• September 11, 2014
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-masons-children
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Mason's Children"

    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!)

    "Mason's Children"

    I know, it must seem like I am all sweetness and light and totally just, like, gaga over every single song in the band’s repertoire sometimes. But hey, I can be just as cynical and grumpy as the next picky Deadhead.

    I admit it: I don’t like “Mason’s Children.”

    But, for only about the fourth time ever, I received a request to blog about a particular song, and this was the selection. Sigh…. No—really! I love getting suggestions for songs to write about. So, here goes.

    First off, my personal belief is that there is a good reason that the song, written and recorded for Workingman’s Dead, never made it onto the album. Its tone seems inconsistent with the rest of the suite of songs on that particular masterpiece. And, along with that, I think that its relatively short performance career with the band was, if not an intentional statement, at least well-advised.

    Hunter’s note on the lyric in his A Box of Rain simply states: “An unrecorded GD song dealing obliquely with Altamont.”

    Interestingly, while most of my sources credit the song to Garica / Hunter, it appears to be attributed, at least according to the Grateful Dead Family Discography, to Garcia / Lesh / Weir / Hunter. But regardless, I think it is basically a Garcia setting of Hunter’s lyric. (As always, I stand ready to be corrected!)

    Perhaps the most likeable thing about the song is the somewhat hilarious range of interpretations you can find just by spending five minutes browsing the web. It’s about mushrooms, it’s about the Masonic order, it’s about cannibalism, it’s about loan sharks….you name it, pretty much, and this song is about it. Well, that is true of many of the best Dead songs, so why should “Mason’s Children” be any different? There’s even a rather persistent thread pertaining to the song’s “satanic overtures.” Overtones?

    Anyway.

    If Hunter says it was obliquely about Altamont, then clearly the statement made by “New Speedway Boogie” was far stronger, and not oblique.

    Another fun thing about the song (I do look for the positive in everything) is the conscious use of a children’s nursery rhyme motif, in enumerating the days of the week. Hunter returns to this particular children’s motif on at least one occasion, in “Althea,” where he alludes to the rhyme:

    Monday's child is fair of face,
    Tuesday's child is full of grace,
    Wednesday's child is full of woe,
    Thursday's child has far to go,
    Friday's child is loving and giving,
    Saturday's child works hard for a living,
    But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
    Is bonny and blithe and good and gay

    So too with “Mason’s Children” where the entire week is counted off. Well, except for the weekend. No Saturday or Sunday. (“Mission in the Rain” uses Saturday and Sunday, but not the rest.) “Day Job” uses Sunday and Monday, as does “Corrina.” Hmmm.

    And then there’s “Keep Rolling By.” Not a song I could sing you offhand, but speculation by Alex Allan as to the song’s composition seems to indicate that there’s a possibility it was actually an original song, rather than a traditional tune. Indeed, a search on the fairly exhaustive Digital Tradition folk song site reveals no results for “Keep Rolling By,” which has the following lines, sung simultaneously:

    {Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday ...
    {Summer, winter, spring and fall
    {Tick, tick, tick, tick ...

    I do love the particular motif of referencing nursery rhymes in Hunter’s lyrics, which is encountered over and over. For me, hearing these phrases can bring me right back to being a child again, even when the context (Ashes, ashes, all fall down…) is dire.

    “Mason’s Children” is dire, for sure. The story told by the song is disturbing, any way you look at it. Someone is bricked up in a wall, then disinterred, then possibly cooked in a stew and eaten. Some have suggested a reference to Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, wherein the protagonist, Valentine Michael Smith, is boiled in a soup and consumed by his followers after his death.

    I would love to hear a cogent story from anyone—oh heck—who cares about cogency? Let’s hear all the stories you might have that seem to come from these lyrics. This could be quite fun.

    I’m sure there are those who love this song. I don’t mean to in any way denigrate that appreciation—as always, I really just want to point to a few angles, and throw it up for grabs for everyone to think about and chime in on.

    Just don’t ask for “Day Job,” or “Money, Money,” ok?

    370961
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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!)

