From "Box of Rain" to "Freaks & Geeks": 50 Years of the Grateful Dead's "American Beauty"

Lindsay on Freaks and Geeks
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(NBC)

It was the first day of November when the Grateful Dead released the band's instantly classic fifth studio effort, American Beauty. The San Francisco band was riding on an especially creative high that year: In June 1970, the outfit had already released the equally revered Workingman's Dead LP. For many listeners, the two records comprise something of a double-album. One such believer in this theory is Jerry Garcia himself: "Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, they're both kind of one record, really," he told Joe Smith in 1988.

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If there was one thing that makes American Beauty unique, Garcia explained during a 1975 radio, was death: "With American Beauty, there was this rash of parent deaths, where everybody's parents (died) in the space of about three or four weeks," he revealed. "Or maybe two or three months. We were working on that record, and it was really incredible. It was just like, tragedy city, you know? It was bad news every day. You're so distracted by what's going on in life, that the work gets to be something... it has a lot of mysterious life of its own, and you don't even notice until way later."

American Beauty is lovingly opened up and appreciated during the Season 2 premiere of Deadcast, with a cast of Dead luminaries collected to share their memories and knowledge regarding the legendary LP.

Album co-producer Stephen Barcard and Riders of the Purple Sage co-founder David Nelson (who played guitar on the album's opening track, "Box of Rain") are among those who step to the microphone. 

Also in the mix: Freak and Geeks co-creator Paul Feig, who reveals how the Dead, American Beauty and "Box of Rain" came to play such a pivotal role on the final episode of the tragically short-lived but brilliant TV series. Set in Chippewa, Michigan, over the 1980-1981 school year, the show wraps up with lead character Lindsay Weir--notice the character's last name--goes to her guidance counselor for some advice about life after high school.

Lindsay, portrayed beautifully by actress Linda Cardellini, is confused when her counselor starts talking to her in Grateful Dead lyrics. He goes on to explain how listening to American Beauty helped him see the light when he was lost during his own collegiate years.

When he loans her his vinyl copy of the record, Lindsay takes it home, and has a revelatory moment listening to "Box of Rain," which she listens to on repeat. Spoiler alert: Freaks and Geeks' one and only season ends with a newly enlightened Lindsay deciding to tune in, drop out and turn on by following the Dead on tour.

Freaks and Geeks obsessives (there are more of us than many might realize) will be interested to know that despite the show's premature cancellation, Feig already had thoughts on the kinds of adventures Lindsay might have gotten into during a second season.

"I just thought it would be interesting if she got like, completely swept up in this, and sort of got in over her head a little bit. Just kind of having too good of a time. I liked the idea that maybe she went a little too far at one of the Dead shows, and maybe being taken out on a stretcher." Feig laughed. "Maybe somebody slipped her something. I love the idea if you get busted coming back from leaving for the Dead that you really have to come back to our parents not only just contrite, but also in the hospital."

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