• May 23, 2013
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-black-peter
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Black Peter"

    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!)

    “Black Peter”

    I have gone back and forth and back again, and maybe forth again, over the years in my conception of how to hear “Black Peter” — whether as a dire piece, or a philosophical piece, or what.

    But I love the song no matter how it strikes me at any given point in my life. If someone I love has just passed away, or is in the process of going through a serious illness, then it becomes poignant—I’m sure that’s true for many listeners. (There’s a similarity to the effect of “He’s Gone,” which was certainly not originally intended to be a tender farewell of any kind, but which has taken on that role over the years.)

    And listening to it on the newly-released Dave’s Picks 6, when it was not too far removed from its debut, and prior to its release on Workingman’s Dead, has made me think about it in a different way still.

    The Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia tune was first performed on December 4, 1969, at the Fillmore in San Francisco. They played it 342 times thereafter, and it was never out of the rotation for very long. Its final performance was on June 22, 1995 at the Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, New York.

    The song is enigmatic in the way of many Hunter lyrics. It’s a partial, fragmentary short story - we don’t know all the circumstances of the narrator’s troubles. Indeed, we don’t even know if they are legitimate troubles, or if they are the self-pitying rantings of a hypochondriac. The enigma begins with the song’s title. “Black Peter.” Is that the narrator’s name? Or is it a reference to the characters who bring bundles of switches to beat ill-behaved children?

    There’s an element of the boy who cried wolf in the song. The narrator’s friends gather around because he is dying, supposedly. But he doesn’t die—he finds himself alive one more day. So now he admonishes them, accusing them of only coming to have fun at his expense—“Take a look at poor Peter / he’s lyin’ in pain / now let’s go run and see.” (Some listeners have proposed that the narrative view changes in the final verse, from first to third person, but I still hear it as the same voice, mimicking what others are saying. Interesting to think about the alternative, though!)

    It would be easy if that’s all there was to the song. But there is the matter of what I believe to be the very best bridge in a repertoire filled with amazing bridges:

    See here how everything
    Lead up to this day
    And it's just like any other day
    That's ever been
    Sun going up and then
    The sun going down
    Shine through my window
    And my friends they come around
    Come around, come around

    There is so much packed into that simple set of lines, so much that a listener can unpack over a lifetime of listening, that you have to wonder how Hunter, at a relatively young age, could have come up with something so profound. And the synergy between Garcia’s setting of this bridge, the lyrics themselves, and the harmonies that developed over the years of performance make it a spine-tingling piece of music.

    The version on the new Dave’s Picks seems to feature Garcia singing the song as if to elicit laughter at the sheer pitifulness of the song’s narrator. I found myself laughing at the lyrics for the first time. Previously, I had seen them as dark, or truly pathetic (in the sense of emotional pathos), or even as profound and empathy-inducing, but this performance made me laugh. Garcia’s reading seems to invite that response. I will have to go back and listen to a few other performances now, to see if I can detect the irony behind the singer’s portrayal of the narrator.

    This all gets pretty “meta.”

    Surely part of the message here, conveyed largely via the bridge, is that of the speaker in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, who is working to convince us of the vanity of human existence:

    "The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course....What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

    Every day is just like the other before it and after it, even though everything in our experience is cumulative and leads to the present moment. The significance of that moment is dismantled by the realization that there is after all nothing special about “this day.” And yet, here is someone on his deathbed. He may live another day, true, but it is absolutely certain that he will, one day, die.

    (And then the bridge, sometimes, just lifts out of the context of the song altogether and stands there, all alone, speaking to where we might be at that particular moment, listening to that concert or that recording: see here how everything lead up to this day… It’s a psychedelic moment, a moment of realization, being offered up to us.)

    His friends gather. They attempt to make normal conversation about the weather. But the narrator doesn’t let this slide—he wants to know something particular about the weather. He wants to know “who can the weather command?” Now, there’s a line that can be read in two distinct ways. “Who can command the weather?” or “Who can be commanded by the weather?”

    I have heard, over the years, from people besides myself who have been at the deathbed of beloved friends and family, for whom this song has held particular meaning, if not comfort. It is a song that helps us into the feelings of the dying person, who might be resentful of those who gather, of their inane everyday conversation, and yet still grateful for their presence. There’s something about the way that one visitor, Annie Beauneau, is specifically mentioned—I can’t help but think this might have been the love of his life, and yet all she has to say is something about the weather.

