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
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.
" I Understand Why the Old Fisherman
Sailed Alone...someday He'll be Gone..."
so sang Jerry on the Reflections album.
People Come and People Go
but a Good Song is Forever
David...I love the way you reflect the heart of these songs we love. Thank you for your devotion to this Blog and to the way you have bent your ear to hear the tunes.
Please consider returning here from time to time and draw our attention to another wonderful song.
meanwhile..."Shine On-Keep on Shining"
Likewise everyone else who has weighed in.
I love all the reflections.
God Bless You All in the Light of Life
"I Love You but Jesus Loves You the Best"
a wave of loss hit me on the second or third paragraph when i realized he's gone meant you. omg. loved tuning into your blog periodically. you did a great job. good luck. fgfd.
I've enjoyed your articles. Thank you for taking the time. Good luck in your future endeavors and with music!!!
Wonderful organ from Pigpen. Almost eerie i.e. "skeleton" keys.
Dave, we're gonna miss you when your gone.
In Cincinnati there are roads named 4 mile,5 mile, 8,9, 10 mile. Years ago, I'm chasing a married woman (fighting but still living with husband)... I could only stop by when he was gone. Anyway, I had turned left onto 10 mile road,driving by their apartment yet again, when Jerry sang "nine mile skid, on a ten mile ride"....Deep shit; etched in my mind forever.
Like the "oceans of ink" line. Thank you SO MUCH for personally responding to my posts. It meant a lot..I walk alone by the black muddy river..
so it's "the price"?
and I'll go to my grave singing "off on some high cold mountain TRAIN."
I've seen chain, and range, but my ears hear train every time.
btw, for a specialized good time, listen to 7/28/73. The Mountain Jam is exquisite. guests usually don't do anything for me, but that Mountain Jam is gold, Jerry, gold.
If you haven't read Sam Cutler's account of the whole Lenny debacle (in his book "You Can't Always Get What You Want," I heartily recommend it. Whole book is good, IMO.
We all know that this song was originally written about Lenny Hart, Mickey's father, and what he had done to the band (and his own son!) in such a cold-blooded fashion.
But as time and tours passed on, it became an anthem played for anyone in the Grateful Dead Family Circle that had passed on.
I can recall the band showing Bill Graham's image behind the stage while this song played during a concert, after Bill had died. And I always like to think that the band had Frank Zappa in mind when they played it on 09 December 1993 at the LA Sports Arena. Even though Zappa couldn't stand their music, members of the Dead liked HIS music. Frank Zappa had just passed away and the PA in the arena was playing the old Mothers Of Invention recordings before the first show on the 8th.
Going where the wind don't blow so strange
Maybe on some high cold mountain range
Last one round but the price wasn't anything
Knife in the back
And more of the same.......
But in spite of all the back-stabbing and weird trips beyond our control that we all experience from time to time, this song puts it best when it tells ya that all we can really do is try to be positive.
Nothing left to do but
But I'll miss you when you're gone