• February 7, 2013
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-ramble-rose
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Ramble On Rose"

    By David Dodd

    First, just a little background: “Ramble On Rose” was introduced on Tuesday, October 19, 1971 at the Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The show is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First performances at the show, besides "Ramble on Rose," included "Comes a Time," "Mexicali Blues," "One More Saturday Night" (on a Tuesday!), and "Tennessee Jed." It was also Keith Godchaux's first show. "Ramble On Rose" occupied the #2 spot in the second set, following "Truckin'," and preceding "Me and Bobby McGee."

    Numbering the song among his favorites, Robert Hunter stated in an interview in Relix that "'Ramble on Rose' is a particular favorite -- there's something funny about that song."

    In David Gans's Conversations with the Dead, Hunter says: "I think ‘Ramble On Rose’ is the closest to complete whimsy I've come up with. I just sat down and wrote numerous verses that tied around ‘Did you say...’ “

    “Ramble On Rose” also happens to be the song that set me off on my little adventure of annotating the Grateful Dead’s lyrics. When I first started the project, I was working as a reference library assistant at the Fremont Main library in Alameda County. I was living in Oakland, commuting via BART the 30 miles each way every day to Fremont, and going to as many Dead concerts as I could. Those were some good days — I was learning about what I wanted to do with my life (become a librarian) and at the same time, seeing the Dead or Jerry with his various bands on a regular basis. The Greek, Frost, Henry Kaiser, SF Civic, Oakland Coliseum Arena, Keystone Berkeley,Cal Expo….

    Where was I? Oh yeah. “Ramble On Rose.” Something about that song… I still find new stuff in there all the time. One of my biggest revelations about the song was actually from a mis-hearing. It was at the closing of Winterland show, when I clearly heard Garcia sing, “Buckle up, and buckle down, do yourself a favor.” Not the real words (and not what Jerry sang), but definitely of some import to me at the time. Hmmmm. That would be a fun component in any and all of these blog posts and subsequent conversations — what did you hear, as opposed to what the words really were? American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term “mondegreens” to refer to these creative mis-hearings. Feel free to chime in at any time with your own! (“Wake up to find out that you are disguised as a squirrel...”)

    So. “Ramble On Rose.” And I am rambling. It’s a predilection of mine, to go off on tangents, and I’ve found it serves me well. I like to make strange connections. I started making the connections in this song simply by trying to figure out who all and what all was being talked about by Robert Hunter. That guy! You could be standing there, innocently listening to a rock and roll song, and BAM — he hits you right between the eyes.

    I think my first foray into this kind of fact-finding was when I decided to look up the names in the song, starting with Billy Sunday. I’m not going into the whole annotation thing here (just search online for “annotated Ramble On Rose,” except to say that I was pretty surprised by the cast of characters and who they turned out to be. I mean, a tent preacher who got his start as a professional baseball player? A ragtime piano player from the 1950s named Crazy Otto? The legendary DJ Wolfman Jack? This song, if you put images with all of it, would look something like the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A highlight of my work on the song was receiving a phone call from Johnny Maddox (aka Crazy Otto), who was still playing ragtime for a living, at a place in Durango, Colorado. We had a great conversation.

    The same is true for all of the musical references in the song. I did a medley once with David Gans for his radio show featuring snippets of all the various songs and types of music in “Ramble On Rose.” Amazing! Ragtime (100 verses thereof), Irving Berlin (“leader of a band,” from ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’), the blues (“Mojo Hand”), nursery rhymes (Jack and Jill), gospel (Jericho), country (“I Walk the Line”), jazz standards (“Ramblin’ Rose”), folk (“Green Green, the Grass is Green”), and more. Here’s a link to streaming audio for that musical collage, plus some verbal commentary… with thanks to David Gans:

    Click here to listen.

    Top left going clockwise are Mary Shelley, a “Crazy Otto” album cover, Billy Sunday, sheet music cover for “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” by Irving Berlin, Wolfman Jack.

    So, here’s my question, now that I have run to ground all of the song’s references—historical, literary, musical, etc. And that is: can anyone get a handle on this song from a “meaning” point of view? I do love hearing personal interpretations, and Hunter has made it clear over the course of a number of interviews that he will not comment on a song’s “meaning” because that would shut down the ability of each of us listeners to construct our own meaning. It would be fun, and enlightening, to hear just what you take away from this particular song.

    Is the narrator singing to someone who calls herself “Ramblin’ Rose”? Is the line about singing “a hundred verses of ragtime” a threat or a promise? Who is the leader of the band mentioned in the song? Or is that a metaphor? What is meant by the series of “just like” comparisons?

    Or do you prefer to let the lyrics wash over you, invoking a mental kaleidoscope of images and music? I like to think that the curious structure of the music Garcia wrote for these words is an answer, or a complement to Hunter’s hodge-podge—it’s an unclassifiable amalgam of ragtime, shuffle, slow rock and roll, and who knows what all else—opinions?

    My online annotation of the song includes an actual analysis of the lyric’s prosody—its rhyming and metric components, as follows. Useful? Perhaps not, but kind of fun:

              The song lyric is structured in trochaic rhythm, with paired verses consisting of two lines of triameter, one of quadrameter, and another of triameter, for a total of 13 strong feet (!) per verse. The verses' rhyming pattern is A, B, C, [C], B; with the bracketed [C] being an optional internal rhyme: halls, walls; chains/change; and plush/flush. There are seven verses, with the first six in pairs. The final verse stands alone, carrying into the final chorus.