    What about you? What has “Black Peter” meant to you? Has it changed its meaning over time and circumstance? What good does it do for us, as human beings, to see ourselves as part of an eternally-recurring series of days, in which nothing is ever really new (except our own personal experience of life)?

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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!)

“Black Peter”

I have gone back and forth and back again, and maybe forth again, over the years in my conception of how to hear “Black Peter” — whether as a dire piece, or a philosophical piece, or what.

But I love the song no matter how it strikes me at any given point in my life. If someone I love has just passed away, or is in the process of going through a serious illness, then it becomes poignant—I’m sure that’s true for many listeners. (There’s a similarity to the effect of “He’s Gone,” which was certainly not originally intended to be a tender farewell of any kind, but which has taken on that role over the years.)

And listening to it on the newly-released Dave’s Picks 6, when it was not too far removed from its debut, and prior to its release on Workingman’s Dead, has made me think about it in a different way still.

The Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia tune was first performed on December 4, 1969, at the Fillmore in San Francisco. They played it 342 times thereafter, and it was never out of the rotation for very long. Its final performance was on June 22, 1995 at the Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, New York.

The song is enigmatic in the way of many Hunter lyrics. It’s a partial, fragmentary short story - we don’t know all the circumstances of the narrator’s troubles. Indeed, we don’t even know if they are legitimate troubles, or if they are the self-pitying rantings of a hypochondriac. The enigma begins with the song’s title. “Black Peter.” Is that the narrator’s name? Or is it a reference to the characters who bring bundles of switches to beat ill-behaved children?

There’s an element of the boy who cried wolf in the song. The narrator’s friends gather around because he is dying, supposedly. But he doesn’t die—he finds himself alive one more day. So now he admonishes them, accusing them of only coming to have fun at his expense—“Take a look at poor Peter / he’s lyin’ in pain / now let’s go run and see.” (Some listeners have proposed that the narrative view changes in the final verse, from first to third person, but I still hear it as the same voice, mimicking what others are saying. Interesting to think about the alternative, though!)

It would be easy if that’s all there was to the song. But there is the matter of what I believe to be the very best bridge in a repertoire filled with amazing bridges:

See here how everything
Lead up to this day
And it's just like any other day
That's ever been
Sun going up and then
The sun going down
Shine through my window
And my friends they come around
Come around, come around

There is so much packed into that simple set of lines, so much that a listener can unpack over a lifetime of listening, that you have to wonder how Hunter, at a relatively young age, could have come up with something so profound. And the synergy between Garcia’s setting of this bridge, the lyrics themselves, and the harmonies that developed over the years of performance make it a spine-tingling piece of music.

The version on the new Dave’s Picks seems to feature Garcia singing the song as if to elicit laughter at the sheer pitifulness of the song’s narrator. I found myself laughing at the lyrics for the first time. Previously, I had seen them as dark, or truly pathetic (in the sense of emotional pathos), or even as profound and empathy-inducing, but this performance made me laugh. Garcia’s reading seems to invite that response. I will have to go back and listen to a few other performances now, to see if I can detect the irony behind the singer’s portrayal of the narrator.

This all gets pretty “meta.”

Surely part of the message here, conveyed largely via the bridge, is that of the speaker in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, who is working to convince us of the vanity of human existence:

"The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course....What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

Every day is just like the other before it and after it, even though everything in our experience is cumulative and leads to the present moment. The significance of that moment is dismantled by the realization that there is after all nothing special about “this day.” And yet, here is someone on his deathbed. He may live another day, true, but it is absolutely certain that he will, one day, die.

(And then the bridge, sometimes, just lifts out of the context of the song altogether and stands there, all alone, speaking to where we might be at that particular moment, listening to that concert or that recording: see here how everything lead up to this day… It’s a psychedelic moment, a moment of realization, being offered up to us.)

His friends gather. They attempt to make normal conversation about the weather. But the narrator doesn’t let this slide—he wants to know something particular about the weather. He wants to know “who can the weather command?” Now, there’s a line that can be read in two distinct ways. “Who can command the weather?” or “Who can be commanded by the weather?”

