• September 25, 2014
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-althea
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Althea"

    By David Dodd

    Here’s the plan—each week, I will blog about a different song, focusing, usually, on the lyrics, but also on some other aspects of the song, including its overall impact—a truly subjective thing. Therefore, the best part, I would hope, would not be anything in particular that I might have to say, but rather, the conversation that may happen via the comments over the course of time—and since all the posts will stay up, you can feel free to weigh in any time on any of the songs! With Grateful Dead lyrics, there’s always a new and different take on what they bring up for each listener, it seems. (I’ll consider requests for particular songs—just private message me!)

    "Althea"

    My friend, Grateful Dead scholar Mary Goodenough, mentioned this week how she was listening to “Althea” a lot lately, and still finding new things in the song. If there’s a song that can be repeatedly applied to many different life circumstances, it’s “Althea.”

    The outlines of the story, told through a back-and-forth dialogue between the singer and Althea, seem a bit elusive, and as always, Hunter doesn’t give everything away by any means.

    The narrator, after an elegant opening musical riff that establishes a deceptively lazy and laid-back feel, tells Althea about his life situation, as a lead-up to what, apparently, is a declaration of needing to back out of their relationship. At first, the narrator seems to be complaining in general about feeling adrift, and possibly unable to trust his friends—there is “treachery” afoot. Althea assents that indeed, things are not all right in his world, and proceeds to give him quite a bit of advice.

    At that point, the narrator tells Althea that he is “born to be a bachelor,” that is, he doesn’t see their relationship as permanent. She cuts him loose with an “ok, that’s fine,” and he regrets the turn of events, changing his mind and trying to get her back.

    That all seems pretty straightforward, right?

    But the vagueness of references to what is actually going on in the narrator’s life allows for the listener (us) to hear ourselves in the song.

    A great deal of ink has been spilled putting forward the idea that the song is a somewhat pointed message from Hunter to his old partner Garcia, and I’m not saying that’s not the case. But Hunter always meant his songs to be many things, carrying levels of meaning relevant to many listeners, and so I think it is something of a mistake to reduce any song, even one as poignant and possibly pointed as “Althea” to anything quite so specific.

    Starting with our title character, Hunter weaves in his ambiguity. The name “Althea” is often noted as meaning “with healing power,” as it is a variant of the Greek word, “althos” which means “healing.” However, the character in Greek mythology who bears the name is not purely a healer, but also a justice-dealer who revokes the healing power she has used on behalf of her son, Meleager, when he kills her brothers, his uncles, in a dispute over a prize in a hunt. I know, it’s complicated—go read the entire story—but it does seem kind of amazing that Althea, the mythological character, has this two-sided relationship with her own son.

    And, there is the method of his healing and his subsequent killing, which is via a fated log (literally “fated”—the Fates told her that he son would die when the log was burned). She pulls the log from the fire, but casts it onto a fire years later when she learns her son has murdered her brothers. And poof! He’s dead.

    “Baby, it’s your fire…”

    What I had never particularly noticed before today’s hard look at the lyrics was the extent of Althea’s dialogue portion. Her speech begins at the end of the first verse, and carries through to the beginning of the final verse. Both the first and last verses start with the “I told Althea…” introduction.

    It’s hard for me to tell, once the narrator has told of the outcome (“so now I’m tryin’ to catch her…”) , who it is speaking in the final four lines, but they are among the most resonant for many listeners:

    Can’t talk to you without talking to me
    We’re guilty of the same old thing
    Thinking a lot about less and less
    And forgetting the love we bring.

    That line: “Can’t talk to you without talking to me…” casts the entire song we’ve just listened to in a different light. Each word we say is something we ourselves might need to hear, and all those words attributed to Althea—might they not be a conversation the narrator is having with himself? Could it be an entirely internal dialogue? Or, conversely, could it be that the words Althea speaks might just as well be self-directed?

    This is what I love about these words—they might sound like one wise person giving advice to a foolish heart, but they might be that foolish heart talking to himself, or they might be the wise person addressing his or her own foolish heart while supposedly giving advice to another.

    And all along there is the wash of the musical setting, lulling us and gradually building to the bridge, and then dropping off again for the final verse, and the closing with one final instrumental round through the verse chords.

    The last time I saw the Dead was in June 1995 at the Shoreline Amphitheater. They played “Althea,” and Garcia’s voice was, if not weak, at least sounding older than it had to me ever before. The entire show was like that, and there were moments of less-than-stellar musicianship.

    If the song was a message to Garcia from Hunter, then his playing it right up to the end was some kind of brave acknowledgement of the relevance of the lyrics. If Garcia didn’t take it that way, then the point might be moot. But even if Garcia’s performance of the song was directed outward, there was always that closing verse to bring it home: “Can’t talk to you without talking to me.”

    I’m sure this song will accrue additional layers of meaning for me as my own years accumulate, since that’s what has happened so far. And that is a wonderful thing to look forward to.

