On Monday, September 23, we lost music legend Robert Hunter. He was 78. Hunter was an integral part of the Grateful Dead’s long and storied legacy. I first experienced the Grateful Dead live at age 14. Today, so many years later, their music and magic continue to inspire me, comfort me in difficult times, and connect me to life’s soulfulness.
I know that some of you share the same appreciation for Grateful Dead music that I do. I also know that their music does not resonate as much—or at all–
I’m not here to talk you into listening to their music (although, if it feels right…). I am here to reflect on seven things I have learned from Hunter and Jerry Garcia’s long partnership.
Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world, but the heart has its beaches, its homeland, and thoughts of its own. Wake now, discover that you are the song that the morning brings,but the heart has its seasons, its evenings, and songs of its own. ~ Robert Hunter
It’s not enough to be the best at what you do. You must be perceived as the only one who does what you do. ~ Jerry Garcia
Rolling Stone magazine wrote of Robert Hunter: “His lyrics—heard in everything from early Dead classics like ‘Dark Star’ and ‘China Cat Sunflower’ and proceeding through ‘Uncle John’s Band,’ ‘Box of Rain,’ ‘Scarlet Begonias,’ and ‘Touch of Gray’—were as much a part of the band as Jerry Garcia’s singing and guitar.”
The Grateful Dead’s poet and lyricist Robert Hunter met Jerry Garcia in 1960 when both were not quite 20 years old. Initially they met through their (at the time) girlfriends; a year later, they bonded over the losses of their fathers.
Garcia had many talents: He was a singer, composer, and guitarist creating a catalogue of timeless tracks; he was a leader inspiring a global counter-culture movement; and he was a connector of millions of people through his experimental exploration and his 2,314 performances during his 35-year Grateful Dead career. Over this time, the band sold 23 million tickets to its dedicated fan base of Deadheads.
What Garcia was not was a lyricist, but Hunter was. This is where the two found partnership: Hunter’s words and Garcia’s voice and guitar. Together they established and nurtured one of the longest and most successful musical collaborations in history. Hunter’s lyrics spoke to Jerry’s musical senses and communicated beautifully what was already in his heart and soul. This connection came through in Jerry’s songs. Just before Jerry’s death at 53 in 1994, The Grateful Dead were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Through the decades, Hunter and Garcia blended words and musical composition to inspire a global, free flowing counter culture movement and create a legacy that few partnerships get to experience. What was it that made them so great together?
Here are seven lessons I learned from their lifelong partnership.
- Work with somebody you really enjoy. Enjoy this somebody socially as well as professionally. Mutual respect and appreciation matter.
- Find somebody whose skills and natural talents complement yours. Hunter and Garcia blended the best of their natural talents to strengthen each other’s weaknesses—to shore each other up and to bring out the best in the other.
- Create magic together. We bring unique skills and talents to all collaborations, but those special relationships in which the whole is exceptional and greater than the sum of the parts is where the magic happens. When Hunter and Garcia came together, they created magic.
- Laugh and have fun on the journey. Whether Hunter and Garcia were composing, playing bluegrass, or riding horses in the Los Altos hills, they enjoyed a humorous banter and style of play that was undeniably fun, and fun to be around.
- Be experiential. Get out in the world and experience creating together. Make contact with the world, meet people, get feedback, and iterate as you go. Hunter and Garcia never let moss grow or rested on album sales.
- Make a difference. Figure out what is the gift that you want to give to the world, and go after it. Hunter and Garcia’s collaboration, which launched them into the rock culture stratosphere, gave the world a treasure trove of timeless, masterful music and transformative experiences.
- Be genuine. Pursue what’s in your heart for the right reasons. Connect with the passion around your offering and stay true to the course.
Famous partnerships have shaped our world. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created Apple. Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google. Bill Hewlett and Bill Packard created Hewlett Packard. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield created Ben & Jerry’s. Paul McCartney & John Lennon and Elton John & Bernie Taupin created bodies of musical work that changed how we listen to and relate to music. Bert & Ernie are complete opposites who teach us every day about love and friendship.
How will you choose your collaborator and what will you create together?
There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night, and if you go, no one may follow, that path is for your steps alone.~ Robert Hunter