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!)
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?
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!
Yesterday i was listening to Dec 16, 1994- probably my favorite dead show i’ve heard so far w/ Branford- and (as usual) there’s a really lovely post-He’s Gone jam. Jerry starts playing around with a melody that any deadhead would call a “Loose Lucy Tease”, and then it gets more interesting. The theme basically trails off, then Jerry very deliberately lays down a few notes, and Branford completes the phrase, all but spelling out the melody of ‘Shortnin’ Bread’, which Loose Lucy has always called to mind for me. They fully “jam” shortnin’ bread for a minute or so before it loosens up & transitions into drums... I doubt Jerry consciously quoted it when he wrote that iconically mellow boogie woogie, but i suppose we’ll never know. this was definitely, however, one of those fun moments for me that make listening to Jazz... and the Dead... so fun.
i just saw Trixie at that “hippie bakery in sonoma county” ;) and my brother-in-law sent me a photo of shortbread cookies w/ my wife’s name on it so i got inspired to share my recent insight!
i also like how (all?) 90s ‘Lucies’ feature Jerry singing the reversed lyric “i’m her yo yo- she’s my string”, peeling away the obvious heterocentric entendre & “she” gets more credit for making the narrator go up and down & spin around and around.
12.16.94 had no ‘shortnin bread’ or ‘loose lucy’, but they did play a Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds encore...