"Mason's Children"

I know, it must seem like I am all sweetness and light and totally just, like, gaga over every single song in the band’s repertoire sometimes. But hey, I can be just as cynical and grumpy as the next picky Deadhead.

I admit it: I don’t like “Mason’s Children.”

But, for only about the fourth time ever, I received a request to blog about a particular song, and this was the selection. Sigh…. No—really! I love getting suggestions for songs to write about. So, here goes.

First off, my personal belief is that there is a good reason that the song, written and recorded for Workingman’s Dead, never made it onto the album. Its tone seems inconsistent with the rest of the suite of songs on that particular masterpiece. And, along with that, I think that its relatively short performance career with the band was, if not an intentional statement, at least well-advised.

Hunter’s note on the lyric in his A Box of Rain simply states: “An unrecorded GD song dealing obliquely with Altamont.”

Interestingly, while most of my sources credit the song to Garica / Hunter, it appears to be attributed, at least according to the Grateful Dead Family Discography, to Garcia / Lesh / Weir / Hunter. But regardless, I think it is basically a Garcia setting of Hunter’s lyric. (As always, I stand ready to be corrected!)

Perhaps the most likeable thing about the song is the somewhat hilarious range of interpretations you can find just by spending five minutes browsing the web. It’s about mushrooms, it’s about the Masonic order, it’s about cannibalism, it’s about loan sharks….you name it, pretty much, and this song is about it. Well, that is true of many of the best Dead songs, so why should “Mason’s Children” be any different? There’s even a rather persistent thread pertaining to the song’s “satanic overtures.” Overtones?

Anyway.

If Hunter says it was obliquely about Altamont, then clearly the statement made by “New Speedway Boogie” was far stronger, and not oblique.

Another fun thing about the song (I do look for the positive in everything) is the conscious use of a children’s nursery rhyme motif, in enumerating the days of the week. Hunter returns to this particular children’s motif on at least one occasion, in “Althea,” where he alludes to the rhyme:

Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay

So too with “Mason’s Children” where the entire week is counted off. Well, except for the weekend. No Saturday or Sunday. (“Mission in the Rain” uses Saturday and Sunday, but not the rest.) “Day Job” uses Sunday and Monday, as does “Corrina.” Hmmm.

And then there’s “Keep Rolling By.” Not a song I could sing you offhand, but speculation by Alex Allan as to the song’s composition seems to indicate that there’s a possibility it was actually an original song, rather than a traditional tune. Indeed, a search on the fairly exhaustive Digital Tradition folk song site reveals no results for “Keep Rolling By,” which has the following lines, sung simultaneously:

{Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday ...
{Summer, winter, spring and fall
{Tick, tick, tick, tick ...

I do love the particular motif of referencing nursery rhymes in Hunter’s lyrics, which is encountered over and over. For me, hearing these phrases can bring me right back to being a child again, even when the context (Ashes, ashes, all fall down…) is dire.

“Mason’s Children” is dire, for sure. The story told by the song is disturbing, any way you look at it. Someone is bricked up in a wall, then disinterred, then possibly cooked in a stew and eaten. Some have suggested a reference to Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, wherein the protagonist, Valentine Michael Smith, is boiled in a soup and consumed by his followers after his death.

I would love to hear a cogent story from anyone—oh heck—who cares about cogency? Let’s hear all the stories you might have that seem to come from these lyrics. This could be quite fun.

I’m sure there are those who love this song. I don’t mean to in any way denigrate that appreciation—as always, I really just want to point to a few angles, and throw it up for grabs for everyone to think about and chime in on.

Just don’t ask for “Day Job,” or “Money, Money,” ok?

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I know, it must seem like I am all sweetness and light and totally just, like, gaga over every single song in the band’s repertoire sometimes. But hey, I can be just as cynical and grumpy as the next picky Deadhead. I admit it: I don’t like “Mason’s Children.”
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Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Mason's Children"
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I know, it must seem like I am all sweetness and light and totally just, like, gaga over every single song in the band’s repertoire sometimes. But hey, I can be just as cynical and grumpy as the next picky Deadhead. I admit it: I don’t like “Mason’s Children.”
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I know, it must seem like I am all sweetness and light and totally just, like, gaga over every single song in the band’s repertoire sometimes. But hey, I can be just as cynical and grumpy as the next picky Deadhead.