I have heard, over the years, from people besides myself who have been at the deathbed of beloved friends and family, for whom this song has held particular meaning, if not comfort. It is a song that helps us into the feelings of the dying person, who might be resentful of those who gather, of their inane everyday conversation, and yet still grateful for their presence. There’s something about the way that one visitor, Annie Beauneau, is specifically mentioned—I can’t help but think this might have been the love of his life, and yet all she has to say is something about the weather.

What about you? What has “Black Peter” meant to you? Has it changed its meaning over time and circumstance? What good does it do for us, as human beings, to see ourselves as part of an eternally-recurring series of days, in which nothing is ever really new (except our own personal experience of life)?

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I have gone back and forth and back again, and maybe forth again, over the years in my conception of how to hear “Black Peter” — whether as a dire piece, or a philosophical piece, or what.

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Sometimes at Dead concerts you could feel the fever roll up to a hundred and five. The song can give one that heat. Jerry could sure sound like the old coal miner. I love Workingmans Dead. 1970 was a helluva cutting edge year for Hunter and the band.
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.....somewhere in my recallection---many,many full moons ago I read something-from some magazine---that R.H.---was really feeling ill & henceforth--this gem was created. It is a poinant tune -as Hunter -the bard-has stated in many others--with other astute writers & philosophers----"just like any other day...."----were born-live-& realizing our end-----as my Irish friends mother said to me many full moons ago----"Longtime dead!"-----true---and she wasn't even a DeadHead!!!------this song & all the rest of my music collection---will be playin--when I'm cashin in my fun chips!!!!!!!ALOHA!!! Hopefull y not in the immediate future.....hahahahahahaha..Keep Smilin!!!
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I have been listening to Black Peter (many versions) over the past six months.. My Mother in Law was in My care on Hospice.. She and I were very close..going way back.. Used to allow Me to get goodie pkgs mailed to Her House from Cali ( im an East Coaster)... She died 2 weeks ago.. She was a self professed Hypochondriac.. Her Mom had called Her Sarah Heartburn as a child bcuz of this..LOL..She was My Black Margaret...I Loved Her.. As She lost awareness for the last week and a half Myself and My Wife sat with Her always and played a lot of Dead for ourselves and to soothe Her.. I spent many hours recently contemplating this song... I came to the same conclusion as You.. was also continually drawn to same bridge.. Thanks for the reference to Ecclesiastes.. hadn't made that connection until You pointed it out.. Great timing for Me on this one!! Thanks...
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I am not one to cull great, deeper meanings from lyrics, especially in Grateful Dead songs. Unless Hunter or Barlow starts blabbing you're never going to know anyway and so, so many people never knew the lyrics in the first place (at least the complete song). Here in Black Peter I have a song that is most rare for me. One where I appreciate the words more than the music and Jer's vocals. This tells a simple, straightforward story about death that has a very special meaning for me. I have heard these words before... Here we have a man lying in bed with a temp. of 105 that goes up and down. He is in a delirium. In his delirium he has an epiphany! The day of his death is not different than any other day. This may not sound like a lot but it depends on the degree of subtlety of the person dieing and observing that sun and the friends surrounding his bed come and go. You could say it is a song about cycles -- life and death; night and day, sickness and health. But it is also about the helplessness of our condition. The main thing for me, though, is the epiphany. It's not special, these cycles. It is just what it is. We, through our ego, make it special. So Jer makes this dramatic bridge where none is needed. Or perhaps in the verse he makes it dramatic so that we pay attention. In any case it is one of those fascinating songs I'd really like to pick Hunter's mind about to see if I'm close or way off.
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Thanks so much for sharing that, Buck. Sorry for your loss--sounds like Margaret had a wonderful son-in-law!
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hear this song very literally. It makes me think of hard-scrabble times when folks worked long hours at jobs that eventually ruined their physical health-think white lung or black lung disease. They got the condition and were left to die a lingering death. It was inevitable for them and no one outside of them really cared about it. They themselves were resigned to it-what choice was there. The cycles just would keep going on. The song could be in a distant time or today it is the same stuff. Another generation may come up doomed to repeat the same cycle. Another Hunter lyric for the ages and Garcia's poignant, emotional music to frame those words and make us inhabit that space that guy is in. As I've said-this stuff is timeless art.
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I couldn't agree more. As a child I never really liked this song. But then again, i didn;t really like any of the slower songs when I was young. But as I got more familiar with GD and other music, I really came to appreciate Black Peter for all of its great aspects, including and especially the bridge to end all bridges.