              The chorus' rhythm stays in trochees for the first line of five beats, then switches to dactylic quadrameter for the second line, and a punchy single dactylic line of two beats to wind up. The chorus contains no rhymes. It is repeated three times.

              The bridge is less easy to pin down, moving from iambic to trochaic to dactylic rhythms. It similarly dispenses with any firm rhyming pattern, relying solely on the assonances contained in "ragtime" and "county line." The bridge is repeated twice.

    This is one of those Grateful Dead songs that generates a lot more questions than answers. And I look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts! Chime right in.

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By David Dodd

First, just a little background: “Ramble On Rose” was introduced on Tuesday, October 19, 1971 at the Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The show is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First performances at the show, besides "Ramble on Rose," included "Comes a Time," "Mexicali Blues," "One More Saturday Night" (on a Tuesday!), and "Tennessee Jed." It was also Keith Godchaux's first show. "Ramble On Rose" occupied the #2 spot in the second set, following "Truckin'," and preceding "Me and Bobby McGee."

Numbering the song among his favorites, Robert Hunter stated in an interview in Relix that "'Ramble on Rose' is a particular favorite -- there's something funny about that song."

In David Gans's Conversations with the Dead, Hunter says: "I think ‘Ramble On Rose’ is the closest to complete whimsy I've come up with. I just sat down and wrote numerous verses that tied around ‘Did you say...’ “

“Ramble On Rose” also happens to be the song that set me off on my little adventure of annotating the Grateful Dead’s lyrics. When I first started the project, I was working as a reference library assistant at the Fremont Main library in Alameda County. I was living in Oakland, commuting via BART the 30 miles each way every day to Fremont, and going to as many Dead concerts as I could. Those were some good days — I was learning about what I wanted to do with my life (become a librarian) and at the same time, seeing the Dead or Jerry with his various bands on a regular basis. The Greek, Frost, Henry Kaiser, SF Civic, Oakland Coliseum Arena, Keystone Berkeley,Cal Expo….

Where was I? Oh yeah. “Ramble On Rose.” Something about that song… I still find new stuff in there all the time. One of my biggest revelations about the song was actually from a mis-hearing. It was at the closing of Winterland show, when I clearly heard Garcia sing, “Buckle up, and buckle down, do yourself a favor.” Not the real words (and not what Jerry sang), but definitely of some import to me at the time. Hmmmm. That would be a fun component in any and all of these blog posts and subsequent conversations — what did you hear, as opposed to what the words really were? American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term “mondegreens” to refer to these creative mis-hearings. Feel free to chime in at any time with your own! (“Wake up to find out that you are disguised as a squirrel...”)

So. “Ramble On Rose.” And I am rambling. It’s a predilection of mine, to go off on tangents, and I’ve found it serves me well. I like to make strange connections. I started making the connections in this song simply by trying to figure out who all and what all was being talked about by Robert Hunter. That guy! You could be standing there, innocently listening to a rock and roll song, and BAM — he hits you right between the eyes.

I think my first foray into this kind of fact-finding was when I decided to look up the names in the song, starting with Billy Sunday. I’m not going into the whole annotation thing here (just search online for “annotated Ramble On Rose,” except to say that I was pretty surprised by the cast of characters and who they turned out to be. I mean, a tent preacher who got his start as a professional baseball player? A ragtime piano player from the 1950s named Crazy Otto? The legendary DJ Wolfman Jack? This song, if you put images with all of it, would look something like the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A highlight of my work on the song was receiving a phone call from Johnny Maddox (aka Crazy Otto), who was still playing ragtime for a living, at a place in Durango, Colorado. We had a great conversation.

The same is true for all of the musical references in the song. I did a medley once with David Gans for his radio show featuring snippets of all the various songs and types of music in “Ramble On Rose.” Amazing! Ragtime (100 verses thereof), Irving Berlin (“leader of a band,” from ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’), the blues (“Mojo Hand”), nursery rhymes (Jack and Jill), gospel (Jericho), country (“I Walk the Line”), jazz standards (“Ramblin’ Rose”), folk (“Green Green, the Grass is Green”), and more. Here’s a link to streaming audio for that musical collage, plus some verbal commentary… with thanks to David Gans:

Click here to listen.

Top left going clockwise are Mary Shelley, a “Crazy Otto” album cover, Billy Sunday, sheet music cover for “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” by Irving Berlin, Wolfman Jack.

So, here’s my question, now that I have run to ground all of the song’s references—historical, literary, musical, etc. And that is: can anyone get a handle on this song from a “meaning” point of view? I do love hearing personal interpretations, and Hunter has made it clear over the course of a number of interviews that he will not comment on a song’s “meaning” because that would shut down the ability of each of us listeners to construct our own meaning. It would be fun, and enlightening, to hear just what you take away from this particular song.

Is the narrator singing to someone who calls herself “Ramblin’ Rose”? Is the line about singing “a hundred verses of ragtime” a threat or a promise? Who is the leader of the band mentioned in the song? Or is that a metaphor? What is meant by the series of “just like” comparisons?

