• May 30, 2013
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-jack-straw
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Jack Straw"

    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!)

    “Jack Straw”

    Of all the greatest of the Grateful Dead’s great story songs, I think “Jack Straw” might deserve some kind of an award for managing to be the most fully-fleshed-out and the most enigmatic of all. And I think the enigma revolves around the ambiguity in one line in particular.

    The performance evolution of “Jack Straw” is unique among Grateful Dead songs. When it was first performed, on October 19, 1971 (along with five other first-time performances) at Northrup Auditorium, University of Minnesota, the song’s various characters were sung entirely by Bob Weir. Hunter’s lyrics, however, clearly called for a differentiation in voice, and so, beginning in Paris on May 3, 1972, Garcia stepped in and the song became a dramatic telling featuring two distinct character voices, plus a narrator.

    I think of the song as the cornerstone of an unrecorded studio album, post-Workingman’s Dead / American Beauty, and preceding the three Grateful Dead Records studio albums. I really wish the album did exist (and some claim that it does: it’s called Europe ’72 — but even a doctored live album can never take the place of the studio treatment, and I am a fan of the Dead’s studio recordings). This phantom studio album would include “Jack Straw,” “Brown Eyed Women,” “Wharf Rat,” “He’s Gone,” “Ramble On Rose,” “Tennessee Jed,” “Bertha,” “Cassidy,” and “Playing in the Band.” Or something like that. At some point Hunter lamented the fact that the songs in that batch never got the studio treatment, and I have to say, I concur. (In much the same way, I wish there had been one final studio album, to capture “Days Between,” “So Many Roads,” and others.)

    Weir, in a couple of interviews, tells about the origin of “Jack Straw”:

    "I had just read Of Mice and Men for about the tenth time. I was completely smitten by that story. I took a step back in time into the Depression, and that era, and this story emerged between me and Hunter about these two guys on the lam... ne'er-do-wells... victims of the Depression." (March 2004)

    "I don’t watch much TV, but one night I was home, it was late, and an old version of Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ came on. I was mesmerized. We were coming out of the Workingman’s Dead phase, and Hunter had this lyric. I grabbed it, and we came with a little sketch of heartland Americana, a balled about two ne’er-do-wells. It was patterned on Of Mice and Men, but we tried to put a twist or two on it. Same story, different context.” (May 2007)

    The two “ne’er-do-wells” are named in the song as Shannon (Garcia) and Jack Straw (Weir). Here’s how the dialogue shakes out. Note that besides the two characters, who each sings his own lines as appropriate, there is a third person, the narrator, who is sung by Weir, Garcia, and Lesh.

    Narrator: "We can share ..."

    Shannon: "I just jumped the watchman ..."

    Jack Straw: "Hurts my ears to listen, Shannon ..."

    Jack Straw: "We used to play for silver ..."

    Narrator: "Leaving Texas 4th day of July ..."

    Shannon: “Gotta go to Tulsa…”

    Jack Straw: “There ain’t no place a man can hide…”

    Narrator: "Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down..."

    The link to the lyrics at the top of the page will show the complete breakdown.

    OK, so here’s the ambiguity that I see, and which numerous commentators have pointed out (take a look at www.well.com/deadsongs for a rather lengthy series of opinions about the narrative thread of the song). In the second verse, Jack Straw admonishes Shannon for having “cut down a man in cold blood,” stating that it “might as well” have been him—i.e., that in committing murder, Shannon had condemned both of them to charges of murder, and therefore capital punishment.

    Later in the song, however, Jack Straw “cut his buddy down.” Now, that could be read two completely different ways: either he killed Shannon, or he cut him down from a scaffold and gave him a decent burial before lighting out to avenge him—“one man gone and another to go.”

    I admit, it’s a stretch, but the song could work either way.

    In Robert Hunter’s A Box of Rain, the song is printed with some of the lines in italics, an indicator elsewhere in the same anthology that these lines were not Hunter’s, but written by another—in the case of “Sugar Magnolia,” for instance, the lines are explicitly footnoted: “Lyrics in italics were written by Robert Weir.” Following that same convention, Weir’s contribution to “Jack Straw” included three verses: 1) “Hurts my ears to listen...” 2) We used to play for silver...” and 3) Ain’t no place a man can hide...”

    The song includes a number of motifs and themes common throughout the repertoire: trains, down-and-out characters, gambling, weather, birds... It’s a bleak vision, but the playing lends it a great deal of energy. Going back to that first Brent Mydland show at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, his first song with the band was “Jack Straw,” and the jam leading up to “Jack Straw from Wichita, cut his buddy down,” was a juggernaut of thundering intensity.

    It’s unfortunate that the opening lines of the song are often taken by listeners at face value—I always felt very strange about the roar that would emerge at the lines “we can share the women, we can share the wine.” In fact, as has been pointed out, that attitude led our pair of ne’er-do-wells onto a path of self-destruction. I’d be interested in hearing if anyone else heard that at shows—that inappropriate roar of approval—kind of like the line in “Baba O’Riley”: “You’re all wasted!” Hmmmm...and that’s a good thing?

    But maybe I’m projecting my own values a bit too much. Once again, it’s up to the listener to decide.

    Regardless, this song frequently brought a shot of adrenaline to a show, and its message of friendship gone astray and lives wasted might make us pause. And hey—it pays to read Steinbeck! (Or at least watch movies of his books on TV…)

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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!)

