• October 10, 2013
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-black-throated-wind
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - “Black Throated Wind”

    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 Throated Wind”

    Happy birthday, Bob Weir! (October 16.) Cue up “Beat It On Down the Line” with an insane number of opening drumbeats. Seems like a good time to take a look at “Black-Throated Wind,” if ever there was one.

    Here’s one of at least three hitchhiker songs in the Dead repertoire. (The others I’m thinking of are …? Your responses welcome. Maybe there are more than I think. ) Does anyone hitchhike anymore? I have a ton of memories about this mode of transportation, dating mostly from the late 1970s when it was the only way, in some cases, to get from point A to point B. Get your hitchhiking stories ready—there are bound to be some good ones out there.

    In the case of this particular song, the singer is reminiscing about a failed relationship while trying, unsuccessfully, to hitch a ride—but the cars, the buses, and the semis won’t pick him up. He is, it seems, running away from a situation in which he did not get the better deal. He’s out on the edge of an empty highway…no wait—that’s the other one…no, not The Other One. Oh yikes.

    This gets complicated, this stuff about the Dead and songs about being on the road or jumping onto buses or not being picked up by buses. (It has been a long several days, frankly, and I’m winging it here. I apologize for any incoherence in advance.)

    Also, as a former hitchhiker, I have to ask: did anyone ever get picked up by a commercial trucker? I know this happens in “Me and Bobby McGee,” but..really? And then in “Pride of Cucamonga,” there’s a hitchhiker getting on board a Diesel Mack—another commercial truck.

    John Barlow, in this early lyric written for Weir, which appeared on his “solo album,” Ace, in 1972, makes passing nodes to several icons, including, I would say, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., with his line containing the phrase “Ah, Mother American Night,” (caps Barlow’s) which brings to mind Vonnegut’s novel Mother Night. It’s also been suggested that this is a double nod, and includes the ultimate icon of being on the road, Jack Kerouac, who wrote these lines in On the Road:

    "The stars bent over the little roof; smoke poked from the stovepipe chimney. I smelled mashed beans and chili. The old man growled... A California home; I hid in the grapevines, digging it all. I felt like a million dollars; I was adventuring in the crazy American night."

    I’ve gotten into a number of disputes, over the years, about the lines

    “It forced me to see
    That you've done better by me
    Better by me than I've done by you”

    The meaning seems obvious to me: “done better by me” means “treated me better.” For some reason, some people insist on reading it as “you’ve gotten the better of me,” which is just sort of exactly the opposite of what is being said. Sigh. But, you know, it’s a lesson I seem to need to learn over and over: people will hear in these songs what they need to hear.

    So, the singer is stuck in the middle of nowhere, having left his lover in St. Louis, thinking that he may have misbehaved, and maybe he should head on back there, possibly to grovel and ask to be taken back.

    I don’t think Barlow was satisfied with the lyric, or maybe Weir wasn’t, because of the fact that the song’s extremely uneven performance history (from The Grateful Dead Family Discography: “‘Black Throated Wind’ was first performed by the Grateful Dead in March 1972. The song was played over 70 times in 1972 and then just under 20 times in each of 1973 and 1974. It was not then performed again until 1990 after which time it was played between 6 and 12 times in each of the following years through to 1995.”) gave rise to an attempt, when the song reappeared in 1990, to use a fairly extensive reworking of the lyrics.

    Not sure how many times Weir sang those new words, but I think the attempt was abandoned before long. The newer words don’t seem either more lucid or more evocative than the original lyrics.

    It does make me wonder, though, how often it occurred in the Dead repertoire, that there was proposed a significant re-working of lyrics once the song had been in performance for quite some time. It’s easy to find variants among early versions of the songs, and sometimes we come across lines that get changed with the times (“Throwing Stones,” “One More Saturday Night,” etc.), but aside from “Black Throated Wind,” was there another that reappeared in significantly different form?

    I know Hunter wrote additional verses to “Truckin’,” but I don’t know that they were ever broken out in a show. Any others? It would be interesting to know. I think Hunter also rewrote “Mountains of the Moon” at some point, but again, I don’t think those new words ever made it into the Dead’s performance—or Furthur’s, when it comes to that song.

    There’s something very quirky about the song. Looking at its musical notation in Grateful Dead Anthology II, I wonder at the contortions the transcriber had to go through to get at Weir’s melody line, which is often triplets sung over the four-four time signature (“alone with the rush of the drivers that won’t pick me up…”). And the chord progression is not exactly straightforward, either, with a song ostensibly in the key of E incorporating C major, G major, and D7 chords.

    It’s the kind of strangeness, musically, that is quintessential Weir. He seems to manage, throughout his songwriting career, to challenge himself to not be happy with the easy answers when it comes to the music itself, and I really like that. Someday I will have to write about “Victim or the Crime,” which is perhaps the strongest example of this. Or even “Easy Answers” itself. There’s lots to play with in his songs—lots to challenge the ear and to make us, in a strange way, pay more attention to the lyrics than we might if the music was simpler, more straightforward.Am I making any sense whatsoever?

    Over to you all, for your thoughts on this song, which I hope will be more clear than my own. Topics: hitchhiking; the song’s plot line; reworked lyrics; Bob’s birthday. Go!

    361666
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

9 years 7 months

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 Throated Wind”

Happy birthday, Bob Weir! (October 16.) Cue up “Beat It On Down the Line” with an insane number of opening drumbeats. Seems like a good time to take a look at “Black-Throated Wind,” if ever there was one.

