Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Saints: St Stephen

Grateful Dead: St Stephen


The original St Stephen was the first Christian martyr. The story goes that he was criticizing the way Judaism was being practiced in Greece, and the Jews there stoned him to death. Bear in mind that this was while Christ was alive, and remember that Christ was himself a Jew. So it was Christ’s version of Judaism, which would become Christianity after His death, that Stephen was preaching.

The Grateful Dead song St Stephen may also be about Steve Gaskin. Gaskin taught a spirituality class in San Francisco in the 1960s, and he would later found a commune called The Farm. So Robert Hunter’s lyrics may be trying to equate the newness of Gaskin’s teachings with those of St Stephen in his time. Musically, St Stephen is one of the Dead’s most interesting songs, with its tempo and mood changes. I was surprised to find that the song has almost never been covered.

Update: One of our readers pointed out in the comments that I made some fairly serious errors in my telling of the life of Saint Stephen. For more on this, please check the comments to this post.

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