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
Today the sunshine came out after two weeks of grey cold weather and GD announced the 50th celebration.
Anyway I ran across this blog while reading the announcement. I normally don't do social media, but this song He's Gone is where it started for me.
My short story:
My older brother died of an accidental gunshot when I was 9, after which I started getting into trouble. My parents sent me off to boring school. I remember seeing the Europe 72 CD in the store thinking it was skater punk music so I bought it wanting to be cool. One of the first GD songs I heard was "He's Gone". Listening in my dorm room I broke down into tears grieving my brother's death. The music helped me grieve. I became a Deadhead that day.
Not knowing that it would change the course of my life I kept listening; My strange trip began. Somehow I was hooked into the psychedelic, country, folk sound, and the community. WOW this Summer is going to awesome.
I have been chasing the Grateful Dead aura -- or magic that happens at GD shows since 1995. I can't wait to celebrate with all you friends this Summer over the 4th.
I'll miss this weekly little treat.
"Nothing left to do but smile smile smile": i think of this line as how you feel after hearing about a show, getting tickets, making arrangements, making the trek, getting in to the show, finding your place...and now there's NLTDBSSS.
Was the song about Lenny Hart?
My favorite versions are from 1973 (Kesar Stadium 5/26 and Watkins Glen 7/28 are real good ones). The "nothing's gonna bring him back" part is spectacular, featuring bass vocals from Phil Lesh! Then a nice jam into "Truckin."
Thanks Dave for all of your cool song blogs. I enjoyed them all, though I am very disappointed that we aren't going to get song blogs for "Keep Your Day Job" or "Antwerp's Placeabo" or "Money Money."
Thank you so much for a great series of writings on a beautiful subject matter. I think this is a good song to end on (even if you don't say much about it). It's defintely one of those "sing me back home" kind of songs; it has a definite feeling of returning to something simpler, in this case in the absence of a familiar presence, recently departed. The solo section has a sound that I can only think of as "high and lonesome" (though I think there's a better description out there), like that a long train ride through the rain in the mountains, just trying to get back home.
David, this blog/community/whatever has been so much fun! Thanks for your insightful writings and thanks to everybody for sharing their experiences of the songs. Good luck!
And just a note that He's Gone is yet another gem of a song in my mind. The array of images is astounding, from the grit of a (presumably dead) rat in a drain ditch, to the Americana of Maggie on the hot tin roof, to the beautiful calming image of the pistol that's cool inside, to the image of the high cold mountain. This song hits all the buttons, and also succeeds in being a sad paean to a lost compatriot.
Thanks David. We've all had us a very High Time through these last two years. I feel sad - the same way I did a couple of years back when Blair signed off. But I know there'll be somebody else Playing in the Band and I'm sure you're Not going to Fade Away either. Thanks for the pleasure - week after week. Sure, it's your time to say That's It and move on to The Other One.
It was a genuine pleasure reading your research and insights. Best wishes going forward for you and your loved ones.
BTW, I hope you found your American Beauty :-)
I always read and enjoyed you're blog. Between you and the people who have posted, I actually learned a few things about the band we all love.
Safe travels down the golden road...