Grateful Dead

Greatest Stories Ever Told - "He's Gone"

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!)

“He's Gone”

The songs can “mean” whatever is ready to be reflected in your heart. The songs can allow you to connect with another aspect of humanity in a deeper way. The songs can wash over you, burrow down into your soul, spring back to new life over time, fade away into the background, but always, always inhabit a place present as an undercurrent to whatever life you choose to live. The songs fill the air, make the still water ripple, cause us to bend our ear to hear the tune, end as a scrap of age-old lullaby down some forgotten street. The songs can function as a secret code between and among people who hardly know each other. They can adorn t-shirts and bumper stickers and elaborate murals and carved mantles in homes yet to be built. The songs invite reflection and writing, conversation and sometimes argument.

I love most songs I have heard and really listened to, because each one gives me a window into the soul of a fellow human being. And I love the non-human songs, too, of animals and birds and wind and wave.

Grateful Dead songs are my bedrock. They are not words accompanied by music, nor music with lyrics laid on top. They are whole entities and they have, for me, an integrity that I give them—a richness with which I (or you, for yourself) invest them. They were labored over carefully by their authors and decorated by their performers. And they will continue, if they have continued value, which I believe they do. They’ll be played around campfires, in lengthy rock jams by new bands yet to be born, in churches, on whatever devices for recorded music playback are yet to be invented, and they’ll be preserved and listened to and endlessly discussed and translated and morphed over time into new things that we can’t really imagine yet.

It has been an honor beyond my expectations to have written about these songs here on Dead.net for the past two years. I have enjoyed the back-and-forth with all of the readers who have taken the time to leave comments. You have been kind to me in my many errors. But I have reached the point where I am struggling to find time in my life to write something on a weekly basis. My life is very full, with family, a spiritual community, meaningful work, and my own music, and I have been carving out space for a new, yet-to-be-determined undertaking that will likely involve classical music.

So: there are many songs about saying fare you well, about leaving today and going away, about there being no simple highway, about the road, and all of them run through my head in a kaleidoscope of melody.

It will be a fun year, 2015, as we, the Deadhead community, celebrate 50 years of the band. I look forward to some amazing live music coming up! I look forward to the oceans of ink that will be spilled, as friends and colleagues publish books and articles.

I am happy to have become a member of the Rhino community — I think the people who are entrusted with the Dead’s recorded treasures are good folks, and I think we should all take a minute to be thankful for that now and then. Thank you to Lauren Goldberg, who shepherded this blog from week to week, and to Mark Pinkus, who asked me to write. A special thanks to Mary Eisenhart, whose observations and support have made this a much better endeavor than it would have been without her steady presence.

And, lastly, I hope that, as long as these posts remain on Dead.net, readers will feel moved to add your thoughts to the conversations! I will touch base with all of them over time to read new insights and participate in the conversation.

With love to everyone — David Dodd

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Joined: Dec 7 2017
Thanks you

I always visit and enjoyed you're blog. Between you and the people who have posted, I r learned a lot of things about the band we all love.

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Joined: Feb 21 2017
mutability

Lots of songs evolve and mutate for me over time. The good ones do this for most of us, don't they? My early impressions of the song were connected to the dissociation that happens when having a psychedelic experience. It was not a "deep reading" of the text, but made sense to a younger me. About 5 years ago, I heard that it was likely inspired by Mickey's dad and the kerfuffle that followed. When we play the song now, my thoughts and emotional inspiration touch on both of these, but both are wrapped in a much more universal understanding of the inevitability of loss, and the best way to respond to the loss: smile so genuinely that it takes three words to express it. Light is the only cure for darkness after all.
Peace,

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Joined: Feb 17 2017
He's Gone

It seems to me to symbolize the constant battle with the ego and all the different forms it takes on. Acting or reacting from the ego( anger/negative behavior) is like having your consciousness hijacked. "He Will Steal your Face, Right Off Your Head". It's kind of like it jumps up and runs off leaving you holding the bag and having to deal with the clean up

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Joined: Jan 19 2017
RE: My name says it all

Wow...what a very undeadhead response. I think we all know that this song was inspired by Mickey's dad and the rough situation he put them through, but I guarantee you that the Dead would not tell a listener, "This is what the song's about and you're not allowed to interpret it any other way, and any meaning that's not associated with why we wrote it is unacceptable." Come on, man. Don't be that guy.

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Joined: Dec 26 2016
My name says it all

You must be.
Please for the love of God don't do Terrapin. Please. It is something so far beyond the beyond that is beyond and took so much work to get to and so so precious few could possibly understand- because it had to be experienced. It is not something that can be investigated by logic. It is the monument to the creative work of this era and process and please for the sake of my sanity don't attempt it until you are return Unified at source in the logos.

And I I call bullshit. He's gone is about Mickey's dad- take a walk kiddo. Let the master speak to his writing- Hunter is the only authority living but for one other person on any of his songs. Send him some money. You sure have made plenty off of him. Yuck.

From Recognition.

mkav's picture
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Joined: Jun 30 2007
nothing left to do but smile,smile, smile

I also stopped in semi-regularly to read these posts. I appreciate the insights, and regularly reference your book. Take care.

mkav's picture
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Joined: Jun 30 2007
nothing left to do but smile,smile, smile

I also stopped in semi-regularly to read these posts. I appreciate the insights, and regularly reference your book. Take care.

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Joined: Nov 14 2015
30 Days

Just wanted to compliment the 2/26/'81 version we were recently gifted. To this point I would not be the biggest
Brent fan, I prefer '65 to '79, but I must admit this one has me thinking again.

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Joined: Nov 23 2015
Thanks David

I have been a casual fan for as long as I can remember but this was the year I dove beneath the water to see the rest of the iceberg. Due in part to some new friends who have helped coach me in the history and the understanding of the live experience and also because of some life changes that were perfectly described by Hunter's words. It all came together at just the right time.

I saw my first shows this year and discovered the catalogs of all of the side projects and reincarnations. It's been a good year.

But the Greatest Stories blog and David's passionate stewardship of these songs has contributed as much as any other factor to my understanding and appreciation of the catalog.

Thank you so much for your hard work and best of luck in whatever life has in store.

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Joined: Sep 25 2015
He's gone

This song is about Mickey Harts father (or uncle, its a little hazy) When he ran off with a big chunk of money he ended up getting dusted with crystal LSD, the equivalent of about 10,000 hits. After such a dose anybody alive becomes captain crazy pants, hence hes never coming back. This may bring a little depth to lyrics like "cat on a tin roof Dogs in a pie" and "nothing left to do but smile smile smile". Love your life family!

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