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By David Dodd

Here’s the plan—each week, I will blog about a different song, focusing, usually, on the lyrics, but also on some other aspects of the song, including its overall impact—a truly subjective thing. Therefore, the best part, I would hope, would not be anything in particular that I might have to say, but rather, the conversation that may happen via the comments over the course of time—and since all the posts will stay up, you can feel free to weigh in any time on any of the songs! With Grateful Dead lyrics, there’s always a new and different take on what they bring up for each listener, it seems. (I’ll consider requests for particular songs—just private message me!)

"Althea"

My friend, Grateful Dead scholar Mary Goodenough, mentioned this week how she was listening to “Althea” a lot lately, and still finding new things in the song. If there’s a song that can be repeatedly applied to many different life circumstances, it’s “Althea.”

The outlines of the story, told through a back-and-forth dialogue between the singer and Althea, seem a bit elusive, and as always, Hunter doesn’t give everything away by any means.

The narrator, after an elegant opening musical riff that establishes a deceptively lazy and laid-back feel, tells Althea about his life situation, as a lead-up to what, apparently, is a declaration of needing to back out of their relationship. At first, the narrator seems to be complaining in general about feeling adrift, and possibly unable to trust his friends—there is “treachery” afoot. Althea assents that indeed, things are not all right in his world, and proceeds to give him quite a bit of advice.

At that point, the narrator tells Althea that he is “born to be a bachelor,” that is, he doesn’t see their relationship as permanent. She cuts him loose with an “ok, that’s fine,” and he regrets the turn of events, changing his mind and trying to get her back.

That all seems pretty straightforward, right?

But the vagueness of references to what is actually going on in the narrator’s life allows for the listener (us) to hear ourselves in the song.

A great deal of ink has been spilled putting forward the idea that the song is a somewhat pointed message from Hunter to his old partner Garcia, and I’m not saying that’s not the case. But Hunter always meant his songs to be many things, carrying levels of meaning relevant to many listeners, and so I think it is something of a mistake to reduce any song, even one as poignant and possibly pointed as “Althea” to anything quite so specific.

Starting with our title character, Hunter weaves in his ambiguity. The name “Althea” is often noted as meaning “with healing power,” as it is a variant of the Greek word, “althos” which means “healing.” However, the character in Greek mythology who bears the name is not purely a healer, but also a justice-dealer who revokes the healing power she has used on behalf of her son, Meleager, when he kills her brothers, his uncles, in a dispute over a prize in a hunt. I know, it’s complicated—go read the entire story—but it does seem kind of amazing that Althea, the mythological character, has this two-sided relationship with her own son.

And, there is the method of his healing and his subsequent killing, which is via a fated log (literally “fated”—the Fates told her that he son would die when the log was burned). She pulls the log from the fire, but casts it onto a fire years later when she learns her son has murdered her brothers. And poof! He’s dead.

“Baby, it’s your fire…”

What I had never particularly noticed before today’s hard look at the lyrics was the extent of Althea’s dialogue portion. Her speech begins at the end of the first verse, and carries through to the beginning of the final verse. Both the first and last verses start with the “I told Althea…” introduction.

It’s hard for me to tell, once the narrator has told of the outcome (“so now I’m tryin’ to catch her…”) , who it is speaking in the final four lines, but they are among the most resonant for many listeners:

Can’t talk to you without talking to me
We’re guilty of the same old thing
Thinking a lot about less and less
And forgetting the love we bring.

That line: “Can’t talk to you without talking to me…” casts the entire song we’ve just listened to in a different light. Each word we say is something we ourselves might need to hear, and all those words attributed to Althea—might they not be a conversation the narrator is having with himself? Could it be an entirely internal dialogue? Or, conversely, could it be that the words Althea speaks might just as well be self-directed?

This is what I love about these words—they might sound like one wise person giving advice to a foolish heart, but they might be that foolish heart talking to himself, or they might be the wise person addressing his or her own foolish heart while supposedly giving advice to another.

And all along there is the wash of the musical setting, lulling us and gradually building to the bridge, and then dropping off again for the final verse, and the closing with one final instrumental round through the verse chords.

The last time I saw the Dead was in June 1995 at the Shoreline Amphitheater. They played “Althea,” and Garcia’s voice was, if not weak, at least sounding older than it had to me ever before. The entire show was like that, and there were moments of less-than-stellar musicianship.

If the song was a message to Garcia from Hunter, then his playing it right up to the end was some kind of brave acknowledgement of the relevance of the lyrics. If Garcia didn’t take it that way, then the point might be moot. But even if Garcia’s performance of the song was directed outward, there was always that closing verse to bring it home: “Can’t talk to you without talking to me.”

I’m sure this song will accrue additional layers of meaning for me as my own years accumulate, since that’s what has happened so far. And that is a wonderful thing to look forward to.

