• January 9, 2014
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-passenger
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - “Passenger”

    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!)

    “Passenger”

    There are several original songs in the Grateful Dead repertoire with a one-time-only lyricist. In the case of “Passenger,” the added quirk is thrown in of someone other than the composer singing the song. So we have a song written by Peter Monk, with music by Phil Lesh, and sung by Bob Weir and Donna Jean Godcheaux on Terrapin Station.

    Lesh wrote the song, admittedly based on Fleetwood Mac’s riff for their song “Station Man.” Lesh said, in an interview in Dupree’s Diamond News, “What's weird about that song is I sort of did it as a joke. It's a take on a Fleetwood Mac tune called ‘Station Man.’ I just sort of sped it up and put some different chord changes in there..."

    Monk’s lyrics for the song have been the source of quite a bit of debate. There are quite a few alternate hearings, especially around the line: “Terrible, the only game in town,” which many, including myself, hear as “Parable, the only game in town.”

    The brief biographical essay about Peter Monk included in The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics was contributed by Alan Trist. It notes that Peter Richard Zimels, aka Peter Monk, was born in March 1937 in New York City. He studied philosophy and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1958, and then served in the US Navy until 1962. After leaving the Navy, he traveled extensively, especially in Asia, where he became an ordained Buddhist monk. Therefore, his adopted surname is more of a trade-based honorific (think “Peter, the monk”). He returned to the States in 1967, and acted as a spiritual figure in the extended Grateful Dead family, attending births and performing wedding ceremonies (he officiated at the wedding of Jerry Garcia and Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Adams, for instance). He died in 1992. His songs were performed by Mickey Hart (“Blind John” with Stetson on Rolling Thunder), the Dinosaurs (“Strange Way” with Barry Melton on Friends of Extinction), Country Joe and the Fish, Richie Havens, and Peter Paul and Mary. A posthumous collection of his poetry, Idiot’s Delight, was published in 1992.

    Peter Monk

    “Passenger” was first performed on May 15, 1977, at the St. Louis Arena in St. Louis (released on the May 1977 box set). It was performed regularly through1981, with its final performance on December 27, 1981, at the Oakland Auditorium.

    Terrapin Station, which included the studio version of the song, was released on July 27, 1977. “Passenger” was released as a single, with “Terrapin Station” on the B side. It’s interesting to me that the relationship between Fleetwood Mac’s “Station Man” and the Dead’s “Passenger” extends beyond the musical similarities, into the lyrics themselves. “Station Man” opens with the lines:

    Station man
    I've been waiting
    Can you tell me
    When we're leaving

    As compared to the “Passenger” lines:

    Passenger
    Don't you hear me?
    Destination
    Seen unclearly

    While “Station Man” is clearly about a train, “Passenger” is only tangentially about anything at all, but there does seem to be a train involved, or at least some mode of transport that could accommodate the “passenger” who is the subject of the song.

    I’ve always thought that the “passenger” is, as are all of us, a passenger on the planet we inhabit, hurtling through space at some ungodly rate of speed. The song’s lyrics address more than just human beings—the opening verse is addressed to a firefly. We are all passengers together—after all: “what is a man, deep down inside, but a raging beast?”

    Given Peter Monk’s vocation as a Buddhist monk, perhaps the song could be seen to address the mysteries of reincarnation, and of the large perspective on time we find in Tibetan Buddhism. I don’t claim to know enough about the topic to make a case for it, but surely someone might. Or someone with sufficient knowledge might take a completely different view.

    That one line: “What is a man, deep down inside, but a raging beast, with nothing to hide?” hit me hard when I first heard it. I internalized it in a big way—and given the manner in which it was performed by Bobby and Donna on Terrapin Station, it seemed to be meant to be heard as an important line. In my mind’s eye, I pictured the silhouette of a man, set against a sunset sky, rampaging across the horizon, swinging some kind of hammer or sword, and this image seemed archetypal, proceeding from “deep down inside,” and carrying with it the potential for the seed of understanding of who I might be, and who my fellow-travelers on the planet might be. That Grateful Dead sense of light and dark, or roses and thorns, of the totality of existence all seemed wrapped up in those lines and in the imagery they brought to my mind.

    And while Terrapin Station doesn’t really seem to be a concept album, I do find that the songs on the album build together as a group into something larger than the sum oftheir parts. “Passenger” seems much more powerful taken in the context of the rest of the songs on the album, particularly “Terrapin Station” and “Estimated Prophet.” There’s a sense of being headed somewhere, towards a place we can’t quite fathom, which may have dire consequences or which may be some of paradise, common to all three songs. Even Donna’s “Sunrise” seems to fit in with the general mystical feeling evoked in the listener by these songs, whether intentional or not.

