Riff: Grateful Dead – “Brokedown Palace”

May 24, 2018

In a bed, in a bed/By the waterside I will lay my head/Listen to the river sing sweet songs/To rock my soul

from Brokedown Palace lyrics by Grateful Dead

The ‘river’ has been a piece of transformational symbolism in literature and song forever and ever and ever. From the immaculate socio-political opening lines on Sam Cooke‘s “A Change is Gonna Come” to the tawdry hook on Justin Timberlake‘s “Cry Me a River,” the one thing the river always does, especially in song lyrics is — flow. On “Brokedown Palace,” the Dead’s Robert Hunter follows the narrative of the former, chasing the redemptive, baptismal elements of the great nature equalizer. Housed on their most choral studio approach in 1970’s American Beauty, Garcia leads the Band-meets-CSNY sparkling hymnal healer, in which a willow tree gets planted, bones are laid to rest and souls are sweetly rocked. And though the palace may be breaking down — whether material or figurative — it’s one of the few songs in the Dead cannon that saves the day with transcendence without resorting to any hippie idealisms, that in the end, is something far greater than the sum of its simple parts.


Riff by Gavin Paul

Gavin Paul is SONGLYRICS' Editor-in-Chief. Chicago-bred, New York-sculpted, his words and ideas have appeared in publications ranging from Spin and Rolling Stone to The Chicago Sun-Times and Arborist News.

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