When we talk about the greatest songwriting teams in rock ’n’ roll, we of course invariably begin with John and Paul, and Mick and Keith, and Elton and Bernie, and so on and so forth. But often, folks forget about San Francisco’s finest, a team that wrote a bunch of eternally terrific tunes, and that’s Bob and Jerry, a.k.a. Hunter and Garcia, the main songsmiths for the Grateful Dead.
Robert Hunter just moseyed on down that old Mortality Trail last week, or, as he wrote in “He’s Gone” (a song that may have been a response to the death of Pigpen in ’73 … or the departure of their crooked manager), “like a steam locomotive, rollin’ down the track, he’s gone, gawnnnnnn and nothing’s gonna bring him back.” Hunter was 78, and a truly brilliant and beloved guy.
“Lady finger, dipped in moonlight, writing ‘What for?’ across the morning sky,” from the song “St. Stephen.”
“Think this through with me, let me know your mind, Whoa oh, what I want to know is, are you kind?” from “Uncle John’s Band.”
“And it’s just a box of rain, I don’t know who put it there, Believe it if you need it, or leave it if you dare,” from “Box of Rain.”
“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,” from “Ripple.”
“Shall we go, you and I, while we can? Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds,” from “Dark Star.”
“I can tell your future, just look what’s in your hand, But I can’t stop for nothin’, I’m just playin’ in the band,” from “Playing in The Band.”
“Tell me all that you know, I’ll show you snow and rain,” from “Bird Song.”
“Well she can dance a Cajun rhythm, jump like a Willys in four wheel drive, she’s a summer love for spring, fall and winter, She can make happy any man alive,” from “Sugar Magnolia.”
“Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me, other times I can barely see, Lately it occurs to me, what a long, strange trip it’s been,” from “Truckin’.”
Hunter wrote the unforgettable lyrics, and Jerry wrote the memorable music—most of the time. (Bob Weir and Phil Lesh wrote some of the fab melodies.)
Hunter was presciently courteous enough to write his own farewell. “Goin’ home, goin’ home, by the waterside I will rest my bones, Listen to the river sing sweet songs to rock my soul,” from “Brokedown Palace.”