Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Days Between"
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!)
A generation was defined by knowing where they were, what they were doing, at the moment they learned of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I have had a similar experience of the “generation” of Deadheads, over the years, talking with fellow Deadheads about August 9, 1995, the day we learned that Jerry Garcia had died.
I was at work, at the Kraemer Family Library at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. The campus is situated high on a bluff overlooking the city of Colorado Springs, with a view to the west of Pike’s Peak, surely one of the most impressive views I have ever spent time with on a regular basis. When a co-worker came to ask if I had heard the news, I first spent a little time online, making sure that it was indeed true, then I had to leave my desk, leave the building, and go for a long walk. I headed for the open space on the bluff above the campus buildings, where you could go and get a long view, and walked for about an hour, I think. My eyes blurred with tears, and the view shimmered.
“Days Between” has come to be an anthem that makes us remember Garcia in a particular way, and, in particular, the days between his birth date of August 1 and his death date of August 9. It’s a fitting song for such thoughts, with its big sweeping chords and its lyrics heavy with nostalgia and longing.
There’s a word in German, sehnsucht, that lacks a proper emotional counterpart in English, but which means, roughly, “longing.” It carries a sense of wishing you could see something—see something again, see something at all—that something is missing from your eyes and from your presence. I find that “Days Between” belongs with a raft of songs that induce this feeling in me.
“Days Between,” a late song in the Robert Hunter / Jerry Garcia songbook, was perhaps their last collaboration on a big, significant song, one that ranks with “Dark Star” and “Terrapin Station” as ambitious and intentionally grand. (I was talking the other day with a friend, about Garcia’s playing and songwriting, and the thought came up that Garcia, like few others, was unafraid of grandeur, and could successfully pull it off. Same with Hunter.)
It was first performed on February 22, 1993, at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, the middle show of a three-night run. The night before, they had premiered three other new songs: “Eternity,” “Lazy River Road,” and “Liberty.” Its final performance was on June 24, 1995, at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. During its relatively short time in the live repertoire, they played it 41 times, always in the second set, and fairly frequently rising out of the Drums.
It appeared like the ghostly ships it describes, as if gradually from a fog and only slowly revealing itself as something very big, towering above everything around. It’s hard to say it any better than Phil Lesh did in his autobiography, Searching for the Sound:
“Achingly nostalgic, ‘Days Between’ evokes the past. The music climbs laboriously out of shadows, growing and peaking with each verse, only to fall back each time in hopeless resignation. When Jerry sings the line ‘when all we ever wanted / was to learn and love and grow’ or ‘gave the best we had to give / how much we’ll never know,’ I am immediately transported decades back in time, to a beautiful spring morning with Jerry, Hunter, Barbara Meier, and Alan Trist—all of us goofing on the sheer exhilaration of being alive. I don’t know whether to weep with joy at the beauty of the vision or with sadness at the impassable chasm of time between the golden past and the often painful present.”
Each verse in the song contains fourteen lines, and each evokes a different season of the year, although not in sequence. The first verse contains the lines “Summer flies and August dies / the world grows dark and mean.” I can’t hear that line without thinking about August West, in Wharf Rat, and, by extension, Garcia himself. “The singing man is at his song / the holy on their knees.” Who is the singing man, if not Garcia, when it comes to Hunter and his words?
There is something wave-like in the repetition Hunter employs with several key phrases: “There were days, and there were days, and there were days between…” like the waves upon the sand. And “when phantom ships with phantom sails set to sea on phantom tides.”
This is a song in which Hunter leaves wide open the individual assignment of meaning, as with many of his lyrics. But there is something so tender in his evocation of the past—of each of our pasts—that I really hesitate to say anything that could possibly put any of that into my own personal box of meaning. So I am going to err, possibly, on the side of not writing enough about this song, in hopes that I might not say too much.
I still miss Jerry. Where were you on August 9, 1995?
That recollection made me remember some of the nastiness that emerged from the media when Jerry passed. I particularly remember a Boston area newspaperman who seemed to delight in trashing the memory of Jerry Garcia. Of course that particular person left one of the local dailies in apparent disgrace following rumours of plagiarism. The guy is still around, though, on a national news/commentary morning show. But, overall, the news media handled the story with sympathy, grace and appreciation of Jerry's contribution, vision and work while noting that there were demons that plagued him. Of course, the larger view acknowledges that many of the greats were plagued by demons and it is nothing new for creative people-writers, musicians, etc.
I was up a mobile scaffold, installing ceiling tile in the new sanctuary of a new Catholic school or church or something (I think precious blood was in the name of it, bleeding heart, something sanguine)that was being built in Lexington, KY. I just hired on to a contracting crew, and had just settled in to an apartment from 7 years living in a van and doing migrant agricultural work. Tree Planting, corn detassling, Christmas tree harvesting, apple picking, etc). I was still experiencing culture shock from transitioning from the migrant scene (outlaws, hippies, cowboys, bikers and pirates) to what turned out to be a somewhat bigoted, racist, etc construction crew. THe news came over the local generic rock and dumb shouty dj station. The coworkers that noticed laughed and made derisive remarks. I felt very lonely up in that scaffold. The fiberglass dust were adequate cover for my tears. As an old friend of mine who's in recovery finds occasion to say periodically... he died trying to sober up. My father called me up to give his condolences. I was 27. Now my wife and I take our nine year old and our 17 year old to see Furthur.I live in Boulder County Colorado now, and never allow myself to collect fiberglass dust in my eyes or be surrounded by shouty dj rock stations.