“Jack Straw”

Of all the greatest of the Grateful Dead’s great story songs, I think “Jack Straw” might deserve some kind of an award for managing to be the most fully-fleshed-out and the most enigmatic of all. And I think the enigma revolves around the ambiguity in one line in particular.

The performance evolution of “Jack Straw” is unique among Grateful Dead songs. When it was first performed, on October 19, 1971 (along with five other first-time performances) at Northrup Auditorium, University of Minnesota, the song’s various characters were sung entirely by Bob Weir. Hunter’s lyrics, however, clearly called for a differentiation in voice, and so, beginning in Paris on May 3, 1972, Garcia stepped in and the song became a dramatic telling featuring two distinct character voices, plus a narrator.

I think of the song as the cornerstone of an unrecorded studio album, post-Workingman’s Dead / American Beauty, and preceding the three Grateful Dead Records studio albums. I really wish the album did exist (and some claim that it does: it’s called Europe ’72 — but even a doctored live album can never take the place of the studio treatment, and I am a fan of the Dead’s studio recordings). This phantom studio album would include “Jack Straw,” “Brown Eyed Women,” “Wharf Rat,” “He’s Gone,” “Ramble On Rose,” “Tennessee Jed,” “Bertha,” “Cassidy,” and “Playing in the Band.” Or something like that. At some point Hunter lamented the fact that the songs in that batch never got the studio treatment, and I have to say, I concur. (In much the same way, I wish there had been one final studio album, to capture “Days Between,” “So Many Roads,” and others.)

Weir, in a couple of interviews, tells about the origin of “Jack Straw”:

"I had just read Of Mice and Men for about the tenth time. I was completely smitten by that story. I took a step back in time into the Depression, and that era, and this story emerged between me and Hunter about these two guys on the lam... ne'er-do-wells... victims of the Depression." (March 2004)

"I don’t watch much TV, but one night I was home, it was late, and an old version of Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ came on. I was mesmerized. We were coming out of the Workingman’s Dead phase, and Hunter had this lyric. I grabbed it, and we came with a little sketch of heartland Americana, a balled about two ne’er-do-wells. It was patterned on Of Mice and Men, but we tried to put a twist or two on it. Same story, different context.” (May 2007)

The two “ne’er-do-wells” are named in the song as Shannon (Garcia) and Jack Straw (Weir). Here’s how the dialogue shakes out. Note that besides the two characters, who each sings his own lines as appropriate, there is a third person, the narrator, who is sung by Weir, Garcia, and Lesh.

Narrator: "We can share ..."

Shannon: "I just jumped the watchman ..."

Jack Straw: "Hurts my ears to listen, Shannon ..."

Jack Straw: "We used to play for silver ..."

Narrator: "Leaving Texas 4th day of July ..."

Shannon: “Gotta go to Tulsa…”

Jack Straw: “There ain’t no place a man can hide…”

Narrator: "Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down..."

The link to the lyrics at the top of the page will show the complete breakdown.

OK, so here’s the ambiguity that I see, and which numerous commentators have pointed out (take a look at www.well.com/deadsongs for a rather lengthy series of opinions about the narrative thread of the song). In the second verse, Jack Straw admonishes Shannon for having “cut down a man in cold blood,” stating that it “might as well” have been him—i.e., that in committing murder, Shannon had condemned both of them to charges of murder, and therefore capital punishment.

Later in the song, however, Jack Straw “cut his buddy down.” Now, that could be read two completely different ways: either he killed Shannon, or he cut him down from a scaffold and gave him a decent burial before lighting out to avenge him—“one man gone and another to go.”

I admit, it’s a stretch, but the song could work either way.

In Robert Hunter’s A Box of Rain, the song is printed with some of the lines in italics, an indicator elsewhere in the same anthology that these lines were not Hunter’s, but written by another—in the case of “Sugar Magnolia,” for instance, the lines are explicitly footnoted: “Lyrics in italics were written by Robert Weir.” Following that same convention, Weir’s contribution to “Jack Straw” included three verses: 1) “Hurts my ears to listen...” 2) We used to play for silver...” and 3) Ain’t no place a man can hide...”

The song includes a number of motifs and themes common throughout the repertoire: trains, down-and-out characters, gambling, weather, birds... It’s a bleak vision, but the playing lends it a great deal of energy. Going back to that first Brent Mydland show at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, his first song with the band was “Jack Straw,” and the jam leading up to “Jack Straw from Wichita, cut his buddy down,” was a juggernaut of thundering intensity.

It’s unfortunate that the opening lines of the song are often taken by listeners at face value—I always felt very strange about the roar that would emerge at the lines “we can share the women, we can share the wine.” In fact, as has been pointed out, that attitude led our pair of ne’er-do-wells onto a path of self-destruction. I’d be interested in hearing if anyone else heard that at shows—that inappropriate roar of approval—kind of like the line in “Baba O’Riley”: “You’re all wasted!” Hmmmm...and that’s a good thing?

But maybe I’m projecting my own values a bit too much. Once again, it’s up to the listener to decide.

Regardless, this song frequently brought a shot of adrenaline to a show, and its message of friendship gone astray and lives wasted might make us pause. And hey—it pays to read Steinbeck! (Or at least watch movies of his books on TV…)

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Of all the greatest of the Grateful Dead’s great story songs, I think “Jack Straw” might deserve some kind of an award for managing to be the most fully-fleshed-out and the most enigmatic of all. And I think the enigma revolves around the ambiguity in one line in particular.

