Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Mission In The Rain"
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!)
I am going to postpone the song I had planned to write about this week (hang in there, Bolo24…), because of the performance I experienced last Saturday night. Furthur played the Greek Theater in Berkeley—an old haunt of mine, and they kind of blew me away with their rendition of “Mission in the Rain.” Even the occasional lyrical … discrepancy … could not diminish the song’s power.
Weir sang it. He started it pretty much unaccompanied—just his voice in that old Greek Theater space, and people actually shushed each other to get everyone to stop talking and listen. It worked. The place got real quiet. People realized what they were hearing.
Now, I’m not up on the regular Furthur setlists, but I do know that a live performance of “Mission in the Rain” was something I myself had never heard outside of a Jerry show, so it seemed like something special. And it was. It was one of those moments when the crowd at a show coalesces into a community of listeners, each of us, for the duration of the song, following the memories it called up or the admonitions it engendered.
One of the friends I was at the show with sat down and seemed to be going deep inside. I just stood there and let it soak in.
“Ten years ago I walked this street, my dreams were riding tall,
Tonight I would be thankful, Lord, for any dream at all…”
Are there any sadder lines in the Grateful Dead repertoire? Is there any stronger picture painted by Hunter of the human condition? There are companion pieces, surely: “Wharf Rat” seems to me to be one. And “Comes a Time.” And perhaps even “High Time.” But this song is so vivid—we can picture the scene, we can feel the rain, we can hear the bells. We are in San Francisco’s Mission District, whether we’ve actually been there or not.
This Hunter lyric was set to music by Garcia, probably in 1975, and released in 1976 on the Garcia solo album, Reflections. In an interview, Garcia said “Mission in the Rain” was “... a song that might be about me. It's my life; it's like a little piece of my life. Hunter writes me once in a while.” The performance on Reflections featured a classic Garcia Band lineup, and included Nicky Hopkins on piano, playing a part that perfectly complements the song.
Hunter, in a Relix interview, said "I used to live over in the Mission when I was just starting to write for the Dead full time. I wasn't living at 710, I was living over on 17th & Mission, and that was very much a portrait of that time: looking backward at ten years."
The Grateful Dead played it just five times in June 1976 before it became a staple of the Garcia Band repertoire, played nearly 250 times between October 1975 and April 1995, according to the Grateful Dead Family Discography.
It debuted on June 4, 1976 at the Paramount Theater in Portland, Oregon. (Interestingly, that show also featured the first “Cosmic Charlie” in five and a half years. They played their final “Cosmic Charlie three months later, in spite of a years-long Cosmic Charlie Campaign.) The final performance of “Mission in the Rain” was on June 29, at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago.
The Mission District in San Francisco is so named because it surrounds the 18th-century Spanish building, Mission Dolores, located between 16th and 17th on Dolores Street. According to the WPA Guide to California:
"...founded in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra. First named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, common usage soon gave it the name of Mision de los Dolores from a nearby marsh known as Laguna de Nuestra Senora de los Dolores (Lagoon of Our Lady of Sorrows). The first mass was sung five days before the Declaration of Independence was signed at Philadelphia. The adobe building was begun in 1782 and is an unusual example of Spanish mission architecture.
"...Behind the mission in the high-walled, flower-covered graveyard are buried many of the famous dead of San Francisco's early days, ... The graves of Casey and Cora, hanged by the vigilantes in 1856, are a reminder of lawless days. Many of the graves are unmarked."
I’m assuming, for the sake of atmosphere and logic within the song, that there are mission bells in the old church. However, at least one listener has floated the idea that Hunter might be punning here, and that the “bells” were actually “belles,” and that he may have been referring to the practice of the oldest profession prevalent, at times, in the neighborhood. I’m unconvinced. I think it’s bells, pure and simple. That’s me: pure and simple.
There’s something about that ten-year interval. It’s a good handy milestone for looking backward. Another song that comes to mind with some of this same sentiment is Pink Floyd’s “Time,” from Dark Side of the Moon:
“And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.”
It’s a wake-up call, as I said earlier: an admonition.
So — anything you can think of you’d like to share, looking back over your own last ten years? Where were you ten years ago? Are you where you want to be now?
I was at that show Anna mentioned, and it was a good one for sure! The Saratoga show right before (two nights earlier) was incredible! That SPAC show was probably my personal favorite of all the Furthur shows I've seen. It sounds like this past tour was great, and I wish them well in their year off. Luckily, I caught five of the Portchester shows this past Spring! Going on four months now since I moved to Thailand.