Here’s one of at least three hitchhiker songs in the Dead repertoire. (The others I’m thinking of are …? Your responses welcome. Maybe there are more than I think. ) Does anyone hitchhike anymore? I have a ton of memories about this mode of transportation, dating mostly from the late 1970s when it was the only way, in some cases, to get from point A to point B. Get your hitchhiking stories ready—there are bound to be some good ones out there.

In the case of this particular song, the singer is reminiscing about a failed relationship while trying, unsuccessfully, to hitch a ride—but the cars, the buses, and the semis won’t pick him up. He is, it seems, running away from a situation in which he did not get the better deal. He’s out on the edge of an empty highway…no wait—that’s the other one…no, not The Other One. Oh yikes.

This gets complicated, this stuff about the Dead and songs about being on the road or jumping onto buses or not being picked up by buses. (It has been a long several days, frankly, and I’m winging it here. I apologize for any incoherence in advance.)

Also, as a former hitchhiker, I have to ask: did anyone ever get picked up by a commercial trucker? I know this happens in “Me and Bobby McGee,” but..really? And then in “Pride of Cucamonga,” there’s a hitchhiker getting on board a Diesel Mack—another commercial truck.

John Barlow, in this early lyric written for Weir, which appeared on his “solo album,” Ace, in 1972, makes passing nodes to several icons, including, I would say, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., with his line containing the phrase “Ah, Mother American Night,” (caps Barlow’s) which brings to mind Vonnegut’s novel Mother Night. It’s also been suggested that this is a double nod, and includes the ultimate icon of being on the road, Jack Kerouac, who wrote these lines in On the Road:

"The stars bent over the little roof; smoke poked from the stovepipe chimney. I smelled mashed beans and chili. The old man growled... A California home; I hid in the grapevines, digging it all. I felt like a million dollars; I was adventuring in the crazy American night."

I’ve gotten into a number of disputes, over the years, about the lines

“It forced me to see
That you've done better by me
Better by me than I've done by you”

The meaning seems obvious to me: “done better by me” means “treated me better.” For some reason, some people insist on reading it as “you’ve gotten the better of me,” which is just sort of exactly the opposite of what is being said. Sigh. But, you know, it’s a lesson I seem to need to learn over and over: people will hear in these songs what they need to hear.

So, the singer is stuck in the middle of nowhere, having left his lover in St. Louis, thinking that he may have misbehaved, and maybe he should head on back there, possibly to grovel and ask to be taken back.

I don’t think Barlow was satisfied with the lyric, or maybe Weir wasn’t, because of the fact that the song’s extremely uneven performance history (from The Grateful Dead Family Discography: “‘Black Throated Wind’ was first performed by the Grateful Dead in March 1972. The song was played over 70 times in 1972 and then just under 20 times in each of 1973 and 1974. It was not then performed again until 1990 after which time it was played between 6 and 12 times in each of the following years through to 1995.”) gave rise to an attempt, when the song reappeared in 1990, to use a fairly extensive reworking of the lyrics.

Not sure how many times Weir sang those new words, but I think the attempt was abandoned before long. The newer words don’t seem either more lucid or more evocative than the original lyrics.

It does make me wonder, though, how often it occurred in the Dead repertoire, that there was proposed a significant re-working of lyrics once the song had been in performance for quite some time. It’s easy to find variants among early versions of the songs, and sometimes we come across lines that get changed with the times (“Throwing Stones,” “One More Saturday Night,” etc.), but aside from “Black Throated Wind,” was there another that reappeared in significantly different form?

I know Hunter wrote additional verses to “Truckin’,” but I don’t know that they were ever broken out in a show. Any others? It would be interesting to know. I think Hunter also rewrote “Mountains of the Moon” at some point, but again, I don’t think those new words ever made it into the Dead’s performance—or Furthur’s, when it comes to that song.

There’s something very quirky about the song. Looking at its musical notation in Grateful Dead Anthology II, I wonder at the contortions the transcriber had to go through to get at Weir’s melody line, which is often triplets sung over the four-four time signature (“alone with the rush of the drivers that won’t pick me up…”). And the chord progression is not exactly straightforward, either, with a song ostensibly in the key of E incorporating C major, G major, and D7 chords.

It’s the kind of strangeness, musically, that is quintessential Weir. He seems to manage, throughout his songwriting career, to challenge himself to not be happy with the easy answers when it comes to the music itself, and I really like that. Someday I will have to write about “Victim or the Crime,” which is perhaps the strongest example of this. Or even “Easy Answers” itself. There’s lots to play with in his songs—lots to challenge the ear and to make us, in a strange way, pay more attention to the lyrics than we might if the music was simpler, more straightforward.Am I making any sense whatsoever?

Over to you all, for your thoughts on this song, which I hope will be more clear than my own. Topics: hitchhiking; the song’s plot line; reworked lyrics; Bob’s birthday. Go!

Custom Sidebar

Listen on Spotify

Display on homepage featured list
On
Homepage Feature blurb
Happy birthday, Bob Weir! (October 16.) Cue up “Beat It On Down the Line” with an insane number of opening drumbeats. Seems like a good time to take a look at “Black-Throated Wind,” if ever there was one. Here’s one of at least three hitchhiker songs in the Dead repertoire. (The others I’m thinking of are …? Your responses welcome. Maybe there are more than I think. ) Does anyone hitchhike anymore? I have a ton of memories about this mode of transportation...
Homepage Feature title
Greatest Stories Ever Told - “Black Throated Wind”
Custom Teaser

Happy birthday, Bob Weir! (October 16.) Cue up “Beat It On Down the Line” with an insane number of opening drumbeats. Seems like a good time to take a look at “Black-Throated Wind,” if ever there was one.