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My friend, Grateful Dead scholar Mary Goodenough, mentioned this week how she was listening to “Althea” a lot lately, and still finding new things in the song. If there’s a song that can be repeatedly applied to many different life circumstances, it’s “Althea.”
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Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Althea"
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My friend, Grateful Dead scholar Mary Goodenough, mentioned this week how she was listening to “Althea” a lot lately, and still finding new things in the song. If there’s a song that can be repeatedly applied to many different life circumstances, it’s “Althea.”
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My friend, Grateful Dead scholar Mary Goodenough, mentioned this week how she was listening to “Althea” a lot lately, and still finding new things in the song. If there’s a song that can be repeatedly applied to many different life circumstances, it’s “Althea.”

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It is interesting you bring up Greek mythology. Hunter loved to visit that stuff. When I was in college there was a brief passage in a history text that somehow referred to the part of 'It Must Have Been the Roses' that said "If I tell another what your own lips told to me/May I lay 'neath the roses and my eyes no longer see." I lost the book long ago and I haven't found that reference again, but then I haven't looked very hard. For whatever reason, maybe due to what was going on when I first heard it, I have always thought Althea was about what happens in a group of friends when egos, jealousy and personal ambitions start to block the light. We forget what is truly important and get caught up in petty intrigue and little games. Bonds of love can become strained, changed or even break. Althea seems to be reminding the singer, who is caught up in all this crap, of what really matters. At the end of the day, you need the ones you love and who love you more than what ever small thing you have fixed your mind on "Gonna want a bed to lay your head and a little sympathy" BTW I saw those Shoreline shows as well. I thought the "Days Between" on the day after the show with "Althea" was a very sad moment. I had been watching the band for 23 years at that point and it seemed over.
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Althea has always struck me as a marvelously one-of-a-kind piece of music. Quite likely many musicians could quickly explain what "kind" of song this is--e.g., "a bluesy ballad in A minor", or whatever it is in a technical sense. Regardless, my mind refuses to let it fit into any such box. To me it just seems to exist without family or peer, and that alone makes it astonishing--like finding a big blue diamond on a sandy beach. Some may have heard a story about an afternoon show at Frost Amphitheater (Stanford). All morning there was a heavy overcast and it was shaping up to be a foggy, grey, and possibly rainy day. But then, about half way into the first set the band plays Althea and literally just as Jerry sang "this space is getting hot...you know this space is getting hot" a small hole in the clouds opened, then became enormous, and all the peeps were showered with sunshine for the rest of the day. It seemed everybody there was amazed and convinced it was a miracle. This story is true. Just a strange coincidence, perchance, but it happened. "If the song was a message to Garcia from Hunter, then his playing it right up to the end was some kind of brave acknowledgement of the relevance of the lyrics." ^^ I think it was, and I think it was. And it's something else too. Maybe all of us have already heard this exceptional 1981 "Rockpalast" rendition. I find it mesmerizing and consider it definitive. If there is a stronger version anywhere, I'd like to learn of it. Enjoy! http://youtu.be/WCENueDxmQM
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David -- I am struggling to understand why you decided to omit the reference to Hamlet in Althea. Perhaps because it is so obvious, but it reflects the complexity you reference here. Not only is the narrator plagued by the same vacillations as the Prince, albeit not as deadly, but he and Althea share -- again not as extreme -- the same on-again-off-again relationship that Hamlet shares with Ophelia. Ok, so much for the obvious. The interesting part is how Hunter transfers the contemplation of suicide (sleep perchance to dream) from Hamlet to Ophelia. While the shoe fits -- Hamlet's madness is only rivaled by Ophelia's despair over the death of her father -- the reference is so blatantly misplaced by Hunter, it can't be unintentional. Instead, I would offer it is exactly as you discuss: Hunter suggests that the madness of love is interchangeable. "Can't talk to you without talking to me; we're guilty of the same old thing; Thinking a lot about less and less; And forgetting the love we bring." Obsession and madness in the throes of love are part of both parties. It may be the fate of Ophelia, but it may be the fate of Hamlet or both. It doesn't matter. The love is the thing. And it is surely dead. I love your analysis, but Hunter is rarely so conspicous and he doesn't do it idly or cheaply. We can't expect to grasp this work without examining that line, it seems to me.
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always a great song to introduce people to the dead with , and great lyrics that are relatable even without Shakespeare knowledge also I heard jerry interview or read in rolling stone that "this space is getting hot ,you know this space is getting hot " refers to the place and person in the band not being there forever as keyboard was deemed the hot seat in the band 'there are things you can replace and others you can not'ect
