Robert Hunter

Dang, more bad rock and roll news. The world lost one of its great poets this week. Robert Hunter, lyricist for the Grateful Dead died on Monday. This one hits especially close to home because I consider the Grateful Dead to be my third favorite band of all-time (after Ween and The Beatles).

From Rolling Stone’s remembrance:

Considered one of rock’s most ambitious and dazzling lyricists, Hunter was the literary counterpoint to the band’s musical experimentation. His lyrics — heard in everything from early Dead classics like “Dark Star” and “China Cat Sunflower” and proceeding through “Uncle John’s Band,” “Box of Rain,” “Scarlet Begonias,” and “Touch of Gray”— were as much a part of the band as Jerry Garcia’s singing and guitar.

From the same article, this anecdote about “Dark Star,” which is one of the Grateful Dead’s best songs:

Hunter would join the band at rehearsals and write lyrics. During one session, Hunter began writing lyrics to accompany an instrumental the band was working on; the result, “Dark Star,” was both a landmark for the band and also the official start of Hunter’s new role as the lyricist in residence. Hunter was even aware of the song’s significance at the time. He told Rolling Stone that a couple weeks after writing the first verse at the rehearsal, he was working on the second in the Panhandle, the narrow park at the base of Golden Gate Park, when a guy came up to him and offered him a hit of something. “I don’t remember if I took it or not, but I said, ‘I’m writing the second verse for the song called ‘Dark Star’ for the Grateful Dead — remember that,’” Hunter recalled. “I had a prescience about the whole thing at that point. Once I started believing in that band, I thought, we’re going to go the distance.”


Eddie Money and Ric Okasek

This week was a horrible week for rock and roll. First, Daniel Johnston died on September 11, then Eddie Money on September 13, and finally Ric Ocasek on September 15. Death really does come in threes.

I can’t say I was ever a huge Eddie Money fan, but the he had an undeniable string of hits from the late-70s through the 80s. At least three of his songs are absolute classics:

“Two Tickets to Paradise” (1978)

“Baby Hold On” (1978)

“Take Me Home Tonight” (1986)

He also has a handful of other instantly recognizable classic rock radio staples, including “Give Me Some Water”, “I Wanna Go Back”, “Walk on Water”, and “Shakin.” Eddie Money died at age 70 of esophageal cancer.

Ric Ocasek holds a special place in my heart for two reasons. One is that my dad told me that the night I was born, he came home from the hospital (this was before they let the dad’s spend the night) and went over to one of his friend’s apartments and listened a new album by a band called the Cars. For better or worse, this was the music of the day when I was born. (Somewhat related to this – Later in life, I can recall the first songs that both of my children heard after they were born. When we took our daughter, Lola, home from the hospital the first MP3 that randomly came on shuffle in the car was “Santa Fe” by Beirut. When my son, Wilce, was born two years later, it was “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk.) The second reason Ric Ocasek holds a special place in my heart is that he produced Weezer’s “Blue Album” which was part of the soundtrack of my early teens. Ric Okasec was 75 and died of natural causes while recovering from surgery.

“My Best Friend’s Girl” (1978)

“Just What I Needed” (1978)

“Good Times Roll” (1978)


Daniel Johnston

I was sad to hear that Daniel Johnston died yesterday. He was a genius songwriter who wrote honest and simple lo-fi pop songs about true love and innocence. Like many, I learned about him from the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston. If you haven’t seen it, you must watch it. It’s a fascinating look at the very unique life of a troubled person who only wanted to be an artist.

Here’s the trailer:

I don’t feel the need to eulogize Daniel, but here’s an interesting excerpt about him from a piece the Guardian published today:

In the early 1990s, he suffered a manic psychotic episode during a plane flight, when, believing he was the cartoon character Casper the Friendly Ghost, he threw the ignition keys for the plane out of its window – he and his father escaped with minor injuries following the subsequent crash. It prompted one of many spells in psychiatric institutions, and he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Over the years he also suffered from diabetes, kidney infections and hydrocephalus; last year he was hospitalised following a fall.

His eccentricity was legendary – he refused to sign with Elektra because they also employed Metallica, whom Johnston regarded as satanic; he ran away from home as a teenager on a moped to join a travelling carnival; he was arrested for graffiti-ing the Statue of Liberty with hundreds of Christian fish symbols. But as another admirer, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, said in 2017: “Daniel has managed to create in spite of his mental illness, not because of it. He’s been honest in his portrayal of what he’s been struggling with without overtly drawing attention to it.

And here’s the most classic of Daniel Johnston songs:

Even Curt was a fan.