Here’s one of at least three hitchhiker songs in the Dead repertoire. (The others I’m thinking of are …? Your responses welcome. Maybe there are more than I think. ) Does anyone hitchhike anymore? I have a ton of memories about this mode of transportation, dating mostly from the late 1970s when it was the only way, in some cases, to get from point A to point B. Get your hitchhiking stories ready—there are bound to be some good ones out there.

dead comment

user picture

Member for

7 years 6 months
Permalink

I generally favor Garcia songs, but this is one big exception. This Weir masterpiece hit me like a ton of bricks when I first heard it on, of all things, Steal Your Face. There was even something about that out-of-phase vocal tone that made it better somehow, like it was beaming in on an unsteady radio signal from very far away. It reminded me of the edginess of hitch-hiking of course -- something I was doing a lot of at the time. And no, a commercial trucker never stopped to give me a ride but I always wished they had. Certainly you are right about "better by me than I done by you". It clearly means the singer is feeling regret for treating someone less well than he has been treated. No argument there. I can relate, and I'm glad that phase of my life is in the distant past. The 1972 Europe versions are so powerful. That was a time when Weir could do no wrong. His strange chord progressions and barking vocals moved me and they still do every time I hear them. In later years, I was less inclined to buy what he was selling. (I mean moment-to-moment, artistically, as I listened to him.) But I could say this for a thousand other artists. What is it that corrupts their ability to remain vital? It's more common than not that a great musical talent will grow soft. The new lyrics were inferior (although not terrible) and remain an interesting sidebar.
user picture

Member for

11 years 4 months
Permalink

You're right about hitch hiking during the 70's: I relied on my thumb several times, most notably a 26 ride sequence from Colorado to Indianapolis for the 10/1/76 show. There was 1 ride from a commercial trucker, the rest from a variety of cars and pick-up trucks. Luckily, I arrived in time for the show, to meet up with friends from Ohio. No Black Throated Wind in Indy in 1976; however, I did see 5 between 1972 and 1974: Boulder 9/3/72; Watkins Glen 7/28/73; Indy 10/27/73; Cleveland 12/6/73 and memorably in Louisville on 6/18/74. I'm very surprised to realize it never appeared again until 1990. Furthur did an amazing BT Wind at Red Rocks on 9/22/13.
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

10 years
Permalink

I flew across from Australia to LA in 1990, Hitched from Venice to the Sacremento turn off then got picked up by a trucker who was carrying a load of refridgerated canteloupes all the way to downtown Sacremento,Jumped in a bus a walked to Cal-expo through some leafy suburb until a car stopped and gave me a ride to the parking lot all the way complaining and warning me about the drug addicts who were invading his town! I've hitched thousands of Kilometres in Australia since I was 16, lots of rides with Interstate (long haul truckers) Had some pretty strange and scary rides but i'm still here!!
user picture

Member for

8 years 10 months
Permalink

There was a raw power and intensity to these words that was best expressed during the first few dozen renditions. Bob didn't let anybody down during 1990 and beyond either. The meaning of the verses themselves show Barlow again at his intrepid best. This is definitely my favorite Bob & John tune, hands down. Glad I got to hear it once in '93.
user picture

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

I heard Weir sing a totally different verse in "The Other One" on an official release some time ago, but I can't for the life of me recall where or when. Anybody?
user picture

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

I remember seeing Robert Hunter and he did a Terrapin with many " extra" lyrics.
user picture

Member for

11 years 4 months
Permalink

Picked up Hitchhikers but never did it myself. 25th anniversary return with Loose Lucy the first night at the Cap Center. Glad they both stayed in the rotation until the end.
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

11 years
Permalink

I feel that Weir/Barlow songs are just as strong as Garcia/Hunter songs. This song is one of the strongest. I've always wondered how they came up with the melody. It's one that seems hard to make up, I'm surprised they pulled it off. I couldn't ever think up of a song like this in a million years (nor any other songwriter from Hunter to Dylan to Lennon/McCartney)!! Way to go Weir/Barlow!!
user picture

Member for

7 years 3 months
Permalink

only the Grateful Dead can get away with. "Im bound to the load I've picked up in 10000 cafes and bars..." This is one of them. Sure, the Grateful Dead had a great time traveling around but they traveled all of the time and certain aspects of that must have been pretty hard. Just like everything else or anyone else's trip, the wine often seems sweeter on the other side of the hill. So, life is passing him by...the busses and semis, plunging like stones from a slingshot on Mars. (I just got that lyric, its another world!) Another life is passing him by and his load keeps getting bigger with every cafe, bar, and stop along the way, each place further from home. So, when he says 10000! cafes and bars, it can conjure up a lot of thoughts of what his viewpoint might be, good or bad. But more importantly, its not much of an exaggeration. Even by 1972, they had been all over the U.S. and back and all over again. Around this time, I assume, Stella Blue was written and it has one of those lines thats always popped out at me as being something that only a traveling band like this could get away with (or a traveling salesman). "Ive stayed at every blue light, cheap hotel." Now I know they obviously haven't stayed at them all but its got to be a pretty impressive list, again, even by the early 70's. I love Black Throated Wind and I love the different lyrics in 1990. Also, I wish that hitching was more prominent in our current world but its a much colder society. Can't help anybody out or they might stab you...really?! What a terrible way to live. I have picked up a few hitchhikers along the way and we didn't stab each other. Score: Good 1 <> Evil 0
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

I always took this to mean that the protagonist felt he treated his ex better than she treated him. That she benefited more from being with him than he did by being with her.
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

5 years 4 months
Permalink

"...there's a Lost Kids Situation has come up via the headphonesthat there's a Whole Bunch of Lost Kids down in the Kid Tent Crying because they haven't seen there Mommies and Daddies for months..." came the announcement by Ken B. which followed Black Throated Wind at the Creamery Show This is Just the Right Song for a Kid in a Lost Situation
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

