Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds

In Astronomy a dark star defined under Newtonian mechanics, is a star that has a gravitational pull strong enough to trap light.  A dark star when related to dark matter, is a star heated by annihilation of dark matter particles within it.  There is also a dark-energy star, where an object is composed of dark energy outwardly and it resembles a black hole.  The phrase “dark star” refers to the phenomenon of a faint star, and in reference to dwarf stars.  Over a very long time, a white dwarf will cool and its material will begin to crystallize, starting with the core.  The star’s low temperature means it will no longer emit significant heat or light, and it will become a cold black dwarf.  The black dwarf will produce little, if any, light of their own and this is the true death of the star.  Diamonds are formed from extremely high pressure and temperature, the conditions found in stars.  The universe is awash with tiny diamonds that sometimes rain down on the Earth and they were created by exploding stars known as supernovae, the explosions of dying stars.

The lyrics for the Grateful Dead song ‘Dark Star’ were written by Robert Hunter and the music was composed by Jerry Garcia.  This is one of the most important songs in the evolution of this group, representing a turning point for them, as it came at a time when all they were doing were covers of other people’s music and this gave them their own thing.  Bill Kreutzmann the drummer believes this song first popped up during the band’s stay at the Russian River on September 3, 1967, where the Grateful Dead played at Rio Nido.  At the time the band had a short commute because they stayed at the family ranch of a friend of the band, John Carl Warnecke Jr., on an eighteen-acre commune in Forestville’s Pocket Canyon off of Giovanetti Road.  This place is where Robert Hunter got his first credit with the Grateful Dead for helping out with the song ‘Alligator’.

‘Dark Star’ took some time to find its final form, and it eventually coalesced after Hunter returned from a trip that he took to New Mexico, as when he returned the Dead asked him to become their full-time lyricist, and he jumped at the opportunity.  Hunter said that the trip back from New Mexico took him six weeks, because there was a long layover in Denver.  By the time he hit Nevada, he only had a dime left in his pocket which he put into a slot machine and he was able to parlay that into enough money to make a phone call and tell the guys that he was on his way.  When he arrived in San Francisco he had a case of walking pneumonia and just the clothes on his back.  The next day, he started writing ‘Dark Star’, so maybe that is why the lyrics are so spacey.

Hunter had previously sent the band poetic lyrics for ‘Alligator’, ‘China Cat Sunflower’, and ‘St. Stephen’, but this is widely considered the first song he ever wrote as an active collaborative process with the band.  Hunter’s lyrics were inspired by a line from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot which was published in 1915.  The line says, “Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky.”  In the poem, Alfred Prufrock invites a woman to go somewhere, but the place ends up being some winding, dirty streets of a big, foggy city that looks a lot like London.

A couple of weeks after they started writing this song, Garcia asked Hunter to write another verse.  Hunter went to Golden Gate Park to write it, and some hippie dude handed him a joint.  Hunter took a hit and said, “In case anything ever comes of it, this is called ‘Dark Star’.”  Initially, nothing came of this song, at least in terms of sales.  ‘Dark Star’ was recorded for the Anthem of the Sun sessions and it was released as a single in April of 1968.  Warner Bros. shipped 1600 copies (with ‘Born Cross-Eyed’ as the B-side), but only 500 sold.  The original version, however, was really just the skeleton of what ‘Dark Star’ would eventually become, a psychic embryo for a song that would be born hundreds of times but never in quite the same shape as before.  ‘Dark Star’ is the only Dead song with Hunter’s voice on the track.  That’s him speaking at the very end as the song trails off, reciting a closing “word salad” over Garcia’s banjo as the single winds down.  Supposedly Hunter is saying, “Spinning a set the stars through which the tattered tales of axis roll.  About the waxen wind of never set to motion in the unbecoming.  Round about the reason hardly matters nor the wise through which.  The stars were set in spin.”

The song became a platform for some of the Dead’s most revered jams.  This song took on new life as the group began performing it in concert in early 1968, ultimately elongating it into an improvisatory masterpiece, which often lasting beyond 20 minutes and incorporated stunning interplay between Garcia and the other musicians, as well as experimental flights of fancy that often took them far beyond the song’s root melody.  ‘Dark Star’ first appeared in its proper form on the Dead’s 1969 Live/Dead album, where it lasted more than 23 minutes and segued into ‘St. Stephen’.

Many people have pondered the meaning of ‘Dark Star’, but Jerry Garcia the guy who sang it once said, “‘Dark Star’ has meant, while I’m playing it, almost as many things as I can sit here and imagine.”  When Robert Hunter was asked about the song’s meaning he said, “What is so unclear about that?  It says what it means!”  A dark star is an oxymoron, as a star is viewed as being a bright object that allows you to see, where dark is the absence of light.

Many people feel that this song is about an LSD trip where you eventually come down from your high being reflected in the phrase, “dark star crashes”.  Those who take an LSD trip experience intense distortion and altered perceptions, and being in this altered state can transform their disassociation, so their “reason tatters”.  The person that is tripping may try to make sense out of this new reality and therefor, “Searchlight casting for faults in the clouds of delusion”.  They may not find any answers as the, “Mirror shatters in formless reflections of matter”.  LSD causes hallucinations and I imagine that a person could see a, “Glass hand dissolving in ice, petal flowers revolving”.  The line, “Lady in velvet recedes in the nights of good-bye”, could be a reference to a mysterious lady that slowly disappeared.  Robert Hunter was known to take LSD.

I have read other explanations for the meaning of ‘Dark Star that have nothing to do with drugs.  Somebody said that this song is about the patterns that we have in our lives, how most of the time we go about our business doing nothing much in particular, but then there are those rare moments of bliss which crate happiness that make our life worth living.  Others think that this is a song about the destruction and rebirth that follows death, being a celebration of the cycle of death and rebirth.  The dark star is a symbol for death, but when it crashes it is reborn into ashes.  Following the dark star crashing, there is a renewal where delusions are destroyed and the old way has to give way to the new.

The song contains some rhyme with “crashes/ashes” and “tatters/shatters” as well as some assonance with “dissolving/revolving”.  Robert Hunter passed away on September 23, 2019.

Dark star crashes, pouring its light into ashes
Reason tatters, the forces tear loose from the axis
Searchlight casting for faults in the clouds of delusion
Shall we go, you and I while we can
Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?
Mirror shatters in formless reflections of matter
Glass hand dissolving in ice, petal flowers revolving
Lady in velvet recedes in the nights of good-bye
Shall we go, you and I while we can
Through the transitive nightfall of diamonds?

Written for Song Lyric Sunday where the prompt is Diamond/Emerald/Jade/Pearl/Ruby/Sapphire.

24 thoughts on “Transitive Nightfall of Diamonds

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