102. Song No. 1,293: “Box of Rain,” Grateful Dead
American Beauty, 1970
This is one helluva confluence of things I love so ridiculously much: I discovered the Dead (one of my favorite classic rock bands), particularly American Beauty (one of my favorite albums), via an episode of Freaks and Geeks (one of my favorite shows). It had me from its opening track, which remains one intensely emotional introduction that few bands have matched.
“Box of Rain” is one of those songs I love so much that everything stops whenever it’s on just so I can give it the attention and gushing it deserves. There are the songs you love, and there are the songs you’ve played so much and that have accompanied you through so much so closely that they’re practically your familiar and unequivocally yours. There are songs that you love so much they make you dance like you’re in a ’60s documentary no matter your state of lucidity, that sound like the sweet escape of summer no matter the time of year, that sound like home no matter where you are.
It’s one of those songs that always seemed to make the most unexpected cameos at the most wonderfully auspicious times, like bonding with a concert-going companion at one of the best live-music experiences of my life over his T-shirt depicting the eponymous box and launching into an animated conversation about why the song spoke to us so differently but just as intensely as the acid started to take hold, or while milling around a summer night campfire with people you’ll probably never see again but with whom you can share an incredible intimate intensity for the duration of a party that brings together all kinds of happily meandering souls for just as long as their paths are meant to intersect.
It’s hard to be objective about the songs you love with your entire soul, but the story behind “Box of Rain” is just as achingly beautiful as the five minutes and 19 seconds of transcendent perfection it inspired. It is a comforting, familiar piece of music with a profoundly peaceful sense of being one small mechanism is a bigger, cohesive, ever-in-motion cycle that unites us all in eternity, and any song that sounds like belonging to a symbiotic whole is a special kind of magic the world could really use more of.