I admit it: I don’t like “Mason’s Children.”

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and I don't usually like the creepier stuff. This may have to do with my having first heard it performed by Hunter rather than the band; his narrative tone of voice has a lot to do with it (I'm pretty sure it's the My Father's Place 1978 radio broadcast).
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Well I've liked this song ever since I first heard it, probably on some bootleg long, long ago. It seemed to me at the time to be coming from that dark, weird, cosmic place that other primal Dead songs came from. I've always heard it as a commentary on belief. That you might reject teachers one day, and might lionize them the next day. Eventually the wall (a belief system or set of teachings) might collapse, and then the children of that leader/system might run and hide. But don't weep for me, just chalk it up to fate! And I love the extended treatment given the song by Furthur and P&F, especially when this falls apart ... like a wall ... and leads into something weirder. Like one of my favorites: the second set in Boston on 2012-04-06 when they went from Mountains of the Moon into Mason’s into Dark Star. And of course the dance-groove of Boston Tea Party, 1969-12-31. Maybe that song works better in Boston!
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...in this case masons children is one of my favorites. the three (!) versions on Dave's 6 help make that release, for me, the best yet. 2 versions with TC's organ, and 1 without...all groovy, and weird just like i like one thing i've noticed on the few live versions to be released is that there is always a huge cheer from the audience after the song...maybe i'm just imagining it, but it sure does seem like it was fun to see/hear and dance to in a live setting its one of the 3 or 4 songs that i really do wish they'd kept playing
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I always think of Charley Manson when I hear this song. It seems like an indirect reference to such an Insane and Charismatic figure like him and his ability to Influence and Manipulate his followers. "Taught us all he ever knew We never knew so much before We may never know so much again" Charley M seemed to know things no one else did and was on a mission to rule the world. He got his disciples to do all his dirty work for him What an Ego Maniac. Then he crashed and burned There's lots of stories of characters like him. Every September 11th now we are reminded of such terrorism. There is an Evil in this world ; like it or not. The evil gets otherwise well intentioned folks to take abusive and destructive action against their fellow man somehow they convince themselves it is justified Masons Children makes us uncomfortable ( I am thinking) because it makes us Face the things we don't want to see. All is NOT "Sweetness and Light" "Things went down that we don't understand and I guess they always will" Altamont must have been such a rude slap in the face of all the idealistic Hippies in California. The Peace and Love and Flower Power was in Full Bloom and suddenly there's " a knife in the back and more of the same Same old Rat in a drain ditch, caught on a limb You know better, but I know him" So much of the Grateful Dead Music presents the full spectrum of Light and Darkness... Good and Evil... Love and Hate and I don't like this song either...but there it is. If the Grateful Dead hadn't wrote it and sung it I would have no use for it...but I find it helps me process all the unpleasantness I am surrounded by. "One Way or Another-This Darkness has Got to Give"
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There are not many Dead songs i don't like but this is one of them. From the first time I heard it on a hissy dc90 bootleg tape. Clean versions are no better, the singing is bad, the tone is bad, and the lyrics are bad, and it never goes anywhere as far as jamming. Other than that I guess it's a great song. 3 times on Dp 6 was mindnumbing.
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They didn't play it often live. Not my favorite Grateful Dead tune, but an interesting one. I have liked it and not cared for it the few times I have heard it equally. It isn't in my collection or I imagine it would have grown on me.
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Finally I'm getting an entry on the mysterious Mason's Children and it get's this treatment?! This is THE dead song that people don't like?! There are plenty of sketchy tunes, yet this is not one of them. This is THE song that got me. From 12.28.69. Hollywood, Fla. Absolutely on fire, great banter taboot. I've made it my mission to hear all 14 performances. What is interesting is that there are two distinct versions with different rhythms. The one from Fallout from the Phil Zone is not my favorite, too jaunty. But rather the earlier versions (12.28.69) have a fierce 'Born to be Wild" thing goin on. Must hear. A total rocker! This song is my White Whale. There's so little to be read about it. If I ever ran into any of those guys in an elevator this is the song I would ask about. Here is a song that was play fourteen times in two months and then never heard from again. I'll never pretend to understand their decision making process in regards to what is played and what doesn't but this one has always baffled me. Whatever you do, go to the Archive and hear the 12.28.69. Do it.
