anyway, do yourself a favor. Play “American Beauty.” Dance. Hike. Sing. Imagine. As I walked briskly along the trail, I felt as though I was in a jungle. Blackberry vines hung straight down like snakes. Heat rose like vaporous tendrils, tickling my bare legs. The isolated trail between two urban thoroughfares hosted potential bears and butterflies, a canopy of trees, browning ferns, and a dusty path where imagination can take you anywhere.



Don’t say I never gave you nothin’!

Leave a Comment