Robert Hunter has died – sad news. He was 78. He occupied an interesting space. He was the primary lyricist for the Grateful Dead and was a silent member but also the heart and soul of the band. Hunter met Jerry Garcia, pre-Dead, when the two were in a bluegrass group. Hunter would go on to record solo albums – but you don’t really need to know about those. His great work was as a poet and mystic, a lyricist and conceptualist for the Grateful Dead.
Uncle John’s Band, Touch of Grey, Casey Jones, Friend of the Devil, Truckin’, Franklin’s Tower, Eyes of the World, Sugaree – and that’s just a tiny slice of the magic. Songs on the band’s albums and for the solo/side-projects. Songs. So many songs…
Brave, strange, acid-hued oddities. Beguiling wisdom – from conventional narratives to abstract poetry and back. And he was there for the whole journey. The long, strange trip.
I really feel like you could enjoy Hunter’s contribution – as poet, writer – without even being much of a Grateful Dead fan. I say that, but I am a Grateful Dead fan.
In the 1980s Hunter collaborated with Bob Dylan and though perhaps nothing hugely special came from that time it’s interesting that Bob wanted to work with him; one of few co-writers in Dylan’s enormous catalogue. The pairing was revisited for 2009’s Together Through Life – the underrated gem of Dylan’s late-run as a western-swing influenced rockabilly crooner. Hunter contributed to nearly every song.
A couple of years ago I read the enormous tome, The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics and the star of course, on the page, is Robert Hunter. That’s where he wanted to live I think. On the page. He was happy for the work he did to go out and live on the stage. And I always admired that about him.
R.I.P. Robert Hunter