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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!)

“Passenger”

There are several original songs in the Grateful Dead repertoire with a one-time-only lyricist. In the case of “Passenger,” the added quirk is thrown in of someone other than the composer singing the song. So we have a song written by Peter Monk, with music by Phil Lesh, and sung by Bob Weir and Donna Jean Godcheaux on Terrapin Station.

Lesh wrote the song, admittedly based on Fleetwood Mac’s riff for their song “Station Man.” Lesh said, in an interview in Dupree’s Diamond News, “What's weird about that song is I sort of did it as a joke. It's a take on a Fleetwood Mac tune called ‘Station Man.’ I just sort of sped it up and put some different chord changes in there..."

Monk’s lyrics for the song have been the source of quite a bit of debate. There are quite a few alternate hearings, especially around the line: “Terrible, the only game in town,” which many, including myself, hear as “Parable, the only game in town.”

The brief biographical essay about Peter Monk included in The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics was contributed by Alan Trist. It notes that Peter Richard Zimels, aka Peter Monk, was born in March 1937 in New York City. He studied philosophy and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1958, and then served in the US Navy until 1962. After leaving the Navy, he traveled extensively, especially in Asia, where he became an ordained Buddhist monk. Therefore, his adopted surname is more of a trade-based honorific (think “Peter, the monk”). He returned to the States in 1967, and acted as a spiritual figure in the extended Grateful Dead family, attending births and performing wedding ceremonies (he officiated at the wedding of Jerry Garcia and Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Adams, for instance). He died in 1992. His songs were performed by Mickey Hart (“Blind John” with Stetson on Rolling Thunder), the Dinosaurs (“Strange Way” with Barry Melton on Friends of Extinction), Country Joe and the Fish, Richie Havens, and Peter Paul and Mary. A posthumous collection of his poetry, Idiot’s Delight, was published in 1992.

Peter Monk

“Passenger” was first performed on May 15, 1977, at the St. Louis Arena in St. Louis (released on the May 1977 box set). It was performed regularly through1981, with its final performance on December 27, 1981, at the Oakland Auditorium.

Terrapin Station, which included the studio version of the song, was released on July 27, 1977. “Passenger” was released as a single, with “Terrapin Station” on the B side. It’s interesting to me that the relationship between Fleetwood Mac’s “Station Man” and the Dead’s “Passenger” extends beyond the musical similarities, into the lyrics themselves. “Station Man” opens with the lines:

Station man
I've been waiting
Can you tell me
When we're leaving

As compared to the “Passenger” lines:

Passenger
Don't you hear me?
Destination
Seen unclearly

While “Station Man” is clearly about a train, “Passenger” is only tangentially about anything at all, but there does seem to be a train involved, or at least some mode of transport that could accommodate the “passenger” who is the subject of the song.

I’ve always thought that the “passenger” is, as are all of us, a passenger on the planet we inhabit, hurtling through space at some ungodly rate of speed. The song’s lyrics address more than just human beings—the opening verse is addressed to a firefly. We are all passengers together—after all: “what is a man, deep down inside, but a raging beast?”

Given Peter Monk’s vocation as a Buddhist monk, perhaps the song could be seen to address the mysteries of reincarnation, and of the large perspective on time we find in Tibetan Buddhism. I don’t claim to know enough about the topic to make a case for it, but surely someone might. Or someone with sufficient knowledge might take a completely different view.

That one line: “What is a man, deep down inside, but a raging beast, with nothing to hide?” hit me hard when I first heard it. I internalized it in a big way—and given the manner in which it was performed by Bobby and Donna on Terrapin Station, it seemed to be meant to be heard as an important line. In my mind’s eye, I pictured the silhouette of a man, set against a sunset sky, rampaging across the horizon, swinging some kind of hammer or sword, and this image seemed archetypal, proceeding from “deep down inside,” and carrying with it the potential for the seed of understanding of who I might be, and who my fellow-travelers on the planet might be. That Grateful Dead sense of light and dark, or roses and thorns, of the totality of existence all seemed wrapped up in those lines and in the imagery they brought to my mind.

And while Terrapin Station doesn’t really seem to be a concept album, I do find that the songs on the album build together as a group into something larger than the sum oftheir parts. “Passenger” seems much more powerful taken in the context of the rest of the songs on the album, particularly “Terrapin Station” and “Estimated Prophet.” There’s a sense of being headed somewhere, towards a place we can’t quite fathom, which may have dire consequences or which may be some of paradise, common to all three songs. Even Donna’s “Sunrise” seems to fit in with the general mystical feeling evoked in the listener by these songs, whether intentional or not.