I also liked Mary's comment noting the possible double entendre of the word 'mission'. I've felt that many times with this song. Great JGB versions of course (e.g. The Stone 1980), and of course '76 was always sweet (Boston Music Hall?). Makes me think of the old tape-trading days. :)
Last year at the Greek, Jonathan Wilson came out to play Mission and it was really amazing. He did it at the Jerry 70th Bday celebration as well....such a sweet tune....it made our trip from Vermont to LA soooo worth it.....Mission was one of those tunes that struck a chord with me and I've had many nights when my wife and I dozed off to those beautiful lyrics
It was almost ten years ago I lost my best friend Mike to cancer, the man who introduced me to the Dead in in the later 70's. made me think of him with a smile and tears.
The music in this song has the feel of those
Over Arching Weeping Willow Branches Streaming all Around
like a Divine Canopy.
It invites us to evaluate what is Essential and Basic to our Being.
Dreams come True
Dreams Get Broken
Things are Gathered Things are Lost
So many things we do to make something of our lives.
Yet ten years of making things
and still we will find there are essential things that are still the same.
and if you get lost along the way...listen to the Music play...and Get Back Home Where You Belong.
The Ancient Mission
" No Matter What Comes Down
the Mission Always Seems the Same"
Father Serra's Mission is a place of Refuge.
A place that has Endured Hundreds of Years.
When all else is lost, it is a place you know you can Come to.
I understand he set up a number of Missions along California One Days Journey from each other. Its purpose was to be a place of shelter and provision for a weary traveler.
It is also meant to be a place to come and Commune with our Creator.
On a Deeper level I think the Mission is more than just a building.
The Mission is about Life's Purpose.
About Being Who You are Truly Meant to Be.
Jerry keeps singing "Come Again" over and over
as we're walking along in the Mission in the Rain.
Come Again...its an invitation to return back to a place of Being that was left behind perhaps on a vain pursuit of a dream.
Maybe a Vain Attempt to become somebody else...Maybe a Tragic Mistake that turned you into something you really aren't meant to be.
Its like Jerry is Pleading
"Come Again" - "Come Again"
Its so powerful...and there is a Call that resonates so Deep inside it is beyond description...we can turn and walk away...or Come Around to See...and Find it still rings true and it Always Looks the Same.
and if you ask me...
it Looks Like LOVE...
let it Fill Your Cup...
its a place to Simply Love and to be Loved in Return...if you ask me!
Of all the lines in all the Dead songs I have used over the years to teach/warn/enlighten my kids, "everything you gather is just more that you can lose" has to be the one I've used most often. It's a perfect line in this day and age of "I want this or that" and "how come she has this or that and I don't."
Only heard Mission live twice, both JGB shows: 8/11/84 at Caldwell College, NJ and 9/1/89 at Merriweather Post Pavilion, MD.
This song has sooo many memories for me through different periods of my life. When ever I needed to hear it, I was able to find it (on cassette) and, after listening once or twice, I would be able to move on...
The "special" version of this song that I listened to was embedded on one side of a poorly marked tape, that I copied like 10th generation, making it impossible for me to track.
That is until Road Trips V4 No.5
Bonus tracks from 6/12/76
5. Mission In The Rain
This (for me) is the version of all versions.
Now I wish I had the whole 6/12/76 show because I would love to hear it in context of the performance that night. PM me if you have a QUALITY source, thank you... No doubt I will be queing this up tonight when I get home from work :-) I will also be trying to track down the Furthur show from last week at The Greek !
Hunter and Garcia bearing their souls in perfect harmony left quite
an indelible imprint on this sixteen year-old from 1977's soul.
Yes, MITR is one of the finest among the many fine Hunter/Garcia tunes. There is a glorious openness to it and the mysterious way that the relatively literal lyrics manage to pierce down to an essential feeling--a mark of songwriting of the highest order. Any more words I might have about it could hardly help.
David, at just about the very same moment you were touched by Bobby's rendition at the Greek (I'm jealous!), I came across this soaring JGB version 19780317, Passaic NJ.
http://youtu.be/H5pR1p35FyI (track 1)
As soon as I finished reading this it started raining. Im pretty far from the Mission but its still pretty weird.
Mission is one of the most poignant expressions of the deep sadness and acceptance (and enduring what-it-is-ness) that we all had to make peace with as the great wave of the Big Dreams receded back across the cobblestones into the sea. The mid-seventies weren't quite what we imagined them to be a decade earlier... and Mission in the Rain does indeed, as noted above, take us right onto those streets, lets us all walk alone, look around, feel the rain, and ponder how this is what it came to be. So rich, so nourishing, so affirming in a way, in accepting the loss.
(Eliza Gilkyson has another great one, not so tied to that time and place: "coming to the time in our lives when the little dream lives but the big dream dies; not for nothing..." )