1970’s American Beauty is the only Grateful Dead album I own, and the only one I’ve ever wanted to own. While I’m sure the Dead have many treasures in their discography, I’ve never had the urge to dig any deeper, largely due to my general aversion to jam bands.
American Beauty, though, is a deserved classic. The opening trio of ‘Box of Rain,’ ‘Friend of the Devil’ and ‘Sugar Magnolia’ alone puts it up there alongside the great folk rock albums of the era.
Today’s song is the album’s penultimate track, a lovely lullaby featuring the band’s signature harmonies.
I stumbled across a message board post from the 90s in which a student recounted her experience writing a paper about this song for her English class. Somebody suggested she reach out to the song’s lyricist, Robert Hunter, to ask his thoughts on the text. TO her surprise, he replied within just a few hours.
Here’s what he wrote:
I guess I have to give the stock answer: if I could say it in prose I wouldn’t need to write the song. Poetry is evocative – it’s meant to communicate to deeper levels and approach the levels of non-verbal experience.
I guess the best I could say is that “you flew to me” is an affirmation of the concept of grace –
No, this is not a song about being stoned. It’s a song about the soul.
In the attics of my life
Full of cloudy dreams unreal
Full of tastes no tongue can know
And lights no eye can see
When there was no ear to hear
You sang to me
I have spent my life
Seeking all that’s still unsung
Bent my ear to hear the tune
And closed my eyes to see
When there were no strings to play
You played to me
In the book of love’s own dream
Where all the print is blood
Where all the pages are my days
And all my lights grow old
When I had no wings to fly
You flew to me
In the secret space of dreams
Where I dreaming lay amazed
When the secrets all are told
And the petals all unfold
When there was no dream of mine
You dreamed of me