American Beauty


American Beauty, by the Grateful Dead, is an album I greatly admire. I remember the first time I heard it, I immediately wished I hadn’t, so that I could listen to it for the first time again.  A side character, in the hit cult show Freaks and Geeks, says something very similar to what I just did. So what is it about American Beauty that attracts so many people by to common bond? Is it good music, the way it both simply and elegantly describes the ideals of a generation, or is it the way it depicts the lifestyle many people had and still have to this day? For me, it was all three of these aspects.

American Beauty was the Grateful Dead’s fifth studio album, and it was released in 1970. The band consisted of Jerry Garcia on vocals and guitar, Bob Weir on guitar, Phil Lesh on bass, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on percussion, and Robert Hunter on lyrics. The album opens with “Box of Rain,” which according to the band was written for Phil Lesh’s dying father and features Phil on vocals. The third track is “Sugar Magnolia” a dainty little love song about a dream romantic partner. The album ends with a “Truckin.” “Truckin” sums up something that many people in the 1960s went through, traveling trying to find a place where they ‘belong,’ settling and leaving, and how every place feels the same.

When Andy Zweling wrote a review for Rolling Stone about American Beauty, in which he remarked that the title of the album could be alternatively viewed as “American Reality,” and I truly do believe that to this day.  The American reality is expressed perfectly in American Beauty. Maybe that’s why across time people are always drawn towards American Beauty.