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There are several original songs in the Grateful Dead repertoire with a one-time-only lyricist. In the case of “Passenger,” the added quirk is thrown in of someone other than the composer singing the song.
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Greatest Stories Ever Told - “Passenger”
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There are several original songs in the Grateful Dead repertoire with a one-time-only lyricist. In the case of “Passenger,” the added quirk is thrown in of someone other than the composer singing the song.
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There are several original songs in the Grateful Dead repertoire with a one-time-only lyricist. In the case of “Passenger,” the added quirk is thrown in of someone other than the composer singing the song.

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Forget the lyrics or the perceived message of PASSENGER, and hear the Grateful Dead play with, according to Lesh, "some raunch." I read somewhere that the song was just an excuse for the Dead to demonstrate their harder rock capabilities. It is an exciting song, which in my opinion, came truly alive during the Brent Mydland years. His frantic organ and passionate vocals really give the tune a kick. Check out PASSENGER from 4/22/79 Spartan Stadium, a truly kick ass version, with smokin' leads from Jerry!!
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As much as I loved all of their Space and otherwise exploratory songs and jams, the solid rock and roll ones still resonate the best with me. They could play as subtly as air through their sound systems when they wanted, but crystal-clear and cranked, those were my favorite times and this was a great song for just that. Just seeing whatever sound system they showed up with was always an event in itself. My first show was the Wall of Sound at the Omni and we were all pony-tailed hippie college kids, getting high and watching the Grateful Dead play with the biggest and best stereo system in the known universe, all, as Phil noted, "...searching for the sound..." And with hearty thanks to Owsley and the Grateful Dead Road Crew for making all of that...and a few other things too...actually happen.
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Hey all, I was just wondering if there was somewhere on the site where these stories are archived. I would love to waste some time today at work reading about some of my favorite tunes that Dave has already covered. As for "Passenger," I have to admit that it is not my favorite tune... For some reason, it has always stuck out like a sore thumb to me. I have heard versions that are pretty rocking, but the dual lead vocals, especially when Donna was not having a good night, can be pretty grating. I have also always thought the lyrics are pretty innane... I don't know. Now that I know it was based on a Fleetwood Mac song, that may explain some of my distaste for the tune, as I have never been a fan of the Mac. No disrespect to Phil and Monk, but I tend to find myself waiting for this one to be over when it pops up in the setlist. At least it's short. Have a grateful weekend all!
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Gee, if a Buddhist monk wrote the words, shouldn't they be way meaningful? Reminds me of those endless cartoons about people climbing to the mountaintop seeking enlightenment, only to not find what they expected. Or perhaps of the guy asking "can you make me one with everything?" at the Buddhist pizza shop. This song is probably not a way-post on the path to enlightenment, but it definitely is a great rocker! Note that this could be seen as commenting on what Buddhism considers an endless process of birth and death. The firefly glows brief and brightly, the line between man and raging beast is unclear, and people say the world’s on fire (Buddha said, "The whole world is in flames"). But don't take this one too seriously ... my feeling is that it's a false alarm.
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My first exposure to Passenger was Dead Set. My initial thought;after all the cool kids raving about the Dead, was that Dead Set was a rather sleepy/slow affair. I initially took to Passenger. I like Brent's versions better. On Dead Set I loved the space/fotm. They rocked the Passenger HARD, sick slide. Upon re-visiting the lyrics, it seems to me it speaks of jaded people, coming in and out of your life. "That same night be on your way." The whole world is burning, seasons were frozen into our soul. Yet, at the end;hope, cuz you'll never find the only game in town. I was breaking up with a girl, to me she was the only "game" in town. Alas Monk and Weir were right by golly. There are other games in town. It took a few years for me to appreciate all of Dead Set, and it took really listening to Little Red Rooster, intricate weaving and smoky. I always thought the lyrics were upside down inside out you'll never find the only game in town.
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I am reminded of this line from Macbeth... "Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."
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Best Brent Passenger. I think after he joined they really upped the ante, even adding a second solo, to (as another post commented) jam it up. Keith versions are fine but can be plodding. Plus something about hearing Donna sing "What is a man, deep down inside"... is less powerful than Brent's blue eyed soul punch.
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Certainly we are all like fireflies; our souls, or true selves, glowing. False alarm and terrible, the only game in town. There's really nothing to worry about. We can taste positivity and infinity at any time rather than fearing, doubting, and focusing on the negative. Ain't no time to hate. For now, we are alive in these bodies.