this has got to be my favorite Garcia/Hunter tune of all time, sure there are many other great ones that had come before, too many to mention, but this one is my favorite. As
David mentions "The singing man is at his song, the holy on their knees" this is a sure nod to Jerry and the hordes of heads that followed him, the way Jerry sings, "there were days, there were days, there were days between, the highs and lows of life and the everyday living where nothing really happened that day, but yesterday was a hallmark day and last week or last month we had a great day, the rest is blurred memories of everyday. Haunting, brilliant, bittersweet, beautiful. This tune to this day makes my wife cry, and I too have shed a tear or two when I hear this wonderful song.
That day of days, I was at work, driving a delivery, just another one of those days between, then I heard it on the radio, early in the am, and was shocked, in disbelief and refused to believe it, then another announcement confirming the previous and I instantly pulled over off the road, came to a screeching halt and just sat there, engine running, in drive, not knowing how to feel. The rest of the day was lost at work, several people told horrible jokes about Jerry, others were not surprised, I was devastated and left early. It was like my favorite uncle or grandfather had passed without any forewarning. We all knew that Jerry was on borrowed time, but I had so much faith in his power to heal that I really never gave it a second thought, I mean look at how much he healed all of us...
I miss Jerry and that whole time, the music, the lot, the entire vibe, with all the wonderful and loving people. A piece of my soul died with Jerry that day, I loved him more that words can tell.
8/9/1995 - Getting ready for work, saw the tragic news unfold on TV as I was brushing my teeth. Blew off going to work, as I wouldn't have accomplished anything there.
8/13/1995 - Same thing, different guy. Mickey Mantle died.
That four day period is my "Days Between." The death of my childhood signified by the passing of Mickey, and the death of my adolescence/early adulthood marked by Jerry's departure.
I was 40 years old, and figured it was time to consider being a full-fledged adult.
18 years later, I'm still considering it...
Black Muddy River, roll on forever, I don't care how deep or wide, roll on forever. When it seems like the night will last forever. and there's nothing left to do but count the stars. When the strings of my heart start to sever, and stones fall from my eyes instead of tears. I will walk alone by the black muddy river, SING me a song of my own, sing me a song of my own.....
that mean something important to each of us. My favorite lines from this song are "walked halfway around the world/on promise of the glow". Mr. Hunter is pure lyrical genius. That "glow" held all the promise of change that was so desperately needed in a "bomb shelter/ Ozzie and Harriet world" that existed at the time. Had it not been for the "glow", would we even have this group/music/era? I have never fully understood why the "glow" has not been given its rightful place in the history of the human race since its mass production/ ingestion some 47 yrs. ago. What a shame, but at the same time, what a testament to the "type A, over-caffeinated, alcohol-soaked, work-until-you-drop, just pull up your boot straps and go get'em" society that is our reality now.
God bless Owsley/Scully/Sand/the GOGD and the intrepid others for slowing this shit machine down and making us question everything.
We all owe so very much to the makers.
"Did it matter, does it now?" as to my or anybody else's whereabouts when Jer was relieved of his world-weariness. No. I do hope, however, that the folks at Serenity Knolles were sincere when they said that he died with a smile on his face, because that is exactly how I picture Jerry when I think about his death and that puts a smile on my face, each and every time. No better final statement could be made. Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile :))))))))))))))))))
Thanks to all who have been sharing your stories. Some of the feelings are still tender, I can tell, and all of the experiences shared are downright touching. I hope more will chime in...
I was on a train on my way up to London to go to work. I noticed in someone's Daily Telegraph a picture of Jerry and I felt that this was not going to be good news. The Telegraph is the paper of the retired colonel, and would only comment on anything vaguely modern if it was something it could have a moan about. Rock musicians were only ever mentioned if they were busted for drugs, had a messy divorce, or died. So when I saw the picture, I feared for the worst, and when I got into work I immediately went to find out what was happening. A very sad day indeed.
As for 'Days Between', this song is a beauty. A lot of excellent things have been written about it, and I can't really add to them. Even at a time when the band was going through a lot of troubles, it could still bring out something outstanding. 'Days Between' and 'So Many Roads' were among the band's best songs; 'Eternity' and 'Lazy River' were also very good.
on that fateful day. Like others I was saddened but not really shocked. I was always hoping against hope that Jerry would pull off another miracle and be stronger than ever-I was always looking for hopeful signs. My last show was Boston Garden-10/01/94 where a frail looking Jerry pulled off a strong performance for the ages. I was looking forward to the scheduled Boston run for Fall 95, which, was not to be. "Days Between" was the last truly great composition in my eyes and the version on "So Many Roads" contains a sublime solo whichs compactly presents the build and soar that only Jerry could do in a few short moments. Even though it was an early practice it hinted at what the song could become. Its evocative powers were truly amazing. All these years later I am still listening to the body of work left behind and the new body of work being created-the Warren Haynes performances with various symphonic orchestras across the country this summer were very creative and welcome additions to the legacy.