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Desert Island Disc Challenge: ‘American Beauty’

The perfect island getaway album from the Grateful Dead.

Dominique Dungo

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American Beauty, the fifth studio album by the Grateful Dead, was released in 1970 and is the record I would take with me to a desert island. Why? Because it’s one of the albums by the Dead that has influenced my admiration for folk and living in the moment. 

It takes me back to good memories I had when I was sitting in my bedroom reaching a state of happiness and peace and playing American Beauty for the first time. The Dead influenced me even more after that and finding a community that is highly into the band has given me amazing memories. For example, driving up to the desert or up north near Lake Tahoe with a group of friends to camp and stay up all nigh until the sun rises, blasting and jamming to the Dead. It has almost turned into a tradition we all do together every year.

American Beauty would compliment my island home because the music fits my situation of living, which includes a little cottage home filled with tapestries and handmade art that was painted and gifted to me. Alex and Alison Grey paintings hang on the ceiling and walls, along with Android Jones psychedelic paintings. Walking into the house would be like going into a comfortable, warm art exhibit full of crystals, paintings and visually stimulating things to explore. It would have an orange/red tone filled with candles and my favorite incense.

Knowing that I’d live on an island forever I’d feel free and unbothered, and that is how the Dead makes me feel every time I listen to their songs and read their books, they remind me to be myself and always have a blast with what you do and do what you love. Knowing that the Dead has a lot of amazing songs and albums, I still consistently listen to American Beauty because it has brought a lot of joy, tears, and lessons that have shaped me.

As teenagers, we go through a lot of changes and experiences with what we want to do, who we want to surround ourselves with, and who we want to be, and the Dead has had a big impact on my life by helping me understand at such a young age that art, nature, seeing the good in life/people, mistakes, and music is what I focus on, much more than the bad in the world.

I was highly influenced by the band and I have friends that I can relate to through their music. And when it comes to jamming out, the Dead have always has brought us together, from having parties at a friends house or driving to the middle of nowhere in the dusty desert on summer nights.

Most of my friends are musicians and we play a lot of blues, jazz, R&B, rock, and folk. I have a lot of favorite albums that I would like to take with me, but American Beauty has to be number one. It inspires me to write and play music. Whether I’m by myself sitting in my car watching the sunset, sitting in silence with nothing but the chirp of the birds and the strumming of my ukulele with a notebook on my lap, or surrounded with a lot of people trying to get rid of a stressful mindset. 

There is a lot of music that influenced my life and felt as if they were there for me but there is something about the Dead that has helped me get past emotional or life struggles because each one of their songs can be interpreted way differently, and with raw and real lyrics that touch your soul.

Two of my favorites are “There is a road / no simple highway / between the down and the dark of night / and if you go no one may follow / that path is for your steps alone” from “Ripple.” And this classic: “Once in a while you can get shown the light / in the strangest of places if you look at it right” from “Scarlet Begonias.” 

Not only does American Beauty have all my favorite songs, but it took me to places I wanted to experience and meet people I wanted to be with. I’ve been invited to Grateful Dead cover band shows, meeting old heads and being able to talk to them about their experiences with going to the Dead concerts when they were younger. I’ve experienced cool art and underground venues, and talking about the band to people that were familiar with them ended up giving me a lot of places to go to that had a lot of Dead history.

American Beauty is one of the band’s funny, sweet, and relatable albums with great lyrics that make you want to relax and be out in nature. When I listen to “Brokedown Palace” I don’t get sad, but more of a nostalgic feeling comes over me and it makes me feel grateful to have what I have and who I have around me. It’s a beautiful song that calms me down when I’m feeling anxious or unhappy.

On American Beauty Jerry Garcia played the guitar, piano, pedal steel and did vocals, Mickey Hart did percussion, Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics, Bill Kreutzmann played drums, Phil Lesh played the bass guitar, guitar, piano, and did vocals, and lastly, Bob Weir played the guitar and did vocals.  

If I was to live in a desert island forever I would bring this album, it has given me so much to live for. I’d love to let all the songs play out and relax by the water and remember all the good times I had inspired by it.

If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.

Dominique is a Photo and Music Journalism student in SoCal. She has a radio show on her college campus focusing on talented and upcoming musicians from Los Angeles and is working to finish her degree. In her free time, Dominique is a fire performer and loves traveling, Jazz, Drum & Bass, and making music as a vocalist.

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