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Have you ever had a dialog with a person you know sees right through you, and so you know you have to be brutally honest with, and in so doing reveal things you never fully realized about yourself to yourself? To me, this is what "Can't talk to you without talking to me" means. Every time you try to explain yourself to this person you're actually telling yourself the truth that you aren't facing up to. This can be painful and is maybe why he wants to pull away from her, but can't. Another key line in this song to my ear is "Honest to the point of recklessness, self-centered in the extreme." Is this meant as part of the Hamlet analogy? It's in that verse; perhaps it *is* about Hamlet, but what makes Hamlet reckless is his indecision, not his honesty. Hmmm ... key line that I don't understand! Oh well, fantastic song and such a great, hook-filled tune. I love the "now I'm trying to Catch Her" emphasis toward the end of the song.
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All of the song is resonant but the line that has always stood out for me as the most complex one to wrestle with and contemplate is the couplet: Honest to the point of Recklessness Self centered to the Extreme (and then from that Spring 1990, first released on "Without a Net", the ascending clarion notes of Brent emphasizing and punctuating the line) I always thought that honesty is the point of the song. "Loose with the truth, baby it's your fire Baby, I hope you don't get burned" And if everyone was concerned enough with themselves, were hyper self-aware, a type of introspection that is often quite common with psychedelic exploration then a reckless honesty is not a qualitatively bad self-centered personality trait. Of course then the song goes on to reconciliation and that this flickering perfect honesty is not a monolithic aspect of any one person and that we all fail at the goal held aloft. I now need to go listen to an Althea, thanks...
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I can confirm the cosmic occurrence referenced in handjive's post. The show took place on August 21, 1983, and it started out as a chilly summer afternoon, the infamous San Francisco fog doing it's thing. I remember a young naked boy complaining to his mom that he was cold. Anyway, the sun broke through exactly as handjive described, the warmth was felt instantly, and the significance of the moment was immediately recognized by the crowd - you can actually hear the reaction quite clearly in recordings. One of the more memorable of the many moments of synchronicity I experienced at Dead shows over the years. Listen here : https://archive.org/details/gd1983-08-21.fob.sonyECM220t.kirschner.mill…
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that Althea is the botanical name of Rose of Sharon, and Hunter is not one to do these things by accident. I think it's linked to the song of that name in interesting ways.
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Handjive, I have always liked the Althea played at Cornell on 5/16/81. I don't know if it is "stronger" but it is a solid performance, appropriately punctuated with Bob's slide.
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Not sure this illuminates anything much, but here's the very small portion of my 1991 Golden Road interview with Garcia and Hunter about the song. BJ: I think "Althea" is one of your most interesting songs. JG (to Hunter): What is she? The anima? The helpful lady, big sister kind of... RH: I don't know if it's the anima; I'm not a Jungian. JG: Me neither. [Laughs] I don't know. I see her out there. RH: You evoke her, you don't say what she is. JG: She's beyond description. RH: Minerva. JG: Right. Your helpful god-woman. RH: Or Athena. Sure. BJ: The whole thing is just an evocation of her, in the same way a song like "She Belongs to Me" just offers these flashes of feeling more than information about the main character. It's more mood than anything else. JG: Well, sometimes the mood is the thing, and it says it better than anything else does.
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Great story about the log. I'll think twice this fall when I throw another log on the fire. I remember an excerpt from Relix Magazine about Saturdays child. Monday's child is fair of face,Tuesday's child is full of grace, Wednesday's child is full of woe, Thursday's child has far to go, Friday's child is loving and giving, Saturday's child works hard for a living, But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day Is bonny and blithe and good and gay. It is weird,I was just thinking the other day as I was on Archive listening to some 76 shows,thanks to the "Tapers Section" recommendations.With all the new tunes released around that time, I was pontificating on the 20 or so "lost" songs that we may have had from 95 onward. Oh well. Thanks for the informative forum. Chord wise fun song to play. I like the bridge. Dmaj, G, F# E...There are things you can replace....
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It sure sounds like, it was Althea, after that, that says, "Ok that's fine, Son, now I'm gonna try and catch ya" .... Maybe that misunderstanding explains a lot in my own life!!!! Haha oops!!!! ;P
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That comment of Jerry's from blairj's interview- "Well, sometimes the mood is the thing, and it says it better than anything else does"- really struck me, as this is how I tend to approach music. As a fairly analytically-oriented person most of the time, I compensate by relating to music and the other arts in a fairly emotionally-driven, non-analytical way (referencing Jung a bit farther, in a loose sense, music helps me access an "inferior function" of mine- a direct emotional experience of something). Because Hunter's (and often, Barlow's) lyrics are strongly ambiguous, I've always responded to them on a predominantly emotional level, along with the melodies and the playing, without much thought to their particular meanings. For me Althea evokes desire with ambivalence, and an awareness of one's reluctance to fully commit in relationships, plus the approach-distance dynamic in relationships, and the dark, rueful humor of it all- but I've interpreted it that way based more upon particular lines and their relationship to what's being played with them- the bluesy, funky, offbeat music- rather than a close or deep reading of the lyrics. Same thing for me with, say, PITB (to me about committing to life with its existential uncertainties), or Dark Star (finding the beauty in a liminal