Perspectives on the Grateful Dead: Critical Writings

By Robert G. Weiner | Go to book overview

‘‘Laid My Proposition Down / Laid It on the Line’’: Gambling and the Storyteller in Robert Hunter’s Lyrics

Anissa Craghead

In some notable ways, the preface to the hardcover edition of Robert Hunter’s A Box of Rain, the definitive text of Hunter’s lyrics published in 1990, differs from the preface to the paperback edition of A Box of Rain, published in 1993. In the preface to the hardcover edition, Hunter explains his reasons for publishing the collection:

Aficionados of the work will find a few unsupposed things lurking in familiar lines. Stranger things thought to have been heard may not be found at all. My inclination has been to forgo printing lyrics on the jackets of recordings and let the songs live out their lives in the listener’s ear. However, an exact accounting is not a bad idea in case someone has put it together all wrong and is about to make his move … or in the event that a congressional committee decides to investigate the Dead for satanic and/or liberal content. (1990 iii)

Here, Hunter refers to the motivation for the collection with a phrase linked to gaming; Hunter wants to thwart the outsider who may be ‘‘about to make his move,’’ as one would take a turn at chess or checkers. This reference launches remarks made in the preface to the later paperback edition, which builds on the gaming reference by directly mentioning gambling, a theme that runs through the body of Hunter’s lyrics. In the preface to the paperback edition, Hunter briefly describes his 1967 journey to join the Grateful Dead. He mentions a ‘‘surreal layover in Denver’’ without further explanation, but he details his stop in Nevada this way: ‘‘By the time I hit Nevada, I had a dime in my pocket which I put in a slot machine and parlayed into enough to make a phone call and tell the guys I was on my way’’ (1993 v). This excerpt significantly intertwines the act of gambling and

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