The Dead Commandments - Can Religion Be Removed From The Grateful Dead?

The Inspiration and view behind The Dead Commandments design

What are The Dead Commandments?

The Dead Commandments design was created in 2018, and came through inspiration from lyrics in Grateful Dead tunes, lines from songs giving advice or direction which spoke deeply to me.  

I am not unique in this experience. Lovers of Grateful Dead come in all colors of the tie-dyed spectrum, and the music, no matter how long they have listened to it, has stayed with them through their changes in life.

The meaning of song lyrics also may develop, shift, and change with life's journey as well.

What a long strange trip It’s been… 

Everyone relates and makes meaning in different ways. (Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own).

Originally, there were more lyrics in The Dead Commandments. I chose to make the number 13, to equal the 13 point bolt in the Steal Your Face. One of the most well-known pieces of Grateful Dead art, created by Owsley ‘Bear’ Stanley and Bob Thomas, originally used to mark the band’s equipment so it could be clearly distinguished at music festivals. Bear tells the story himself here.

Is this a religious thing?

Why ‘The Dead Commandments’ though? Is this some religious thing? Yes… No… You decide for yourself.

The Dead Commandments arose from inspiration that came through the music. If being inspired, transformed, and connected to spirit through this inspiration is religion, we can call it that.

Often people comment on this design assuming it has something to do with religion. This post is to share the inspiration and view behind the creation of The Dead Commandments.

The Ten Commandments, as we know, are some ‘You shall’, ‘You shall not’ moral laws which were spoken to Moses… from a burning bush. (We will briefly touch on the burning bush later that appears in the art).

This fire spoke to Moses on a mountain top. Down came the prophet with these tablets which contained these laws chiseled into them. In short, these Ten Commandments appear in the form of direction, a way of acting or being. 

This post is not to discuss the Ten Commandments, the Bible, or any other scripture. (Although I do end up visiting this briefly). Primarily, this post is to look at what is spoken in Grateful Dead song lyrics in the form of direction, and considering the idea of this as scripture. (Any writing or text of a sacred nature).

GOD IS SOUND

The lyrics that appear in The Dead Commandments, for the most part, are in the form of a suggestion, a direction, a command, or a guide post. 

My personal experience regarding the chosen lyrics appearing as a suggestion or direction, are indeed a form of the Divine. Of Inspiration, the Pulsating Universe vibrating as sound through these songs… if we look at it right.

The concept that 'God is Sound', has always been. (In the beginning was the Word). Word creates the world.

Joachim-Ernst Berendt writes about this in his book: The World Is Sound: Nada Brahma: Music and the Landscape of Consciousness

Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead seems to be convinced of this idea. While he wears the t-shirt, he also has spent his life exploring and expressing this in the music.

God Is Sound - Mickey Hart

Mickey Hart wrote a book (and album) called Spirit into Sound: The Magic of Music. His work with Planet Drum, and the creation of 'The Beam', are all connected with this idea that 'God Is Sound'.

It matters not what you believe, identify yourself as spiritually, religious or not. See it as Inspiration which moves us brightly. ✨

In summary, The Dead Commandments, are lyrics from Grateful Dead tunes which appear in the form of a direction or instruction of a way to be, or a suggestion on what one ‘should’ do, as I heard them.

The Dead Commandments as a show

Nobody wants to know the setlist before the show. Those who already know the tunes from the lyrics know. Those who are new, can see the setlist while reading. 

A friend who works with mixing music agreed to put The Dead Commandments setlist into a show. You can listen to it here. The setlist is:

Set 1
Scarlet Begonias >
Uncle John’s Band >
Foolish Heart >
Eyes of the World >
Help on the Way >
Terrapin Station >
Comes A Time

Set 2
Music Never Stopped >
Franklin’s Tower >
Let It Grow >
Black Peter >
Box of Rain
Encore: Ripple

A ‘Divine’ Setlist

What about the order of lyrics in The Dead Commandments?

While a Grateful Dead show setlist is displayed as the order of songs played, The Dead Commandments are a setlist but with the lyric in place of the song name.

The order of these are laid out, perhaps as a human’s journey, the development of the consciousness through life experiences, the ups and downs which grow us. One’s path of expansion and realization toward a higher consciousness, liberation, enlightenment, oneness with all that is.

Let’s take a look… 

1. Look at it Right

‘Once in a while you can get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you ‘look at it right’.

Our view, our perspective is always where everything starts. How we see a situation, how we see ourselves, others and the world we live in, is really… everything.

If we have a mistaken perception, our whole thought process and feeling about something might be built on a conception that is not even real, if we are not seeing it as it as it truly exists.

A small shift in perspective can be the puzzle piece which causes the whole picture to fall into place, the key that unlocks gateways to new understanding and possibilities. It can create a complete opening in places which have previously kept us stuck, outside the door and unable to progress. All because of how we saw or viewed something.