state of mind or in the vastness of the cosmos, really both simultaneously), or Chinacat Sunflower, which I've never sat down and parsed, but I guess I'd say evokes youth, the wild, animal side of things, playfulness, psychedelic experience, and one's emotional appreciation of all that- though when I'm listening (all of these songs) I'm just mostly feeling it/them. Of course, Chinacat also strikes me now as having a lot of overlap in the psychedelia of its lyrics with Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds (as I see now that Handjive has written about in another post)- interesting to note how the tone of each of the melodies- Chinacat strikes me as very bluesy, bouncy, and upbeat, while LSD strikes me as a bit joyful (with a tinge of melancholy) for most of the song in a very calm way- seem to really fit with the lyrics. Now I'm trying to imagine Chinacat's lyrics in a more placid melody, and the substance of Lucy's lyrics presented in a bouncy way! I imagine my experience of the music is a fairly common one, but I still do enjoy the analyses of the lyrics as well. It would be interesting to know just how often or how much the band members/lyricists involved have a definitive interpretation of the songs they sing.... I'm really glad they haven't attempted in their interviews to nail down the meanings of the lyrics to them!
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Had to contribute one other post here, hope others find it amusing- About 30 years ago, during my early listening/concert attendance of the Dead, a good friend and I had different perceptions of a certain line in the song- I insisted it went, "You may be a clown in the burying ground or just another pretty face," and he (who generally would have been right about these things) insisted it was "cloud in the burying ground." Like friends do, we'd good-naturedly debated this on a number of occasions, but alas, this was way before THE INTERNET was public, so it was just one person's word against another. We happen to attend a show together in Hampton, first set comes, Althea happens to get played, and as it's progressing to the point of contention, we look at each other in states of HIGH EXPECTATION to hear the issue resolved once and for all, LIVE- and, surprise of surprises- Jerry forgets the whole line and just vocalizes a warbling mumble. So...burning question NOT answered that night..!! Strong overall rendition of it and great show, though- and once again- "...sometimes the mood is the thing, and it says it better than anything else does."
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I was always amused by how often Jerry would mess up the line before "If you get confused listen to the music play..." in "Franklin's."
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This blog is fun to read every week, but what it needs are a lot more performance notes. These are ususally all about the lyrics and their possible meaning. I'm not a lyrics guy. You sing 'em, I hear 'em. It's when a song is PLAYED that I am moved, that it has any significance for me. So, give us more on the many performances and versions of the songs. Like on that Mason's Children entry, I've wondered why they switched between two rhythms. Or why they stopped playing Friend of the Devil with a fast pace. Phish.net has write-ups on song histories and also directs us to specific performances which is great for fans like us. We love it. Give it to us. We want more!
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I had neglected a long time love by refusing to make plans for the future when we were in our early to mid 20s. We had been co-habitating for some five years by that time and she left. I tormented myself for two years trying "to catch her". A close friend pulled me aside on one particularly dim self-pitiful day and said "nobody is messing with you but you" and it truly hit home with me. I began to pull out of it and see the promise ahead instead of the mistakes that were behind me. It wasn't much longer after that shift in outlook for me that my "Althea" and I reconnected and eventually married and have three children now having been together for 22 years minus those two years spent putting it all in perspective. This song speaks loudly to those in need of a good lecture! Bravo Mr. Hunter!!!
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Good to see you on these pages again, hope all is well with you and yours. Always loved this song, and the music so went with the lyrics, which I agree should be discussed a bit more than it is now. The lyrics make you think, but the music makes you feel it. One reason why I love this band, they make me feel, and that's what I want my music to do. Thanks Mr. Hunter and of course, good old Jerry.
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One time on the Cosby Show Bills younger daughter brings over a new friend named Althea. As Bill leaves the room he says "Althea Later". I love this song. Seems like the first live version I heard was on cassette from the King Biscuit Flour Hour while driving from Needles, Canyonlands National Park into Moab, Utah in 1979. My first thought at that time was , the Grateful Dead still have the good magic. It makes perfect sense that Althea means "to heal". Good music can heal on all levels much like laughter. Althea later Sugaree.
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Thank you David. Some very interesting stuff here. There is not much I can say because everyone else is so spot on. And thank you Blair for posting your interview (by the way, Im currently reading Garcia, great stuff) The mood of the song always hits me first. I love a song with good lyrics but it always takes me so long to fully grasp what is going on in a song, and I say "going on" because I don't want to say I know what any song is about, let alone one with lyrics by Robert Hunter. I'm not the brightest crayon in the box and I've never read any Shakespeare and I know very little about Greek mythology. I even majored in psychology and I completely missed the "Jungian" reference (which is pretty funny) but I never felt that I've been missing out on anything with the song. The mood is still there and there is enough context for me to form my own connection to the song. πολύ εκπαιδευτικό
