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?
I posted this to Blair's blog last year or the year before.
I was in grad school at the time driving into the lab and I turned on the local NPR station and they were playing--of all songs--Jerry's version of "Cigarettes & Coffee" from the movie soundtrack to Smoke. In a split second I knew then and there--it must have been the dirge in that song. Was a strange feeling but I just knew he was gone. The shock didn't hit me until I received a call from a friend who asked if I had heard. Up to that point, I hadn't received an official word via radio or other media. But just the same, I had already known in my mind but hadn't yet let it sink in as reality. The phone call changed all that...Very sad, but the music continues to live on through memory, recordings, and new interpretations by the remaining GD other great musicians.
Like many, I was in the car. I was working on a road construction crew in Wisconsin that summer and we started early and ended early many days because of the high heat that year. I was on the east side of Madison when the radio told me the news. I still remember the spot and when I drive that road I remember that day.
I was saddened, but not surprised. We attended the 7/8 show and were startled by his appearance and performance. This is the show that confirmed the presence of a cursed shirt in my wardrobe. I bought a sweet tie-dye at the World Theater lot before Brent's last show; wore it a month later at the Clapton/SRV show at Alpine Valley (SRV died); and did not wear it for a couple years. Then I put it back in the rotation, but never to a concert-- until 7/8/95. We were on our way to Chicago and at about Cumberland Ave. exit I realized I had worn the 'Death Shirt.' We, of course, laughed it off. Alas, I have not worn it again. Nothing really to it, of course, but I can't bring myself to wear it again.
Thank you David Dodd. I think this is your most moving piece yet.
I was staying with my 84 year old grandmother in Miami, Florida, helping her during her recovery from cancer surgery. It was (this sounds stupid) one of the greatest experiences of my life. I got to know her better than I ever had when other family was around. Anyway, she heard about it on the radio and she is the one who told me, in her soft Georgia accent,. "Chris, I'm so sorry, that man you care about so much, Jerry Garcia - he passed away today." Here she was sick and in pain, telling me she was sorry about Jerry's death.
Its funny, I remember being upset at other deaths - Joey Ramone, George Harrison - I remember how I felt, for example, but I have no memory of exactly where I was or what I was doing. The only two dates I remember exactly in this way are 8/9/95 and 9/11/01 - that never occurred to me until now.
We had taken the kids to Sesame Place. Early that morning I had a dream that I was at a Dead show (not uncommon for me!) I woke up, not realizing where I was for a moment, looked at the clock, it was 7:30AM. It was later reported that Jerry passed away at 4:30AM Pacific time. Driving back home on the Jersey Turnpike, WNEW played Dead song after song, I though "uh-oh, don't have a good feeling about this" Sure enough the DJ came on with the sad news, right at the moment we passed Giants Stadium, where I had seen my last show (where Jerry threw his hands up and walked off stage during "The Other One"). I miss hearing him play live, I listen to the songs every day, thank you Jerry for all the great music.
...even before I really knew the lyrics. It has such a sweet, mellow sound to it. And you could hear both Jerry's and Hunter's hearts in it.
I was at work when I got the news. One person in my cube farm just got off the phone with a friend of his, and said, "Well, that's it. Jerry Garcia's dead." Everyone else in the office went "Who?" "who?" "WHO?" I did a "prairie dog" and just said, "Please, tell me you're kidding. That is a BAD joke." He insisted it's no joke.
At lunch time, I got into my car to get my lunch, and instantly heard "Bertha" - on a station that only played Truckin', Sugar Mag, and Touch. I knew then that my coworker was not joking.
Actually, though, I have a disagreement with the "official time of death" being 5:00 am. That may be when the nurse found him, but Jerry died at 3:30 that morning. When I found out the news later in the day, that explained why I woke from a sound sleep and felt I had to go look to the west. I felt him go. (And my wife, who's a Dead Head who rarely dreamt about the band, had a Bobby dream at the same time.)
Requiem in Pacem, Jerry Garcia. (And pardon my Latin.) You may be gone from this plane, but you will never be forgotten.
It's not my story (I was simply at home, working out some tape trades via snail mail through Relix magazine - remember those days? - when my girlfriend and now wife of 16 years called me with the news) but over the years I've heard SO many stories of how individuals found out. My favorite is the guy, and I don't remember who it was or what show I probably met him at lol, who was laying in a stream somewhere in the forests of Colorado under a beautiful sun with the radio on. And that's when he heard the news. He said it was the most gentle way possible he could have found out, being out in nature like that. And he just lay there for hours.
Do listen to that 6/24/95 Days Between. Beautiful. My first show. The last time they played Days.
Also caught 6/25, of course, and that was a goodie by '95 standards, and 6/30 (the Rain show) which is better than I thought it was originally. But that first show, even though it was rather poor, was still just sooooooo awesome.
That Jerry passed this life and into another dimension? I was driving down Ridge Avenue from Roxborough down to Center City. Pierre Robert of WMMR announced that Jerry had died. It sounded like he was crying, he then proceeded to play the Dead until his shift ended at 2:00 pm. A sad day indeed. I remember a few Philly heads holding a candlight vigil on Indepence Square that night. Also that night I discovered the most beautiful jam Jerry ever did, 2/18/71 the transition between Dark Star and the very first Wharf Rat. By the way the Days Between from 3/17/93 is my favorite.
I WAS AT WORK. A DAY I WILL NEVER FORGET!!! UNCLE JERRY GONE, THE MUSIC ALMOST STOPPED.
I was at my home in Boulder when word came through on TV. I had just come home from the hospital and was recuperating after a major operation. My parents were with me. I was shocked of course, but still too weak to get very upset. My folks knew that Jerry was important to me but they couldn't really fathom what it meant, or how I would react. I suppose they were impressed that his death was big enough news to be on television. I remember knowing instinctively that there would be spontaneous gatherings on the streets or in the parks, and feeling sad that I was unable to go out and be with our people.