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Surprised no one mentioned the fact that Mason was bricked up in a wall... but that's what Mason's do.... lay bricks... unless they are stone masons, then just write if off as stoned. This makes no sense to me but is it supposed too?
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As previously mentioned, this song was seldom played by the Grateful Dead, quickly dropped from their setlists and never included on a studio album (it was originally intended for Workingman's Dead). I am among those that love this song, for its treatment of darkness, its humor, and its openess to interpretation. Also it's a fun tune and it rocks! And part of its charm IS that it was so seldom performed. Like My Brother Esau (another favorite semi-obscure Dead song), it must be sought out. Even its detracters can't say that it was overplayed. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Day Job (NOT a favorite). It always thrills me to hear this song performed by Phil and Friends or any other members of the Dead, as well as other interpreters of the Dead's music such as David Gans.
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I expect this was dropped from the repertoire because it's really, really difficult to sing. I first discovered it on Henry Kaiser's astoundingly great "Those Who Know History Are Doomed To Repeat It." He opens the CD with Mason's Children (with David Gans on board) and it shimmers with excitement. The same CD has a jaw dropping 31-minute cover of Dark Star featuring the Turtle Island String Quartet and R. Hunter on "additional mystery vocal." Buy this now. You can thank me later. If you have any doubt, look up the track list. Then you'll buy it. You'll still have to thank me. Or you can just thank Henry directly if you see him.
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I was around when all that project was happening and it's really a gem. Don't miss it.
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1st song, 1st set, first Dead show of the 70s. My first Dead show. Most of my working years have included stone masonry as part of 30 years of trail work.
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... just happens to have one of my favorite lines: "God bless the child that's got his own stash, a 9 to 5 and a place to crash" Now discuss! Oh ... ok, I see your point; not much to discuss about this less than subtle lecture. Still it would be fun so here is my request!
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I knew it. Someone had to request that song! I'm preparing next week's song for posting. Any guesses? My small experiment in negativity with "Mason's Children" seems to have been a success. All the pundits seem to know that being provocative has its rewards, and it's nice to see so many leap to Mason's defense. I, too, love the Henry Kaiser album. In particular, I love his "Ode to Billie Joe." Incredible.
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A very latecomer to GD music here (2010) and I heard this for the first time 2011-11-12 by Furthur as the opener at Atlantic City. Blown away by it and a few other times I they played it for me. Much better than any GD recording I've found. Do yourselves a favor, play a Furthur version and you'll have new found respect for the song and the GD's version too...
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Time marches on. 44 years ago today my friends and I were going to the Fillmore East. As for the next song from David. Has Cosmic Charlie been done yet?
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jams in this song but I don't like the vocals particularly-the words are fun but it is the way they "couldn't" really sing it at the time. It always make me think of the Poe short story " A Cask of Amontillado" where the fellow gets lured, trapped and bricked up in the wall in the basement. Not for the story as such-just the image of getting bricked into the wall.
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I never loved MC, but never hated it either. Then, I heard it at Vibes a few years back. I think it was Furthur, might have been P&F, and I freakin' danced out of my socks! Loved it!
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Love these discussions, love The Annotated Lyrics, happy that everyone has their favorites. I haven't spent my evening reviewing all the copies of this song that are at hand, but did go and listen to 12/28/69... My guess is they stopped performing this because they couldn't sing it well. I haven't yet heard a version that doesn't have a little of that cringe-inducing off-key singing for which the Grateful Dead are (in some circles) renowned. Phil was having some difficulties in live performance during the era of this song, and I think he's got the notable clam in the 12/28/69 version. I did enjoy listening, and it confirmed that this is not one of my more-favored songs. Doesn't mean it's without merit. Maybe there's a version to prove me wrong...