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Black Peter is a song that always sounds great when I listen to a live version, but the "see here how everything" bridge rarely gets the proper Phil/Bobby harmony treatment it deserves. Usually, in early 1970 shows, Jerry just goes it alone. The album version and occasional live performances WITH harmonies are pure magic. The decision not to do harmonies on the bridge, I'm sure, stemmed from the band's uncertain feelings about their singing (that's why they asked Crosby to give them voice lessons), but I have always loved their sound, especially Phil's belted-out high harmonies. For me, a Black Peter isn't complete without Phil blasting "SHIIIIIINE THROUGH MY WIN-IN-DOW!" into the mic. Whenever I turn someone new onto the Dead, the first thing they comment about is how bad the singing is, but that critique never occurred to me. Even during the haggard 80s and 90s, there is something about the vocal combination of Jerry, Bobby, Phil, and Brent that surpasses any previous expectations for what 'good' singing is supposed to sound like. The Dead's vocals are much deeper than that; they come from a place of emotion, ecstasy, and Americana that sounds sweet to my ears.
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Except the bridge. This is my personal take... the ideas and thoughts I experience hearing the song. Black Peter is a rough and tumble guy...maybe a coal miner..maybe a farmer or cowboy on his death bed or looking back at himself from somewhere else (It is a song so why not?) He lived hard; couldn't be restrained by the uptight social order i.e. "Sin and Gin." He is telling of his death experience to a friend or whoever will listen. The song has layers and ironies. A good example is "Rolled on up! It's gonna roll back down." A poignant acknowledgement of Peter's powerlessness that gives us a warm grin (as in "Ain't it the truth!" or Amen) and is empowering in that he is able to communicate and understand it with the gumption and turn of phrase he cherishes. He absolutely knows what is happening...a moment so rare in most of our lives yet a moment we all must share. Peter is being taken away by the irrepressible force of nature. On top of this is the layer of death. Something we all share. "Now let's go run and see." is what most if not everyone wants to do when someone is dying. And it transfers to the audience. We are all imaging poor Peter in bed and are transfixed by the music and poetry. We are at his bedside sharing in the process of his death. we are sad but comforted that we are sharing in the experience Death is the most dramatic and fascinating event in every human's life and we all will die. Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia are expressing a view of death that is uncommon...at least in the media world. That is that death isn't the devil it just IS and we all share it and that is a remarkable, wonderful thing. It is a great drama we all take part in. What could be more inclusive (it touches everyone) than the subject of death. And what is the name of the band...? Another piece of irony is this song was performed at a rock and roll show usually in the middle of some upbeat two steps and stampeding horse jams. What a lark! It stood up and bopped you on the head and shook you down deep. At the same time you are amazed and in a state of holy reverence for the eternal force of death. I mean that-- when we imagine death we in process remember imagining our own death and likely remember the first time we saw or understood it. It activates the complicated zone of our minds that encompasses death. Performance of Black Peter was magic in action when all the pistons were firing. Then there is Mr. Garcia. He is the only artist truly equipped to deliver this song properly...not to diminish the role played by Robert and the rest of the Band. He sang it better and better as he got older and as he got closer to......dare I say it. Try to imagine anybody else singing it.....it would lack believability. When Jerry sang the song it was perfectly framed. Some have described Jerry as "spooky." He was a very unique special guy. I recall reading that he had one or two very near death experiences that surely shaped his vision. He was the icon of the name Grateful Dead. Somehow his image caught the bands name. I was a person facing death at an early age due to illness and I loved Black Peter immediately. It opened the door for all the other amazing Garcia tunes and my admiration for Jerry as well as Robert hunter. Wow....nuff said!
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Hunter has said that he didn't write "Black Peter" as such a slow dirge. It's when Jerry took it and really slowed the vibe down that Hunter said it became a "Monster" song. It's a timeless song because death is timeless. The Irish have plenty of songs about death. This is a song that would fit right in that Genre. When listening to the various versions through the years you can't help but hear how Jerry takes on a slightly different feel as he got older. Especially when his health went downhill later on. You can hear it now but we didn't want to admit it then. I don't know if comforting is the right word but I listened to Black Peter many times as my brother was dying. When you know someone going through what the narrator of the song is going through it brings the song to life. What must it be like to know your time is almost up? That's what makes this such a Dead Masterpiece.
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Great post David! Also, Im glad you mentioned that about the bridges. As good of a son wg writing team garcia/hunter were, I think the bridges to a lot of out beat just about everything out there. Hes gone, brown eyed women, black peter, stella blue, etc...they are amazingly powerful but also have a simplicity to them. the intensity of the will change completely but the always sound so natural and perfectly.
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From what i understand, garcia wrote the lyrics to the bridge, you can hear the change in style. someone correct me if i am wrong, but but it does make sense.
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speaking of bridges...i think my favorite is Wharf Rat. It even switches time signatures and its still natural and beautiful. @taphedfrek: I dont know if Garcia wrote the bridge but i know that he did write lines in songs from time to time. Light a candle, curse the glare.