Or do you prefer to let the lyrics wash over you, invoking a mental kaleidoscope of images and music? I like to think that the curious structure of the music Garcia wrote for these words is an answer, or a complement to Hunter’s hodge-podge—it’s an unclassifiable amalgam of ragtime, shuffle, slow rock and roll, and who knows what all else—opinions?

My online annotation of the song includes an actual analysis of the lyric’s prosody—its rhyming and metric components, as follows. Useful? Perhaps not, but kind of fun:

          The song lyric is structured in trochaic rhythm, with paired verses consisting of two lines of triameter, one of quadrameter, and another of triameter, for a total of 13 strong feet (!) per verse. The verses' rhyming pattern is A, B, C, [C], B; with the bracketed [C] being an optional internal rhyme: halls, walls; chains/change; and plush/flush. There are seven verses, with the first six in pairs. The final verse stands alone, carrying into the final chorus.

          The chorus' rhythm stays in trochees for the first line of five beats, then switches to dactylic quadrameter for the second line, and a punchy single dactylic line of two beats to wind up. The chorus contains no rhymes. It is repeated three times.

          The bridge is less easy to pin down, moving from iambic to trochaic to dactylic rhythms. It similarly dispenses with any firm rhyming pattern, relying solely on the assonances contained in "ragtime" and "county line." The bridge is repeated twice.

This is one of those Grateful Dead songs that generates a lot more questions than answers. And I look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts! Chime right in.

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First, just a little background: “Ramble On Rose” was introduced on Tuesday, October 19, 1971 at the Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The show is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First performances at the show, besides "Ramble on Rose," included "Comes a Time," "Mexicali Blues," "One More Saturday Night" (on a Tuesday!), and "Tennessee Jed." It was also Keith Godchaux's first show. "Ramble On Rose" occupied the #2 spot in the second set, following "Truckin'," and preceding "Me and Bobby McGee."

