Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Eyes Of The World"
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!)
Given that last week’s post was “Estimated Prophet,” it seems appropriate to move right into “Eyes of the World.” The two became almost inextricably linked through hundreds of concert performances, and I’ve always wondered a bit about that…the musical progression didn’t seem particularly natural, with the disintegrating jam out of Estimated eventually giving way to Garcia’s invocation of Eyes via its easily-identified set of opening chords.
Thinking about the juxtaposition of the two songs, we have “Estimated Prophet,” with its maniacal raving deluded character, very much inwardly-focused, and then, bam: “Wake up!” as the chorus begins in “Eyes of the World.” Of course, the prophet in Estimated does accuse his listeners with the line “you all been asleep, you would not believe me...” but “Eyes” seems to say that the sleeper may have been the prophet.
Or, as usual, maybe I read too much into these things.
“Eyes of the World” is a Robert Hunter lyric set by Jerry Garcia. It appeared in concert for the first time in that same show on February 9, 1973, at the Maples Pavilion at Stanford University, along with “They Love Each Other,” “China Doll,” “Here Comes Sunshine,” “Loose Lucy,” “Row Jimmy,” and “Wave That Flag.” Its final performance by the Dead was on July 6, 1995, at Riverport Amphitheatre, in Maryland Heights, Missouri, when it opened the second set, and led into “Unbroken Chain.” It was performed 381 times, with 49 of those performances occurring in 1973. It was released on “Wake of the Flood” in November, 1973.
(I have begun to notice something I never saw before in the song statistics in Deadbase—the 49 performances in 1973 made me look twice at the song-by-song table of performances broken out by year in DeadBase X, which clearly shows the pattern of new songs being played in heavy rotation when they are first broken out, and then either falling away entirely, or settling into a more steady, less frequent pattern as the years go by. Makes absolute sense!)
Sometimes criticized, lyrically, as being a bit too hippy-dippy for its own good, “Eyes of the World” might be heard as conveying a message of hope, viewing human consciousness as having value for the planet as a whole. There are echoes in the song of a wide range of literary and musical influences, from Blaise Pascal to (perhaps) Ken Kesey; from talk of a redeemer to the title of the song itself.
Pascal seems to me to be the most significant echo. In his Penseés, published in 1680, he wrote: “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” Hunter mirrors that thought with “The heart has its seasons, its evenings and songs of its own.” Going outside of the reason of the mind can allow an awakening. “You don’t have time to call your soul a critic, no” Hunter has Garcia sing. Hunter is asking us to trust in something that we can’t comprehend.
And then, he points to our daily lives and concerns and environment, such as the birds, which we might wonder about (where the heck do they go in the winter, anyway...and how do you pronounce “nuthatch”?). Sometimes things are fairly ordinary. Sometimes we live in no extraordinary way—just “no particular way but our own.”
In an interview, Hunter made an interesting statement about the “songs of our own,” which appear twice in “Eyes of the World.” He said that he thinks it’s possible each of us may have some tune, or song, that we hum or sing to ourselves, nothing particularly amazing or fine, necessarily, that is our own song. Our song. I know I have one—it’s a tune I think I’ve been humming to myself when I’m out walking by myself or just abstractedly doing some chore, for well over 30 years. Whenever I think to try to capture it, it’s gone—I really can’t sing it on command, but there it is, when I stop paying attention to it directly. I’d love to hear if others of you reading this have had a similar experience of having a “song of your own.”
I love the evocation of the song “Goodnight, Irene,” in the lines...
Sometimes we live no particular way but our own
Sometimes we visit your country and live in your home
Sometimes we ride on your horses
Sometimes we walk alone
Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own.
Goodnight Irene’s lines:
Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in town
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump in the river and drown.
(Thinking about these Goodnight Irene lines, in turn, makes me think of Ken Kesey, and his novel Sometimes A Great Notion, and David Gans and his song “River and Drown”:
Let's go down to the river and drown
Ain't nothin' shakin' in this old town
Get out on the highway and follow that sound
Come on down to the river and drown)
Once again, that’s just how my brain works—maybe it’s how everyone’s brain works—and I just tend to let it wander and have its fun.
The title has an antecedent, in a novel, Eyes of the World, by the obscure Harold Bell Wright (1914), which was subsequently made into a film twice, in 1917 and again in 1930. From what I can tell, the relationship ends with the title, although I admit that I have never made it through the book.
