Fans who ordered the Super Deluxe version of “Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King” received, among other goodies, a bonus disc containing four songs: “#27,” “Beach Ball,” “Little Red Bird,” and “Write a Song.” None of these songs have been previously released as a studio track, although listeners might recognize “#27” and “Beachball” from their live recordings. The bluesy “#27” debuted live on 7/28/07 (too bad it wasn't one day earlier on the 27th!) and was played three times during the Spring 2009 tour. “Beach Ball” was first performed live on 4/29/09 and presented once more last Spring. “Little Red Bird,” and “Write a Song,” have yet to be introduced on stage.
Both “#27” and “Little Red Bird” are wistful songs, full of grief. In “#27,” Dave wonders “what bittersweet road will I take to my grave?” Whether it's “losing,” “oldness,” or “sickness,” that brings death, the mantra “I hope you'll be by me then,” is the only saving grace. The idea is that as long as one's end isn't met alone, there is still hope. “Little Red Bird” sings of a different kind of loss, one felt by an entire race. References to Sitting Bull and of course the name “Little Red Bird” conjure images of Native Americans. In this story, Dave laments the treatment of our native peoples when he says “If God had an honest face, a troubled expression would be watching the human race.” The line, “A comfort to count the battles won after the war is lost,” speaks to the destruction of land, wealth, and integrity that indigenous people suffered at the hands of the white pioneers. This theme has appeared in older songs as well, including “Don't Drink the Water,” with lyrics like, “All I can say to you my new neighbor is you must move on, or I will bury you,” and “Upon these poor souls, I'll build heaven and call it home.” More recently this theme has reemerged in the dark and seething “Squirm.” If “Little Red Bird” is a slow, melancholic tribute then “Squirm” is a statement of outrage at the proselytizing and taking of identity that was forced on this land's original inhabitants.
Even within the bonus disc, DMB has achieved balance. While “#27” and “Little Red Bird” have a heavy feel, “Beach Ball,” and “Write a Song” are far more celebratory and lighthearted. “Beach Ball” has Dave's characteristic searching in phrases like “I'll ring the bell 'til someone listens,” a likely reference to the question of whether or not something greater than us exists in the Universe. There is a plea to “Bring me love, big as a beach ball,” which reminds me of one version of “Bartender” where Dave cries, “What is God but love?” And if we can't find the answers to these cosmic questions, or right the wrongs of our ancestors, we can at least “dance and sing,” as encouraged in “Write a Song,” a tune about the power and joy of music. This melody is pure exhilaration, the kind of experience that “When you get to the end, you wanna start at the beginning again.” Dave begins this piece with “I wanna write a song that will get you high,” a stunning feat I believe he's accomplished many times over.
Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.
Author of Serendipity and the Search for True Self