Grateful Dead

Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Loose Lucy"

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!)

“Loose Lucy”

OK—hard to find a Thanksgiving song. For a band with the word “grateful” in their name, there is very little gratitude to be found. BUT: “Loose Lucy” has a chorus that fits the bill, and so, this week, let’s try to puzzle out this funny little song, if we can.

It is most definitely a story song. But what, exactly, happens here? I’ll put forward a couple of thoughts, and then turn it over to the collective wisdom to weigh in, since that’s usually the best way to get at all the possibilities in any given song, as we’ve seen repeatedly over the past 11 months or so of this blog.

First, the basics. With lyrics by Robert Hunter, music by Jerry Garcia, “Loose Lucy” was first performed by the band on February 9, 1973, at the Maples Pavilion at Stanford--one of those shows that featured many firsts. Including “China Doll,” “Eyes of the World,” “Here Comes Sunshine,” “They Love Each Other,” “Row Jimmy,” and “Wave That Flag.” Seven new songs in one concert. (That even beats out October 19, 1971, which featured six breakouts! Trivia time: was 2/9/73 the show with the record number of first-time-playeds?)

The song stayed in the setlist for 1973 and 1974, and then disappeared for 16 years, reappearing on March 14, 1990, after a hiatus of 979 shows. From then on, it was played fairly regularly. The final performance came on July 5, 1995, at the Riverport Amphitheatre in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

“Loose Lucy” appeared on From the Mars Hotel, released on August 7, 1973. It was released as the “B” side of a single with “U.S. Blues” in June 1974.

I think maybe my favorite, or at least standout live performance of “Loose Lucy” was at the first show by the post-GD incarnation of the band, known as The Dead, at the Warfield Theater in February 2003. Sammy Hagar came onstage to sing lead vocal on “Loose Lucy,” and he hammed it up to the max. Very fun.

There was something about the way Hagar sang the line “went back home with TWO black eyes,” that made me hear something new about the song. Up until then, it had never occurred to me (perhaps it’s my innate naivete) that the narrator gets his second black eye from the lover he offended by being late—or at least, by having the excuse of being jumped—maybe he wasn’t actually. And then he heads home, to his wife, perhaps, to whom he tries to explain the reason for the two black eyes. Hmmmm. I have a little trouble parsing what has occurred, and, in the course of the narration, who is saying what to whom.

For instance, these lines could be spoken by one person to another, or each line could be said by one to the other. And which line to which character?

Is it:

He: Bebop baby, how can this be?
She: I know you’ve been out cheatin’ on me.

Or: her and then him? Or, all her, or all him?

As sung, the voice is all one narrator and all one character, but something makes me think there could be parts. Hunter’s lyrics are—guess what? Ambiguous.

If someone can please come up with a good lucid version of the sequence of events in this song, attached to a story, I would really appreciate it! I really hope that more than one person comes forward with a theory, and that several theories wind up sounding plausible. Because that’s my sense of the song—the plot changes and the person at fault shifts and the whole situation come to seem fairly slippery.

At any rate, someone has had a real good time. Maybe at someone else’s expense, but a good time nonetheless.

And here we have the part of the song that makes it pretty ding-dang fun to hear in concert: the prompt, “Singing:” comes before “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” and before “Thank you for a real good time.” And the audience does tend to sing when prompted on that chorus. Generally, to me, it feels like an opportunity to collectively thank the band “for a real good time.” We get to sing it to them. I wonder, at moments like that, if Hunter had been able to envision, in advance, the effect those words would have and the meaning they would take on?

I love the music for “Loose Lucy.” Whatever it is by way of leaving out a beat in the measure immediately preceding the “round and round and round and round” lines, it stops the song from seeming “normal.” The rolling rhythm stumbles a bit, and then gets right back into the groove.

It seems like for nearly every song I’ve blogged about, whenever I present a potential interpretation based on what seems to be a relationship song of some king, there will be someone commenting that the song is really about drugs. About Garcia’s relationship to drugs, or about this or that being a code word for this or that drug. I have to say, while there are similarities in the addictive qualities of both love relationships and substances that alter your consciousness in some way, I have a hard time believing that Hunter would have been interested in writing much about them. I am willing to be wrong on this, but it seems we could speculate endlessly that one band member is “talking” to the other about drugs, where they are seemingly singing a song about love: gone wrong, or never requited, or lost, or fondly remembered.

Someone might inevitably comment that the use of “Lucy” in the song must be a pointed reference to LSD, which in my day was often referred to as “Lucy.” But maybe that was a simple regionalism here in northern California. Or in my part of northern California. So there—I went and just brought it up myself. Talk amongst yourselves.

And much gratitude in this Thanksgiving week. I am, indeed, having a real good time. Thank you!