The song leaves plenty of room for our own interpretation of certain lines and sections. The verse about the redeemer fading away, being followed by a clay-laden wagon. The myriad of images of birds, beeches, flowers, seeds, horses....
So, let’s hear it—and don’t hold back (no calling your soul a critic, no)—what does the song say to you? Does it have any particular relationship to “Estimated Prophet” outside of being a good musical companion? Which wins out in your inner arguments, your reason or your heart? Or, maybe, they are aligned in your life.
And while you’re at it, since it seems to have become a theme of these conversations, what is your favorite “Eyes of the World” and why?
Recovering from hernia surgery yesterday, so forgive percocet sloppiness...
Agreed that the 73-74 versions are tops, but the one on DP3 deserves a mention - that cool Estimated > Eyes > backwards Wharf Rat... been a while since i played that, but i recall the Eyes intro being 4 minutes of bouncy bliss.
David Dodd - I love these posts! I especially like learning about the influneces - I never knew about the eponymous book, for example. Thanks!
EDIT - woops, still loopy i guess... the eyes intro is as good as i remember - tho 3 mins not 4... but oops i was remembering the bacwards terrrapin after wr...
Tampa, 12/18/73, and Fresno, 7/19/74. Why, will take me a while.
I was 17 as well at Englishtown and this is when I “Got It”, my third show, up all night and started moving forward after the break, found a milk crate about 100’ from the massive stage, the Half-Step in the first set gave me chills, but this Eyes just transcended space and time that day, (It was my first dance song at my wedding, some 23 years later) and continues to inspire me.
When I first heard "Eyes", it hit me like a ton of hippie sunshine. What band could make this sound? Only one. For me, the groove has to be just right. The first live one I liked was that Great American Music Hall version later featured on One From the Vault. It has that key-shifting jam, whatever you want to call it. Then the one in the GD movie grabbed me even more. Then on and on, with myriad variations on that jammy part. Those are definitely my faves. But as others have said, don't miss the one from 6/9/76 (RT 4.5) where the first 8 minutes are taken up with the jam that previously was found at the end of the song. What got into them that night? The song proper is a bit too speedy for its own good but do not miss the way Jer sings those first few lines.
As a 17 year old seeing the Dead for the first time, after about a year of trying and missing, I can safely say that Eyes was the best moment of what was a great day. I have for all time the vision and aural sense of that well-paced and blazing Eyes; it's in my mind's eye and it will never burn out. More than any tune played that day, it pulled me deeper into the music, not for weeks or months but for years.
Great song,they played it at my very first Dead show(3/19/90) and its a song I have always loved for the jams and the tight instrumentation. My 2 favorites are 6/9/76(Road Trips) 7/31/74(DaP 2)..Like a lot of Dead songs, you never get tired of hearing it!
The Eyes finale jam isn't really Stronger Than Dirt. It's as close or closer to the jam riff in the middle of Unbroken Chain, I've always thought, though it isn't that either. It's its own thing, though it prefigures Stronger Than Dirt in general territory. And yeah, that Boston Hall '76 one includes another related phrase from those original '73/'74 finales that they dropped thereafter, too. Who knows why?
This song is one of the most sublime the band ever manifested lyrically, with music equally suited to the sentiment. It's a beautiful idea--waking up to realize you're the Eyes of the World--that embodies exuberance, grace, and responsibility, largeness and smallness, all in one.
Mustin, if you can obtain a copy of Dick's 28, there are two great versions on there........and just plain and simple, one of the best releases ever. Other fine released examples would be the two on Road Trips 2.3 (Wall of Sound), Dick's 31 (my favorite 74 release?), and the GD Movie Soundtrack....whose version you can see them performing in the movie : ) Maybe you know all this and were looking for something rarer.
Favorite eyes of the world is from 2/19/73 international amphitheater, it's soooo soulful and perfect. I also think 10/17/73 is a phenomenal performance, especially the "stronger than dirt part," Didn't even realize that was stronger than dirt. Whatever, anyway I think eyes of the world is seriously one of the most incredible songs/jams of all time. it's a part of my soul.
Have always loved this song and it has always seemed really clear to me that this song is reminding us the we are the creators of our lives each and every day.
I've thought about the notion of the "sometimes" verse and maybe it's simply saying that always and never, both absolutes, just gotta wait for some other time!
A few fav Eyes are 2/15/73 - Jerry's best chord ever? G-Ted's 6/18/74, too. I love the one from 8/13/75 and 9/03/77 is another.
Happy Momma's Day moms.