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The bridge in "Black Peter"--musically, lyrically, one of the great song bridges, in any song I've ever heard. (And Jerry did have a great way with that aspect of song turning.) Jerry's performance of "Black Peter" at the third of the three back-from-near-death performances in Oakland, December 17, 1986, his singing of the latter verses and the culminating guitar soloing, evoked to my hearing a sexual blues from this song. His blues soloing seemed shruggingly masterful--he seemed expressing some ironically offhand and humiliated virtuosity --I mean that in the inescapably honest sense of deeply humbled: one has nearly died, he now knows very (grimly? ridiculously?) closely something more of death's inevitable superseding anything well doable in this life, including his musical capability, and then the organic sexual tinge I felt in the culmination of this rendition, a sort of blues-in-your-balls romantic futility/fatality of knowing/feeling that no matter what you've done sexual-lovingly you've come short of your desired communion with, or even acceptance by, one you have loved. Maybe I was just projecting from my own internals! And who am I to presume, assume some understanding of Jerry's internal biography from his emoting theatrically over there some hundred feet away on the stage? Except that I seemed another guy like he seemed, and seemed to be singing about in the moment, who'd felt that blues in his balls. I had never experienced so clearly (and mainly unwordably) that bluesily biochemically emotional sexual awareness tied in with "lying in pain," embedded in mortality. Okay, enough trying to define that strong and ~ "what for" sadness; but I think Jerry was telling us about it in that performance.
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we will all be the narrator in this song. Who can not relate to this story? It's like any other day that's ever been. Sun goes up and comes down and my friends come around, maybe out of respect or just to see the hero die.
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has always said to me to slow down and take stock in today......appreciate it for what it is....a gift. "Tomorrow maybe go beneath the ground". Someday it will be our turn......maybe tomorrow....no guarantees for anyone.....if we woke up today, be grateful because today is all we are given. "Tomorrow" really is nothing more than a hope and a prayer, but because most of us have been fortunate enough to string enough "tomorrows" together, "tomorrow" always seems to be a given that it's going to be there. That's just our nature, if the same thing happens the same way over and over enough times in a row, we take it for granted, until it doesn't happen anymore. "See here how everything lead up to this day". Imho, it's always worthwhile to stop on the path that we're on and look back. How each of our defining life moments - the successes, failures, happiness, love, heartaches, tragedies, deaths, births, wins and losses - have shaped and guided us each, knowingly or not, to where we are today. And it always is "a day like any other day" no matter what is happening. I , too, like the lyrics to this masterpiece more than the music or singing.
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8/6/7410/19/74 4/10/78 11/1/79 all great versions of Black Peter "and my friends they come around, come around, coooooomme arououououououououououounnndddddd."
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I agree--utterly horrific. Found it online with a generic "Black Peter" image search. Seemed worth sharing! It's a vintage German postcard.
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my parents had a book of German children's stories, including a character called Struvelpeter. If a kid wouldn't stop sucking their thumbs, Struvelpeter would come along with a big-ass pair of scissors and cut off the thumbs. The horror...the horror... top it off with the fact that i am of German ancestry (stoltz-fus in German means proud-foot.) WAS IST LOS MIT DIR, BABY???
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"greetings from Krampus" who the heck is Krampus? Read on (from wikipeidia) "Krampus is a beast-like creature from the folklore of Alpine countries thought to punish children during the Yule season who had misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards well-behaved ones with gifts. Krampus is said to capture particularly naughty children in his sack and carry them away to his lair. Krampus is represented as a beast-like creature, generally demonic in appearance. The creature has roots in Germanic folklore, however its influence has spread far beyond German borders. Traditionally young men dress up as the Krampus in Austria, southern Bavaria, South Tyrol, northern Friuli, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and Croatia during the first week of December, particularly on the evening of 5 December (the eve of Saint Nicholas day on many church calendars), and roam the streets frightening children with rusty chains and bells. Krampus is featured on holiday greeting cards called Krampuskarten. There are many names for Krampus, as well as many regional variations in portrayal and celebration." Krampuskarten!! Now you know...back to reality as I know it...
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Every time I hear this song, my mind goes directly to those souls already lost, and any about to be lost. The day my paternal grandfather died -- Black Peter was right there. Same with both grandmothers. Now my mother is close. Anyone and everyone's life leads up to that day. How did Hunter sum that up so succinctly? Given ten minutes, it seems like I could have done it, but he did it instead. And Garcia formed a perfect death blues around the words. It's in an obvious blues key, but goes to very unexpected places musically. I rate it among the Dead's best. Thanks for the opportunity to ruminate on it yet again.