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Joined: Apr 16 2014
double meanings abound

hunter's knack for creating double, triple, quadruple, infinite layers of meaning are what make his lyrics appealing for so many people. their ambiguity makes this possible, allowing people to fill in the blanks with their own meaning.

i believe we can distill hunter's infinitely ambiguous lyrics into a few meanings here:

one is this narrator, wife/girlfriend, mistress merry-go-round that is perpetuated with the contradicting "love you til the day i die" and "like your smile but I ain't your type."

that's level one...

i don't think hunter is above writing about lsd, in fact i think his respect for the drug might be the reason he addresses it mostly in metaphor. he will never come flat out and tell you it's an acid song.

i believe stoltzfus is getting close, and he was the first to hit me with the "two black eyes" as a link to those big black pupils trademarked by the acid trip. the great thing about acid is that it does kind of beat you up, kick you around and say "hey! what're you doing with yourself?" it can be a real ballbuster that way... "hanging out with the other guys" could be the narrator saying well, no big deal, i was just messing around with the other illicit substances. but when the "shadow in the alley," perhaps your local dealer, comes by you're right back to getting beat up. it kicks you in the face and says, don't waste your time with the other guys, we've got much bigger fish to fry

mustin321's picture
Joined: Aug 12 2011

One from the vault has the entire Blues for Allah, but you're right, it wasnt the first time all the songs were played...somehow that slipped my mind.

Joined: Jun 19 2007

On the day that I was born Daddy sat down and cried
I had the mark just as plain as day, I could not be denied
They say that Cain caught Abel rolling loaded dice
Ace of spades behind his ear and him not thinking twice

Me never ;>

Joined: Jun 15 2007
The Shadow Knows

I also agree with Anna on this one, but suspect Lucy did the deed herself with a blind-side rolling pin under the chin. Out cold with two black-eyes! Once happened to a girl I knew on the diving team when we were kids - hit the board with her chin on an inward somersault. Knocked her out cold and left her with twin shiners! Same week we took swim team pictures.

ddodd's picture
Joined: Jun 6 2007
Story lines

Just as I suspected! The potential story lines are many and varied. Several persuasive ones here, particularly Anna's--very interesting. I also really like the back and forth around whether the narrator is married or single, how he got the black eyes, whether they are a metaphor...very fun!
I apologize for the error in the release date year for Mars Hotel.
And wow--some amazing nominees for the most breakout tunes in one show. Although I have to confess that the Dylan idea seems a little like cheating. And I don't see a show in Deadbase with all the Blues for Allah songs being played together for the first time--there seem to be several shows over the course of that 1975 period.
Thanks, everyone! Keep 'em coming!

One Man's picture
Joined: May 17 2011
Edgy and Fun

I think Anna nailed it. And Thats_Otis read my mind with his preferences on this and FOTD. But I do like the slower TLEOs with the bridge part. But back to LL. I heard it first when in high school, and it seemed mildly dangerous while also sounding fun. I still prefer those qualities in music I listen to. It spoke to me and hit me where it counts. Today it is more difficult to summon up that thrill but I can do it if I really pay attention. So many Hunter/Garcia songs evoke that mix of drama and adventure. This one is a bit more silly than some others, but it has been a steady favorite.

Joined: Jan 13 2010
two black eyes

dilated pupils. remember those?

she's my yo-yo, i'm her string...giggity. lovely imagery there.

good memories of listening to 5/19/74's LL.

round and round and round and round and round...remember seeing THAT?

Joined: Jun 19 2007
Loose Lucy and Dupree's are great story songs

Agree with Anna; Just two people Loose Lucy and her lover.

Most First times, i think this is a trick question but I will go with Sullivan Stadium 7/4/87 12 first time tunes; be it with Dylan.

First thing you know, you're gonna pull that trigger
And it's no wonder your reason goes bad
Jelly roll will drive you stone mad

Anna rRxia's picture
Joined: Dec 25 2009

The narrator is some Lothario
Lucy is an easy woman with her charms.
Though casual their love rises to the point of jealousy
She suspects him of cheating on her
She sets him up for a beating, including 2 black eyes
He concludes:
"I like your smile but I ain't your type
Don't shake the tree when the fruit ain't ripe"

Which, in typical Hunter style, directly contradicts a previous line
"You know I'll love you till the day I die"

All-in-all a fun tune that became a way to thank the band for "A real good time!"

Thats_Otis's picture
Joined: May 12 2011
Loosey Goosey!

I have always loved this tune, but I agree with the sentiments of a previous poster that this has always seemed like a goodtime song and not necessarily one that begs for, nor needs, close scrutiny of its lyrics. I feel like Hunter does a fine job communicating an overall idea - that in spite of troubles, Lucy is the singer's delight, whoever she may be. That being said, I adore this blog and love all of the work that goes into it. Keep it up!

Musically, this is one of the rare songs that I prefer in its slower, (some would say plodding) forms. While the uptempo version makes me happy, I always seem to really come back to the slower 73 versions I have... there is something about the main riff that just seems so much funkier that way. Also, I like the way they build up the background vocals. While I prefer my FOTD and TLEO faster, (Particularly FOTD!) give me Lucy nice and slow...


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