Grateful Dead

Greatest Stories Ever Told - "I Need A Miracle"

By David Dodd

I distinctly remember, when we heard that the Grateful Dead would be the musical guests on Saturday Night Live, back in 1978, discussing with my roommates what we could expect in the way of song selection for the show. Would they do a selection of “greatest hits” (“Truckin’,” “Uncle John’s Band…”) or would they go for surprises? I predicted they would play their latest attempt at a top-40-friendly song, “I Need a Miracle,” from the just-released “Shakedown Street” LP. And yes, they did play a greatest hit—“Casey Jones,” but they also played “I Need a Miracle.”

Seemed like a future “greatest hit” to me! It had a big, catchy hook, and a memorable refrain. It had hyperbole. It was rock and roll.

That album, “Shakedown Street,” produced a few tunes with staying power in the ongoing live repertoire, most notably, of course, the title track, which turned into something really special. But the over-the-top lyrics of “I Need a Miracle,” along with what became a link to an ongoing tradition, has its own long-term appeal. And it, too, stayed in permanent rotation through the duration of their career, with the longest hiatus in performance being a 43-show gap from late summer 1982 to early summer 1983, for a total of 271 performances.

So: 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. With Grateful Dead lyrics, there’s always a new and different take on what they bring up for each listener, it seems.

When I built the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics website, I actually did not even bother to annotate “I Need a Miracle.” It doesn’t have much in the way of the kind of literary or historical references that are the bread and butter of annotations. Really, the lyrics seem to me to be something Barlow might have written to one-up the image of women in other Dead songs, notably in “Sugar Magnolia.” Or it may have been an attempt to get away with the kind of sexism that doomed “Money Money” from the get-go.

“Miracle” seems light-hearted and self-aware—the character singing the song (and I do think it’s a character singing, not the persona of Weir, or of Barlow…) seems to be making fun of himself. “I need a woman ’bout twice my weight…a ton of fun who packs a gun with all her other freight.” I mean—what? And “It takes dynamite to get me up….too much of everything is just enough.” A nice turn of phrase. The miraculous is synonymous with the excessive, the transcendent with the hyperbolic and overblown.

“I Need a Miracle” signs by Deadheads.

But, despite the sense of the lyrics on the face of it, what “Miracle” did was to put something into Grateful Dead culture, just by way of introducing the word: miracle. I wonder who the first Deadhead was who thought of making a sign saying “I need a miracle,” and putting a finger in the air outside a show, asking for a ticket. But it soon became commonplace, and “miracle” became code for a last-minute, sometimes free ticket. I had the pleasure of giving out a miracle ticket a few times, and I have also received them, and it does feel miraculous, from both ends—giving and receiving.

Beyond that, though, and bigger, is how the word “miracle,” in common use, gave us a way of thinking (and sometimes talking) about what went on onstage. Being open to something miraculous occurring in performance had always been a part of the Dead’s playing. The X Factor, as it was sometimes called, was present when the music was playing the band. The idea of “needing a miracle every day” seems at first borderline ridiculous, but over time, maybe it seems less so, and even something to be expected. Certainly, from my own experience, the Dead delivered a miracle more often than not. And I became more open to finding the miraculous in daily life.


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marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007

glad it worked out, mustin!

mustin321's picture
Joined: Aug 12 2011

Since I went on a rant about how I upset I was with the customer service, I feel I ought to send another message explaining how they made it right. When an order I placed 3 months ago was recently cancelled, I emailed customer service to find out why. After that they sent me the same order with no charge and no shipping fees! How awesome is that? I actually think that almost too generous. Anyways, one of those items was RT 2.4 Cal Expo. Which is great! I am still a newbie on the later stuff but I like what Vince plays more when Bruce is not there.

Joined: Jun 5 2007
miricle good and bad

My friend and I had an extra ticket for a solo aucustic Jerry show in Boston, Robert Hunter was opening up. We gave the tic to the first person we saw and the freak literally started dancing up the street. The show was terrible cops were in the Orpheum and Garcia's ashtra started smoldering frm his smokes plus there was zero energy. It was nice to give the tic to someone who was tha excited to go to the show.
Flashforward to Foxboro 90'. Again there was a potential extra ticket, a friend wasn't sur if they would be able to make it on time. We made it clear to the person that this ticket might be taken but if you mke it back by such and such a time the tic is yours. The person kept coming by and asking our friend had made it, it was bordering on obnoxious. When our fiend did show the miricle person had a huffy in tha he wasted time. Time was all ths person had on his hands and in his pocket. This was my last show as people like the miricle and the crowds became to much.

Anna rRxia's picture
Joined: Dec 25 2009
When did "Miracle" people first appear outside GD shows?

Even though the song is written in 1977, there may have been miracle people hanging around Winterland before that, don't have memory of that. But it does seem to pre-date 1987 MTV/VIRAL/SPINOUT, maybe just by a year or so... '85 the earliest.

