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!)
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
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!
This song rewrote the book on exorcism. Quite a handy little song.
Thanks for putting up such a nice space to discuss these songs, David. Nicely done indeed. I highly, at least most of the time, suspect that a few of these songs are older than some of us might presume. Kinda compete upon many of their arrivals. Both interesting and curiously ah musing...
Peace to all.
The story teller makes no choice soon you will not hear his voice...
I know this has been a labour of love for you, David. Thanks for inspiring so much fun, good will, storytelling and insight.
I'm new to the bus and have read many of your posts and dog-eared many pages in your book. It is always insightful and inspiring!
Good luck in your endeavers, Thankk you for all the insight and mutual sharing! I have been listening to a lot of Messiaen lately, dig it!
You did AWESOME with this series. Thank you so much for sharing. It is the one post I come back for at least once a month. I understand you want to step back, but please consider keeping posting at a relaxed schedule...once a month, or once a quarter... or whenever your fancy strikes.
we need you, but good luck on your new adventure!
Fare thee well on the road you choose, David.
"He's Gone" was known as "Duane's Song" at first, to my crew...we were at Hartford 7/16/72 for it's American debut; it was brand new to us, and we were mesmerized by it when it welled up out of the space of "The Other One". Achingly beautiful and lyrically non-specific, but obviously about loss, it brought tears to our eyes. After the Allmans (3 of them, anyway)showed for the end of the show we "naturally" figured it was an ode to Duane Allman, killed just 9 months before in an accident. Probably wasn't until Europe '72 came out that we were put right. But for us, part of the Dead mystique was finding hidden meanings and messages wherever we could...
I really appreciate the kind comments from everyone. Sorry for the misleading title to this post--I should have realized that people would expect an essay on "He's Gone," and it's only one of many songs I never got to.
When I decided to give up the blog, I was working on "Dupree's Diamond Blues," and I found so much good writing about the song (especially Patrick Blackman's spectacular multi-part examination at http://mbmonday.blogspot.com/2014/10/betty-and-dupree-digital-compendium...) that I realized I should probably step aside.
I do hope someone else writes some kind of ongoing set of essays for the site, taking up where I left off just as I did after Blair, and I'm sure the good people at Dead.net are working on it.
Meanwhile, the conversations can go on and on about the songs posted here already.