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This is a great tune musical wise. The evolution from slower to faster was fascinating to see evolve. Like a lot of the Dead's tunes where death occurs there tends to be a lot of energy. It seemed in the last 5 years or so they were just about screaming the last verse. About the lyrics. There never was a train called The Detroit Lightning but the words make sense if you say the Detroit lighting (leaving) out of Santa Fe. The Great Northern probably originated out of Missoula, Montana. The last verse I do consider to be enigmatic but my interpretation is that Jack Straw cut Shannon down like the other characters in the song -- the watchman, the score to settle in Tulsa. The enigmatic part for me is that after saying this the narrator goes on to say "One man down and another to go." But a couple of verses repeat in this song, so... who can say but Bob and Robert? The geography suggests yet another interpretation. We have Jack Straw from Wichita cutting down a watchman, presumably in Texas. The pair leave and catch a train out of Santa Fe, then one out of Cheyenne. Then Jack Straw decides they have to catch the first train going to Tulsa. What happens in Tulsa is never clear and the extra lyrics seem to provide a clue there. Lastly Jack Straw cuts down (and I think this means kill) somebody, perhaps not Shannon, half a mile from Tuscon. Could have been his new buddy. As for "We can share..." It never bothered me. But I didn't cheer during songs. I listened to them.
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I always love to read an article that mentions my favorite all-time show!! 4/22/79 does have one of the greatest "Jack Straw"s and I agree that the abovementioned jam is quite awesome. I also love the "Sugaree" and "Passenger" from the first set. Then there's an amazing "Scarlet>Fire" in set two, and the entire Estimated>He's Gone>Drumz>The Other One>Wharf Rat>Around sequence which is mesmerizing from start to finish. Dig that "Drumz" featuring the Beast and a lot of interesting rhythms from Mickey & Billy. No "Space" though... Oh yes gotta love the "Shakedown Street" encore. I've always hoped for a 4/22/79 vault release but I don't think this one exists in the vault in complete form... (I've asked Dave Lemieux a number of times and I think he's tired of me asking!!! Sorry, Dave.)
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to puzzle over and discuss. I'm not sure what my favorite version is-I generally always like the one I'm hearing at that point in time. Enigmatic? Yes. Endlessly fascinating to try to parse-again Yes. Sort of like reading Henry James-"Turn of the Screw" -endless speculation about what did or did not occur. Timeless art. The "we can share..." line is necessary for character development going into that space and tale with those characters in that story.
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Jack Straw was my Dead "getting it" song (listening to Europe '72, my gold-standard version), so it holds a very special place in my head and heart. "We can share what we got of yours/'Cause we done shared all of mine" was the part that resonated first -- I was in need of some sharing myself at the time, so I immediately hooked onto those lines as they hooked into me. The first few hundred times I listened to the song, I heard "Jack Straw from Wichita SHOT his buddy down," so there was never any doubt in my mind about what happened at that point in the story. I suppose that my optimistic side doesn't want to believe that Jack Straw killed his friend, but given his "might as well be me" proclamation, I'm pretty sure that he did. I do love this song.
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I remember hearing the instrumental part after "you keep us on the run" in my dorm room years ago, and "getting it." So beautiful. :))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))
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the whole resonance with Jack Straw the historical figure. (The current British politician by the same name was probably not on Hunter's mind).
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I've always liked how the song starts out slow, like a train leaving the station... and gradually builds up speed.
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Another great post, thank you David! That is interesting, I didn't know that Bob Weir wrote some of the verses for this song. Like I feel about many GD songs, I feel that this song is partly about playing in a band, especially the verse "we used to play for silver..." This may be a stretch but I always felt this verse was specifically about playing in a band and how that fits with the duality of life (or whatever you call it...Im not great with words...balancing good and evil) But when they started out (playing for silver) they were dirt poor, living of off Bear and I think Jerry and Robert Hunter used to live in their cars, right? So maybe they just started doing what they knew best and could hopefully get some bread from it. Well, by 1972, things had changed too many times too count, but the one thing that hadn't changed was that they were still playing and its probably impossible to stop this train now (the breaks dont work on this grade so steep...) and now they play for life. But there is still the business behind it all, which Im sure is the last thing anyone in the band wanted to think about but its no secret. "one's for sport and one's for blood..." or fun AND money. "now the die is shaken now the die must fall..." how many of their contemporaries either died or faded away? They ain't no winner because if you are still alive you are always chasing the rush that music creates or can create. This may be quite a stretch but this is what my simple mind has always perceived this verse to be about...and I rarely get this far out there (seriously).
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"another to go" is one's own self, I think, as perpetrator of those final actions in the song, committing a murder (even of an oppressor) and digging the victim just a shallowly expedient grave--"You're next," I think (meaning "I'm," as much as any other "you"), in a retributive or karmic sense: you've got a long way to go to redeem yourself out of the events shared in this narrative, but you're moving much too slow. ("One man gone" can even refer to you, too, gone down morally in all these acts, maybe, before the other you who has to come from them.) (David, I think it is a killing at the end, and not perhaps Jack Straw cutting his hanged buddy down from the tree or gallows. The course of the narrative increases Shannon's oppressive and aggressive weight so that I think the act outside Tucson is what he has coming from the jack straw maybe set up for this ambiguous moral lesson. [Could be overinterpreting now.] And the climactic force of the music following the accusing "You keep us on the run" evokes such a dramatic act. There's some sure, or mere, tenderness, though, for the killed companion, his buddy, that Jack Straw "dug FOR him a shallow grave," maybe as good as he could give him.)