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If I had to be pinned down and answer "my favorite Grateful Dead song is..." like most of us, it would be a Collection of songs, not just one. Althea definitely makes my collection of favorites. I named my Motorcycle Althea, and the more I stare into the flames of a campfire and contemplate the depth of Robert Hunter Lyrics, the more it makes sense to me.. Probably Me Only, but hey... in my world, that's all that counts! :D I thoroughly enjoyed the perspectives here, and have more ammo for the next campfire. Thanks all!!
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A long time favourite from my rolling list of favourites depending on emotion or mood, Althea with it's jaunty riff and melancholy spirit reminded me of a past love or two in many ways whilst always lifting the spirits whenever I heard it. Favourite version from Maine State Fairgrounds 09-06-80...
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Wow--well, I knew my little attempt at writing about "Althea" was modest. Modest to the point of recklessness, I think now... I wonder sometimes what exactly this series of blog posts has been about, or what it is becoming, and really, I think it is becoming exactly what I was hoping it would become--what I had hoped for the annotated lyrics site, and what I had hoped for the WELL "deadsongs" conference. That is, a place where we can all hop on, sometimes goaded by me or infuriated by whatever I said (or DIDN'T say). I'd like to be able to write more about performance practice--that's a good idea. And to include more about all of the references. Should I start by pasting in the annotated lyrics piece about each song before I start my little essays? I don't think that's necessary, somehow. What I envision becoming of all these short essays is, perhaps, someday, a little book to accompany the Annotated Lyrics book, which would include polished-up versions of these essays (with all the mistakes removed!!); brief commentary on recommended listening for each song and performance notes to go with those; and maybe a discography--although that's pretty redundant, too. So far, we've discussed about 82 songs over the course of the 85 entries in the series. There's a ways to go, and I'm happy to keep chugging along, but it won't magically become anything very different than what I've been up to so far. So, if you want the other stuff, feel free--add it into the comments, and then it's there for everyone to read! Thanks, everyone, for the great discussion of this song. I'm always blown away.
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...of the Hunter canon. (Yes, I think moreso than even Stella Blue or Wharf Rat.) Plus the intro is a perfect example of Garcia's playing ability at its best -- sweetly affectionate but utterly haunting. Althea is a nearly perfect synthesis of lyrics and music. In my mind, I can replay the ending from the Without A Net version over and over for hours. That simple yet lush Garcia riff, Bobby sliding away with reckless determination, Phil wandering around lost in his own thoughts, Brent off-handedly playing the actual outro solo, Billy and Mickey raising and re-raising and re-re-raising the stakes. Everything about Althea is so simple but so complex, and that's why it might be my favorite Dead song of them all.
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One may argue that after the first verse, a series of back and forth comes into play. The "pretty face" would suggest Althea as opposed to Jim. The last line in the second verse appears to be started by one and finished by the other. In the third verse the back and forth continues, with Jim clearly part of the dialogue. The bridge here seems out of place. Maybe best saved for a harmonious final verse to further punctuate the uncertainty of their relationship. The first two lines of the final verse resume the "back and forth", with the final two, another bridge to cross. A harmony of emotion. Donna would have been a perfect Althea.
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Dittos on That David ! I have really come to enjoy meditating on One Select Song all week long "...By the Riverside We've got some things to talk about here beside the Rising Tide.... Come on Along or Go Alone..." I am thinking that this Jim Character is one of those who seems bound to "Go Alone" A sorry Victim of "Treachery". He's all torn up about it and afraid to expose himself to getting burned again. Its a Tale told over and over in all kinds of Songs and Stories. " When Push Comes to Shove You're Afraid of Love" He may be born to be a Bachelor...or a Clown...or both...or any number of things....like a tragic Shakespearean figure . all the time "forgetting the Love we Bring" Why? I keep reflecting on Warren Zevon's words : "We made mad love Shadow love Random love And abandoned love Accidentally like a martyr The hurt gets worse and the heart gets harder" where a little Love Making ends up in a Whale of Pain (accidentally) and the "heart gets harder" Enter Althea whose love seems "Bigger than a Cadillac" and Jim keeps driving her back. Now he's going to break her heart to avoid having his heart broken. "We're guilty of the Same old Things" Why? We can get carried away by Hard Hearted Fear or carried away by Tender Hearted Love Jim, when you get right down to it, is a Victim of his own making. "Ain't Nobody Messing with You but You You're friends are getting most concerned" Well...Althea's calling his hand. "The Time has Come..." Lets hope Jim gets past his Fear and Torn up State and hold on to Althea's Love "Althea" is such a passionate song of Unrequited and Unrelenting Love and yes...Alabama Donna may have been a sweet model of Inspiration for this one I am thinking !
