Thread: The story of "Ripple" by the Grateful Dead

pops42 - 7/5/2018 at 07:18 PM

sckeys - 7/5/2018 at 07:51 PM

Very good post. Always worth seeing.

griff - 7/5/2018 at 09:24 PM

"Ripple" is a song lyric by Robert Hunter. Its genre, therefore, is song. A true song is meant to be sung, and so its words must be easy to remember, unless it is an experimental or art song. But Hunter wrote "Ripple" in the folk song tradition during the late 1960's, with overtones of that Haight-Ashbury era, such as a sense of cosmic oneness, and of East meeting West.

Hunter, in choosing the folk lyric format, has infused it with something new. The first verse, addressing the listener, is about song, about listening to the song and making it your own. Hunter begins the verse by invoking the elements of song: words and tune, so that the listener is prepared to think about the song. The poet expresses concern that the song be sung by other people, opening up a discussion of the relationship between the singer and the listener, who will also, it is hoped, come to be the singer, in turn.

So the relationship between poet and reader is unity; they are both the poet. In this way, the original poet breaks out of mortality, since his thoughts will continue to generate new thoughts.

The next verse continues this theme, but points out that the identification between singer and listener can never be total, since it is questionable whether any of the original poet's thoughts will actually occur to the person who is now singing the song. But the poet concludes that even though 'the thoughts are broken,' it is worthwhile to have songs.

The chorus is the main puzzle of the song, as highlighted by the title. It is set apart formally from the rest of the song, being a seventeen-syllable haiku. Following the first two verses, it suggests that thought is like a ripple, not caused by anything, and doomed to be fleeting, not to be held. Hunter chose an Asian verse form to express this idea, which is contrary to Western civilization's principle of logical, rational thought. Hunter poses a counter-argument. It is not worthwhile to believe that reason can be imposed on thinking, or that anything reasonable can come from thinking, since communication of thought will always be flawed. It is possible that Hunter's thoughts were born from the experience of altered states, and the frustration that goes with any attempt to describe experience in an altered state. His choice of a pool of water being momentarily disturbed by a ripple is in accordance with Samuel Taylor Coleridge's imagery in describing the fleetingness of the altered state in "Kubla Khan":

Then all the charm
Is broken--all that phantom-world so fair
Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread,
And each mis-shape the other. Stay awhile,
Poor youth! who scarcely dar'st lift up thine eyes--
The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon
The visions will return! And lo, he stays,
And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms
Come trembling back, unite, and now once more
The pool becomes a mirror."

(Echoes there of "Dark Star," as well. Hmmm.)

The next two verses introduce new themes. The first contains a benediction, wishing the listener a "full cup," or a happy life. This cup, moreover, can be refilled at a fountain which, since it was not made by human hands, represents a cosmic or universal level of being. The next verse takes the song from the universal back to the individual. The path between dawn (birth) and dark (death) is a metaphor for life, each life being individual. (For an alternate take, see email from Linda Gershon)

The chorus follows, and in this context the ripple has become a symbol of an individual life, caused by nothing a disappearing back into still water, back into the fountain not made by people. A life is a ripple. All life is still water. The chorus, then, is interpreted differently each time. The first time a ripple is a thought in an individual mind; the second time a ripple is an individual life in the pool of universal life.

The final verse conveys optimistic hopelessness. The poet is compassionate, as shown by the last line, but wants us to realize that there are no guarantees about life."

pops42 - 7/5/2018 at 09:54 PM

BrerRabbit - 7/6/2018 at 03:09 AM

Good ol grateful dead, thx

spoonbelly - 7/6/2018 at 10:49 AM

Great song from an even greater album (American Beauty).

BrerRabbit - 7/6/2018 at 05:35 PM

Probably coincidence, but artists have sued over less: onny-osmond

The melody and structure is so different than other Garcia/Hunter tunes of the time, very standard simple formula pop (take away the Zen poetry and Grisman it's practically Neil Diamond, ((who I love btw)) ) - makes me wonder if Hunter somehow was exposed to Any Dream Will Do and ran a snippet of the verse melody by Garcia when sketching out the idea of the tune.on his guitar, then Jerry ran with it. I doubt Jerry had the time or inclination to attend the small early pre-premiere productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and even if so would have been musically savvy enough to recognize programmed melody while composing - but Hunter, not a pro musician, could have easily fallen victim to unconscious influence after hearing Any Dream Will.Do.

hotlantatim - 7/6/2018 at 07:43 PM

One of my favorite Dead tunes. Norah Jones does a nice version too (19:40 mark):

I learned the music and can sing it well as it's my range, but the lyrics are some the hardest to memorize. There is little pattern or foreshadowing in the lyrics to trigger what the next line is. After a year, I still can't sing it without a lyric sheet. I'll get it some day!