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The Black Peter on the new bonus disc, from 12-21-69, is my immediate all-time favorite. Jerry's voice is sweet as sugar, it's more definitive even than Workingman's Dead. As to the title, I suspect, like Jack Straw, that the song's character has nothing to do with the older mythology but Hunter just couldn't resist winking at some old tradition anyway....and it fit his own character so well, conjuring a completely different yet still timeless (but now so American) aesthetic.... A few of those lines, though, like "Annie Beauneau from Saint Angel".....I didn't know FOREVER what Jerry was singing...!
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Before David's website and subsequent book I used to hear that line as 'anyone know from sad angel' or something like that... But to my credit I never fell for 'flashing my keys' or 'Mike and Gloria'...
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I've been thinking about this song a lot of late, too, for a variety of reasons. I agree that the bridge is a masterpiece unto itself! Not much more to add other than thank you for expanding the field of my ruminations on this wonderful song.
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I think Hunter is actually being straightforward with the lines about "Annie Beauneu from Saint Angel / say, 'The weather down here so fine.'" Annie IS an angel visiting our sick friend. That's why she says DOWN here. She came from above. Simple, eh? If you prefer, perhaps she is a vision of Peter's delirium. I don't think that's too far off from what I'm saying either.
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"See here how everything, Lead up to this day" is simply amazing! Hunter and Garcia were a combination that created such deep meaningful art and I connect to it more every time I experience it.
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great observations on an incredible song. The version hidden deep in the dozin at the knick cd is the best version I have ever heard. Stunning! Why it did not make the "without a net" cut is beyond me. I like nsams73 comment of the angel coming down from heaven. It's a priceless song!
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antonjo, I never knew either what he was saying. I though it was "anyone know from sand and gems" Funny!
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These words were presented to me on Facebook earlier this evening along with a picture of a person wearing black-face. It seemed a haunting image of a long ago age, yet, it is happening today (or rather yesterday). Really briefly, Zwarte Piet is a character that is celebrated in the northern European countries, particularly in the Netherlands, but a version of him is used throughout the region. Like people dressing up as Santa Claus (a character he is indelibly linked to) there are people that dress up in Blackface on December 5 to celebrate Saint Nicholas' feast. Zwarte Piet translates directly as Black Peter. If you take the character of Black Peter as the narrator and with the understanding that Black Peter is Racism itself, the entire song becomes crystal clear. Remember, this song was originally written at a time of great civil strife, with Civil Rights being at the forefront of the nightly news and every day occurrence at the time. It was bound to seep into the mind of storytellers such as Garcia and Hunter. The story is then about the death of Racism, with the hope being that they were at a critical point in history where Racism was drawing its last breaths. Yet, each day the sun comes up and the sun goes down, it lives on. The final refrains seemed to be a call to action from Garcia and Hunter to act, to see Black Peter die, and to have friends of all colors gather around in unity. This also explains why, in subsequent performances, as the 60's became the 70's, into the 80's and finally into the 90's and Black Peter still breathed, that the song, once a song of hope, turned more and more into a dirge song, with less and less hope that Racism would cease. Leave it to Garcia to turn to irony, once filled with so much hope, that things never quite changed and we continued to live in a world with Black Peter.
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black peter is the name of a Sherlock holmes story. it doesn't have anything to do with the story in the song but I always thought it was cool.
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Kind of random, but a 90 year old woman was just telling me about Annie Besant and the Theosophical Society. Made me think of Black Peter's Annie Beauneau, if Besant was the intended character with an altered name. She seems in line with the themes of the song, and Hunter's spiritual/philosophical interests. Probably not, but who the hell knows?
