Steve Forbert’s latest cover and accompanying video of the Grateful Dead’s “Box of Rain” is a timely release considering our shared experience surrounding COVID-19. This monumental song originated with one of the Dead’s founding members, Phil Lesh, composing the music, while Robert ‘Bob’ Hunter wrote the lyrics. Lesh came to identify the song with his dying father. He would practice singing as he drove to the hospital and later the nursing home. Death surrounds us. Our nation is about to realize 100,000 deaths due to COVID-19. When I facilitated support groups for cancer patients, my supervisor shared a critically important tidbit. In group, but also in day-to-day interactions, death, sex (intimacy) and money are subjects people don’t discuss candidly. They are taboo. To have good groups as well as meaningful relationships these topics need to be explored and discussed honestly. Music has never shied away from life’s complexities. It exposes them quite brilliantly actually. Forbert’s remake of “Box of Rain,” an epic song, marks this historic tragedy.
Forbert obviously did his homework, mimicking Lesh’s difficult journey in the video. It is a lovely tribute. Forbert’s rendition is also well sung. His version is twangier than the Dead’s original, giving it a classic country feel versus an equal mixture of folk and country. Forbert tune is slightly slower paced yet the notes are elongated. Forbert also provides a solo version differing from his precursors. Without the addition of background singers, the song takes a slightly sadder tone, really showcasing its deeper meaning. I tear up as the lyrics capture my unfathomable sorrow. “Walk into splintered sunlight. Inch your way through dead dreams to another land. Maybe you're tired and broken. Your tongue is twisted with words half spoken and thoughts unclear. What do you want me to do, to do for you, to see you through?” As the ones still here, we must, “do for you, to see you through” by ensuring needless pandemic deaths do not occur.
“American Beauty” was my entrée to the Dead. Their music continues to shape my life; it is what I listen to during both good and bad times. Forbert’s cover of “Box of Rain” was welcomed, re-inciting attention to this classic tune, with its underlying purpose. I will use it to manage my intense pain and sadness as staggering, unimaginable losses continue to tick up. Don’t shut your eyes to these astronomical deaths. 100,000 lives are not mere statistics. Lesh’s loss, translates to all our grief. “And it's just a box of rain. Or a ribbon for your hair. Such a long, long time to be gone. And a short time to be there.”
Early Morning Rain is out now via Blue Rose Music.