I did get to sing it at Wanee at Helen's Hilton (with lyrics on the iphone) with another player who had it nailed. Was fun!!

griff - 7/7/2018 at 03:18 AM

Well seeing you pot up with my obtuse verbage earlier, here's more.
Sometibes it tahes a kot of words to communicate..
Sometime all you need to say is Hughie and Billy.....

BrerRabbit - 7/7/2018 at 06:59 PM

my obtuse verbage

That was yours? Thought it was web copy. Most excellent. Not obtuse at all, clear and simple I think.

Would like to hear your breakdown of St. Stephen/The Eleven.

Man you do that with enough Hunter lyrics you got a good Dead book there, "Hunting Hunter" or some such

griff - 7/8/2018 at 08:32 PM

my obtuse verbage

That was yours? Thought it was web copy. Most excellent. Not obtuse at all, clear and simple I think.

Would like to hear your breakdown of St. Stephen/The Eleven.

Man you do that with enough Hunter lyrics you got a good Dead book there, "Hunting Hunter" or some such

My contribution?
I was the guy smoking out front.
But I did find this:
" Counting songs are a long-standing tradition. Everyone knows "The Twelve Days of Christmas." But how about "Children, Go Where I Send Thee"?

And of course, counting-rhymes are a major part of the heritage of nursery rhymes carried on by Hunter and Barlow both. One of the best known is "A Gaping Wide-Mouthed Waddling Frog" (a cumulative verse, ending up with the following):

"Twelve huntsmen with horn and hounds,
Hunting over other men's ground;
Eleven ships sailing o'er the main,
Some bound for France and some for Spain;
Ten comets in the sky,
Some low and some high;
Nine peacocks in the air,
I wonder how they all came there,
I don't know, nor I don't care; [see "Ripple"]
Eight joiners in joiner's hall,
Working with their tools and all;
Seven lobsters in a dish,
As fresh as any heart could wish;
Six beetles against a wall,
Close by an old woman's apple-stall;
Five puppies by our dog Ball,
Who daily for their breakfast call;
Four horses stuck in a bog,
Three monkeys tied to a clog,
Two pudding ends would choke a dog,
With a gaping wide-mouthed waddling frog."

The counting portion of "The Eleven" was originally included by Hunter as part of "China Cat Sunflower". (See Conversations with the Dead, by David Gans, p. 24-25)

griff - 7/9/2018 at 07:07 AM

Well after all that beer we can't forget that "one man gathers what another man spills".

" Blair Jackson, in Grateful Dead: the Music Never Stopped, says:

"AOXOMOXOA's most famous song, perhaps because it translated so beautifully to the group's live repertoire, is `St. Stephen,' a cryptic rocker (again with an unusual, irregular cadence, almost a combination of waltz and march rhythms in a rock motif) about a character who embodies the confusion of the period. Stephen has neither the Big Answers nor even the Big Questions. But he is a seeker, with a capital `S.' in his own way. And since, as the song says, `One man gathers what another man spills,' there is still as much of a chance that Stephen will shape his own destiny in a positive way, as there is that he will fritter away his life. In the end, it all goes beyond the dreams and concerns of one person to a higher plan, for example, if Stephen has his own house in order, is that enough? `Can you answer? Yes, I can,' the song's final verse teases, and then poses a larger question: `But what would be your answer to the answer man?" (pp. 94-95)

BrerRabbit - 7/9/2018 at 12:30 PM

Don't know if I read or heard it somewhere, but Saint Stephen could be inspired by or based on Stephen Gaskin, of Monday Night Class fame, who led the small exodus out of the Haight out to Somerville Tennessee and established The Farm.

griff - 7/9/2018 at 03:47 PM

Part of Hunter's intent when he writes is not to get pinned down on what the song "means".
So if Gaskin had anything to do with it, Hunter denies.

"Relix: Was St. Stephen anyone specific?
Hunter: No, it was just St. Stephen.
Relix: You weren't writing about someone, you were writing about something?
Hunter: Yea. That was a great song to write...""

BrerRabbit - 7/9/2018 at 08:38 PM

lol, the Hunter refuses to be captured by the game.

This thread come from : Hittin' The Web with the Allman Brothers Band

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