The way Dead and Company now repeat this line ‘look at it right’ 3x during Scarlet Begonias, drives this point home even more. Religious or not, we all want to get shown the light.

2. Be Kind 

I know… this is not actually a lyric. The lyric comes in the form of a question, ‘Are you kind?’ Yet, everyone knows and intuits this question implies that a good way of being is to ‘Be Kind’.

Being kind, as a general expectation is synonymous with Grateful Dead culture, and as humans, it is a good way to be, a good way to live, a worthy quality to aspire for.

Right from the show opener, we are first directed to check our view. Then an inquiry into how we treat situations, people, and world around us… Be Kind.

3. Learn to speak with wisdom like a child

Children have an unassuming nature. So, they speak ‘directly from the heart’.

As we grow, we often lose much of this innocence, bombarded by our growing identities born of the families, economic, and cultural backgrounds we come from. Learned experiences, which have us become protective and guarded.

Children are the very form of innocence. So, their words penetrate, being free of the clutter of unresolved experiences that adults react from continually to new situations.

We generally think that our experience makes us wise, and yet, here is a suggestion to learn from the wisdom of children. It’s almost as if learning to speak with wisdom like a child, is also about unlearning some of what we got as we grew up.

Along with being kind, learning to speak with the wisdom like a child, is another ‘look at it right’ opportunity.

4. You Are the Eyes of the World

Not exactly a command of something one should do, but a clear statement of what we are. This is so powerful. We are part of an existence. Each and every being has an ‘inner’ experience as well as an ‘outer’ experience.

Often, at shows, I love to look around at the beaming faces that surround me, and contemplate their experience, their joy. What 'song of their own' are they experiencing? It somehow increases my own.

I meditate on this colorful, spinning sea of Dead Heads all being manifest reflections of the Divine, all One Being expressing Itself in thousands of perspectives, all unique Eyes of the World.

We are told to learn to speak with wisdom like a child. Then we are told what or who we are. This pure consciousness viewing, creating the world, that is you!

5. Without love in the dream, it will never come true

Again, not exactly in the form of an instruction or direction, and yet, it’s clear, love must be infused into the dream… so do that. Bring love.

Leading up to this line, we realize we needed to look at it right, ‘I was blind all the time, I was learning to see.’ We are learning to ‘look at it right’. Now, here is what to bring to the dream.

6. Light the song with sense and color

Here, the Story Teller makes a request. ‘Inspiration move me brightly, light the song with sense and color, hold away despair’. 

Previously, we are to bring love to the dream, and this is in the same line of direction. Light the song with sense and color. Being the Eyes of the World, looking at it ‘right’, now Inspiration moves us brightly, and with that Inspiration, we are to light the song with sense and color. 

A Grateful Dead show is a microcosm of this, both inside and outside the show. Dead Lot, or ‘Shakedown’, a community village which pops up on tour, with some of the most amazing expressions of art, creations, food, and smiles one could never imagine in one place. Overall, there is a lot of kindness.

The same goes for the show. The dancing, expression, joy, tears, and relatedness that comes about from being in a place where the individual experience flows out and touches the experience of other participants, including the band is ineffable. 

Outside of the Grateful Dead experience, this direction is powerful. Light the song with sense and color, hold away despair. Whatever light is in you, however Inspiration is moving you brightly, bring that, share that, and protect it as well by holding away despair. More than this is not asked by the Story Teller.

7. Don’t give it up got an empty cup only love can fill

This tune hits hard, and so do some experiences in life. Some experiences shake up our world.

There may be difficult times in life. Times we may live in dark places, so dark, sometimes so painful, the day may come when you can’t feel at all.

Even while we are doing all we can to light the song with sense and color, life has it’s bends and curves, unexpected heartaches, a desired result or expectation not being fulfilled.

No matter how dark, how rough the waves are, direction is given, ‘Don’t give it up, got an empty cup, only love can fill’.

Being empty feels… empty, perhaps painful. However, only an empty vessel can be filled with something.

We are being told that only love can fill this cup. This intuits becoming a worthy vessel without cracks to hold the love, so the love will not leak out is equally as important as the love itself.

Interesting to note, regarding perspective and ‘looking at it right’, in this case, a blind man is telling us how to see the situation.

8. Keep on dancing

As difficult and painful as portions of life can be, keep on dancing through the daylight, greet the morning air with song. To pull in from another tune, ‘I’m still walking, so I’m sure that I can dance’ alludes to how important dancing through the dream, till the very end is.

Perhaps this direction has to do with how we choose to respond to life while living it. We can dance, or, there are so many other options as well. Dancing, shaking our bones, allowing the spirit of people joining hand in hand, while the music plays the band, seems like a great option. The music never stops, so, keep on dancing.

