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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uponscrutiny's picture
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Joined: Jan 18 2010
BeBop Quaker how can this be?

He may not be married.

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Joined: Jan 19 2011
I got jumped coming home last night

A man does not go home to his mistress a man goes home to his wife.

"Loose Lucy she was sore
Says I know you don't want my love no more"

Perhaps the shadow in the alley was Loose Lucy

"Bebop baby, how can this be
I know you've been out a cheating on me"

Lucy believes that there is another mistress

"Went back home with two black eyes
You know I'll love her till the day I die"

Home beaten and battered but still in love with Lucy

uponscrutiny's picture
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Joined: Jan 18 2010
Sounds like

The black eyes are meant for the
"Other Woman", from the perspective
of each of the respective women in the story.

And he's caught right in the middle.

He seems fine with that cycle.

round and round and round and round

jbxpro's picture
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Joined: Dec 4 2012
Peach tree

To belabor the obvious, the "Don't shake the tree" line must be a play on the line, "If you don't want my peaches don't shake my tree," which is in most covers of Sitting On Top Of the World (not the Dead's though), in many other songs, and is deep in the catalog of true blues lyrics.

I always thought there was something wrong about another line in this song though. Isn't *he* the yo-yo and *she* the string rather than the way it's sung? Doesn't she keep him hanging on her whim and pull him back when she wants him? Maybe yes, maybe no. She comes running and they ball all night, but maybe she's hurrying because she's got such a busy dance card to fill.

I saw Sammy Hagar do this a few months ago on Weir Here and loved it. This is another Garcia-Hunter song like FOTD, Scarlet, Brown-Eyed Women, etc. that leaves immense room for artistic interpretation and should be covered.

Gee, I find myself agreeing with David on this one! :) And BTW, one thing I'm really grateful for is the chance to share facts(?), notes, and feelings related to some of my favorite songs of all time. Thanks everyone!

slo lettuce's picture
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Joined: Jul 20 2012
1979, Loose Suzy...

I always have and always will associate "Loose Lucy" with a vivid, late 8th grade memory. In 1979, my friend Jeff and myself were in 8th grade and walking home from school one spring day and across the street from us were walking Anna and Suzy T. - two slightly older twin sisters with a strong reputation - when we got about even with them, Suzy looks over at us and yells out, "Hey Jeff, if you go out with me I'll (fill in the blank)!" We were speechless, wide-eyed and smiling ear-to-ear and that was my introduction at almost 15 that there really are sexually aggressive girls who didn't mind calling the shots.

I didn't think about the other ways this could have been taken but have always thought, imo, "bebop baby, how can this be/ I know you've been out a cheating on me" as the narrator saying this to himself - in his head - not out loud, kind of like "are you kidding me?", from her saying to him "I know you can't want my love no more" and the "cross my heart and hope to die/ I was just..." as his out loud explanation to her for being late or not showing up. She doesn't buy it and socks him, leaving the narrator with - I'll always love her, it was fun but she ain't my type (too hot tempered) - the lesson taken - "don't shake the tree if the fruit ain't ripe" - don't mess with immature lovers.

When I saw this song for a family-oriented Thanksgiving Day topic and the memory that it triggered, I gotta say I got quite a kick out of this, David. So I want to thank you!! for a...... :))))))))))

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Joined: Nov 12 2007
Error in article

MARS HOTEL wasn't released August 7, 1973. It was released June 27, 1974.

In August 1973 the Dead were busy recording WAKE OF THE FLOOD. The sessions came following two great shows at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. And of course the famous Watkins Glen Summer Jam.
By the way, at Watkins Glen on 7/28/73 the Dead opened their second set with "Loose Lucy."

Bach 2 Bach's picture
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Joined: Jun 5 2007
Don't shake the tree...

...when the fruit ain't ripe.

This line suggests to me that Lucy might be underage...?? Perhaps the two black eyes were courtesy of her father.

I was always intrigued by the title of the Blues for Allah cut 'Milking the Turkey'. Just how does one milk a turkey? It certainly makes for a rather bizarre mental image. One can only hope that the turkey enjoys it...

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Joined: Aug 12 2011
Trivia/first time played

I believe that it could be argued that the show with the most "first-time-playeds" would be 8/13/75. Which featured the entire Blues For Allah album...counting all the sub-songs, that would be 11. Am I on the right track here?

As far as Loose Lucy goes, I think its pretty straight forward. Loose Lucy...the name implies a lot about the song. She's loose, she cheats and she'll take any excuse to get out. The two black eyes, to me, is more of a metaphor...he's been told twice that the fruit ain't ripe, but he'll love her till the day he dies. I will say that reading the lyrics to this song after reading this entry does make me wonder how much of my mind is filling in the gap left in the story. Probably just my personal experiences but it still makes sense to me, i dont know. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Joined: Aug 17 2007
hard to find a thanksgiving song

in the Grateful Dead canon, maybe - except "Eyes of the World" is one

(though, looking back now in these blogs, I see it's been given its week, back in May)

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Joined: Jan 7 2011
Loose Lucy

Funny..always thought this was just a good time song. Experienced it post 1990, so there you go. Much more here to consider. I will order a Loose Lucy next time I'm at the bar and see what it brings.Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

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