• December 11, 2014
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-friend-devil
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Friend Of The Devil"

    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!)

    “Friend of the Devil”

    Once in awhile, writing this blog, I check my list of songs I’ve written about so far, sure that I must have covered this or that particular song, only to be amazed that I haven’t. I mean: “Friend of the Devil”? Come on! It’s the definition of a story song. It might BE the Greatest Story they ever told.

    I thought of it today because I recently had the wondrous opportunity to see Robert Hunter play a solo show here in the North Bay Area, and one of the songs he played was “Friend of the Devil.” Along with an amazing selection of other tunes, including rarities like “Doin’ That Rag,” and “Ruben and Cherise.”

    There’s a lot of great background to be found in many places, detailing the evolution of the song. Suffice it to say that it was a collaborative effort, and that the title line was not part of the original lyric by Hunter, but was contributed by John Dawson of the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Hunter’s original chorus went: “I set out running but I take my time / It looks like water but it tastes like wine.”

    Wow. For Dawson (aka Marmaduke) to have come up with that line—what an amazing inspiration! Here’s how Hunter described it in his online journal back in 2006:

    "We all went down to the kitchen to have espresso made in Dawson's new machine. We got to talking about the tune and John said the verses were nifty except for "it looks like water but it tastes like wine" which I had to admit fell flat. Suddenly Dawson's eyes lit up and he crowed "How about "a friend of the devil is a friend of mine." Bingo, not only the right line but a memorable title as well! We ran back upstairs to Nelson's room and recorded the tune.”

    So—the line that gives the song its soul, as it were, came from seemingly nowhere (although my vote is for the espresso as a catalyst). Sure, the song describes, in the words of the first-person narrator, an outlaw who is on the run, but the “friend of the devil” idea—that seems big, and truly expands the level of outlawry implied by the overall story.

    The other great part of the origin story for the song is that Garcia turned one of Hunter’s verses, originally sung as a verse, into one of the most beautiful bridges in a repertoire full of beautiful bridges. “Got two reasons why I cry away each lonely night…”

    Here’s a picture of Hunter’s original handwritten lyrics:

    Hunter said once, in an interview, that if he and Garcia had written a song that might become a standard, it was probably “Friend of the Devil.” And I’ve heard it done by enough different bands in every kind of setting, that I have to agree. No other Dead tune gets played quite so often.

    The character in the song is on the run—a theme that comes up again and again in Grateful Dead songs from “Sugaree” to “Bertha” to “Jack Straw.” And, as in some other tunes (“Loser,” “Candyman”) the historical setting is some vague place in America’s past. I have speculated that, since he lit out from Reno and then spent the night in “Utah,” it could be that the song was set during the period when Reno was in the Utah Territory. Here’s a map that shows the boundaries of the Territory, with modern-day state boundaries:

    So, if the narrator set out running from Reno and then spent the night in Utah Territory (of which Reno was a part), it had to have happened between 1850 and 1896. Other place names in the song provide enticing clues, but I really doubt that Hunter was sitting there with an historical atlas, making sure that future scholars would note no discrepancies. He was giving a sense of the Wild West, with outlaws and jail time and wives in different towns. And that’s what we get.

    Hunter, in his performances, has always included a verse not on offer from the Garcia performances:

    You can borrow from the devil, you can borrow from a friend
    But the devil will give you twenty, when your friend got only ten

    It’s a great couplet, and I like to think of it, lately, in terms of mortgage lenders who loaned more than people could afford to pay. Something very satisfying in thinking of the large lenders as satanic.

    When the band started slowing up the tempo of the song in a big way in the late 1970s, it took on an entirely new character. And indeed, the song does well at almost any tempo. It can be a blazing bluegrass number, a gentle folksong, or a ponderous and majestic piece, as it was in later years. (If you still have a turntable, you should play “Friend of the Devil” from Dead Set at 45 rpm. Garcia sounds like Dolly Parton!)