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while I enjoy the tall tale, for me its all about the last jam. I loved to here this song, especially at the end of the first set. Opening a show it had nice jams to here how each musician was playing and for me the climax had hope of how in sync the boys were or weren't for that night. When it ended the first set I thought it said to the audience we're in sync, buckle up and get ready to be shot out of a cannon. Rochester 77 comes to mind. For me the second set Jack Straws were fun but I loved those late 1st set ones the best.
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In a sense Playing in the Band was recorded on a studio album - but it was Bob's "solo" Ace. I've always loved this version, especially the acoustic feel. That whole album is great, especially Bob and Donna on Cassidy.
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For me. That is a definitive line in the song., Speaks volumes about these ne'er do wells and the unspoken code amongst them.. Regarding the share the women share the wine. Yeah. The roar of applause and approval is not consistent with the spirit of the song if taken literally. In context, then repeated at the end....it ties the tale together quite nicely. But more importantly, is the following line...we can share what we got of yours cos we done shared all of mine. There's the metaphoric rub.
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In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other. — John Steinbeck in his 1938 journal entry[5]
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The studio out-takes version of the song has a different verse too!
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I always took the final part "Cut his buddy down" as having to kill his friend - just like ***SPOILER ALERT*** George kills Lenny at the end of "Of Mice and Men."
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A lot of the comments/posts have reminded me of why I love the song - mustin's thoughts on the silver/life line and how it could relate to a R & R band were right on. I liked David's cut my buddy down image - kinda chillin' - and the "stretch" notion was funny.Tthe ruminations on positioning within the first set - couldn't fly in the second - are fun to ponder. How about start the set with Jack Straw and finish it with Music?Toss in a BTW, LLR or Cassidy and you'll have the key of E covered just nice! IMHO, I believe it's one of the most inventive of the key of E tunes the Dead created. None of them is simple, think Bird Song, BEW, He's Gone, Stella, and Eyes, to name but a few. Jack Straw has that cool tempo change which adds crateloads to weight of the story. I like the early ones best and when Jerry chimed in with his lines such as, "ain't that heaven sent", it did, indeed, become a masterpiece!
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"Later in the song, however, Jack Straw “cut his buddy down.” Now, that could be read two completely different ways: either he killed Shannon, or he cut him down from a scaffold and gave him a decent burial before lighting out to avenge him—“one man gone and another to go.” ' Whether Jack did the deed himself, or cut Shannon down from the scaffold, I never thought about Jack lighting out on a trail of vengeance. I always thought of it as a moment of pained, world-weary self realization. Shannon's gone, he's next, the clock is ticking . . . Great thread! Keep em coming!
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The song-story of Jack Straw indeed evokes images of a depression era nation.The two partners in crime are truly part of the American landscape.I believe the analogy of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" to be right on the silver dime. Robert Hunter's story-line with back and forth conversation i.e. Weir and Garcia harkens to an influence of "The Band" and song conversations or point counter-point between Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel. The Band were masters of imagery of Americana even if they were mostlty from Canada. Along with the John Steinbeck connection that is the most perceptive, I immediately thought of two short stories by Jack Kerouac in his autobiographical book "Lonesome Traveler" (1961). The two works I cite are "The Railroad Earth" and "The Vanishing American Hobo". In the former story Jack writes about his time working for the railroad in northern Cal. Both Kerouac and Neal Cassady worked for the railroad over 50 years ago. Descriptions of hobo camps, hobos and bums appear in many of Jack's books.(I've read most of his books) In Jack's short story "The Vanishing American Hobo" Jack finds himself camping outside Tucson when he's hassled by the cops. Tucson was far smaller in the 1950s. Other books about hobos worth reading would be "The Road" by Jack London, "Rolling Nowhere" by Ted Conover, and "Hard Travelin, the hobo and his history" by Kenneth Allsop."Hard Travelin" also the name of the great Woody Guthrie song. On a personal level trains have held a fascination for me since I was a kid in the 1950s. I've rode passenger trains over 10,000 miles in Mexico from Palenque, Chiapas in the south to the "Divsion del Norte", Juarez to D.F. in the north, Amtrak in the states from coast to coast and New Mexico to Montana and the Canadian rails from Vancouver to Banff and back. One of the great movies about hobes would be "Emporer of the North" filmed in Oregon's Willamette Valley with Ernest Borgnine as the evil train conductor and Lee Marvin as the king of the hobos. A great film and two of the greatest roles of two all time great actors.By the way great Dorthea Lange photogragh in Davids post. I was never a hobo but only a "rubber tramp" or hitch-hiker for a time in the 1970s, coast to coast, some in Canada, some in Mexico. Lastly I return to the song "Jack Straw". I first saw the Dead perform Jack Straw at the Felt Forum 12/4/71. The greatest impact I ever felt from the song was after not seeing the Dead since October 1974 until 12/29/77 and I'm sitting front row balcony south side of Winterland when the band opened up with, shot out of the cannon first song, Jack Straw. Wow, what a song, what a band. Also In the movie "Woodstock" Jerry Garcia is describing the thousands of people walking into the festival site as being biblical and like "Jack Straws". And yes read Kerouac, Steinbeck and London.
