American Beauty shows the GD playing, singing and songwriting skills in full stride. We had the confidence of a successful record Workingman's Dead behind, plus a shared sense of direction that was in tune with the times - The Band, The Byrds, Poco, CSNY & Dylan were all exploring traditional music augmented by the power of rock & roll. Psychedelia had had its moment (marking the GD forever in the public perception) and we were continuing to evolve what we believed to be the logical next step in American music, hence the title. There is an underlying tone of sadness to American Beauty (Phil's father had just passed away, Jerry's mother was dying in the hospital as the result of an auto accident) reflected in the colors of such tunes as "Box Of Rain," "Brokedown Palace," "Attics of My Life" and "Ripple." On the up side, "Sugar Magnolia/Sunshine Daydream" re-affirmed the important business of just getting stupid and being in love, while "Truckin'" announced, as early as 1970, what a long, strange trip it already seemed to have been. This didn't refer only to the GD, but to the ten years of bluegrass, old timey & jug band configurations leading up to the rock & roll departure. Grateful Dead Live ('71), Europe '72 & the Garcia solo release (also '72) staked out the GD's musical territory in a definitive way. It wouldn't be until 1975 and Blues for Allah that we would break with that feeling and extend the territory into less definable musical spaces, neither psychedelic nor traditional based. This amorphous state of transition lasted until 1985, when In the Dark once again found us in command of our direction in a way comprehensible to the public. American Beauty remains the favorite studio record of many fans and members of the band, mustering, as it does, all the resources at our command in a futile but game response to the rising tide of commercially safe music which had already begun a counter-mission to recover its monopoly of the American airwaves and record racks in the '70's.
Reproduced with permission from Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads by David Shenk and Steve Silberman (Doubleday): 400 pages of history, lore, and interviews, with art by Alton Kelley and an introduction by John Perry Barlow. The book is available in most bookstores. It can also be mailordered from Grateful Graphics by calling 1-800-321-9578. For more information, email Skeleton1@aol.com.