    Quite a few artists have covered “Friend of the Devil.” I think my favorite is Lyle Lovett on the Deadicated album—he gets something just right about the song. And Tom Petty’s Live Anthology version is great—I especially like the change in the paternity question line from “it don’t look like me” to “she don’t look like me.” Always nice to have a baby referred to as “he” or “she” rather than “it,” even if the use of “it” is consistent with the character of the narrator.

    It’s a story song for the ages. One for the campfires and the hoedowns and the tributes and the masses.

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By David Dodd

Here’s the plan—each week, I will blog about a different song, focusing, usually, on the lyrics, but also on some other aspects of the song, including its overall impact—a truly subjective thing. Therefore, the best part, I would hope, would not be anything in particular that I might have to say, but rather, the conversation that may happen via the comments over the course of time—and since all the posts will stay up, you can feel free to weigh in any time on any of the songs! With Grateful Dead lyrics, there’s always a new and different take on what they bring up for each listener, it seems. (I’ll consider requests for particular songs—just private message me!)

“Friend of the Devil”

Once in awhile, writing this blog, I check my list of songs I’ve written about so far, sure that I must have covered this or that particular song, only to be amazed that I haven’t. I mean: “Friend of the Devil”? Come on! It’s the definition of a story song. It might BE the Greatest Story they ever told.

I thought of it today because I recently had the wondrous opportunity to see Robert Hunter play a solo show here in the North Bay Area, and one of the songs he played was “Friend of the Devil.” Along with an amazing selection of other tunes, including rarities like “Doin’ That Rag,” and “Ruben and Cherise.”

There’s a lot of great background to be found in many places, detailing the evolution of the song. Suffice it to say that it was a collaborative effort, and that the title line was not part of the original lyric by Hunter, but was contributed by John Dawson of the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Hunter’s original chorus went: “I set out running but I take my time / It looks like water but it tastes like wine.”

Wow. For Dawson (aka Marmaduke) to have come up with that line—what an amazing inspiration! Here’s how Hunter described it in his online journal back in 2006:

"We all went down to the kitchen to have espresso made in Dawson's new machine. We got to talking about the tune and John said the verses were nifty except for "it looks like water but it tastes like wine" which I had to admit fell flat. Suddenly Dawson's eyes lit up and he crowed "How about "a friend of the devil is a friend of mine." Bingo, not only the right line but a memorable title as well! We ran back upstairs to Nelson's room and recorded the tune.”

So—the line that gives the song its soul, as it were, came from seemingly nowhere (although my vote is for the espresso as a catalyst). Sure, the song describes, in the words of the first-person narrator, an outlaw who is on the run, but the “friend of the devil” idea—that seems big, and truly expands the level of outlawry implied by the overall story.

The other great part of the origin story for the song is that Garcia turned one of Hunter’s verses, originally sung as a verse, into one of the most beautiful bridges in a repertoire full of beautiful bridges. “Got two reasons why I cry away each lonely night…”

Here’s a picture of Hunter’s original handwritten lyrics:

Hunter said once, in an interview, that if he and Garcia had written a song that might become a standard, it was probably “Friend of the Devil.” And I’ve heard it done by enough different bands in every kind of setting, that I have to agree. No other Dead tune gets played quite so often.

The character in the song is on the run—a theme that comes up again and again in Grateful Dead songs from “Sugaree” to “Bertha” to “Jack Straw.” And, as in some other tunes (“Loser,” “Candyman”) the historical setting is some vague place in America’s past. I have speculated that, since he lit out from Reno and then spent the night in “Utah,” it could be that the song was set during the period when Reno was in the Utah Territory. Here’s a map that shows the boundaries of the Territory, with modern-day state boundaries:

So, if the narrator set out running from Reno and then spent the night in Utah Territory (of which Reno was a part), it had to have happened between 1850 and 1896. Other place names in the song provide enticing clues, but I really doubt that Hunter was sitting there with an historical atlas, making sure that future scholars would note no discrepancies. He was giving a sense of the Wild West, with outlaws and jail time and wives in different towns. And that’s what we get.