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This was one of the songs from Europe 72 that I warmed to immediately. And, as it happened, I knew who Billy Sunday was. My father's parents both were teachers, and (I was told) my grandpa would do an imitation of the Rev. Sunday's preaching style - presumably at instructionally appropriate times! I guess it isn't a mondegreen that was cleared up for me when I read Hunter's "Box of Rain" book; I just never heard the word "local" before the words "county line." I've sung that song so many times as "...along the oog-onl county line..." that I don't remember the correct lyric without looking it up. Amazing what goes on between the ears!
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Don't ask me what I thought it meant but that is what I heard. As for Ramble on Rose - I always took it as you described: a collage of distinctly american imagery. I picture an old time can can girl or prostitute in an old west setting telling big stories to an enamored kid who buys it hook line and sinker and wants to have an adventure with her.
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"Disguised as a Squirrel" is one of my favorites - love it!
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Ramble On Rose is special to me because it was the very first Dead song I ever heard! Tuning in to WMMR's program, The "Psychedelich Sunday Supper," (Easter Sunday, April '85) on night two or three of the Dead's Spectrum run that spring. The show kicked off with the tune and I have yet to find that show. The lines which over the years has run true for me are "Goodbye mama and papa; goodbye Jack and Jill. The grass ain't greener; the wine ain't sweeter on either side of the hill." Today, my wife and I chuckle when we hear the line, "Just like crazy Otto." We adopted a kitten whose given name was Otto; and yes, he's a crazy Otto! Are we not all a bit like him? A funny mondegram to share was from a friend who came back after her first show to say, "The Dead sang that 'vegetarian song.' I had no idea what she was talking about. She said, "You know the one with the words, 'That's right; you're living on slaughter..." Still to this day I can hear it in there whenever I hear Man Smart, Woman Smarter. That's right! BtL
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1st off...this is just one of those songs that nobody ever says a bad word about (if they don't love it). And I love it, so good choice Mr. Dodd! I never thought of "100 verses in ragtime" as a negative thing. I always took it as a very comforting statement. Especially with the chorus, "ramble on, settle down" Take a walk and cool your head. This song ain't never gonna and neither are the good things in life so ...settle down easy. My mondegreen for this song- "down the local county line" = "in the Cadillac"
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Thank you for pointing these out. I never knew who Crazy Otto was, only thinking that he was a part of Hunter's imagination, but all the rest I knew something about them.
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about by-gone america, the raw, heady days of anything goes and when it goes bad-clear out fast but live to tell about it? yeah, just maybe.
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So what's a mondegreen called when you hear a lyric correctly but it translates to something only superficially related after it sloshes around your brain pan for a while? "Billy Sunday" has never sounded like anything but "Billy Sunday" to me, but when thinking about the song I'm always dead certain that Hunter was writing about Billie Holiday. To this day I can't shake the Sunday>Holiday link, as every time I hear the lyric I get a mental image of Billie Holiday belting out a song...
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I always thought that Crazy Otto was a used car salesman. Could the "hundred verses in ragtime" be a slight reference to Kerouac's Mexico City Blues 242 Chrouses? I sometimes wished that as the song got older they would change the names, I often wondered how many of the younger fans knew who Wolfman Jack was or his effect on radio.
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Don't get me started.As for Ramble on Rose, the earlier comments say it all. The last verse seemed to me to refer to the point after ones' first mind altering adventure. Of course I didn't realize that until I was old enough to imbibe, considering the fact that I fell in love with this song at the tender age of 10. Being the youngest of six kind of spoiled me to some incredible musical influences at the perfect time in history. It must have been the Mertz', or Mrs. Trumbull
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I thought maybe the mondegreens thing would get a few people going, and it is nice to start the day laughing at the ones you've all been sharing. "I'll get up and fry an egg", and "That's right, you're living on slaughter." (!!) A shameful moment in my own history of many many mis-hearings of Dead songs over the years came during my stint as a reporter for the UC Davis newspaper, the Cal Aggie, when I reviewed a Winterland show in the late 70's. It was the first time I had heard the song, so I guess perhaps I could be forgiven, and maybe there were some other factors involved, but from my vantage point up behind the band that night, I heard them play a song whose title seemed to be "Running on a Balance Beam." Turned out to be "Fire On the Mountain." Yikes. Immortalized in print, in the Cal Aggie newspaper, mouldering in some a set of bound issues in the Shields Library. And I am intrigued by that point gratefaldean brings up about a correct hearing that gets somehow transposed in our head. I had that very same experience initially with Billy Sunday, too! After all, a Sunday is kind of like a holiday--it's a day off, right? So that resonated with me. Keep 'em coming!
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It's always reassuring to know that one's own particular brand of lunacy is shared by others. It means you're not quite as crazy as you may have feared. The fact that Billy Sunday is described as being in a shotgun Ragtime band at least nudged my thinking toward music, as I had no idea that he was a preacher. Sunday as a Holiday. That's my story. Makes perfect sense.
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All I can tell you is that when the final concert does finally come where all is revealed to all, the true meaning and purpose of this song is going to blow your fucking minds. I can't say enough about this good song other than, "Thanks for channeling it in, Hunter." I play a whole bunch of your other songs, but as a carpenter and luthier I've found that the bridge in this song carries a curiously handy hammer like none other, sitting, also rather curiously, right atop an inverted pyramid D chord on the second fret, pointing to a now flattened A form D chord on the 7th fret after the most precise hammer strike, and the catbird seat's finally left empty in the next position with the chair-like E form on the 10th fret. Kinda makes you wonder sometimes what sounds like that might accomplish, if properly deployed...and also what a child with a rather curious hammer might do when confronted with a stack of blocks like a pyramid... So what do we actually eliminate with this hammer strike? We eliminated the word 'take". Wonder how things might change or have developed differently if that one single word, thought or concept were either eliminated or had never entered the the human condition.... This word goes back quite a long way, you know, considering that the original sin was in the taking rather than in the actual eating of the proverbial apple. I think the Weather Report Suite comes next in the line-up....if all are groovin' along nicely....and though that's now not even a remote possibility now I've mentioned it... HA! Byrd