StaggerLee32's picture
Joined: Nov 26 2007
Never locked out

I was at a party in Bobby's room before the Richmond, Va, 85 shows and didn't have a ticket for the next night..... asked Bob if he could put me on his GL and he said sure. To make a really long story short, I was at will call and they didn't have my name on the list, so I went outside, the show had just started i was really bumbed as it was the 1st show I had ever been locked out of and someone walking past me inside in the hallway saw me and ran to the door and passed me a ticket between the crack of the door. I said thank you soooooo much and ran around and went in for this.....
Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, VA (11/1/85)

Dancin' in the Streets
Cold Rain and Snow
Little Red Rooster
Stagger Lee
Me and My Uncle
Big River
Brown Eyed Women
Jack Straw
Don't Ease Me In

Samson and Delilah
High Time
He's Gone
Comes a Time
Lost Sailor
Saint of Circumstance
Gimme Some Lovin'
She Belongs to Me

Day Job

does anyone remember how we changed the lyrics to Day Job? Quit your day job, just give it away....... lol

ddodd's picture
Joined: Jun 6 2007
Great stories! Keep 'em coming...

Hey, this is working out just the way I had hoped! Lots of great stories to be told, and I am really enjoying the various takes on "miracle tickets." I especially liked the fact that the term has made it out of the Dead scene into the world at large--as in the story about the (free?) ticket at the Strawberry festival.

Free vs. unexpected, but paid for. Paid for--face value vs. scalper rates. I myself never asked more than face or paid more than face, but I sure did appreciate the few times I was given tickets!
I'm working on the next blog--and would welcome suggestions for what songs you all think might bring out the best stories from everyone. Onward!

scott1129's picture
Joined: Jun 6 2007
Miracles and Morons

JGAB was a reunion of the old Mountain Boys group that Jerry had with David Nelson and Sandy Rothman in '63 or so.
After Bill Graham heard them play the first time he got EXCITED and told them, I gotta take this somewhere.
Someone joked, "Hey, Bill, Take it to Broadway."
And that's just what he did, 15 nights at the Lunt-Fontaine in NYC, ending on Halloween '87. (Great Pure Jerry Release of these shows)
Since Jerry is a Bay Area Boy he did not forget us out here on the West Coast and there were two shows scheduled for the Warfield for 11/27 and 28 then they added the 29th (my birthday).
I fly up from LA on the 27th and meet my friends who gift me with a front row seat for the first night, Ripple for the closing number of the acoustic set. I took the seat I had and gave it to a seekin' soul out on the street.
The next night, my friend had a friend come into town and we took her to the show to get an extra ticket( for money)
The first guy says" Yeah, one ticket for 30, I told him these tickets cost 20 and no deal.
Some other guy comes up and asks if we need tickets, the first guy gets all agro and tells the new guy that he saw us first and to get lost, and told the guy, You blew it with the 30 dollar deal already,
So I follow through the crowd and find the second seller, who says, Yeah, 20. I say can we ask the door if this ticket is good. Yeah, so we ask the door and yes a good ticket, give the guy the 20, go inside and I take the friend to the usher and the usher takes the ticket and proceeds to lead us to the front row on the Jerry side.
What a night.
I also loaded the friend my "hat" and she told me Jerry kept givin' her the strangest looks since I was wearing the hat the night before on the opposite side of the theater.

Joined: Sep 18 2007
Interesting Trades

Welcome, David! I thoroughly enjoy my copy of the annotated lyrics and look forward to reading your blog. I don't have a lot of experience with Miracles--never gave one out and never needed one. But I did always enjoy people walking around looking for tickets and offering interesting trades. My favorite two examples: I think it was at my first show in the summer of '90 outside of Chicago when I saw an unkempt head walking around with a full, huge, wheel of cheese balancing on his head exclaiming, "cheese for your ticket!" Must have been from Wisconsin. The second would be walking through the lot with my dad (his only show) in Richfield, OH. Must have been '93. A guy walked by muttering "hash oil for your ticket," and my dad, who is straight but pretty cool, asked, "did he just say what I think he just said?" Ah, father/son bonding. If you need a ticket and don't have much scratch, you could at least come up with a creative offer, know what I mean? I would have traded an extra ticket for that cheese, if I had one.

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007

We'd love to hear more about your newsletter and the history of the Wharf Rats over in the Wharf Rats thread, if you're so inclined...

lonesomejohnnie's picture
Joined: Jan 13 2009
Staying Clean

As a wharf rat and recovering addict, this song hits home to me in that I Need a Miracle everyday to stay clean. I am only offered a daily reprieve from my addiction and view my recovery as a miracle. So far 28 years clean and was part of the evolution of the Wharf Rats when I started a newsletter in 1985 called Grateful We're Not Dead.


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