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Okay. So that is a truly amazing and wonderful quote from Steinbeck. Thanks so much, IamGrategul! It's exactly what I think to be most important about ALL of the Dead's character-based songs, ranging from Friend of the Devil through Wharf Rat into Jack Straw. Understanding is the key--building empathy, allowing us into each others' shoes, and each others' minds and motivations. The other quote, from the Latin writer Terence, which I consider to be an apex of wisdom in this matter is "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto", or "I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me." Thanks everyone for the wonderful conversation!
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This is probably one of my favorite songs of all time. One of the best was at Folsom Field in June, 1980 for their 15th Anniversary. Me and a few buddies drove out from NY and camped out somewhere in the area. Kind of a blur to be honest. I used to kill this side of the Europe '72 album. My Dad used to work for Great Northern, and he would tell me they got it all wrong, that the great Northern trains went north to south, not east to west. I just looked at that show, and what a killer. Warren Zevon opened up for them. A killer three song encore with Alabama getaway, One More Saturday Night and US Blues. The crowd would not let them go home.
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This is probably one of my favorite songs of all time. One of the best was at Folsom Field in June, 1980 for their 15th Anniversary. Me and a few buddies drove out from NY and camped out somewhere in the area. Kind of a blur to be honest. I used to kill this side of the Europe '72 album. My Dad used to work for Great Northern, and he would tell me they got it all wrong, that the great Northern trains went north to south, not east to west. I just looked at that show, and what a killer. Warren Zevon opened up for them. A killer three song encore with Alabama getaway, One More Saturday Night and US Blues. The crowd would not let them go home.
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and let's not forget during the early 80s and maybe some time before and after they would sing... "we used to play for silver, now we play for clive" not sure that really illuminates the song's meaning at all but it was a humorous nod to arista records boss clive davis i can imagine hunter wasnt thrilled with it although by then im sure he had learned to let em go
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I've always considered this song as a cowboy, western song, thinking the line" my old buddy you're moving way too slow" referred to a tired horse. I'm puzzled over the demise of Shannon, whether Jack killed him, or if Jack cut the rope that Shannon was attached to, then buried him in a shallow grave. (Not much loose soil in the southwest U.S.A. mountain country.) Is Jack Straw himself the one referred to as "... and another to go." ? Like many of the people who've responded to David's topic here, I must've played the Europe '72 album version ( I've been through 3 vinyl sets, an 8 track tape and have the cd now) hundreds of times. More recent performances have the incredibly energetic guitar jam preceding the "Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down" verse: The 7/2/88 Oxford, ME show song has some notable Phil bombs. As a kid, I remember playing a game of pick-up sticks, called jack straw. Check out this book next time you order one for your Kindle >> http://jackstrawbook.tumblr.com/ ...from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Jack-Straw-ebook/dp/B00CGRWFMG/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF…
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Bob used to sing both characters' parts (Jackstraw and Shannon). In Europe during early May on the '72 tour (I have the show), Jer assumed Shannon's vocals.
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It's true, during the Europe 1972 tour, it was decided that Jerry would sing some of the verses. Listen to the box set version of 5/3/72 and you will hear a slight "ghost" vocal of Bob singing the Jerry lines. This is the original Europe '72 album take and although it was later in the tour when they decided to trade verses, this version got overdubbed back home with Jerry's verse vocals. I guess they erased Bob's vocal (on the Jerry verse parts) on this one, because it was not restored on the box set. On 5/10/72, Jerry finally sings his verse parts live, only asking for two bucks in change rather than four.
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I always thought "cut his body down" referred to a hanging - A wild west song for me too. One other thing: A few different women (including my wife) have commented to me - negatively - on "We can share the women, we can share the wine," leading to a conversation about the characters in the song - not necessarily good guys.
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Oh yeah, and on inappropriate applause: In Candyman, the roar after "if I had me a shotgun..." A old friend, more of a Deadhead than I was, would always get mad about that.
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Help on the Way/Slipknot/Franklin's Tower/Jackstraw/Peggy-O opener on Tuesday night in Oklahoma. Couldn't get much better than that.
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in our first interview, concerning how few people seemed to make it down the path of seeing the correlation of "we can share the women, we can share the wine" with the bad outcome.
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I have a distinct recollection of a different insertion for that line, also from the 80's: "We used to play for acid, now we play for lines" Anybody out there have a date for one of those versions? Tx! -JJ
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Great point, Marye. I never made it down that path myself in "Jack Straw" until you mentioned it. Too often, the singer is conflated with an ear-catching piece of the song and the greater message is lost. Songs that "glorify" drugs usually really don't, murder ballads generally end badly for the singer, etc. But honestly, I can't defend Pigpen's rap in the 12/20/69 (Dave's 6) version of "Lovelight". I just can't.