5 years 4 months
Permalink

I agree with David that the "Better By Me" line is saying She treated Him Better than He treated Her. The whole story is about him recognizing that fact and wanting to get back to her. Another line that I found hard to wrap my brain around is this one... " I can't deny the Time's Gone By when I never had Doubts or Thoughts of Regret and I was a Man when all this Began who Wouldn't think Twice about Being There Yet" ...quite profound the more it sinks in! hope y'all don't mind -but I will be posting more This is one of those songs that gets better and better the more I listen and ponder on it!
user picture

Member for

5 years 11 months
Permalink

I again wanted to contribute a few disconnected thoughts here: When Barlow songs started popping up in the Dead’s repertoire I loved it, but he was so *different* from Hunter (whom I saw in Boston the other day, a fantastic show). Here he contributes a straight-ahead blues song rather than the free-range(ing) play on perceptions and emotions. There’s a single symbol in it (the titular wind of course) rather than the multitude cascading through Hunter songs, and a single emotion. The guy feels like crap (can I say "shit" in this forum?), and after standing there staring at the sky and the cars that won’t pick him up, he just turns around and goes home. End of simple, and marvelously worded, story. Good call to highlight the "you've done better by me" line, which immediately stands out to the listener. The first occurrence of it is the turning point of the song, and it makes you think about what it means and why the guy is shouting that over and over in his head. What happened in that relationship? I've always interpreted that line and the relationship in a different way than Mr. Dodd lays out. I feel that he was dumped by her. He tried to tell himself that it ended because she was no longer the woman he fell in love with. But actually ... he realizes ... she was *always* the same woman: interested in what she could get out of the relationship before she left it rather than being interested in him. So that's what "you've done better by me" means, that she’s managed to get what she wanted out of him and he’s left with nothing. "Please help them to learn," means that he needs to keep his eyes open next time so this doesn't happen again (has it happened before?). That black-throated wind is a symbol for a lie (the relationship) that could almost be true but isn't. And "going back home?" ... it doesn't mean that he's going back to her, it's the classic line that he's going back to something simple and which he understands. Anyway, that's my interpretation and I'm sticking to it. And thanks again to the great lyricists ... let’s do Cucamonga next! :)
user picture

Member for

8 years
Permalink

I like this song. Can't say it's one of my favorites, but it is solid enough. I don't connect much with the lyrics except for "I left St Louis, the City of Blues", possibly because St Louis seems like an overlooked city that deserves a mention now and then. It seems like a song Johnny Cash might have written, although Cash's version would have been cleaner, leaner, and meaner. I enjoy something about its feeling of urgency and desperation. The rising intensity of Bob's singing towards the end of this one works for me somehow. But on the downside, I have to say "the buses and semis plunging like stones from a slingshot on Mars" is the worst klunker of a simile in any dead tune, and probably one of the worst in the history of the English language. I could write many pages about my hitchhiking (mis)adventures, but not one of my stories involves a commercial trucker. My worst experience with hitchhiking was the time I picked up a deadhead who wanted to go from Berkeley into the city. He looked like a typical longhair vegetarian peacenik bliss boy. The dead were doing a series of shows in SF that week, and bliss boy quickly started telling me was going to every show using the free tickets he had because he was fast friends with everyone in the band, and how Mountain Girl would always give him big bags of the best weed. I figured he was full of shit but harmless. But by the time we were onto the bay bridge he was explaining to me that he was studying law so he could be the one who finally gets Manson out of jail, because "Charles Manson is Jesus Christ, you know". He was not joking. I played along and said things like, "yeah sure that sounds right....wow, good luck with that man!", because I was scared shitless that at any moment he was going to pull a giant hunting knife out of his duffle and commence with some stabbing. I was ready to jump out of my car right there half way across the bridge. Yikes!! I interpret "you've done better by me...than I've done by you" to mean "you have benefited from being with me more than I have benefited from being with you". It's a common sort of expression, isn't it? Sorry, but I don't have the scholarly chops to find support for that perspective.
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

9 years 7 months
Permalink

I think the key here is the previous line. It's the black-throated wind that has forced our protagonist to see the truth. It seems that the hitchhiker would be forced to see the relationship the way that David interprets it, and not the other way around.
user picture

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

that is a scary hitchhiking tale!
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

5 years 4 months
Permalink

SorryI suppose one man's Clunker is another man's Gem. "Plunging like stones from a Slingshot on Mars" just takes this song Up into a Cosmic Perspective for me. I Love it. From the "Highway" to the "Moon" back down to the "Clouds" then all the way to the "Stars" we are Catapulted into the Grand Scheme of Things. Right away we are transcending this Mortal Coil. Likewise the imagery of a "Black Throated Wind" as an Antagonist and the "Light" as a Protagonist and our Lonely Hitchhiker trying to make sense out of the illusions and lies and finally being able see the "Light" Our Lost Boy is having to re-evaluate things and concludes he needs to get back to the place he was running from. First we find him "Blind in the Light" Then he is " Lost from the Light" and finally "Here comes the Light" which transforms his whole point of view and gets him turned around. Brilliant! Finally...One of my FAVORITE lines ever... "so I Give you my Eyes and all of their Lies please help them to Learn as well as to See and Capture a Glance and make it Dance ( poetic Genius...A Dancing Glance..WoW) of Me Looking at You Looking at Me" If more people would be willing to live that line... What a Wonderful World it Would Be Also...I've always heard the last reference to the Black Throated Wind as "Speaking a Lie that Could Almost be True" (instead of "Life") The most effective Lies will look very Believable until seen in the Light. Then the Ferocious Conclusion of "Coming back Home- That's What I'm Going to Do" as the Music and Energy Build and Build. -Awesomeness- "'Cause You've Done Better by Me than I've Done by You" that Yingy Yangy Line we've been wrestling with. It seems to me At First He left home feeling like He'd done Better and She done him Wrong. Then he gets Turned around and see's it Completely Opposite. She's done Better than He's done. ( I am picturing Ralph Cramden at the end of Every Honey Mooner show - Ha!!) Now She is some one to be Loved and no longer someone to be Blamed or so it seems to me...
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