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When I was 17 I was diagnosed with cancer. I became interested in GD in junior high and started going to shows when I was 15 or 16. So I'm 17 and going through major surgeries and chemotherapy. In and out of the hospital. Over and over. While I was in the hospital I had a Grateful Dead photo book. Can't remember which one. I also had Robert Hunter's Box of Rain. Which I devoured. There was no internet then and hospital TV sucked ;) But my friends, they'd come around. At that time I always thought of Black Peter. It had personal meaning. And now I remember that life experience through the song.
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Hey man, glad you made it through your troubles! Just goes to show the Dead can get anyone through hard times.
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I see the character of Black Peter as an older gentleman an a deep south African American community, possibly a somewhat prominent individual around the turn of the 19th-20th century. Like many people in the south back then, he suffered from Malaria as a somewhat chronic illness: getting sick, then better. As he became older, his body became less able to fight off the effects of the disease, and when stricken, he becomes more convinced that death is near. Fever goes up and friends (and hangers on) start to come by to offer comfort and or get an angle on his belongings. A 105 fever sure could feel like a near-death experience, but not this time. Maybe the next time.
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this tune set a scene in my mind that the movie M.A.S.H. seemed to have duplicated during its faux suicide scene. (the hypochondriac character they called "Painless" thinks he's offing himself and everyone shows up to help him think it all the way through.) it's always seems dark and bittersweet but it comes off to me either like a semi-public self-pity party or like the death of an old southern man. so i experience it either as just a ridiculous way of processing the blue.... or as a death meditation. what makes it Really Weird for some of us is that it's what the Wharf Rat kids traditionally recite at the close of their between-sets ritual.
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I wondered if there was a specific back story (like, for example, 'He's Gone') for Black Peter. What springs to my mind is 710 Ashbury St,, and that maybe there were some days the band didn't feel like playing host. Yet, everyday, rain or shine, sickness or health, the folks showed up.
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    Syncopator
    1 year 11 months ago
    Not a Deep Thinker
    I wondered if there was a specific back story (like, for example, 'He's Gone') for Black Peter. What springs to my mind is 710 Ashbury St,, and that maybe there were some days the band didn't feel like playing host. Yet, everyday, rain or shine, sickness or health, the folks showed up.
  • Default Avatar
    Steve Flinn
    2 years 3 months ago
    MASH-able?
    this tune set a scene in my mind that the movie M.A.S.H. seemed to have duplicated during its faux suicide scene. (the hypochondriac character they called "Painless" thinks he's offing himself and everyone shows up to help him think it all the way through.) it's always seems dark and bittersweet but it comes off to me either like a semi-public self-pity party or like the death of an old southern man. so i experience it either as just a ridiculous way of processing the blue.... or as a death meditation. what makes it Really Weird for some of us is that it's what the Wharf Rat kids traditionally recite at the close of their between-sets ritual.
  • Default Avatar
    kelso
    2 years 6 months ago
    Black Peter has Malaria
    I see the character of Black Peter as an older gentleman an a deep south African American community, possibly a somewhat prominent individual around the turn of the 19th-20th century. Like many people in the south back then, he suffered from Malaria as a somewhat chronic illness: getting sick, then better. As he became older, his body became less able to fight off the effects of the disease, and when stricken, he becomes more convinced that death is near. Fever goes up and friends (and hangers on) start to come by to offer comfort and or get an angle on his belongings. A 105 fever sure could feel like a near-death experience, but not this time. Maybe the next time.