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Hunter sets up these very well-constructed songs, and people overwhelmingly pull lines out of context and make anthems/slogans of them. And this is just part of the songwriter's life, of course. If I recall correctly, part of the same conversation involved Hunter saying that everyone hears "Drivin' that train, high on cocaine," and nobody hears "Casey Jones you better watch your speed."
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Ok, off topic a bit, but the Casey Jones line -- I know that forever I assumed that "watch your speed" was a second drug reference of the double entendre variety. But there's definitely trouble ahead...
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And all this time I thought this song was about the efficiency of German railroad schedules. And, of course, the lost composure of the fireman as he marvels at the unrivaled complexion of the train as he views it from his new angle rounding the corner. Ahh, we do seem a bit off the track here. I'm sure Jack and Shannon will excuse us...
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One should definitely read Steinbeck, especially as an American. Ethan Allen Hawley would agree.
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Try to view the opening verse of the song as not "sung" by the Narrator who sings the later narrator verses. Rather, it is the song's "overture" or perhaps a Greek Chorus introducing Hunter's cautionary tale and its characters to the audience. So, although a "chorus" is singing these lines and not individual characters/singers, the chorus is speaking the lines for these individual characters: SHANNON: We can share the women, we can share the wine JACK: We can share what we got of yours, 'cause we done shared all of mine SHANNON: Keep on rolling, just a mile to go JACK: Keep on rolling, my old buddy, you're moving much too slow Why do it this way? Because it works better as a SONG this way....rather than going into the Jerry/Bob dialogue right out of the gate [oops...no pun intended]. I guess it's taken me about forty years or so to see it in this current light.
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Like most of you, I've been fascinated by this song since the first time I heard it, captivated by the story, trying to figure out what events it actually described. After reading the article and these posts, I have even more nuggets to mull over. I have a couple of minor points to add. I've always heard the line "Catch the Detroit Lightning out of Santa Fe" as "Catch the Detroit riding out of Santa Fe". Or maybe "...ridin' it...". Either fits better with the comma-like pause after Detroit. Just listened to that phrase several times on Europe '72 and it still sounds like that to me. Found a guy (http://www.gratefulweb.com/articles/furthur-new-years-eve-san-fran-2009…) who apparently heard it the same way as I did. So that's two of us. The first couplet is pretty awesome. The first line is an example of a phrase that hasn't worn well. It's a variant of "Wine, Women and Song" (singing about Women and Wine IN a song), which in times past (such as where the song is set) would have been viewed as a bit naughty, but a relatively benign expression of good times. It needs to be viewed in that light (but also retired from everyday usage, not to mention not cheered for during performances). Good times also implies--to me, anyway--a sense that all is well. We party because we can. We CAN share, not we HAVE TO share. And then comes line two, where one voice (or possibly both--it's the choir) are griping that they've done shared all theirs, so the other guy needs to start sharing. Now we see that times are hard, not so rosy. And the first complaint--or request, with maybe just a bit of resentment behind it--has been lodged. And that's just the beginning. Gobsmacked! So much stuff in so few words. Like my Uncle Jerry used to say when he hawked popcorn at the local ballgames, "Nutritious, Delicious, and Satisfying!"
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This is one of those synchronicity stories, but I doubt its cosmic import. There were three of us in a VW bug traveling toward the Canadian Rockies out of BC and listening to the Dead on 8-track tape (you do the math)and Jack Straw was on. We're talking big skies here, and you saw the Rockies rising and the road stretching ahead, great gatherings of clouds and the hot sun mottling the landscape in colossal swaths of moving light. Spectacular. We looked about us, goggling, and just as the lyric about "sun's so hot, the clouds so low, the eagles fill the sky" came around, we spotted a pair of eagles, not filling the sky by any means but, hanging suspended in a lazy soar across our horizon, their presence was sufficient to provoke further awe. We had to duck down a bit to see them under the windshield's periphery, and so we gazed with necks bent in wonder at the natural beauty and the semi-mystical coincidentality of the moment. And of course one of them chose this moment to take a dump. And yet...and yet... I can't speak for my friends, but there was nevertheless something beautiful, for me, in the loops and whorls that avian effluvium made as it sailed earthward, morphing on the wind. I suppose you had to be there, and to my knowledge few poets have rhapsodized about eagle shit, but it stands forever for me as a time when beauty turned to hilarity and back to beauty. Of a sort. Nothing wrong with that.
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I wrote these posts back in the spring of 2012, but now the blog is hosted on the main Sing Out! website, so there are new addresses. Main post on the ballad http://singout.org/2012/03/12/jack-straw/ Connections with Of Mice and Men http://singout.org/2012/03/13/there-aint-a-winner-in-this-game/ Connections to Altamont http://singout.org/2012/03/16/jack-straw-2/
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I always heard this one of two ways.... the watchman was going to die anyway, probably violently, it might as well be me who profits from it. the other is...might as well be me...it may as well have been me who was killed for 2 bucks and change...acknowledging the lifestyle he led was sure bound to end in no good. in a way, reminds me of wharf rat. but as one poster said....this song got me the first time I heard it, and was in fact one of the songs that got me interested in finding out more about this band of tripped out hippies writing songs of murder, revenge, and other things not even remotely confused with silly love songs. PS...I always cheered the opening lines b/c I love this song. No more, no less. Only speaking for me, tho.
