The Grateful Dead recorded 13 studio albums, well 15 if you count the solo albums Garcia and Ace and most critics consider their 1980 Go To Heaven as the worst, followed by the 1978 Shakedown Street. Coming in at third-to-last is Built To Last from 1989, although I have seen this ranked as their worst studio album on some lists, with critics saying that they were they were clearly out of steam as a studio band by the time this record was cut. Brent Mydland was the keyboardist on the last three studio albums, the 1987 In The Dark, Go To Heaven and Built To Last and many people felt his style was not a good match for the group, anyway Built To Last would prove to be the band’s final studio record. A lot of people jumped on the Grateful Dead bandwagon after the success of ‘Touch of Grey’ which cracked the Top Ten and brought the group int Mainstream America, but when they started work on their last album, the band stepped into the studio unprepared on the new songs. Built to Last became a disappointing end to the band’s admittedly inconsistent studio career, as the Grateful Dead were definitely a much better live band. Following Built to Last and Mydland’s death, the band would enter their final lineup adding Vince Welnick and Bruce Hornsby on keys. The Grateful Dead would spend the next five years touring and never released another studio work.
On the Built to Last album the title track song is ‘Built To Last’, which was written by Hunter and Garcia and sung by Jerry. It is kind of rare as the Dead only played it 18 times in concert and there is not much written about this song, but I like Jerry’s voice and Robert Hunter came up with some good lyrics as always. The song is about healing, hope, reconciliation, and reflecting on your life knowing that the past can’t be changed. The first chorus contains the line, “Three blue stars rise on the hill”, which is most likely a reference to Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka the bright bluish stars which are known as Orion’s Belt, and these three blue supergiant stars are hotter and much more massive than the Sun. I am not sure about the rest of this chorus, “Sing no more now just be still, All these trials soon be past, Look for something built to last”, but I am certain that it is not about Donald Trump, as he was only built to be a one term president, that is if he makes it that far.
Hunter gets back to nature for the next verse with, “A wind held by the collar, Yes, a cloud held by the breeze, You can walk on coals of fire, But sometimes you must freeze”. Many of the lyrics seem relevant to what is going on in politics today, “There are times when you offend me, And I do the same to you, If we can’t or won’t forget it, I guess we could be through”, as Republicans are asking Democrats to ignore Trump’s crimes and they want him held accountable. This song calls out for things that are built to last, like time itself, sunshine and darkness while years roll by, or something built to try, like the concept of democracy.
Another verse, “There are times when you get hit upon, Try hard but you can’t give, Other times you’d gladly part, With what you need to live”, is also very poignant although I have never been hit upon, but I am sure that happens a lot to hot girls. People with stubbornness will try hard but never give and I am extremely inflexible on some issues. When Fandango was running out of toilet paper last March, as I was all stocked up from shopping at BJ’s before the pandemic and I was willing to send him some, gladly parting with a necessity to help out my good friend. There is a lot of wisdom contained in these lyrics, “Don’t waste your breath to save your face, When you have done your best, And even more is asked of you, Fate will decide the rest”, as nobody knows exactly what the future holds and therefor you shouldn’t worry about tomorrow. In Chorus 3 we have, “All the stars are gone but one, Morning breaks here comes the sun, Cross the sky now sinking fast, Show me something built to last”, which I think means that time is a series of events which marches on and everyone should get with the program.
There are times when you can beckon,
There are times when you must call.
You can take a lot of reckoning,
But you can’t take it all.
There are times when I can help you out,
And times when you must fall.
There are times when you must live in doubt
And I can’t help at all.
Three blue stars rise on the hill
Sing no more now just be still
All these trials soon be past
Look for something built to last
A wind held by the collar,
Yes, a cloud held by the breeze
You can walk on coals of fire
But sometimes you must freeze
There are times when you offend me
And I do the same to you
If we can’t or won’t forget it
I guess we could be through
One blue star sets on the hill
Call it back you never will
One more star sinks in the past
Show me something built to last
Built to last till time itself falls tumbling from the wall
Built to last till sunshine fails and darkness moves on all
Built to last while years roll past like cloudscapes in the sky
Show me something built to last or something built to try
There are times when you get hit upon
Try hard but you can’t give
Other times you’d gladly part
With what you need to live
Don’t waste your breath to save your face
When you have done your best
And even more is asked of you
Fate will decide the rest
All the stars are gone but one
Morning breaks here comes the sun
Cross the sky now sinking fast
Show me something built to last
[etc through choruses again]