Hunter, in his performances, has always included a verse not on offer from the Garcia performances:

You can borrow from the devil, you can borrow from a friend
But the devil will give you twenty, when your friend got only ten

It’s a great couplet, and I like to think of it, lately, in terms of mortgage lenders who loaned more than people could afford to pay. Something very satisfying in thinking of the large lenders as satanic.

When the band started slowing up the tempo of the song in a big way in the late 1970s, it took on an entirely new character. And indeed, the song does well at almost any tempo. It can be a blazing bluegrass number, a gentle folksong, or a ponderous and majestic piece, as it was in later years. (If you still have a turntable, you should play “Friend of the Devil” from Dead Set at 45 rpm. Garcia sounds like Dolly Parton!)

Quite a few artists have covered “Friend of the Devil.” I think my favorite is Lyle Lovett on the Deadicated album—he gets something just right about the song. And Tom Petty’s Live Anthology version is great—I especially like the change in the paternity question line from “it don’t look like me” to “she don’t look like me.” Always nice to have a baby referred to as “he” or “she” rather than “it,” even if the use of “it” is consistent with the character of the narrator.

It’s a story song for the ages. One for the campfires and the hoedowns and the tributes and the masses.

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Once in awhile, writing this blog, I check my list of songs I’ve written about so far, sure that I must have covered this or that particular song, only to be amazed that I haven’t. I mean: “Friend of the Devil”?
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Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Friend Of The Devil"
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Once in awhile, writing this blog, I check my list of songs I’ve written about so far, sure that I must have covered this or that particular song, only to be amazed that I haven’t. I mean: “Friend of the Devil”? Come on! It’s the definition of a story song. It might BE the Greatest Story they ever told.
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Once in awhile, writing this blog, I check my list of songs I’ve written about so far, sure that I must have covered this or that particular song, only to be amazed that I haven’t. I mean: “Friend of the Devil”? Come on! It’s the definition of a story song. It might BE the Greatest Story they ever told.

