ROB SMITH’S LOVE for Mount St. Helens drew him closer to death than most of us want to get. Yet deep beneath his restrained exterior, the Grateful Dead fan cannot deny a personal tremor whenever he hears lyrics of the band’s 1978 song “Fire on the Mountain.” Here is the eerie second verse:
Almost ablaze still you don’t feel the heat
It takes all you got just to stay on the beat
You say it’s a living, we all gotta eat
But you’re here alone, there’s no one to compete
If mercy’s a business, I wish it for you
More than just ashes when your dreams come true
Lyrics by Mickey Hart and Robert Hunter
“It just hits me like a rock,” Rob says.
Fittingly, the Grateful Dead played Portland’s Memorial Coliseum on the evening of June 12, 1980, the night of the third eruption of Mount St. Helens, which coated the Rose City with ash. The band performed “Fire on the Mountain” in the middle of its set, about the same time the mountain blew. Jean Sherrard had loaned his boombox to a roommate for the drive south to Portland. The former roommate, now a doctor in New York, returned it to Jean covered in ash.