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Table of Contents

Ripple (song)

Ripple is a song performed by American rock band the Grateful Dead. It is the sixth track on their album, American Beauty. It was recorded in September of 1970 and released on November 1, 1970. The song was released as the B-side to the single, Truckin.1) The song also appears on the Grateful Dead album Reckoning2), Jerry Garcia’s Almost Acoustic3), and Robert Hunter’s A Box of Rain.4) It is in the key of G and uses the time signature of 4/4.5)

The song was written by Robert Hunter while he was in London in 1970, with Jerry Garcia writing and composing the music the same year.6) It was produced by the Grateful Dead and Steve Barncard and released on the Warner Bros. label.7) The earliest known performance of the song took place at the Fillmore West (San Francisco) on August 18, 1970.8)

Analysis

According to David Dodd, Research Associate at the University of California, Santa Cruz:

“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…The first verse, addressing the listener, is about song, about listening to the song and making it your own…So the relationship between poet and reader is unity; they are both the poet…The next verse continues this theme, but points out that the identification between singer and listener can never be total…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…

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…The chorus follows, and in this context the ripple has become a symbol of an individual life, caused by nothing…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 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.” 9)

Linda Gershon writes:

“There seems to be pretty much a consensus concerning the lyric There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night, the prevailing view being that the dawn and the dark represent birth and death, respectively, and that the fact that there's a road instead of a high-way between them means that life is challenging, takes a lot of turns, is not…straight or simple…To me, the dark represents despair, bleakness, unhappiness, confusion, cluelessness, etc., while the dawn means contentment, clarity, revelation, light, optimism, etc. Again, what's between them is arduous, difficult to navigate and must be discovered on one's own…but it's to get from dark to dawn, not the other way around…[which] doesn't really conflict with the birth and death interpretation, but may be simply complementary.”10)

Covers

  • Chris Hillman on Morning Sky 11)
  • Jane's Addiction on Deadicated12)
  • Perry Farrell on Rev 13)
  • The New Riders of the Purple Sage on Live in Japan14)
  • Jimmie Dale Gilmore on One Endless Night15)
  • Rick Danko on Times Like These16)
  • Built To Spill on Ripple17)

Lyrics

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine; And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung; Would you hear my voice come through the music? Would you hold it near, as it were your own?

It's a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken; Perhaps they're better left unsung; I don't know, don't really care; Let there be songs to fill the air

Ripple in still water; When there is no pebble tossed; Nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty; If your cup is full may it be again; Let it be known there is a fountain; That was not made by the hands of man

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

Ripple in still water; When there is no pebble tossed; Nor wind to blow

You who choose to lead must follow; But if you fall, you fall alone; If you should stand, then who's to guide you? If I knew the way, I would take you home.18)


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