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For me, this is another one of those songs I just can't get enough of. Back in the days before the internet I was fortunate enough to have a guitar instructor who would chart out for me songs I wanted to learn. He would give me the chords and I would work it out. This was one of them. I figured out my own interpretation on the walk up to Bm, and then I played it again and again and again. There is something there for me playing these songs that just takes me to where I want to be. And I love Garcia's Bm A E riff I was pleased to find it in Terrapin at the Brand New Crescent Moon phrase. I never considered this as a dialogue between lovers, rather as a dialogue between old friends, but the between lovers gives me a new perspective. Again, before the internet there was not so much information. For a long time I heard Sad Today, A Child Or Grown. Also sometimes I heard Friends Are Getting Most Disturbed. Does not quite rhyme as well as concerned but lends a darker tint to the same feeling. Kinda a similar vein as Ducked Back Into Novato, but I digress. The bridge is simple yet powerful and another reference to Hot! In later years the jam out at the end was nice however I always liked the jam in the middle better. Thanks again David for another thoughtful essay.
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I was very moved by how "Althea" spoke to me. I played it a lot on my morning drive time show on community radio KFAI. I recall that my research turned up a connection between "Althea" and "Rose of Sharon." You'll recall that "Rose of Sharon" is on one of Hunter's first two LPs.
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I found it dated 8/4/79. Does anyone recall if he was he playing Tiger? I have photos of the show with both Tiger and Wolf. IT's a special song for me and just trying to learn all I can about the history from the beginning. Thanks! DeadGeek
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Best line: When the smoke has cleared, she said, that's what she said to me. Hunter never tells us what she said here. We're left to ponder it, and since the meter of the song just plows forward, only the observant notice the missing line. It passes in an instant, but that instant is dizzy with possibility.
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Enter: 1980 Go To HEAVEN-Needless to say that particular Vinyl Track WORE STRAIGHT ON THROUGH!My first show in 05/80 and A good friend of mine would simultaneously -- TO THIS DAY, whenever it should happen from then & on through today @ 53; with +35 years,(& no doubt, besides that palindrome) STILL thinkin' bout Less n Less ............................and REMEMBERING LOVE WE ALL BRING! -nJz-
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Like everyone here, I love this song to bits, and I'm in the club that thinks the 'Without a Net' version is probably the peak: Jerry's singing and playing are both so right in that performance. The lyric has always puzzled me, though, and I was looking at it again today, to see if I could at last make everything fit. I still have some difficulty with the three Hamlet quotations (though I get the displaced Hamlet/Ophelia suicide reference), and I wonder whether Robert Hunter was indulging himself just a little here, showing off his literary background. But what the hell - Hamlet's my favorite play, and I'm always up for hearing bits of it again. I'll be fascinated to read any further thoughts on how those quotes fit, though. Some thoughts on the parts of the lyric that (I think!) I do understand. Although there's some questioning in comments here and elsewhere, David D seems sure that the middle verses and the bridge are a continuation of Althea's words to the singer (i.e. Jerry), following on from "Now cool down boy" in Verse 1. I agree - this is the only way that I can see to make the complete lyric hang together - especially Verse 3 with the "she said, that's what she said to me" interruption. This strong, wise woman is commenting and advising on the singer's weaknesses and bad behavior - you could imagine that he's having a mid-life crisis - and in the final verse he acknowledges his mistakes. 'Now I'm trying to catch her' is such a lovely piece of dark humor: you can picture the rueful grin on his face. I also subscribe to the oft-stated view that Hunter was having a personal moan at Garcia in this song, via Althea’s words. One specific that I looked at today supports this: in Verse 2 Althea talks to 'Saturday's child', and a quick check shows that 1 August 1942 (Jerome John Garcia's birth date) was indeed a Saturday. And wow, didn't that particular child move with a pinch of grace! It's quite moving, too, that Garcia sang this song, which deals so directly with his self-destructive habits, many times between 1979 and 1995 – right up to the end. RIP Jerry – you lovely, flawed man; you absolute genius.
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Always a handful of lyrical changes from writing to recording-So if you're feeling lost, or lacking in some direction, always remember: "Can't talk to me without talking to you, We're guilty of the same old thing- Talking a lot about less and less... And forgetting the love we bring." ...Be kind, re-mind. *I do not love the idea of Deadheads across the universe assuming I've misquoted the last lines from my favorite Hunter piece, so I feel compelled to appease any slightly elevated pulses by sharing that my Althea quote above is pulled from "A Box of Rain," and appears here as the original writer intended. When Jerry adopts the lyrics, the roles are reversed, one "thing" turns into multiple "things," and instead of talking, we're only thinking about less and less. The end result is the same, reclaim your brain train and re-mind: WAKE UP AND REMEMBER TO BRING LOVE WITH YOU EVERYWHERE YOU GO Also feel I should mention another origin of Althea, hopefully I did not miss previous mention of this- I could annotate line by line, but you deadheads are smart, take what you will and leave what you won't; If I knew the way, I would take you home... To Althea, from Prison: By: RICHARD LOVELACE (written in 1642) When Love with unconfinèd wings Hovers within my Gates, And my divine Althea brings To whisper at the Grates; When I lie tangled in her hair, And fettered to her eye, The Gods that wanton in the Air, Know no such Liberty. When flowing Cups run swiftly round With no allaying Thames, Our careless heads with Roses bound, Our hearts with Loyal Flames; When thirsty grief in Wine we steep, When Healths and draughts go free, Fishes that tipple in the Deep Know no such Liberty. When (like committed linnets) I With shriller throat shall sing The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty, And glories of my King; When I shall voice aloud how good He is, how Great should be, Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood, Know no such Liberty. Stone Walls do not a Prison make, Nor Iron bars a Cage; Minds innocent and quiet take That for an Hermitage. If I have freedom in my Love, And in my soul am free, Angels alone that soar above, Enjoy such Liberty.
