Robert Hunter, Grateful Dead Lyricist, Dies at 78

Robert Hunter, Grateful Dead Lyricist, Dies at 78

“Years later,” added Mr. Kinzer, a former correspondent for The New York Times, “he recognized the irony of the C.I.A. project, which was aimed at finding a mind-control drug. ‘The United States government was in a way responsible for creating the “acid tests” and the Grateful Dead, and thereby the whole psychedelic counterculture,’ he concluded.”

Notwithstanding his encounters with drugs, Mr. Hunter took lyric writing seriously. There was, for instance, the matter of rhyming.

“After a few years in the business,” he wrote in the foreword to the lyric book, “I developed a rhyming dictionary in my head and didn’t even bother to write an end word that would provide a too-limited scope and palette of rhyme. One learns early to tuck the word love into the middle of the line rather than deal with shove, glove, dove, of, and above.”

If his lyrics were sometimes hard to make out on records or in performance, that was by design.

“Back in the day,” he wrote, “I didn’t allow my lyrics to be published with the recordings so people could dub in their own mishearings, adding a bit of themselves to the song. Stone Age recording technique assured a certain amount of verbal blur.”

Digitally remastered releases clarified the lyrics, which Mr. Hunter may have regretted.

“I’ve generally found,” he wrote, “that the words to songs I thought I heard in the works of others were more colorful and enigmatically apt than the words I eventually discovered were intended. More to my personal taste. I assume the same is true of my own work.”

Mr. Hunter also published several books of poetry. He was a nonperforming member of the Dead, but he did perform solo shows in recent years, accompanying himself on guitar, with plenty of Dead songs in his act.


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