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I took the lyric as commentary on the transitory nature of our lives. We borrow these bodies, move through a brief span of time and our destination can't be known. It's a concise summary from a monk. Musically, it is set against furious rock. Maybe that's not what most would expect but why not? The Dead needed a rocker and Phil gave them one. I prefer the Godchaux-era performances. The one from 4/24/78 (see the corresponding Dave's Pick) went so far off the rails that it almost couldn't be stopped. There is a bonus bout of jamming there, and you have to catch your breath at the end.
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Built to Last would be a good one
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Though I wouldn't naturally agree it fits into a concept called Terrapin Station, except in so much as a "Passenger" rides a train. Sunrise could have been an epiphany of awakening from sleep to one's seat. Still, Bob Dylan's jealous friend always comes to mind: Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood With his memories in a trunk Passed this way an hour ago With his friend, a jealous monk He looked so immaculately frightful As he bummed a cigarette Then he went off sniffing drainpipes And reciting the alphabet So, If Phil's Einstein The lyracist is a jealous monk Who is Jerry and who is Bob?
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Have you done The Eleven or any of Help/Slipknot!/Franklin's? Discussion of the words to Slipknot! would be interesting.
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"What is a man if his chief good and market of his time Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more."
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Very Interesting, Giantnerd, to run into Shakespeare again relating to the message of this song! This morning I was thinking on that classic line "To Be or Not to Be-That is the Question" I Choose "To Be" and like to think there's More than One game in Town. Sorry...if the Only Game is Terrible then I don't want to play. There's much More to a Man or Woman than a "Raging Beast" I don't claim to know much either David, but I do hold to a completely different view on life and all that. I do find it Fascinating how Passenger fits in the Overall theme of the Terrapin Station Album. There was some kind of Collective Inspiration going on for Sure. "Faced with Mysteries Dark and Vast..." "What is a Man...?" Passenger generates an anxiety and a tension that feeds the anticipation and excitement of reaching Terrapin. ...at least that's what I was thinking this morning! David...maybe this would be a good time to explore "Terrapin Station" and figure out if its the End or the Beginning!
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Rare song. Was lucky to see the Dead play it live twice, 12/30/77 and 12/27/81. Great song for two drummers. Upside out, inside down.
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weird, I was listening to Desolation Row. I posted earlier about a girlfriend being the only game in town. In my mind I thought the lyrics to Desolation Row were "is Cinderalla 'sleeping' up on desolation row". Alas to have row envy, wrong row... I liked in d-row when Jerry would chime in "between the windows of the sea, where lovely mermaids blow". The ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face..I'm on a 93 tilt lately..liking the acoustic midi. As alas i ramble.. next song....Robert Johnson's Walkin Blues? and Bobby's right for a white boy to sing the blues?
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There's one strange footnote to the minimal career of "Peter Monk" as a Grateful Dead lyricist. David notes that Monk co-wrote "Blind John" on Mickey Hart's 1972 "Rolling Thunder" album. Monk's co-writer was "CJ Stetson." Since three members of the Jefferson Airplane sang the song (Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg), I had always assumed that CJ Stetson was a pseudonym for them. After some research, it turned out that CJ Stetson was a pseudonym, but not for anyone in the Airplane. To make a long story short, CJ Stetson was the writing name for one James Stalarow. Stalarow had an interesting career in his own right--at one point he managed the legendary 13th Floor Elevators--but back in the 60s he was known as "Curly Jim." To be clear, Curly Jim Stalarow was a different person than the late James "Curley" Cooke, a fine guitarist who was in the original Steve Miller Band. Anyway, Curly Jim Stalarow's significance in Grateful Dead history was that he taught Bob Weir "Me And My Uncle," which, as we all know, the Dead played 600 plus times. Stalarow was hanging out with Mickey in the early 70s, and that's how Monk wrote some lyrics for him and one of his songs ended up on Rolling Thunder. The Airplane actually performed "Blind John," at least once (at Winterland in '72), but I don't think they played it 600 times. Corry