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From a Garcia interview with Marye from 1987:"Like he's got a verse that he's been wanting to do for "Friend of the Devil" for a million years. I refuse to do it. Why? Not for any reason. Just to be an asshole. Not for any good reason. (grins). It's gotten to be that kind of thing. But maybe I'll blow his mind someday and do it." Love that "just to be an asshole"!
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From tree planting camps in the Rockies, to the Saturday Market in Eugene in the 70s, from Rainbow Gatherings to Prairie Home Companion, from street corners of any city in the country (where they allow busking) to lake sides and ocean beaches, and every other camp fire from coast to coast, from Alaska to Florida, from Maine to Hawaii and all the way out to "back of beyond" and further "Friend of the Devil" is the most played song in the land. And that's a good thing. "More rustic than a Currier and Ives print".
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of all time, which I never saw for sale, was for some early-'80s show around Salt Lake. The artwork was a be-robed skeleton in the iconic trumpet-blowing pose of the Angel Moroni. The type: Spent the Night in Utah.
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"friend of the devil" frequently gets transformed into " a friend of the desert." at least one enviro group has adopted it for their bumper sticker: "a friend of the desert is a friend of mine..."
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laugh if you want, but I feel uncomfortable singing "friend of the devil is a friend of mine." I always think of the devil as being evil let loose on Earth: Holocaust, war, famine, murder, torture, rape...you get the picture. Not a little guy in a red suit with horns; just the essence of pure evil. AC/DC's "Hell's Bells": "if you're into evil, you're a friend of mine." One man's opinion.
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with Rosie McGee's story of trying to make it to the grocery store in the Haight and friends would stop her on the way there to talk, smoke a j, etc., thereby (oh, my) turning a short trip into a multi-hour endeavor. Not necessarily evil, just kind of "legally naughty", as many of us may or may not have experienced as deadheads ;) ...which all begs the question: Was there ever a working title of "A Friend with Weed is a Friend Indeed"?
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Bobby's rhythm guitar part on the studio track is incredible I think it was on gans/lamberts radio show they had barncard the studio producer on and he isolated Bobby's part in the mix and played it alone jaw dropping that dude can play
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If I have the chronology correct, "Friend Of The Devil" appears to have been written around March 1970. At the time, Garcia and Mountain Girl were sharing a house in Larkspur with Hunter and his girlfriend. David Nelson apparently mostly stayed with them. This sounds inconvenient, but remember that the Grateful Dead were on the road much of the time. According to Robert Greenfield's book, John Dawson lived across the street. So that accounts for Hunter, Nelson, Dawson and Garcia hanging out and making espresso while they talked about Hunter's new song.
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The slow 'ballad' version of "Friend Of The Devil" was introduced in late 1975 with the Jerry Garcia Band, and the arrangement was picked up by the Grateful Dead when they returned to regular performing in mid-1976. Around that time, it came out somehow that Garcia had gotten the idea for the slower arrangement when he heard a tape of Kenny Loggins performing the song as a slow ballad. I had two thoughts about this at the time: 1) really, Kenny Loggins?, and 2) who tapes Loggins And Messina? This peculiarity remained mysterious for several decades, but conveniently, the Internet was invented and all the pieces finally could be put together. The answers appeared to be: 1) yes, really, Kenny Loggins, and 2) Betty Cantor Loggins And Messina, touring behind their debut album, opened for the New Riders Of The Purple Sage at the Memorial Auditorium in Kansas City, KS on June 30, 1972. Loggins And Messina were a CBS act, just like the RIders, so it was a logical pairing for the time. Betty Cantor was there, probably working for the Alembic sound crew with the Riders, and she taped Loggins And Messina's set. They played pretty well, it sounds great (naturally) and Loggins did the slow version of "Friend Of The Devil." It's a pretty good bet that Betty played the version of the song for Jerry, and it stuck in his mind. For a deeper dive into this subject of great historical importance, see here: http://hooterollin.blogspot.com/2012/04/june-30-1972-memorial-auditoriu…
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David Dodd mentions that New Riders of the Purple Sage's John Dawson and David Nelson were co-creators of song with Hunter/Garcia. Recently David Nelson, and pedal steel/lead guitarist Barry Sless played with Bill Kreutzmann in Sonoma County, CA. They played a country twanged "Friend of the Devil" with Sless on pedal steel and Nelson appropriately on vocals. Nelson included the "you can borrow from the devil, you can borrow from a friend..." omitted verse. It was a special treat to hear this speedier FOTD that evoked the earlier renditions of the tune. Indeed an important piece of Americana. From 1970 to 2014, forty five years later honoring an important collaboration in true country rock history.