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I remember seeing mention of Billy Sunday in John Steinbeck's book "East of Eden". Wolfman Jack, Mary Shelley,no doubt Robert Hunter has a great understanding of American writing, myth and history. I like the Kerouac link with "Mexico City Blues". Happy birthday Neal Cassady.
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"Vegas" pay,"Lobo" county line and my favorite, like "a wild beast' in the West!
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How funny - I just pulled up the lyrics and it's "wild geese"! I've been on the bus for 25 years and can rattle off set lists by memory, identify lots of shows just by listening to the tuning and have listened to what must be more than 10,000 hours of live dead and you just now set me straight on that one! I guess I really ought to pay more attention to what they are actually saying! You're living on slaughter, that's right, that's right!!!
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I like it better than the wild geese!
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Ramble On Rose- always one of my Garcia/Hunter favorites. I always smile a little bit when Jerry sings "Just like Frankenstein!" I can't explain it- but I just kind of flash on a image of a 70's era Jerry with dark sunglasses singing "FRANKENSTEIN!" to a hall full of crazed Deadheads. I dunno, I just love it...
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I was 20 years old when I first heard "Bertha", so "I had a hard-on running from your window" sounded perfectly natural. Still does. "Arrows of neon, I'm flashing my keys out on Main street" - Hunter himself once told an interviewer, that the image of a cool dude flashing his car keys was a perfectly valid interpretation of the song.
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SOTM.
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As I slipped on my headphones this morning and started with disc two of the new Dave's Picks, I was just hearing the beginning notes of ROR when I stopped in to dead.net to see what was going on. Serendipity for sure. I think of ROR a little like I think of that Billy Joel song, "We Didn't Start the Fire" in that there are just a whole lot of references to people in history and it doesn't really mean much. And to tie into a general Long Island theme, not only was Billy Joel from the next town over (Hicksville, NY), but my home town growing up (Jericho) was not only mentioned in ROR, but Wolfman Jack's daughter went to my high school. I did always think that there was a little roar in the audience when the Dead would play "just like Jericho" at Nassau Coliseum, but that could just be me. ;-) OK, a pretty nonsensical post about a fun, but ultimately nonsensical song.
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There is just something funny about this song. in fact, i think it was one of the songs i had difficulty "getting" as i got into the band. dave, i think you're description of the music was spot on. it's slow shuffle rock and roll with ragtime seemed almost too slow at first, and the lyrics are a, dare i say, dylan-esq hodgepodge of images from an era of americana earlier then mine that i had trouble connecting with. it wasn't until i saw the song performed live (a familiar story to many, no doubt) - granted as a post jerry head, it was by the other ones/the dead, ratdog, or phil and friends, that i "got" the sing along quality of the lyrics, and how the song could lift the room as it reached it's peak with everyone happily along for the ride. After those experiences i began to study and learn the lyrics, but i never did take too much meaning from them, or look too hard into them for a meaning. i just took them as what was stated earlier, a mishmash of images from childhood nursery rhymes (jack and jill), to things that scared them (mary shelly/frankenstein - jerry did love scary movies and stories), to nods to pop culture that surrounded them (crazy otto/wolfman jack). it's almost as if it's an inside joke, or a poetic play on conversations hunter and jerry had, just as lyrics with great phrases: "pace the halls and climb the walls, and get out when they blow", "clank you chains, count your change, and try to walk the line" are favorites of mine. so i guess, in answer to one of your questions, i prefer to let the lyrics wash over me invoking that old mental kaleidoscope so i can apply or ponder meaning to the images as they come, or not, and just enjoy the ride to the song's peak which has one of the great "hunter-isms" in the band's catalog: "the grass ain't greener, the wine ain't sweeter, either side of the hill." if anyone hasn't heard it, on 3/26/73, Wolfman Jack does the band's introduction for the second set, and they oblige by opening with a Ramble on Rose.
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i love the mondegreens, and i have some great examples! a dear friend acquired an audio cassette of "In the Dark" while participating in the Seoul Paralympics in 1988 & it included the Korean English translation... it is hilarious! Some of the best comes from Hell in a Bucket: Now I'm a sweet little sucker pretender Somehow Renny got hot as he gets With her black leather clothes box suspenders Her jet and her whip and her pet We know you do reincarnation with a rubber that's caught in the grate And we know how you love your ovations And the z-rated scenes you create.... When Push Comes to Shove: Shaking in the forest what have you to fear Killing baby tigers that punch you in the ear... Shaking in the desert where for do you cry Killing baby rattle snakes that punch you in the eye... Shaking in the bedroom covers on your head Cringing like a baby with your head beneath the bed The phantom in the closet scratching at the door And he just missed the killing you saw on the floor & they go on & on... i think i sent these to Robert Hunter years ago... they are too classic! & i know i've heard the recording where Jerry sings "Wake up to find out that you are the SIZE of the world" :) on a side note, i remember standing in line with you at the Warfield ? or somewhere in SF & you enlightened us all to the Elmer Fudd version of dead tunes...... fun! keep on twuckin'... andrea~
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While I agree with others that the mix of images in this song can stand on their own, I also think that it carries some meaning. Like any good work of art, though, that meaning is contradictory. It seems to me that the song is about a bunch of seekers and the irresistable urge to wander, to ramble on, even if staying put might be the wiser choice. The characters in the story want to climb the walls and seek the greener grass, even if there is no such thing. Billy Sunday, Wolfman Jack, Hunter, even Jack and Jill--they're all seeking something outside of themselves and can't just "settle down easy," because there may be something out there that they'll miss. I second the notion that "Weather Report Suite" would be a great song to look at next!
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That was Beazer's take on a poignant moment late in a second set at the Greek in '88. Our group pretty much lost it, for days. I thought we were living the teller window scene in Take The Money And Run. When comedy competes with your enjoyment of the music, take it as a sign.