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When I first heard "Jack Straw" it was just a few years after getting into Steinbeck. I am a huge fan of "The Grapes of Wrath" and I read "Of Mice and Men" almost just to say that I had read it. It was more of a skim reading, I did not take the book too seriously. And then came along Jack Straw. I remember driving down a country road on a summer afternoon and Jack Straw was playing and that was the first time that I really invested myself into the lyrics and allowed them to crawl out of the song and place themselves into various areas of reality. Once that happened a light bulb came on and I shouted "Steinbeck! This HAS to be inspired by 'Of Mice and Men'!". I grinned from ear to ear upon my discovery, I was so ecstatic that I had figured it out. This was before I had even really gotten hard into the dead i.e. collecting recordings, joining forums and sites like this. This was before I really had an understanding of not only who the Grateful Dead were and how important they were but also how big and important they would become to me and ever since then Jack Straw has been a staple in my day-to-day listening. With that being said, I had no idea that there was an official connection between the song and the book. I assumed that the connection I had made was purely theoretical and it wasn't until I started to get into everything more seriously that I saw Bob's comments where he makes the connection. With all of the being said, I see that everyone has different opinions and ideas about certain lyrics so I figure I would add in my 2 cents. "We can share the women we can share the wine we can share what we got of yours 'cause we done shared all of mine" Above it is mentioned how this can be taken provocatively which I can understand. Bob Weir mentions in the film "The Other One" he says "Well it wasn't so much wine as it was weed" (That's not the official quote but it gets the point across) I see this lyric as something that is spoken by both Shannon and Jack Straw. I see it as an agreement between the two at the very beginning of their journey when they first meet. Or even as simply a motivation for them throughout their journey. It almost gives the impression that they are traveling to a place where they can "share the women" and "share the wine" as one would travel to "the land of milk and honey". In the book, Lennie mentions to George how he looks forward to "living off the fatta' the lan'". "Keep a-rolling Just a mile to go Keep on rolling, my old buddy You're moving much too slow" Jack Straw and Shannon are obviously on the run as George and Lennie are in the book. This lyric reminds me of a part towards the end of the book where George and Lennie come to a clearing in the woods where they stumble upon a small pond. Lennie wants to stop to rest and get a drink of water from the pond but George can hear the dogs from the search party getting closer and closer and if I'm not mistaken I believe that this is where George decides to kill Lennie. Don't quote me on that it has been a little while since I have read the book. "Cut down a man in cold blood, Shannon Might as well be me" Obviously Jack is saying to Shannon that Shannon may have well just killed Jack because of the trouble that Shannon got him in by killing the watchman. "Leaving Texas Fourth day of July Sun so hot, clouds so low The eagles filled the sky Catch the Detroit Lightning out of Santa Fe Great Northern out of Cheyenne From sea to shining sea" This is by far my favorite part in the song. Countless times I have been driving down the highway, my arm out the window, the wind in my hair and sun in my eyes and this part of the song comes on and it just takes me away. It always seems to happen so perfectly. These 7 lines right here contribute greatly to my belief that the Grateful Dead are the most patriotic and Americana band in history. These 7 lines paint a picture that merges the vagabond fantasy of the cowboy of the old west with the "On The Road" VW bus gypsy life of the current time in which the song was written. AND, if my last sentence isn't the definition of the true and original American dream then I do not know what is. Lastly "We can share the women, We can share the wine" joins the song again right after Jack Straw clearly murders and buries Shannon almost as if he is telling him that their land of milk and honey still awaits them even in death.
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    SYF2693
    2 months 3 weeks ago
    When I first heard "Jack
    When I first heard "Jack Straw" it was just a few years after getting into Steinbeck. I am a huge fan of "The Grapes of Wrath" and I read "Of Mice and Men" almost just to say that I had read it. It was more of a skim reading, I did not take the book too seriously. And then came along Jack Straw. I remember driving down a country road on a summer afternoon and Jack Straw was playing and that was the first time that I really invested myself into the lyrics and allowed them to crawl out of the song and place themselves into various areas of reality. Once that happened a light bulb came on and I shouted "Steinbeck! This HAS to be inspired by 'Of Mice and Men'!". I grinned from ear to ear upon my discovery, I was so ecstatic that I had figured it out. This was before I had even really gotten hard into the dead i.e. collecting recordings, joining forums and sites like this. This was before I really had an understanding of not only who the Grateful Dead were and how important they were but also how big and important they would become to me and ever since then Jack Straw has been a staple in my day-to-day listening. With that being said, I had no idea that there was an official connection between the song and the book. I assumed that the connection I had made was purely theoretical and it wasn't until I started to get into everything more seriously that I saw Bob's comments where he makes the connection. With all of the being said, I see that everyone has different opinions and ideas about certain lyrics so I figure I would add in my 2 cents. "We can share the women we can share the wine we can share what we got of yours 'cause we done shared all of mine" Above it is mentioned how this can be taken provocatively which I can understand. Bob Weir mentions in the film "The Other One" he says "Well it wasn't so much wine as it was weed" (That's not the official quote but it gets the point across) I see this lyric as something that is spoken by both Shannon and Jack Straw. I see it as an agreement between the two at the very beginning of their journey when they first meet. Or even as simply a motivation for them throughout their journey. It almost gives the impression that they are traveling to a place where they can "share the women" and "share the wine" as one would travel to "the land of milk and honey". In