Morning Dew and Nuclear War: Peace Song of the Day for Friday 8/19/2011

Morning Dew by Bonnie Dobson is the Royal Peace Song of the Day for Friday 8/19/11.  The song describes the world after a nuclear apocalypse. The Grateful Dead cover of the song is, of course, the best known version. A close friend of Duke Augustus introduce him to the song, and explained the meaning. The same friend has brought many good things into Duke Augustus’ life, including getting him to go to the Vance Gilbert concert where the Duke met the Duchess. This is just one of a multitude of videos of the Grateful Dead playing the song. What is your favorite video of this song?


I found an enlightening interview with Bonnie Dobson on a website that traces the roots of Grateful Dead songs.  The interview was conducted with Bonnie Dobson at the White House Hotel, London England on 4/13/93.  The interview give the following short bio of Dobson and a photo:

Bonnie was born and raised in Toronto Canada where she embarked on a career in music while studying at the University there. She moved to England in 1969 where she now makes her home. Bonnie only performs in public on an occasional basis but still enjoys singing and playing guitar. Bonnie is currently the head administrator for the Philosophy Department at the Berwick College of the University Of London.

Dobson describes the inspiration for the song:

Yea, well actually what happened with that song is that, I think it must have been maybe 1960 or 1959, I can’t remember, when I saw a film called “On The Beach” and it made a tremendous impression on me, that film. Particularly at that time because everybody was very worried about the bomb and whether we were going to get through the next 10 years. It was a very immediate problem and I remember I was singing in Los Angeles at the Ashe Grove and I sat up all night talking with some friends. I was staying with a girl named Joyce Nastelin(sp) whom I lost contact with, nice woman she was. And I don’t know, she went to bed or something and I just sat and suddenly I just started writing this song. I had never written anything in my life. I’d written some poetry as a kid. I’d never written songs and this song just came out and really it was a kind of re-enactment of that film in a way where at the end there is nobody left and it was a conversation between these two people trying to explain what’s happening. It was really apocalypse, that was what it was about.

I remember the next day, there was a wonderful woman in Los Angeles named Jane Borak(sp) and she used to have these terrific parties that lasted all night and were amazing because everybody played all night long. We’d finish at the Ashe Grove, say Brownie and Sonny, and we’d pick up Mark Speolstra and God knows whatever musicians were around and we’d end up at Janes and we’d sing and play the whole night long, it was quite wonderful. I remember ringing her up and saying “I’ve written this song” and was sort of singing it down the phone and “Do you think it’s any good?”. I think I performed it at the Ashe Grove, but I’m not sure about that, but the first time that I know that I performed it where it actually made an impact was at the first Mariposa(sp) festival in Toronto. In fact I remember vividly the review in the Globe & Mail, they said some things about me and a mornful dirge called “Morning Dew”, and she sang a mornful dirge. That’s what it was really about, it was really about that film and the feelings, the fearful feelings we had at that time. And then things got better and then they got worse and we are where we are now. Actually I think that the song, if anything, is more of this time, of the present than it ever was then.

The movie “On the Beach” tells the story of how the residents of Australia and a lone US submarine deal with the impending nuclear fallout from World War III.  The Duke and Duchess recently watched this classic film.  The lead roles in the film are played by Gregory Peck and Ava Gardener.  The film also stars Fred Astaire in a serious role and a very young Anthony Perkins.

The interview with Dobson goes on to explain how the folk process changed the lyrics of the song as other artists started playing and recording the song.  There is a good discussion between the Duchess and songwriter Si Kahn in the comments of Royal Song of the Day: Wednesday 8/17/2011 about the lines bwteen respecting the songwriters original work and the artistry of those playing the song. 

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