9 years 8 months
Permalink

I'm truthfully a bit puzzled by the interpretations of this line, with only jbxpro seeming to get it. I've always thought it clear that he is simply expressing his feeling that she got more out of the relationship than he did, i.e. that she did better by the relationship than he did. He's come to realize that neither were honest going into it, and is disappointed in himself for both doing so, and not seeing it happening. Possibly she wanted the things that come with a relationship, while he wanted just the relationship itself? But they both lied their way into it, so nobody is really to blame. Live and learn. It's good poetry, with a lot of tangible metaphors, but it's a bit awkward, and the buried meaning becomes hard to see. Blind in the light of the interstate cars...
user picture

Member for

8 years
Permalink

“It forced me to seeThat you've done better by me Better by me than I've done by you” I think the schism we're seeing about the meaning of that line reflects two equally reasonable ways of interpreting the word "better" in this context. Specifically, does "better" mean "more right" or "more well"? The base phrase, if you will, could be either "you've done right by me" or "you've done well by me". The former is about ethics or fairness, while the latter is about degree of benefit. I suggest people in David's camp assume the base phrase is "you've done right by me", so "you've done better by me" conveys you've treated me [more right]. The way I've always heard it assumes the base phrase is "you've done well by me", so "you've done better by me" conveys you've [benefited more from] me. Upon scrutiny, I think Barlow probably intended "better" to be mean "more right", but it is vague so it is not surprising that some of us hear "more well".
user picture

Member for

8 years 10 months
Permalink

or Mobil Oil? Black-Throated Wind Keeps on pouring in! Gotta say for a hitching song this is a brilliant, brilliant line.
user picture

Member for

6 years 6 months
Permalink

looooooove this tune...8/27/72, 9/17/72, 5/18/72 (underrated show!!) & another i'm totally spacing right now :/ probably round out my Top 5... but, REEEALLY dig the Portland 7/26/72 version... (some tasty guitar fills by Garcia throughout ALL these versions are what does it for me as my fav's...) the 'comments' made by Lesh & Weir right before are All-Timers, go check it out, i&i won't ruin it for you here :~} AND, listen closely to the very beginning, you can here Jer ask: "We Gonna Bullshit All Night, Or We Gonna Play Some Tunes?!?" CLASSIC!! LOVE IT!!! this whole show, especially Set:1 (with all the stage banter!!) is KILLER (a 31min Dark Star>Comes A Time too!¡!) not sure why it doesn't get mentioned much in the many discussions/comments made about '72 on the threads here... (note: listening to the Dark Star>Other One>Sing Me Back Home from 5/7/72 as i'm writing this, another GEM from '72!!) anyways... EPIC, Alltime bobby tune... irie feelings, ace. ps... THANK YOU FOR 8/27/72!!! it's about fucking time, man...

Member for

5 years 11 months
Permalink

Quite a few tunes matured during their initial performance history, with lyrics dropped and added, notably West L.A. Fadeaway, but I think the Wave that Flag --> U.S. Blues metamorphosis/overhaul was the most drastic. As for hitch-hiking, my bud and I picked up a guy in my 1970 VW Type II after leaving Mile High Stadium on June 28, 1991--the show where a full moon came up behind the band during the second set--and he turned us onto a scene in Nederland, above Boulder. There were a ton of heads throughout the woods as the next shows were a few months off in Cal Expo. We partied up there for about a week, including one night in a barn where a group were handing out free joints they were rolling from a huge pile of weed laid out on a picnic table.
user picture

Member for

5 years 11 months
Permalink

What a great discussion! Thanks to [Willie and the] handjive for pinpointing the different meanings of the phrase "done better." And I agree, the slingshot metaphor could be in the running for the worst/best something or other. It's not exactly graceful, but I like it because it seems like the non-poetic thoughts somebody might be thinking when they're freezing to death on the side of the road in the middle of the night. Another aspect to that metaphor is the possible reference to The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein, a SciFi writer who was very popular with 60s hippies and read by the Dead. The moon residents slung rocks at the Earth with, basically, a slingshot.
user picture

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

Ah, I do love the spirit of "I don't know," especially when it comes to literary interpretation. Thank you all for a splendid conversation about the phrase "better my me than I've done by you." It has opened up some vistas for me in this song, and I hope that's true for all of us participating in the conversation. Also, I love the hitchhiking stories! Keep 'em coming.
user picture

Member for

9 years 9 months
Permalink

I just listened to the beginning of the version from the Kaiser on 12/30/86. I was there, although my brain was on planet Mars (just saw Gravity yesterday, btw...good flick!), and the intro was 30 beats long! I challenge anyone to find a longer one, lol. Oh, and I was grateful for one ride to the first night of Mountain Aire '87 after my buddy's International Harvester broke down in Nevada. :)
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