the book, Lennie mentions to George how he looks forward to "living off the fatta' the lan'". "Keep a-rolling Just a mile to go Keep on rolling, my old buddy You're moving much too slow" Jack Straw and Shannon are obviously on the run as George and Lennie are in the book. This lyric reminds me of a part towards the end of the book where George and Lennie come to a clearing in the woods where they stumble upon a small pond. Lennie wants to stop to rest and get a drink of water from the pond but George can hear the dogs from the search party getting closer and closer and if I'm not mistaken I believe that this is where George decides to kill Lennie. Don't quote me on that it has been a little while since I have read the book. "Cut down a man in cold blood, Shannon Might as well be me" Obviously Jack is saying to Shannon that Shannon may have well just killed Jack because of the trouble that Shannon got him in by killing the watchman. "Leaving Texas Fourth day of July Sun so hot, clouds so low The eagles filled the sky Catch the Detroit Lightning out of Santa Fe Great Northern out of Cheyenne From sea to shining sea" This is by far my favorite part in the song. Countless times I have been driving down the highway, my arm out the window, the wind in my hair and sun in my eyes and this part of the song comes on and it just takes me away. It always seems to happen so perfectly. These 7 lines right here contribute greatly to my belief that the Grateful Dead are the most patriotic and Americana band in history. These 7 lines paint a picture that merges the vagabond fantasy of the cowboy of the old west with the "On The Road" VW bus gypsy life of the current time in which the song was written. AND, if my last sentence isn't the definition of the true and original American dream then I do not know what is. Lastly "We can share the women, We can share the wine" joins the song again right after Jack Straw clearly murders and buries Shannon almost as if he is telling him that their land of milk and honey still awaits them even in death.
  • mkav
    2 years 3 months ago
    might as well be me
    I always heard this one of two ways.... the watchman was going to die anyway, probably violently, it might as well be me who profits from it. the other is...might as well be me...it may as well have been me who was killed for 2 bucks and change...acknowledging the lifestyle he led was sure bound to end in no good. in a way, reminds me of wharf rat. but as one poster said....this song got me the first time I heard it, and was in fact one of the songs that got me interested in finding out more about this band of tripped out hippies writing songs of murder, revenge, and other things not even remotely confused with silly love songs. PS...I always cheered the opening lines b/c I love this song. No more, no less. Only speaking for me, tho.
  • ParticoRomulus
    2 years 3 months ago
    Jack Straw as Murder Ballad
    I wrote these posts back in the spring of 2012, but now the blog is hosted on the main Sing Out! website, so there are new addresses. Main post on the ballad http://singout.org/2012/03/12/jack-straw/ Connections with Of Mice and Men http://singout.org/2012/03/13/there-aint-a-winner-in-this-game/ Connections to Altamont http://singout.org/2012/03/16/jack-straw-2/
  • highfructoseco…
    3 years 7 months ago
    Eagle-filled sky
    This is one of those synchronicity stories, but I doubt its cosmic import. There were three of us in a VW bug traveling toward the Canadian Rockies out of BC and listening to the Dead on 8-track tape (you do the math)and Jack Straw was on. We're talking big skies here, and you saw the Rockies rising and the road stretching ahead, great gatherings of clouds and the hot sun mottling the landscape in colossal swaths of moving light. Spectacular. We looked about us, goggling, and just as the lyric about "sun's so hot, the clouds so low, the eagles fill the sky" came around, we spotted a pair of eagles, not filling the sky by any means but, hanging suspended in a lazy soar across our horizon, their presence was sufficient to provoke further awe. We had to duck down a bit to see them under the windshield's periphery, and so we gazed with necks bent in wonder at the natural beauty and the semi-mystical coincidentality of the moment. And of course one of them chose this moment to take a dump. And yet...and yet... I can't speak for my friends, but there was nevertheless something beautiful, for me, in the loops and whorls that avian effluvium made as it sailed earthward, morphing on the wind. I suppose you had to be there, and to my knowledge few poets have rhapsodized about eagle shit, but it stands forever for me as a time when beauty turned to hilarity and back to beauty. Of a sort. Nothing wrong with that.
  • lonndoggie
    3 years 11 months ago
    Riding the Lightning, Women and Wine, Jack and Me
    Like most of you, I've been fascinated by this song since the first time I heard it, captivated by the story, trying to figure out what events it actually described. After reading the article and these posts, I have even more nuggets to mull over. I have a couple of minor points to add. I've always heard the line "Catch the Detroit Lightning out of Santa Fe" as "Catch the Detroit riding out of Santa Fe". Or maybe "...ridin' it...". Either fits better with the comma-like pause after Detroit. Just listened to that phrase several times on Europe '72 and it still sounds like that to me. Found a guy (http://www.gratefulweb.com/articles/furthur-new-years-eve-san-fran-2009…) who apparently heard it the same way as I did. So that's two of us. The first couplet is pretty awesome. The first line is an example of a phrase that hasn't worn well. It's a variant of "Wine, Women and Song" (singing about Women and Wine IN a song), which in times past (such as where the song is set) would have been viewed as a bit naughty, but a relatively benign expression of good times. It needs to be viewed in that light (but also retired from everyday usage, not to mention not cheered for during performances). Good times also implies--to me, anyway--a sense that all is well. We party because we can. We CAN share, not we HAVE TO share. And then comes line two, where one voice (or possibly both--it's the choir) are griping that they've done shared all theirs, so the other guy needs to start sharing. Now we see that times are hard, not so rosy. And the first complaint--or request, with maybe just a bit of resentment behind it--has been lodged. And that's just the beginning. Gobsmacked! So much stuff in so few words. Like my Uncle Jerry used to say when he hawked popcorn at the local ballgames, "Nutritious, Delicious, and Satisfying!"