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Every passenger needs a bit of reading material or food for thought, so here's a little true/false twister for the journey: True or False: Q: In what way does the study of physics differ from the study of philosophy? A: One sends our best minds down a rabbit hole and the Other doesn’t. And now the question: If Time itself, and not just the endless continuation as we experience it on Earth, but Time itself was in fact standing still, would the conscious mind either perceive or be affected by it in any way…other than perhaps pestered by an incessant, monotonous ticking…? Time can stop completely within music, yet the entire band and everyone listening picks up the rhythm again without losing the beat as the same song continues. Are we any less? Extra credit question: Warning: It’s kinda tricky. Quite a nasty little time bomb: B Om B. Separate the first b and you lose your past. Separate the second b and you lose your future. OM The eternal reverberating moment...meaning, of course...that mind and/or consciousness is constrained by neither time, space nor…death? Ah.....(better than OM in every Way) Hint: When it comes to Existence taken in its totality, Time, to borrow a computer programming term, is really nothing more than a feature...or perhaps a bug. So to recap, two b's, or not two b's? At least I think that was, and apparently remains, the question. Anyone care to shake the spear? Ah. Guess there really is no place like OM. Peace. (Note: I suspect that Mary's probably going to ask me to move this, but that okay too!)
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i read somewhere that phil said he wrote the song because he wanted a song to hear jerry play slide guitar...
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I wrote the Peter Monk bio for The Annotated Grateful Dead and I think when you say Peter had a book of his poetry called Idiot's delight published posthumously you may be confusing that with Robert Hunter's book of poetry, Idiot's Delight. published shortly after Peter's death. Peter had a song "Idiot's Delight" which he had written years before but here is a quote from a Steve Silberman interview w/ Hunter from Poetry Flash, December 1992. "Hunter's debut as a poet was the publication of his translation of Rilke's Duino Elegies in 1987. Since then, he has published Night Cadre, a collection of poems distinguished by their self-effacing wit and fractal- faceted philosophical inquiry, and Idiot's Delight, written for Raymond Foye's Hanuman series, a beguiling meditation on appetite that reads like an improvised sutra. Next year, Viking will release The Bride of Entropy, a series of three long poems including "An American Adventure," a very funny metaphoric recollection of the Dead's haphazard mission written from the deep inside, and the sharpest x-ray of the ambitions of Hunter's generation that I've read. His collected lyrics is called Box of Rain."
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woohoo! Yeah, I've got Idiot's Delight right here. I would love it to come out again, as (given that it was small and softcover) it's gotten a bit battered over the years.
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I first learned the lyrics to this song being shouted at me by a very troubled young girl, while driving down the road. This led me to the connotations of odd relationships and Eastwrn philosophy After listening to the lyrics closely, I feel like a good alternative take on this song might have more to do with Vietnam,possibly the War on Drugs(possibly before it even really began) I had this epiphany at a show this past year in Ohio. Sounds like helicopter/humvee pilot rapping to his "passenger" or even himself?? I'd Love to find out more about this song to better understand where Peter Monk's head was at when the pen hit the paper!
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    RusteeStrings
    1 month ago
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    RusteeStrings
    1 month ago
    Flip side
    I first learned the lyrics to this song being shouted at me by a very troubled young girl, while driving down the road. This led me to the connotations of odd relationships and Eastwrn philosophy After listening to the lyrics closely, I feel like a good alternative take on this song might have more to do with Vietnam,possibly the War on Drugs(possibly before it even really began) I had this epiphany at a show this past year in Ohio. Sounds like helicopter/humvee pilot rapping to his "passenger" or even himself?? I'd Love to find out more about this song to better understand where Peter Monk's head was at when the pen hit the paper!
  • marye
    3 years 7 months ago
    American Adventure!
    woohoo! Yeah, I've got Idiot's Delight right here. I would love it to come out again, as (given that it was small and softcover) it's gotten a bit battered over the years.
  • Default Avatar
    arenosa49
    3 years 7 months ago
    Peter Monk
    I wrote the Peter Monk bio for The Annotated Grateful Dead and I think when you say Peter had a book of his poetry called Idiot's delight published posthumously you may be confusing that with Robert Hunter's book of poetry, Idiot's Delight. published shortly after Peter's death. Peter had a song "Idiot's Delight" which he had written years before but here is a quote from a Steve Silberman interview w/ Hunter from Poetry Flash, December 1992. "Hunter's debut as a poet was the publication of his translation of Rilke's Duino Elegies in 1987. Since then, he has published Night Cadre, a collection of poems distinguished by their self-effacing wit and fractal- faceted philosophical inquiry, and Idiot's Delight, written for Raymond Foye's Hanuman series, a beguiling meditation on appetite that reads like an improvised sutra. Next year, Viking will release The Bride of Entropy, a series of three long poems including "An American Adventure," a very funny metaphoric recollection of the Dead's haphazard mission written from the deep inside, and the sharpest x-ray of the ambitions of Hunter's generation that I've read. His collected lyrics is called Box of Rain."
  • mp51
    4 years 9 months ago
    why phil wrote it...
    i read somewhere that phil said he wrote the song because he wanted a song to hear jerry play slide guitar...