9 years 10 months
Permalink

... the year--'78--from LI/NY livin in Encinitas,Ca. I had an aunt who lived in Marin co. & I visited her several years earlier.I called & asked if I could visit & to see the show--as I didnt know anyone in San Fran. I started hitchin north-early---took 24 hours to get there---one guynear San Lus Obispo-picked me up --gettin dark--gettin tired---lit's oneup---I mustve dozed off-----he wakes me & sez "here's a good place to hitch"" --i look --its dark-"cant ya drop me at the next exit????---oh well----dark-not sure if still on 101--headin north---a highway patrol-thru bullhorn---"get off the highway!"--yeh right--dont know where I am--I was walkin about a mile & realized it was uphill & tough to pull over on the turn-----back down the hill.Not much later a guy stops & sez'What are you doin wat out here?"--me "is this 101?"-him"yep!"----the I proceeded with my story---I was in farm country--an hour later-he dropped me off--at an exit.Next & last ride--about an hour south SF--a Mexican guy picks me up--"yeh I'm headin to town!--like a beer?--me--'ok'--I a little concerned at this point because its rainin & his wipers are on but no rubber--makin the chaulkboard noise--I guzzeled the beer in seconds as to keep my eyes on the road---he sez "whoa -that was fast--annutta one?-me ok!--I said " where are yer wiper blades?---he just laughed---5 minutes later we get pulled over by highway patrol--guy had a pint of booze in glove compartment--me "Officer I'm hitchin to SF--this gentleman picked me up!!---sent us on our way. He drops me off -I do not know at this time-south end of town--slight drizzle---walkin along---SF finest stops--me "which way to Golden Gate--headin to Marin Co."--them go to Van Ness-left --follow signs"-me Thanks! Several minutes later they come by again--"come here"-me-"I'm not doin anything.."-them-"this is a bad area--we'll give you a ride to Van Ness"--me where is this"-them-"MIssion District"--I was walkin along the Mission-in the rain & didnt even know it--it was quiet & no one out...at Van ness-they let me out---how about a ride to the Bridge????--them-"Goodnight!"-me-"Thanks for the ride!"--good thing they didnt check my bag with the red top shroom I had for the show!!---had to walk north-uptown then back west to bridge---24 hours--called my aunt--ahhh--shower & bed!!! Had a good visit in Marin---she thought it would be cool if I took the ferry over-from Oakland-to see the sites--maybe take a trolleycar ride-since I never had. The ride over NYE by boat was nice--except at the other side-California St.(I think)---the trolleys werent runnin......nice walk up a nice long hill--to Van Ness--hang a left--to a street I cant remember--to hang a right-to take a bus to Winterland. Did I mention I didnt HAVE A TICKET---I called--ALL SOLD OUT!!....soooo had a beer or two at a nearby bar--hanging out on the side.....I see guys jumpin up for the fire escape ladder---they get it down & start runnin up---needless to say I got my mojo workin & highstepped it into gear by the time I was runnin up --they were bangin on the door--by the time I reached the top THE DOOR FLEW OPEN----IN FOR THE MECCA-SF/DEAD/NYE!!!!!--watta rush---had several more beers it the neat bar they had there---shroom kickin in---AND meetin all kinds of friends from So.CAl & other friends from NY livin in other locations Cal.--& got to "wind down" at a friend's place---that's my hitchin story----I dont know if Black Throated Wind was played---but I do remember they opened with "the Music never stopped"--yes---a band beyond description.....ALOHA! Da Roach!
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

9 years 6 months
Permalink

From One Man Certainly you are right about "better by me than I done by you". It clearly means the singer is feeling regret for treating someone less well than he has been treated. Correct. To do right by someone means to fulfill one's obligations to that person. Some may wish to think that the 'other' took advantage of the relationship and came out ahead, but that interpretation has no warrant in typical English usage. It may not be what Barlow meant (though I believe it is), but the literal meaning of the words is that the 'speaker' recognizes he didn't uphold his end of the relationship.
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

6 years 11 months
Permalink

HAPPY BIRTHDAY Bobby!!! Today is a good day to pull out "Nightfall of Diamonds" a jam fest featuring Bob Weir in the 2nd set. 10/16/89 In this Deadheads opinion is Bob Weirs greatest performance ever with 5/21/74 a close second. HAPPY WEDNESDAY DEADLAND!!!
user picture

Member for

11 years 2 months
Permalink

...of the Ayatollah and the Shah of Iran - a favorite lyrical change-up. I hitched a ton in the seventies. By the early 80s the scene changed as I lived it. Going to a friend's funeral in 1984 took a lot longer than it should have and I got attacked twice - my last road trip by thumb. I think part of the Reagan Revolution was a fundamental meanness, but I digress. I did get a few great rides from long-distance truckers. One got started from Albuquerque and then traded seats with me so I could drive into Oklahoma while he slept - in a fridge truck full of strawberries. His partner had bailed on him and he had to be in Indianapolis by a strict deadline; and he was out of "Trucker Driver's Friends."
user picture

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

I would definitely agree with David's assessment that the lyrics "It forced me to see That you've done better by me Better by me than I've done by you" are a lamenting of the storyteller not treating his lover the way he should have and regretting it. I have always loved those lines and still sing them out load every time I hear them. In the best examples you can feel the pain in Bobby's voice as he belts out those words.
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

8 years
Permalink

i am a fan of this song, especially the great '72 versions, but i don't think bobby and barlow were. i apologize if this ground has already been covered, but in the extended interviews that aired in the showing of the "gd movie" in theaters a few years back, when asked about their songwriting, barlow responds (i'm paraphrasing here) "every now and again you get a good one like "mexicali," and every now and again you come up with a dog like "black throated wind." surprised me to hear, as again, i like the song and wish it hadn't been dropped from the rotation for so long.
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

