On the 25th anniversary of his death, the music of Jerry Garcia continues to have an enduring presence in the extended Grateful Dead scene that has thrived for more than a generation since his passing. His iconic guitar play and signature vocals have now been consumed and enjoyed by fans of all ages thanks to modern audio technology that’s fueled by a trove of Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band releases.
Jerry Garcia truly was built to last. So it is fitting that we pay homage today to “Built to Last,” one of his last song writing credits. It appears on the Dead’s final studio album that shares the same name. With poetic lyrics supplied by longtime collaborator Robert Hunter, it’s a song of hope and resolve in trying times – items that are very relatable today.
Its first performance in a live setting was on October 20, 1988, at The Summit in Houston, TX. “Built to Last” appeared in the second set, following “Playing in the Band” and right before the “Drums” section. It wasn’t played again until February of 1989 when it made its way into the first set at a show at The Forum in Inglewood, CA.
In an odd twist, the song itself did not live up to its title as it was predominately played only in 1989, often appearing in the latter stages of the first set, before being shelved soon after. But it does share the distinction, along with “Blues for Allah,” “Terrapin Station,” and “Shakedown Street,” of being the title track for a Grateful Dead album.
Were the band still playing today, there’s little doubt that this song would reemerge in the live setting as the lyrics about strength in times of adversity and self reliance more than play to the current climate. And the song truly does speak to the Grateful Dead’s legacy of establishing something firm and long lasting that will stand the test of time. Pair all of that with a passionate guitar solo from Jerry and you’ve got a winner.
With that said, here’s the last ever live performance of “Built to Last,” played in Albany’s own Knickerbocker Arena. As today we celebrate the life and music of Jerry Garcia, whose legacy was undoubtedly built to last.
“Built to Last” – words by Robert Hunter, music by Jerry Garcia
There are times that you can beckon
There are times when you must call
You can shake a ton of reckoning
But you can’t shake it all
There are times when I can help you out
And times that you must fall
There are times when you must live in doubt
And I can’t help at all
Three blue stars / Rise on the hill
Say no more, now / Just be still
All these trials / Soon be past
Look for something / Built to last
One blue star / Sets on the hill
Call it back / You never will
One more star / Sinks in the past
Show me something / Built to last.
Built to last till time itself
Falls tumbling from the wall
Built to last till sunshine fails
And darkness moves on all
Built to last while years roll past
Like cloudscapes in the sky
Show me something built to last
Or something built to try
There are times when you get hit upon
Try hard but you cannot give
Other times you’d gladly part
With what you need to live
Don’t waste the breath to save your face
When you have done your best
And even more is asked of you
Let fate decide the rest.
All the stars / Are gone but one
Morning breaks / Here comes the sun
Cross the sky now / Sinking fast
Show me something / Built to last