Greatest Stories Ever Told - "The Other One"
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!)
In the fields around Olompali, just north of Novato, California, on the ancient site of the home of the native peoples, where the Grateful Dead briefly held court, you see swaths of lilies in spring, lining the creekbeds, fed by the water flowing down off the mountain on its way to the San Francisco Bay estuary. A little bit of research tells me that the lilies growing in the creek are unlikely to be natives themselves—pretty sure they are calla lilies run rampant, but it does seem likely that these lily fields may have been in evidence during the Dead’s residency at Olompali. And, interestingly, there are lilies native to Marin county - the Tiburon Mariposa Lily, which has only been found growing in the wild in one place in the world.
The imagery conjured up by Bob Weir, in his portion of the suite, “That’s It for the Other One,” on Anthem of the Sun, is clearly and intentionally a psychedelic ode to the Pranksters and all that entailed. Whether the singer was “escapin’ through the lily fields,” or “tripping through the lily fields,” or “skipping through the lily fields” (all versions of the line sung by Weir at various points, according to several extremely careful listeners), the fact is that it was akin to Alice’s rabbit hole, because of where it led.
“The bus came by and I got on...that’s when it all began.”
That line captures so much, in so many different ways, in so few words, that it is a model of what poetry can do—over time, and in a wide variety of circumstances, the line takes on a wide spectrum of association and meaning.
For instance, I got on the bus in what I believe is an odd way. Straight as an arrow, I was just out of high school, traveling through Europe on a one-month Eurail Pass, and reading Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Not sure how I came to be reading it, even. But I believe the book itself, and Wolfe’s writing, acted as a kind of psychedelic catalyst, because I had a brief episode of cosmic consciousness induced by the book alone. No other mind-altering substances were involved, and I never again achieved quite the experience of that first glimpse of the oneness of everything. From then on, and it was a year and a half until I finally saw the Dead play, I was on that there bus. Firmly.
The Dead, of course, were quite literally on THE bus, along with Cowboy Neal (see earlier blog entry on “Cassidy”) and Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs and Mountain Girl and many others whose names are legend among our tribe. What must that have been like? Surely, worthy of a song or two. And Weir came up with a couple of winners, between “The Other One” and “Cassidy.”
There are probably as many stories about getting on the bus as there are Deadheads. I hope to read a few in the comments on this post.
There is something wonderfully cartoonish about the scenes described in the lyrics. A “Spanish lady” hands the singer a rose, which then starts swirling around and explodes—kind of like Yosemite Sam left holding a lit firecracker, leaving a smoking crater of his mind. The police arrest him for having a smile on his face despite the bad weather—clearly, this kid is doing something illegal. Weir’s interview with David Gans (along with Phil Lesh) cited in The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics refers to a particular incident:
Weir: Yeah, that was after my little...
Lesh: Water balloon episode?
Weir: I got him good. I was on the third floor of our place in the Haight-Ashbury. And there was this cop who was illegally searching a car belonging to a friend of ours, down on the street—the cops used to harass us every chance they got. They didn’t care for the hippies back then. And so I had a water balloon, and what was I gonna do with this water balloon? Come on.
Lesh: Just happened to have a water balloon, in his hand... Ladies and gentlemen...
Weir: And so I got him right square on the head, and...
Lesh: A prettier shot you never saw.
Weir: ...and he couldn’t tell where it was comin’ from, but then I had to go and go downstairs and walk across the street and just grin at him...and sorta rub it in a little bit.
Gans: Smilin’ on a cloudy day. I understand now.
Weir: And at that point, he decided to hell with due process of law, this kid’s goin’ to jail.
And following on that verse, after the “Comin’, comin’, comin’ around...” chorus, a verse in which our hero skips through a field of lilies, finds “an empty space” which explodes into a bus stop—and hey, here comes a bus. He gets on, and that’s when everything starts. At the end of the song. With Cowboy Neal.
The same interview with Gans has Weir explaining that the song was written over a period of time, but that the current version of the song, the verses we now know, came to him in a flash, and the band played its show, including its first performance of the finalized version of “The Other One” that night on a Pacific Northwest tour, and “when we came home we learned the news that Neal had died that night. The night that I wrote that.”
(The Grateful Dead Lyric and Song Finder includes a wonderful set of all the various permutations of the lyrics sung during the development of the song. I highly recommend taking a look at that. It includes versions from October 1967 through February 1968.)