This song must be popular, people are always referencing it in texts, e-mails, tweets, etc. Hitch-hiked cross country late '70's, early '80's. Last time was about 4 or 5 years ago when car broke down on way home from work. It was a nice walk. Now my brain hurts on this "done better by me", I've always thought that you made out better by your association with me than I have made out by my association with you. Black Throated Wind, (or BTW, as the kids text) I enjoy the column, keep 'em coming,
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

11 years 2 months
Permalink

Moved to the SF East Bay in '76. No car and my sister lived in Santa Cruz. Many "thumb" rides down hiway 17, now called 880 to visit her. On one of the first rides I found that some exit ramps did not have corresponding entrance ramps. One guy that picked me up told me that different contractors built different sides of the freeway to different specs. Who knows! More than once I had a long walk to the next entrance ramp. Last hitch, I got stuck in Los Gatos, the other side of the hill from Santa Cruz, during a down pour. Had my laundry with me in hopes of doing it for free during my visit. Turns out that thumbs aren't seen so well in the rain. After a couple of hours a guy in a motorcycle pulls up and, seeing me drenched, asks me if I want to chance it. Seemed like I had no alternative but to say yes. Next thing I know I'm flying over a winding mountain hiway on the back of a Harley with my backpack in one hand and my laundry in the other. Only my knees were keeping me on the bike. At one point I looked down and saw my laundry just a few inches off of the pavement at about 70 mph as we made a turn. Right then I decided I had to stop hitching. I love how BTW has two meanings in the text world. Love the song and the various takes on the lyrics!
user picture

Member for

9 years 7 months
Permalink

OK... first the great thing about lyrics and songs is that they are open to interpretation and sometimes can meld into different meanings for different people depending on that person's perspective, emotional state, needs, etc. That said, BTW has been a big favorite the past few years coinciding with my decision three years ago to end an almost 20 year relationship and marriage, and I have thought about the lyrics and the song a lot. So here are my thoughts, subject to the above disclaimer thats the song belongs to the listener... "Cause you've done better by me Than I've done by you" I agree with the few dissenters here...I believe the storyteller believes that he has not been treated as well as the other in this relationship. Whether he is right or wrong, that is his view. He's sees the other one as racing around and not coping with their pain. I also believe the storyteller ended the relationship. The first verses show him at a new low, which is very common at the end of a relationship even when one has initiated the end. It's always gets worse once more before it gets better. My favorite verse is: What's to be found, racing around, You carry your pain wherever you go. Full of the blues and trying to lose You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know. Kind of a harsh statement, yet often very true. In my case I could see someone with pain who was always running around trying to medicate or conceal the pain instead of doing the work necessary to address/heal the pain and almost looking to fail. "You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know"... all about being in denial... It's a sad state but unfortunately very common. I think the storyteller is ready to move on and the final verses reflect that. It's not about going back to the relationship. "Going back home" I take as going back to what he was before, "home" being the self and/or where he came from. "Turning around" I take as turning things around in his life and moving forward. This is supported by the 1990 final lyrics saying "I'm going right on ahead, that's what I'm gonna do." The overall tone of the song is harsh, but that is just where he is right now. ("drowning in you") More akin to Dylan (Don't Think Twice and Positively 4th Street come to mind) or some Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. Some times the harsh songs are therapeutic too. It was for me at that time. Although the song is harsh, there is a transformation from the new low that opens the song, to a more optimistic ending of turning around. And in the middle, almost a therapy based analysis and self-revelation. I think it's a great song. Never paid much attention to it until I needed to. That's what's remarkable about music. Something can speak to you profoundly at one point in your life that did not before. So keep listening!
user picture

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

"You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know" is one of the best lines ever.
user picture

Member for

9 years 10 months
Permalink

Copied from my comments on the 9/3/77 Raceway Park page:Long Strange Miracle Trip My buddy and I hitchhiked our way down to this show from Kutztown State College, w/o any tickets and hoping to meet our friend who had our tickets. Also attending the show from K-Town was a good party friend of ours - some kid named Keith Haring - who had made a slew of t-shirts featuring what was to become his trademark curlicues inside a "steal your face" type skeleton. He took a different journey than us, but lo and behold, not only did we find the guy who had our tickets on the road to the raceway among the mass of humanity, but we also found Keith and helped him to sell his shirts. I still have one of them - which he unfortunately did not sign (who knew what he was to become as he was only a Kutztown High School kid at the time). I fortunately did get a little drawing he had done titled "Cosmic Charlie" which he did sign. I only found it recently and hope to get it appraised some day. It was a stupendous show w/ NRPS (Charlie Daniels not so much) and the Dead putting on a great show as detailed above. Definitely a trip to remember all my days!
user picture

Member for

11 years 5 months
Permalink

that's a great story. Post a picture of the t-shirt! Not far from my house, a BART station entrance is his art.
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

4 years 10 months
Permalink

I also spent a lot of time with my thumb out in the northeast in the mid/late 70s.. I did once get picked up by a commercial trucker. I remember his mack truck statue atop the radiator pushing through the northern fog.. and he was nice enough to use the CB radio to get me another lift as he dropped me off. Might have happened once or twice after that. But I remember that one best. And yes, Black Throated Wind captures that side of the road feeling quite well. jim
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

5 years 4 months
Permalink

How about on 10/29/73 when playing in St. Louis, after the "I left St. Louis, city of blues" verse he sings "But I can't deny, times have gone by full of babies and bottles and debt." I kind of like that line. Although I don't know what he's thinking in Veneta Oregon on 8/27/72 (the Sunshine Daydream show) when he starts the song with "I'm running around this cloverleaf town"! Maybe the heat was getting to him.
user picture
Default Avatar