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Is "You're gonna want a bed to lay your head and a little sympathy". Otherwise what would that line refer to. He is just reiterating that she said it, "When the smoke has cleared she said (that's what she said to me)you're gonna want a bed..." Check out this annotated lyrics http://artsites.ucsc.edu/GDead/agdl/althea.html This guy shows the verse as written, "When the smoke has cleared she said that's what she said to me: you're gonna want a bed..."
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In reply to thatguy:I thought I was replying to you but ended up writing a new comment, so here it is again. What she said is "You're gonna want a bed to lay your head and a little sympathy". Otherwise what would that line refer to (the "you're gonna want a. ..".) He is just reiterating that she said it, "When the smoke has cleared she said (that's what she said to me)you're gonna want a bed..." Clearly what "she said" and "that's what she said to me" are the same thing... Check out this annotated lyrics http://artsites.ucsc.edu/GDead/agdl/althea.html This guy shows the verse as written, "When the smoke has cleared she said that's what she said to me: you're gonna want a bed..."
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I guess the "reply" button is meaningless because I just end up writing a new comment every time, looking like an idiot with my non-sequitur remarks...
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I bet I knew what you thought Jerry said in the opening line of Bertha...But of course it's about lovers. The line, "I told Althea I'm a roving sign, and I was born to be a bachelor. Althea told me, 'okay that's fine', so now I'm tryin' to catch her" so perfectly describes men's (most men's) approach to relationships. They want what they can't have and don't want what they can. Maybe it's not just men but I can't tell you how many times a guy has said they want a break, or let's just be friends, or just been non-responsive, only to do a 180 when I've moved on... (#1 reason chasing a guy NEVER works)
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It's the message of Get Out of Your Own Head and start living! The only thing that's really wrong is the part of you that's worried about what's wrong. The Self-Indulgent focus of Melancholy that the storyteller is caught up in and lamenting about is actually the very thing that needs to be let go. Althea is the personification of the eternal Wisdom of the Soul that is always there for a person if the will trust in it and get out of their own way and really listen and understand
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I always thought “a roving sign” was an interesting phrase or image. I was listening to the song “Days of ‘49” today from Dylan’s album Self-Portrait and the phrase is included in that song as well. “Days of ‘49” is apparently a traditional folk song that can be traced back to the nineteenth century. Just thought this was an interesting connection and wanted to share it as I’m a huge fan of the Annotated Grateful Dead lyrics and this isn’t currently included in the Althea entry.
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I feel like it wad Hunter writing a love song about Jerry's love and affection for heroin
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I have always liked the Althea played at Cornell on 1981. I don't know if it is "stronger" but it is a solid performance, appropriately punctuated with Bob's slide.
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  • DanielSpace
    3 months ago
    There's also the fact
    I have always liked the Althea played at Cornell on 1981. I don't know if it is "stronger" but it is a solid performance, appropriately punctuated with Bob's slide.
  • Default Avatar
    Hippielovealways
    5 months 2 weeks ago
    Althea
    I feel like it wad Hunter writing a love song about Jerry's love and affection for heroin
  • Default Avatar
    drew0201
    9 months 1 week ago
    A roving sign
    I always thought “a roving sign” was an interesting phrase or image. I was listening to the song “Days of ‘49” today from Dylan’s album Self-Portrait and the phrase is included in that song as well. “Days of ‘49” is apparently a traditional folk song that can be traced back to the nineteenth century. Just thought this was an interesting connection and wanted to share it as I’m a huge fan of the Annotated Grateful Dead lyrics and this isn’t currently included in the Althea entry.
  • Default Avatar
    ekincy33
    1 year 9 months ago
    Althea
    It's the message of Get Out of Your Own Head and start living! The only thing that's really wrong is the part of you that's worried about what's wrong. The Self-Indulgent focus of Melancholy that the storyteller is caught up in and lamenting about is actually the very thing that needs to be let go. Althea is the personification of the eternal Wisdom of the Soul that is always there for a person if the will trust in it and get out of their own way and really listen and understand
  • goaskalice
    1 year 9 months ago
    In reply to jojo2275
    I bet I knew what you thought Jerry said in the opening line of Bertha...But of course it's about lovers. The line, "I told Althea I'm a roving sign, and I was born to be a bachelor. Althea told me, 'okay that's fine', so now I'm tryin' to catch her" so perfectly describes men's (most men's) approach to relationships. They want what they can't have and don't want what they can. Maybe it's not just men but I can't tell you how many times a guy has said they want a break, or let's just be friends, or just been non-responsive, only to do a 180 when I've moved on... (#1 reason chasing a guy NEVER works)