9. If you get confused listen to the music play 

Confusion in life, losing step to the beat, getting off track in our direction... Happens all the time. If we get confused we are told to 'listen to the music play'.

What a powerful instruction. What about listening to the music play would clear up confusion? Perhaps it is more than just the rhythm or beat. Maybe something is being spoken through the music which would serve our journey, maybe something is shouting to us?

10. Listen to the thunder shouting ‘I Am’  

Now we have bent our ear to hear to the tune by listening to the music play, to help mitigate confusion. Now that we are already listening, we are told, ‘listen to the thunder shouting I Am’. Thunder is loud. It cracks, sometimes so powerfully we are jolted by it’s sound.

Now a brief visit into some of the world’s scripture, for the sake of relatedness. This idea of ‘I Am’ shows up in many places.

There is the ‘I Am that I Am’ from the Bible. This also appears in the Bhagavad Gita, from India. In Gita, there are many mentions of how to see Divinity in the world we live in.

  • ‘I Am the taste of water’
  • ’I Am the light of the Sun and Moon’, 
  • ‘I Am the syllable OM’ (God is sound) ॐ
  • ‘I Am the life of all that lives’
  • ’I Am the healing herb’

All examples showing where spirit is infused into and animates all that is.

It goes on. I am sure there are other places this appears. These are the places, to include Let It Grow, I am aware of. That type of thunder shout is heady, to say the least.  

11. See here how everything, lead up to this day

Taking pause, reflecting back on this long strange trip, if we are able to see the situations, the circumstances, all the happenings, that have us where we are, right now. If we can for a moment, see all that has taken place without labeling the circumstances as 'good' or 'bad', as a 'fail' or 'success', we may see how all of it, every moment led to this very present, where we are right now, and see how it is all connected. There are no coincidences.

See here how everything, lead up to this day. It may be just like any other day there has ever been. The sun is going up and down. Yet, we are experiencing life during this every other day. Here again, we are directed to look at it right.

 12. Believe it if you need it 

We have come to the show closer. There has been direction in changing our perspective, kindness, wisdom on how to speak, what is our nature, bringing love, being moved by inspiration and sharing that by lighting the song with sense and color. 

What we can do in the dark and unsure times by continuing to dance and listen to the music through the confusion for direction, listen to what is being shouted out from the thunder, and how it is all connected. 

Here it is. All packed up in this box for us. It will ease the pain. Love will see us through. Is this helpful to us? Believe it if it is needed. If not, we do not have to hold onto it. It may however be of assistance to another. We can pass it on. 

This also  applies to this post, the ideas contained in it, my personal experience and perspective. Believe it if you need it, if not, pass it on. These ideas are just a song of my own.

13. Let it be known there is a fountain, that was not made by the hands of men

Now, as the show encore plays, the conclusion, we are directed to 'Let it be known' that this fountain, this flow, this shouting of the thunder, this music that never stops, the music that plays the band, is not made by the hands of men.

Religious or not, we are part of an existence. Something benevolent it seems animating all that is. We are to speak that with our voice, praise it, ‘Let it be known’.

It seems, in the end, it’s about being Grateful. Gratitude has an element of being humbled.

Humility that arises with a realization, that in the end, whatever knowledge one may have, whatever accomplishments made, with whatever one has gathered along the way, the source of all of that is from a Fountain with a Divine nature.

This completes the order of The Dead Commandments, what I got, and why they were laid out in this way.

The Dead Commandments Artwork 

The image is a Steal Your Face with the arms wrapping around holding the tablets. The Universe exists in the image, with the sun and moon as the Eyes of the World, the fountain not made by the hands of men pouring down into the body of still water. The Terrapin turtles showing we are at Terrapin Station. The space jam is present, represented by the stars in the face and tablets.

Regarding the burning bush, some say that the burning bush was Acacia, so the DMT molecule is integrated into the face. If the burning bush was indeed Acacia, perhaps that played a part in how Moses got his thunder shout? 

I took my idea and worked with Ruben Perez (@rubenowsy) to create the art.

I hope you enjoy it. Believe it if you need it, if you don’t, then pass it on.

Conclusion

The lyrics that were put into The Dead Commandments are in no way complete. Many have said, ‘What about this line from this song’. I agree! Please share the songs of your own. Hearing your experience and perspective, would benefit myself and others, for you are the eyes of the world. 

Creating this design came from the Inspiration I got through Grateful Dead music, and the idea that God Is Sound. And since the music never stops, we are always being spoken to, continuously whispered to from behind the curtain of creation, perhaps even shouted to by the thunder, if we look at it right. 

Beyond this, if the thunder doesn’t get you, not to worry, the lighting will. ⚡️

The meaning I got from it is just what I got, nothing more, nothing less. I am just doing my best to light the song.

I got so much pleasure and joy putting this out into the world. And I’m glad so many of you have loved it as much as you have. #GodisSound

NFA