Member for

6 years
Permalink

It happened to me once in the early 70s. He was hauling a big sand blaster that they used on roads. It was a White Freightliner and the first time I ever rode in a big rig. I eventually became a trucker but that time was special.
user picture

Member for

3 years 10 months
Permalink

This is my favorite dead song (love the 72s) and this is what its about: The reason he is hitching the ride is because he's leaving the woman. That's mearely the beginning of the song. He explains why in the choruses and other verses. "You've done better by me than I've done by you" means the exact opposite as you say. It means "you HAVE (been) done better by me....than I have been done by you. Meaning he treated her better than she treated him. He left st Louis to get away from her (being with her and leaving her was the storm he'd never forget). He tried to pretend (to make it work) but it still came to an end. She was not the woman he thought she was initially ("I once thought i'd met.") Although he still doesn't deny there were times he didn't have doubts or regrets about her. "I was a man when all this began who wouldn't think twice about being there yet" He's saying he never thought it would come to this. And now speaks about how the girl is racing from place to place pretending to be happy to run from her problems, but it doesn't matter where she goes because she'll still carry her pain.. she's "full of the blues" but she doesn't even realize (ain't gonna learn what you dont want to know.) So the black throated wind forced him to realize all this and now he's turning around,he's going back home (away from her) because she's (been) done better by him than he (has been) done by her.
user picture

Member for

3 years 7 months
Permalink

I tried to pretend it came to an endCause you weren't the woman I once thought I met. -> He tried to pretend that it was her fault their relationship ended, because she had changed. But I can't deny that times have gone by When I never had doubts or thoughts of regret And I was a man when all this began Who wouldn't think twice about being there yet. -> But he realizes that it was he who has changed – he was a man at first, who was there for her without doubt or regret. It's forced me to see that you've done better by me, Better by me than I've done by you. -> The black-throated wind makes him see that she did better by him (treated him better) than he did by her. What's to be found, racing around, You carry your pain wherever you go. Full of the blues and trying to lose You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know. -> He is speaking to himself, of himself. So I give you my eyes, and all of their lies Please help them to learn as well as to see Capture a glance and make it a dance Of looking at you looking at me. -> This is the most telling part: He gives her his eyes so that she can help him to see what he was like. “Looking at you looking at me” = what she sees when she looks at him. The black-throated wind keeps on pouring in With its words of a lie that could almost be true. -> The lie is that he is the one who was wronged and he almost believed his lie but the BTW made him see the truth. Goin back home that's what I'm gonna do Turnin' around, That's what I'm gonna do -> He is going back to her because he realizes that she was good to him.
51 comments
sort by
Recent
Reset
  • Default Avatar
    hatch655
    2 years 7 months ago
    Lyrics
    I've always kinda thought that the line went "Please help them to LOOK as well as to see". Makes sense too.
  • goaskalice
    3 years 4 months ago
    BTW lyrics meaning
    I tried to pretend it came to an endCause you weren't the woman I once thought I met. -> He tried to pretend that it was her fault their relationship ended, because she had changed. But I can't deny that times have gone by When I never had doubts or thoughts of regret And I was a man when all this began Who wouldn't think twice about being there yet. -> But he realizes that it was he who has changed – he was a man at first, who was there for her without doubt or regret. It's forced me to see that you've done better by me, Better by me than I've done by you. -> The black-throated wind makes him see that she did better by him (treated him better) than he did by her. What's to be found, racing around, You carry your pain wherever you go. Full of the blues and trying to lose You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know. -> He is speaking to himself, of himself. So I give you my eyes, and all of their lies Please help them to learn as well as to see Capture a glance and make it a dance Of looking at you looking at me. -> This is the most telling part: He gives her his eyes so that she can help him to see what he was like. “Looking at you looking at me” = what she sees when she looks at him. The black-throated wind keeps on pouring in With its words of a lie that could almost be true. -> The lie is that he is the one who was wronged and he almost believed his lie but the BTW made him see the truth. Goin back home that's what I'm gonna do Turnin' around, That's what I'm gonna do -> He is going back to her because he realizes that she was good to him.
  • clydefrog4963
    3 years 5 months ago
    You've got it all wrong my friend...
    This is my favorite dead song (love the 72s) and this is what its about: The reason he is hitching the ride is because he's leaving the woman. That's mearely the beginning of the song. He explains why in the choruses and other verses. "You've done better by me than I've done by you" means the exact opposite as you say. It means "you HAVE (been) done better by me....than I have been done by you. Meaning he treated her better than she treated him. He left st Louis to get away from her (being with her and leaving her was the storm he'd never forget). He tried to pretend (to make it work) but it still came to an end. She was not the woman he thought she was initially ("I once thought i'd met.") Although he still doesn't deny there were times he didn't have doubts or regrets about her. "I was a man when all this began who wouldn't think twice about being there yet" He's saying he never thought it would come to this. And now speaks about how the girl is racing from place to place pretending to be happy to run from her problems, but it doesn't matter where she goes because she'll still carry her pain.. she's "full of the blues" but she doesn't even realize (ain't gonna learn what you dont want to know.) So the black throated wind forced him to realize all this and now he's turning around,he's going back home (away from her) because she's (been) done better by him than he (has been) done by her.
  • Default Avatar
    PO Box 1073
    3 years 6 months ago
    Crested Butte, CO
    has a designated stop for HH'ers still.
  • Default Avatar
    Smiley53
    4 years ago
    Picked Up By A Trucker
    It happened to me once in the early 70s. He was hauling a big sand blaster that they used on roads. It was a White Freightliner and the first time I ever rode in a big rig. I eventually became a trucker but that time was special.