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I did hear it live once... not sure if it was The Dead or Phil & Friends, but it certainly wasn't The Grateful Dead. I saw them starting in '77 - long after they stopped playing it. I love the quirkiness of the lyrics, but I have to agree that the harmonies on older live versions I've heard are "cringe-worthy". I think there's a huge disconnect between the potential and what they realized.
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all i will say is I always thought of this as one of their most psychedelic tunes of the period. The lyrics seem eerie and trippy. Garcia always rips on this song too. Whileit was recorded during W.D. sessions, I see it as an extension of Aoxomoxoa, drenched in Lysergic...25. Just how my brain always interoperate it.and btw, how can anyone say they "hate" this song. Oh well. Cool blog
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I never heard The Grateful Dead play this song but I did hear The Dead play it in 2009 and I loved it. Did not e know what they were singing at the time but my friend bought a copy of the show cd that night and made me a copy. I need to hear what it sounded like without Warren Haynes on guitar because the guitar is what I love about it. The copy I have from Shoreline 2009 has Bobby, Warren and I think the guy from phish playing guitar. Is this performance greatly different from just bobby and Jerry? I was quite surprised to hear so much dislike for this song. It kinda reminds me of Passenger. Anyone out there like the guitar parts as well? Very simple rockin' groove. It seemed to me the last few times I saw Jerry he was just too smacked out to rock and with Warren this track took me back to the late 80's shows. I had a hard time believing that it wasn't 1989 but 2009 when I heard this song. I had never heard it before so well, prolly never will again.
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not my favorite tune but i like it...twas really cool when they busted it out at FTW 7/3/15.
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    Medreamntoo
    2 years 6 months ago
    Masons children
    If you like this tune, check out what it's become now: This is Phil from las Vegas this spring. Listen to 01 Mason's Children> Fire On The Mountain> The Other One by WMWV Radio #np on #SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/quinfolk/01-masons-children-fire-on-the And if you don't like it, give this a listen, because you might change your mind
  • mkav
    2 years 10 months ago
    fare thee well mason's
    not my favorite tune but i like it...twas really cool when they busted it out at FTW 7/3/15.
  • Default Avatar
    Vapour
    2 years 11 months ago
    Mason's Children
    I never heard The Grateful Dead play this song but I did hear The Dead play it in 2009 and I loved it. Did not e know what they were singing at the time but my friend bought a copy of the show cd that night and made me a copy. I need to hear what it sounded like without Warren Haynes on guitar because the guitar is what I love about it. The copy I have from Shoreline 2009 has Bobby, Warren and I think the guy from phish playing guitar. Is this performance greatly different from just bobby and Jerry? I was quite surprised to hear so much dislike for this song. It kinda reminds me of Passenger. Anyone out there like the guitar parts as well? Very simple rockin' groove. It seemed to me the last few times I saw Jerry he was just too smacked out to rock and with Warren this track took me back to the late 80's shows. I had a hard time believing that it wasn't 1989 but 2009 when I heard this song. I had never heard it before so well, prolly never will again.
  • drkstrcrashes
    3 years 4 months ago
    masons ....
    all i will say is I always thought of this as one of their most psychedelic tunes of the period. The lyrics seem eerie and trippy. Garcia always rips on this song too. Whileit was recorded during W.D. sessions, I see it as an extension of Aoxomoxoa, drenched in Lysergic...25. Just how my brain always interoperate it.and btw, how can anyone say they "hate" this song. Oh well. Cool blog
  • Default Avatar
    cneiss
    4 years ago
    Love the Lyrics, "meh" about the performances
    I did hear it live once... not sure if it was The Dead or Phil & Friends, but it certainly wasn't The Grateful Dead. I saw them starting in '77 - long after they stopped playing it. I love the quirkiness of the lyrics, but I have to agree that the harmonies on older live versions I've heard are "cringe-worthy". I think there's a huge disconnect between the potential and what they realized.