Grateful Dead: Ripple

In 1970, Grateful Dead published their song Ripple, which appeared as a single on the B side of Truckin’ as well as on the album American Beauty. Lyrics were written by Robert Hunter, music by Jerry Garcia.

Recorded Live: 10/31/1980 – Radio City Music Hall (New York, NY)

A Supernatural Sphere

Very directly, the song addresses a supernatural sphere:

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?

If everything transitory is but an image (Goethe), then music from visible instruments can be an image for music from a higher realm that we might call music of the spheres. It can touch human souls directly, without needing the detour of passing through the ears.

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

The chorus describes small surface waves in otherwise still water – an image of the inherent energy of immaterial living water?

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

Songwriter Hunter said the following lines were the ones he was most proud of:

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 men

The fountain of living water nourishes those people who long for its water. A similar idea is found in Peter, Paul and Mary‘s Jesus met the Woman. Many people are reminded of Psalm 23.

Your Path is for You Alone

The following lines emphasize personal responsibility on the path. While living water is given for free, it is only handed to those who desire it deeply from their innermost being. No one can rely on anyone else acquiring it for him, or taking the necessary steps on behalf of him. Each path is an individual one. We may be reminded of Franz Kafka‘s Before the Law: The entrance mentioned in that parable is exclusively for the main character, and no one else. Tragically, he only finds out when it’s too late …

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

Which Path leads to the Source of Living Water?

The speaker does not claim to know the path – there is no easy recipe.

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

To me, these lines testify to a deep experience of humbleness, knowing you cannot find the path if you remain self-confident. In order to be able to perceive the soul’s soft voice, a very subtle state of openness is required. This includes a clear understanding of your own being, everything you learnt, your thoughts and feelings not being able to walk on this path. Only faith may help, and the encouragement of the living water you may have been touched by.

The original music video may look a bit old-fashioned, but it’s filled with spiritual symbols, and worth a look.

All the best for your own quest – and may your cup always be filled with water from a fountain not made by the hands of men.

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