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I absolutely love the line. "The grass ain't greener, the wine ain't sweeter either side of the hill" One of those metaphysical "be here now" statements to filter my life's choices thru. Its the drug to creativity, imagination, & visualization, always wanting more, knowing, its never enough! Feels like it might be alright
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There's a great (if often hissy, in my experience, as it was much recorded off the air) live recording of Hunter at My Father's Place in NYC (I think) in 1978. It has a very upbeat ROR, among many charming features.
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Thanks to all for your contributions, memories, mis-hearings, fun weird translations, and all. "Ramble On Rose" contains a universe, I think. I will go into more detail about my Elmer Fudd impersonation if and when we get around to "That's It for the Other One." But be prepared, it could change the way you hear the song forever...and not necessarily in a good way. I am glad to have had the synchronicity of the "Ramble On Rose" having appeared on the new Dave's Picks (volume 5)! That whole set is absolutely wonderful. And how great to hear that Wolfman Jack actually introduced the band! I did not know that. I'll have to track it down... As to interpretations, I guess I find it reassuring to hear from so many of you that the kaleidoscope of images and associations conjured up by the song make us all arrive at our varied destinations in such a wide variety of ways. If that makes any sense at all. ("It's a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken...perhaps they're better left unsung. I don't know, don't really care...let there be songs to fill the air.")
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somehow my wife tells me that she believed through the entire 80's that big boss man was... are you ready...big ball of string ...i know its crazy now i thought for years that "Annie Beauneu from Saint Angel" was anyone knows from Saint Angel and it still sounds like that to me i also thought (like another poster) that it was flashin my keys down on main street and would have thought so for much longer but i had the opp to read truckin lyrics early on how bout this... wake up to find out her (his) thighs are the size of the world
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I heard the same words to Black Peter!
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On 'Deal', I like to hear "I hate to leave you sittin' there composin' loathsome blues" (loathsome instead of lonesome). I think there's a chapter on this 'misheard lyrics' theme in a book called Tell Me All That You Know by Brian A. Folker.
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"loathsome blues"!
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I always thought it might be refering to someone who is engaging in nonsensical chatter after drinking too much kool-aid, has reached their peak and Hunter was cautioning them about the downside of the trip? Speaking of misheard lyrics my lady friend thought for the longest time that the lyrics to Friend of the Devil said the second reason why I cry away each lonely night was because the ......second one is "prison bait and the sheriff is on my trail!"
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Like many of Hunter's songs, Ramble sounds to me like a kaleidoscope of Americana. I don't hear so much of a "meaning" here as in a linear story but a jubilant stew of American cultural references. It's designed to feel something like flipping through news channels detailing different points in American history. Most (if not all) the characters in the song have some importance in the history of American culture, and Ramblin' Rose herself seems about as independent and free-spirited as they come (Ramble on Baby!) and what exemplifies most people's perception of what it means to be "American." (Although I must note that Mary Shelley was English, but Frankenstien had as much impact on American fiction as that of any other country.) That's not to say that it's supposed to be patriotic or anything like that, just a stream-of-consciouenss tour of different facets of the American cultural experience. It encapsulates some of the same themes used in U.S. Blues, albeit with fewer metaphors. (Billy Sunday, P.T. Barnum, Crazy Otto, Charlie Chan) Speaking of misunderstanding lyrics, in Loser I've always heard "Don't you push me baby, 'cause I'm all alone." I interpreted it as an expression of the character's desperation but "holding low" reveals much more about his posture int the card game.
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What I always found interesting about this one is near repetition of "Ramblin' Rose" as "Ramble on, Rose" in the chorus. In most readings of these lines, there's a functional shift between the two terms; "Ramblin" is understood to be an adjective, while "Ramble" is understood to be a verb. Along with this adjective > verb reading also comes the question of person: "Ramble on, Rose" then is an implied second-person; this is direct address, even though the word "you" is not spoken. But this line can also be read without the functional shift; "Ramble on" can be interpreted as an adjective, in the sense that the Rose in question has been rambled upon; at least that's how I remember hearing it a few times back in the day. I don't know; maybe it was the doses, but then there's the etymology of the word "ramble" to consider: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=ramble
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I've heard the lyric for years, "back to back chicken shack", and just thought of it as a non sensical rhyme, but now I see it's somebody's been real down on his luck and the last two pads have been in chicken shacks. Geez. It only took me almost 23 years till I heard it right.
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That's a good one, fourwinds! I never caught that idea before, either. Now, I need to find my Hunter lyrics book.
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Thanks, Mike, for that comment about the shift from adjective to verb. And I might add, to proper noun. Your allusion to "Must've Been the Roses" reminds me of a long shaggy-dog story told by the Flying Karamazov Brothers in which a man goes to the doctor and is diagnosed with "mustard bean neurosis." Is there no end to this madness?
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I have no doubt that Robert Hunter is a genius and a wordsmith and all that but it seems a little odd sometimes if you take it too far. For example...not having the word "the" in their and implying this or that, adjectives, nouns, etc...you could spend your whole life trying to figure out what it meant to him but it only matters what it means to you. His whole thing was ambiguity. I think its pretty easy to be vague but its not easy to do what he did. He writes with such eloquence and grace but still often leaves open for discussion. I am die hard Dylan fan but my favorite wordsmith is Robert Hunter, but not because of his songs believe it or not. In the Anthem to Beauty documentary, he speaks of writing To Lay Me Down, Brokedown Palace, & Ripple on the same day. He says something along the lines of "I hope these days would come again...oh they will...but not for me" Of course he wrote many many great songs after those, including Ramble on Rose, but I think that really sums up who he is as a person and a writer. A humble guy with a great deal of insight of whats going on around him. Of course, I dont know him personally...