So, as to the debut. If we take Weir and Lesh at their word, that the first performance of the song as it now stands coincided with the night Neal Cassady died, in the early morning hours of February 4, 1968. And sure enough, there is a performance of “The Other One” on February 3, 1968, whose verses correspond to the verses as we all know them, for the first time, at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon. The song was a fixture in the repertoire from then on, performed at least 586 times that we know of. The only year in which it was not listed as being performed was 1975, the hiatus year.
The roiling music, with its tumbling 12/8 beat, can sound like it’s in a fast three or a slower four or even a moderate six, and the drums pound out the 12-beat figure in preparation for Phil’s famous run into the opening chord. Who doesn’t love that? Never failed to set me spinning off into a whirling dance. Kreutzmann shares the music credit with Weir on the tune, and it is a percussion showpiece.
The song was often performed as part of a suite, and appears that way on Anthem of the Sun, bracketed by Garcia’s “Cryptical Envelopment.” But it stands alone most of the time in performance—“Cryptical” was dropped completely from 1973 through 1984, reappeared for five performances in 1985 (the 20th anniversary period—it was broken out following a lapse of 791 shows at the June 16, 1985 Greek Theater show in Berkeley), then disappeared again for the remainder of the band’s career. I’ll get around to “Cryptical Envelopment” someday. (And I’d be interested in any speculation linking the two songs thematically.)
At the risk of planting an ear-worm in the mind’s ear of anyone reading this blog, I have to say one last thing. When my kids were very young, I was always able to get them to laugh by singing “The Other One” in an Elmer Fudd voice. Try it. You will also laugh, I can almost guarantee. “Spanish wady come to me, she ways on me dis wose... It wainbow spiwal wound and wound, it twembo and expwode!” And you can go on. Go ahead, give it a try....
Here's a link to a blog regarding the timings of all "Other Ones":
The longest Other Ones are from 1972!!
The longest "Drums" before The Other One is 11/7/70 from Port Chester, NY... over 16 minutes of drums!!
I would have to respectfully disagree that the Grateful Dead were "The Bus". I have written at various times and various places on this website that "The Bus" was a much greater concept than just what the Grateful Dead did with their consciousness-expanding and mind-altering trips. You come close, Mr, Dodd, when you allude to getting on the bus by just reading Tom Wolfe's book while bumming around Europe. This owes to the power of Mr. Wolfe's writing and the thorough research he does which is noticeable in all his works. He lives, works and eats with his characters, getting into their heads as much as possible. The one thing I don't know is -- did he ever eat acid with Kesey and the boys? As far as I know, he did not. He was just hanging out with his white suit and hat (quite the gay dandy) per usual one day and the next he was gone. Not much for being one long on good-bys, Kesey is reported to have said. If he never ate psychedelics what he wrote was all the more remarkable.
But getting back to the bus as a cerebral concept of the central suite of music that defined the Grateful Dead. One has to understand that the bus was just an International Harvester of a certain vintage (49?) that belonged to Ken Kesey and the Pranksters at the Creamery in Springfield, Oregon. In 1964 the bus got on the road. To quote from a UK Mail-Online article:
"In 1964, Ken Kesey, the famed author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, set off on the legendary, LSD-fuelled cross-country journey to the World’s Fair in New York. Taking the high road, the wildly painted bus brought bewilderment from passers-by as it made its way west to east across America. He was joined by The Merry Band of Pranksters, a group of counter-culture characters, including Neal Cassady, the American icon immortalized in Kerouac’s On The Road, who was also the driver and painter of the psychedelic Magic Bus."
"Mr Wolfe said: 'The trip had a dual purpose. One was to turn America on to this particular form of enlightenment, the other was to publicize Kesey's new book Sometimes A Great Notion.'
Carolyn Garcia, aka Mountain Girl, who went on to marry the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, said Kesey felt a film of the bus trip would spread the gospel of freedom through LSD.
She said: 'They didn't know they were starting the 60s obviously, but they knew they had a big secret and they were going to exploit it to the full. It was a way to get on the bus and stay on the bus.' At the center of the action is Kesey, who had signed up for research into the effects of LSD. He believed the drug, which was still legal then, should be widely available. He wanted to share his experiences of LSD with others.
At times, the Merry Pranksters' exploits look innocent. In one scene, high on amphetamines, Cassady drives the bus backwards in Phoenix, Arizona. The pranksters blow their trumpets and horns in mock support for Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential candidate. 'It was more haphazard than planned. But Kesey knew something had to shift.' He equipped the pranksters with 16mm cameras hoping to recreate the visions he'd had while in the psychedelic research project at the hospital. Zane Kesey said: 'Dad (Ken) knew he and the pranksters were doing something fun and something that the world could enjoy if they documented it well enough.