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always and forever my favorite song. Perfectly ambiguous. So is the guy a deadbeat dad or is there a reason the child "don't look like me"? The refrain "Friend of the devil is a friend of mine" could be willfully defiant, or a plea of desperation. The tone of the song, the melody, gives no clue. It could go either way. It's whatever you want it to be. I never knew Marmaduke came up with the "friend of the devil" line. That is amazing to me. I always just thought it was one of Hunter's great classic inspirations. What a great example of the power of collaboration! I wrote about my favorite live experience of this song on Blair's old blog, but I can't resist repeating it. I saw Marmaduke sing this in Reno around 1987 or so. The show was billed as NRPS but McDuke was the only original member, I think. It was at a little hole in the wall joint in Reno. Only 3 musicians showed up for the show, including Marmaduke. He explained that the rest of the band got busted for weed the night before. They played a show the previous night in Tahoe and were unaware of the strict MJ laws on the NV side of the state line. Naturally, he then launched into "Friend of the Devil". So that was my quintessential "FOTD" experience. Marmaduke, in Reno, with sheriffs out on the trail!
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But his little girl sure wish she could. What can you say? FOTD is Truly one of the very very best tunes. Dead Set version resonates with me maybe more than any other tack I have ever heard. I like to think of living life in balance and employ the "sometimes naughty, sometimes nice" philosophy. Perhaps I am an acquaintance of the devil. That line would be tough to sneak in. Same thinking brings to mind the name of Ben Harpur's band "the innocent criminals". Any head at the tail end of a long strange trip can relate to "I get home before daylight, just might get some sleep tonight." Truly one of the very very best.
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There's so much to like about this song. One thing that's always made it seem epic to me is the day > night thing. In rapid order: night, morning, daylight, tonight, night, night, life. This is about a trial of the soul that happens over a length of time, and maybe will extend for the narrator's whole life. You can almost see the sun going up and then the sun going down in the Utah desert. And it's not just a narration, he's talking to someone. He addresses her as "baby" in one verse and then as "babe" in the next. So how many women are there here? There's the one he's running from, there's sweet Anne Marie, there's the wife in Chino, the one in Cherokee, and some might say that the devil he's running from is a woman ... maybe the devil is all of them, or maybe he's running from himself or his own conscience (excuse me for the cosmic digression). And where does the one he's addressing fit in with all this? If he's talking to her about the devil, maybe she's an angel (or from Saint Angel at least, which is near Utah according to my map). Can't say I liked it when they slowed this down in the mid-70s, but the new version grew on me. The last time I heard it live was second song in Furthur's first set at the Vibes in 2011, which was a wonderful performance. Bobby sings the "borrow from a friend" verse too.
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Ooops, last for me was actually Ratdog, 2014-02-25 at HOB Boston, another great version.
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I thinks its funny that a lot of people don't like the slow version...to each their own. I think at this point, I prefer the slower versions. More space for everyone in the band to do beautiful things. If anyone is on the fence about the slow versions, the version from The Closing of Winterland is by far the Holy Grail to me. When Jerry starts on his solo, its like the whole universe is exploding...but I'm sure y'all have seen it a hundred times. I've still never heard the Kenny Loggins version of it...hopefully I will someday.
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If I had to pick one GD song, I guess it would be this one. It is just perfect in every way. A modern classic that will be played forever. The studio version is probably my fave. After that, some of the live acoustic ones from 1970. The two guitar parts are wondrous together. But I also can get into the slow post-hiatus versions if I'm in the mood. I wish they had thrown in a few fast ones in the later years, just to mix it up. Can you imagine one in the style of the Reckoning album? I can. And when I hear someone singing about "the devil" I don't think they really mean evil incarnate. It's just a figure of speech that adds a certain edge. Beck, Van Halen, Charlie Daniels, Little Richard, endless metal bands, etc. all have songs "about" the devil. None scares me (except maybe the Louvin Brothers because they meant it in a fundy Christian way). There has to be some darkness to define the light. Steer toward the light and it will be all right.
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Marmaduke told me that he wrote the music to the "set out running but, I take my time..."part; which I guess could be considered the chorus.
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Marmaduke told me that he wrote the music to the "set out running but, I take my time..."part; which I guess could be considered the chorus.
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If y'all haven't heard them, there are DVD-Audio versions of American Beauty and Workingman's Dead. 5.1 mixes and they are different than the beloved original, lots of interesting variations of our favorites! I know I bought these many years ago but they are still available and if you have a good surround system both discs will blow you away and make you feel like you're listening to them for the first time. Mickey's Supralingua is also on DVD-Audio if you're interested and it, too, sounds great in 5.1! Have a great New Year everyone. Let's be KIND to one another next year...