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I googled "mustard bean neurosis" and got nothing, then I said it aloud and I've been grinning about it ever since. Thanks, David.
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"Just like Cherry Coke!". From another song, I always heard "There's a train in Wenatchee that's loose on the town, takes a whole pail of water...." In that case, in my opinion, it's almost as good as the real lyric, fitting in nicely with the Grateful Dead's archtypes.
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Yes, it does seem like analysis can get too nerdy and picky and all that a lot of the time, and I generally try to avoid it myself. I'm interested in the reaction, the hit we get off things, the way what we hear connects disparate parts of ourselves and of the way we perceive the world. Hence my work on the annotations, which do not get into interpretation, but simply try to take a factual look at what might be being sung about or alluded to. Nice post--thanks!
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you have to remember, robert hunter was not researching these factoids to drop into his tunes. he had an arsenal of literary knowledge that he deployed seemingly effortlessly. it's only to us more feeble-brained individuals that have to strain for these references.
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Funny how the lyrics pop up or take on new meaning sometimes... heading back from a Buffalo show, I got on the NYS Thruway and there was the "Count Your Change" sign upon leaving the toll booth. Okay. But then hearing the line beginning with "Just like New York City..." the first time after 911: that was heavy.
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I thought I'd post my interpretation of Ramble on Rose since I haven't seen one similar yet. I see a lot of references to a certain unity behind the apparent duality of our world, and transcending or moving beyond such duality. The most prominent lines are: Just like Jack and Jill, Mama told the sailor One heat up and one cool down, Leave nothin' for the tailor Just like Jack and Jill, Papa told the jailer One go up and one come down, Do yourself a favor To me, Jack and Jill represent to poles of a duality and the song is pointing to their inherent balance. One heats up, one cools down. "Leave nothing for the tailor" means there is no remainder to the equation, so to speak. One goes up, one goes down. Papa tells the jailer "Do yourself a favor" i.e., lock them both up or set them both free because they are linked. Something like that, maybe. Also, Mama and Papa are another expression of duality. I know this song it ain't never gonna end I'm gonna march you up and down the local county line Take you to the leader of the band To me, this indicates that apparent duality is a basic feature of our world and isn't going away. By walking the line between apparent opposites, maintaining a balance, we rise/transcend... all the way to the "leader of the band". Open for interpretation... God? Higher self? It's left open, but basically speaks of drawing closer to the highest. This line may also link to the part after Frankenstein, "Try to walk the line" Goodbye, Mama and Papa Goodbye, Jack and Jill The grass ain't greener, the wine ain't sweeter either side of the hill. To me, this is about moving beyond duality. Saying goodbye to Mama/Papa, Jack/Jill, and the idea that one is better than the other since there is a fundamental unity behind apparent opposites. I don't always see how the wealth of musical/cultural references fit in this interpretation, and the song surely works on many levels, but I can see some of them. Billy Sunday in a shotgun ragtime band... perhaps the duality of an evangelistic preacher who used what many would have considered "vulgar" music? Crazy Otto... Crazy Otto being a reference to Fritz Schulz-Reichel, who alternated between "serious" music and ragtime. This points to the unity of music that transcends false dichotomies of "serious" music and "vulgar" music. As Garcia said in a Rolling Stone interview, "You have to get past the idea that music has to be one thing. To be alive in America is to hear all kinds of music constantly--radio, records, churches, cats on the street, everywhere music, man." Wolfman Jack... a radio DJ with the apparent duality of being a white DJ everyone thought was black. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein... not really sure here, but it makes me think of Mary Shelley being the creator of the Frankenstein story, and Dr. Frankenstein being the creator of the monster... sort of a duality between creator and created. Obviously some of these interpretations are quite tentative and loose, but there is so much in this song that, to me, really does speak about moving beyond apparent duality that I think it's a worthwhile contribution to possible interpretations of the song.
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I think this song is about loving someone who is indecisive, and fears commitment. The duelty you describe, to me seems like the narrator is naming pairs of opposites to describe his lover's bipolarity. She wants to love him one day, possibly because she needs him at the moment. Then the next day she feels trapped, bc there is another opportunity that she wonders about being better than where she is. Maybe she decides to leave or cheat, then returns to him once the other lover doesn't seem to want her. She won't make and firm commitment or plan. She just "rambles on" waiting for life to force her into a plan or decide to commit to someone. "Pace the halls and climb the walls. Then get out when they blow". Eventually her inability to be committed or able to make any decisions, ends up causing her to mislead and hurt others. It also makes her dig a hole so deep that she relies on others to save her all the time. He erratic and impulsive behavior is just a cycle of self destruction, that she never learns from. The chorus describes his despair, in being lead on, only to be let down. "I'm gonna to sing you a hundred verses in ragtime, I know this song it ain't never gonna end. I'm gonna march you up and down along the county line, Take you to the leader of a band." Ragtime is a genre of music with improvisations by the "leader of the band". The backing accompaniment instruments play in 2/4 time creating a syncopated rythm with the the leaders unpredictable improv melody. This is like Jerry himself. The leader is the one choosing the direction, as the band follows. He easily decides on a whim and guides the band through the song. The county line lies between two counties. It is between both the beginning and end at the same time. He marches her up and down the line, trying to convince her in 100 different ways(100 verses) to lean his way, He's learning that this song will never end. No matter how many ways he tries to convince her, she keeps walking that line, refusing to lean. Not even the leader of the band can make her march off that line. He realizes she won't change. The ending of the song he says "goodbye mama and papa, goodbye jack and jill. The grass ain't green, the wine aint sweeter, on either side of the hill." He had enough and is telling her goodbye, while warning her that the grass isn't any greener where she's looking. She is living in a fantasy world. She wants the ideal to overcome the actual. It seems she will always be looking for something that doesn't exist, instead of appreciating anything that she has, or finding love and happiness within herself.