American icon: Neal Cassady, immortalized in the book On The Road, drove and painted the Magic Bus 'But they were absolute amateurs and they were high. Zane added: 'When they came home they showed the movie and that became a party. 'They did it again and it became an Acid Test. 'Then too many people started coming so they rented a place and bands started to come and play, (enter the Grateful Dead, house band of the Prankster acid tests). So it was very much a part of how the Sixties were born. After Cassady drove the bus off the road in Arizona, Kesey dosed the party with LSD. They tipped model paint into a stream, then dipped a T-shirt in it to create the tie-dyed effect that would become associated with San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury hippy scene.
So this bus and this bus ride was the trip, literally, that started the hippy scene. But there was more. Kesey and the Pranksters were softly gleaming the cube of nuclear annihilation. These were the years of grade school drills and bomb shelters and British campaigns for nuclear disarmament. This was Kesey and the Pranksters way of humorously approaching it so that it did not eat up the American and world psyche. The Other One>Morning Dew>Other One, sort of, was the riff Jerry and Bonnie were doing (separately) after this 1964 bus ride. A glossed up version of the bus, a headache to look at, was taken into The Smithsonian. The original was left to rot in the shade at the creamery in Springfield but I think it was restored lovingly at some point. Perhaps somebody else knows where the bus is at this moment.
So there is the wider context of the bus as the beginning of the SF Bay Area American counter-cultural scene, the bus that is at the center of the song "The Other One". The bus has even more mind-blowing contexts having to do with the Big Bang and and the GOD particle recently revealed by the Haydron Super-collider in Bern, Switzerland. It is truly hard to rap your mind around "The Bus". It can also be as simple as a Zen master snapping his fingers and answering a koan... What koan would that be?
that knocks me out is 7/02/71 (anni comin' up in a coupla days). It's got the dedication to Owsley and Jerry's playing a Les Paul - big, big fat sound.
I was inspired to watch Magic Trip: Ken Kesey searches for a cool place. He said the bus was it for him - even more so than his books. It's so cool, after having read the EKAT so many times, attaching a face to a name. And I'm reading it again. Immortal.
For me was 2/27/70
Just moved to Belmont, CA from Newport- to that funny angular apt building you see from the 101.
Went to catch the Commander, a fav from college days in Chitown.
Got there and was well lit then BOBBY launched "Mama Tried".
My Ft Worth upbringing kicked in and the new but ancient sounding tunes beckoned.
Came back next two nights and later hooked up with the Family Farm folks from Portola Valley/ Perry Lane and the Whole Earth store.
The bus left with Cowboy Neal at the wheel and me in tow.
Been a lifetime of miracles since.
'The Other One' was always a welcome number for me.
My favourite time for it was from mid-1971 to the end of 1972, when it started to get well jammed-out and very free at times, and had other songs incongruously wedged in it. The version on Dick's Picks 35 is great, with 'Me and My Uncle' suddenly bursting out of an atonal jam. The Europe tour in 1972 produced what are for me some of the finest ones, the ones in Paris (3 May), London (7 April and 26 May) and Frankfurt (26 April) come to mind. I heard a particularly striking version from 1972, I think it's 9 September but I'm not sure, that has a splendid long, murky jam between the two verses; that's one I'd like to see officially released.
During 1973-74, the band didn't always go back to the second verse and jammed off into other things; I prefer it when they did the second verse.
I think I read in Phil Lesh's book that 'The Other One' is in 6/8 time, but the article above says it's in 12/8. Can any musicians here confirm it one way or the other?
one of the greatest things ever.
4/28/71, I believe.
when you listen to it again, give particular attention to the music after the first verse.
In the 8th grade, my school had a hippie themed dance and to get in the door you had to name 3 Grateful Dead songs. I bought Skeletons in the Closet and was hooked for life.
The Other One was played at the American Music Hall in 1975 as can be heard on "One From the Vault". Great song, many psychedelic memories with this one. Have to be careful with that 12/8 beat though; it's like a retrovirus that inserts its DNA into yours and becomes a part of you. I am a drummer, always tapping on a table or whatever, and this 12/8 rhythm was always reflexively coming out. Anytime I sat down to a kit, The Other One just flowed out of my arms and legs. Great, great rhythm.
When I was in junior high, I spent the summer with my cousins in the Catskills during what turned out to be the summer of Woodstock. We used to hitch hike into town on a regular basis. During one such occasion a school bus stopped to give us a ride, it was filled with odd looking people and distinct smell. So yes, The bus came by and I got on. Got off five minutes later, but what the hey.
Certainly a terrific song, if not the best, by Grateful Dead. Wish I could've met Neal.