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This Song strikes me as one meant to be sung in the Most Lonesome of Places. Far Far Away from ever being "Home before Daylight" Far Far Away from Anyone to call a "Friend" Don't be Deceived The Devil has no Friends
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Since no one has asked on this site, I hope David Dodd is in good health and doing good.(I have 0 idea as to his absence) His contribution for many of us is huge. Many thanks to David and others who have made Dead.net a reality.
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really? the devil has no friends? Open your eyes, there are sooo many of humankind that are helping destroy this world in so many ways, yet they are not friends of the devil? Sure, when they get to hell, old nick will say "sorry, didn't you read the fine print?" But they are his best friends, the greedy, ignorant, selfish ones who think of only themselves and what's in it for them.
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maybe he's on that long awaited balloon trip around the equator after having a massive psychedelic holiday epiphany. ((((((electric eggnog)))))) That'd be a great story to tell.
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David: I wish you a Refreshing Beginning to 2015 and look forward to hearing your insightful and inspirational accounts of the songs of the grateful Dead ! May Your Cup Be Full Again and Again with ((((((electric eggnog))))))
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Yeah, Jules Verne-like stories...
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Mr. Scratch only has one friend when it comes right down to it, but Jesus freaks, undercover or otherwise, were always a bigger and far more sinister problem than some might suspect...or remember. Wouldn't you say so, Hunter...? Anybody seen any of my old twenty dollar bills lying around lately?
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Hi everyone--I just checked the blog and saw at least one note of concern about my whereabouts. I will be drafting a farewell essay this week, having completed two years of very fun thinking, writing, and conversation about the songs. Feeling like it's time to hang it up, at least in this venue, and very grateful to the good folks at Dead.net for hosting me all this time! Stay tuned--I will have something up on Thursday this week. --David
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We will miss your weekly efforts to enlighten and inspire us. Thank you very much, I enjoyed GSET very much.
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Well Dave I been wondering why the song selection hasn't changed. Just checked again when I got home from work and I guess your pulling the plug. There was a few people wondering where you been also. I hope your doing okay and the ones that are closest to you also. I alaways looked forward to this part of the site and enjoyed all the comments good bad or indifferent. All I can really say is that it puts me on a LAME TRIP! Hope your not going down the road feeling bad. Just make sure you check the weather report. I heard its going to be cold rain and snow. Oh I almost forgot my brother Esau was down shakedown street truckin around & around the other day and he was waiting for me & my uncle whom was coming in from elpaso. I tried to call him to tell him I was running late but the operator said there was no answer. So I figured to myself he's gone dancing in the streets somewhere doing the lindy or alligator he loves all those old dance numbers. I could go on but I'll stop Be good Dave remember the faster you go the rounder you get
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its sad that your ending this. seems like blair just ended too. I hope the tapers section isn't the next thing to go
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Oh, damn. Hate to see you go, DD. This was my fave way to share thoughts about the songs. It doesn't happen much on the other boards. Great job with the insightful essays and participation in the comments. What's next for you?
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You said above: "If you still have a turntable, you should play “Friend of the Devil” from Dead Set at 45 rpm. Garcia sounds like Dolly Parton!" This reminds me of something from my childhood: My mom was a big George Beverly Shea fan. Mr. Shea sang with Billy Graham, the preacher. George sang in a very deep voice, preferred slow hymns, and always lagged way behind the beat. It was awful. Mom had several of his albums, and she would stack them up on the turntable of our home stereo/tv/radio console, so that they played, one after another. For hours. I discovered that his music was more nearly bearable when played at 45 rpm, rather than 33 1/3. His voice sounded nearly normal, and all his backup singers sounded like chipmunks. It was a big improvement.
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"I set out running but I take my time / It looks like water but it tastes like wine" such an inspiring line of a song.
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Water tasting like wine shadow of first miracle in Cana. But it does fall flat. "Friend of the Devil" brings us back to the Garden and that moment of, "oh s"!+ what did we just do"
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    dfoos333
    8 months 3 weeks ago
    Theology of the Grateful Dead
    Water tasting like wine shadow of first miracle in Cana. But it does fall flat. "Friend of the Devil" brings us back to the Garden and that moment of, "oh s"!+ what did we just do"
  • Default Avatar
    dfoos333
    8 months 3 weeks ago
    Theology of the Grateful Dead
    You don't get very far into the study of one's maker with out running into a devil...
  • Default Avatar
    gray.shann
    1 year 8 months ago
    Amazing
    "I set out running but I take my time / It looks like water but it tastes like wine" such an inspiring line of a song.