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My head hurts from all the analysis...which is really great. But in the end, it's just cool song and fun to sing along.
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    Zideader
    4 months 3 weeks ago
    Rambel on Rose
    I feel like rose is a euphemism for all of us and all the names are nods to the quality of human beings represented. People who weren't afraid to live and more importantly live how they wanted to freely. Ultimately defining what it truly means to be alive and grateful...
  • Default Avatar
    Quercus
    1 year 4 months ago
    A skull to go with the roses.
    What if... the narrator is a man on death row awaiting his date with eternity. If you listen to the song with that interpretation in mind... Rose is a lover of his on the other side of the jailhouse bars. Papa and Mama both spoke to the jailer. Jack fell down and broke his crown. (The means of execution) Frankenstein was re-animated after death. (Wasn't it the body of a convicted killer?) Wolf man is another monster reference. The other side of the hill is the afterlife. Ain't so great for this guy. The ragtime songs never end-- a reference to eternity and This would be in keeping with the classic western ballad style in a lot of GD songs. Me and My uncle, mama tried, etc. Lots of that esthetic on Workingman's, American Beauty, and Aoxomoxoa. (Otto is also a palindrome...) ....And what if Rose is the killer?
  • mkav
    1 year 7 months ago
    It's just cool
    My head hurts from all the analysis...which is really great. But in the end, it's just cool song and fun to sing along.
  • Default Avatar
    Jamiej416
    1 year 7 months ago
    I think this song is about
    I think this song is about loving someone who is indecisive, and fears commitment. The duelty you describe, to me seems like the narrator is naming pairs of opposites to describe his lover's bipolarity. She wants to love him one day, possibly because she needs him at the moment. Then the next day she feels trapped, bc there is another opportunity that she wonders about being better than where she is. Maybe she decides to leave or cheat, then returns to him once the other lover doesn't seem to want her. She won't make and firm commitment or plan. She just "rambles on" waiting for life to force her into a plan or decide to commit to someone. "Pace the halls and climb the walls. Then get out when they blow". Eventually her inability to be committed or able to make any decisions, ends up causing her to mislead and hurt others. It also makes her dig a hole so deep that she relies on others to save her all the time. He erratic and impulsive behavior is just a cycle of self destruction, that she never learns from. The chorus describes his despair, in being lead on, only to be let down. "I'm gonna to sing you a hundred verses in ragtime, I know this song it ain't never gonna end. I'm gonna march you up and down along the county line, Take you to the leader of a band." Ragtime is a genre of music with improvisations by the "leader of the band". The backing accompaniment instruments play in 2/4 time creating a syncopated rythm with the the leaders unpredictable improv melody. This is like Jerry himself. The leader is the one choosing the direction, as the band follows. He easily decides on a whim and guides the band through the song. The county line lies between two counties. It is between both the beginning and end at the same time. He marches her up and down the line, trying to convince her in 100 different ways(100 verses) to lean his way, He's learning that this song will never end. No matter how many ways he tries to convince her, she keeps walking that line, refusing to lean. Not even the leader of the band can make her march off that line. He realizes she won't change. The ending of the song he says "goodbye mama and papa, goodbye jack and jill. The grass ain't green, the wine aint sweeter, on either side of the hill." He had enough and is telling her goodbye, while warning her that the grass isn't any greener where she's looking. She is living in a fantasy world. She wants the ideal to overcome the actual. It seems she will always be looking for something that doesn't exist, instead of appreciating anything that she has, or finding love and happiness within herself.
  • Default Avatar
    ethios4
    2 years 2 months ago
    Moving beyond apparent duality
    I thought I'd post my interpretation of Ramble on Rose since I haven't seen one similar yet. I see a lot of references to a certain unity behind the apparent duality of our world, and transcending or moving beyond such duality. The most prominent lines are: Just like Jack and Jill, Mama told the sailor One heat up and one cool down, Leave nothin' for the tailor Just like Jack and Jill, Papa told the jailer One go up and one come down, Do yourself a favor To me, Jack and Jill represent to poles of a duality and the song is pointing to their inherent balance. One heats up, one cools down. "Leave nothing for the tailor" means there is no remainder to the equation, so to speak. One goes up, one goes down. Papa tells the jailer "Do yourself a favor" i.e., lock them both up or set them both free because they are linked. Something like that, maybe. Also, Mama and Papa are another expression of duality. I know this song it ain't never gonna end I'm gonna march you up and down the local county line Take you to the leader of the band To me, this indicates that apparent duality is a basic feature of our world and isn't going away. By walking the line between apparent opposites, maintaining a balance, we rise/transcend... all the way to the "leader of the band". Open for interpretation... God? Higher self? It's left open, but basically speaks of drawing closer to the highest. This line may also link to the part after Frankenstein, "Try to walk the line" Goodbye, Mama and Papa Goodbye, Jack and Jill The grass ain't greener, the wine ain't sweeter either side of the hill. To me, this is about moving beyond duality. Saying goodbye to Mama/Papa, Jack/Jill, and the idea that one is better than the other since there is a fundamental unity behind apparent opposites. I don't always see how the wealth of musical/cultural references fit in this interpretation, and the song surely works on many levels, but I can see some of them. Billy Sunday in a shotgun ragtime band... perhaps the duality of an evangelistic preacher who used what many would have considered "vulgar" music? Crazy Otto... Crazy Otto being a reference to Fritz Schulz-Reichel, who alternated between "serious" music and ragtime. This points to the unity of music that transcends false dichotomies of "serious" music and "vulgar" music. As Garcia said in a Rolling Stone interview, "You have to get past the idea that music has to be one thing. To be alive in America is to hear all kinds of music constantly--radio, records, churches, cats on the street, everywhere music, man." Wolfman Jack... a radio DJ with the apparent duality of being a white DJ everyone thought was black. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein... not really sure here, but it makes me think of Mary Shelley being the creator of the Frankenstein story, and Dr. Frankenstein being the creator of the monster... sort of a duality between creator and created. Obviously some of these interpretations are quite tentative and loose, but there is so much in this song that, to me, really does speak about moving beyond apparent duality that I think it's a worthwhile contribution to possible interpretations of the song.