• January 16, 2014
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-scarlet-begonias
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - “Scarlet Begonias”

    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!)

    “Scarlet Begonias”

    It’s a bouncy, bubbling song. It seems to be about one, thing, then blossoms into being about everything. It’s got lyrical motifs aplenty (flowers, nursery rhymes, gambling, shapes, colors, musical forms, precious metals, and more). This song, come to think of it, has it all.

    Do you need encouragement and inclusion? “Everybody’s playing in the heart of gold band.”

    How about some hard-fought wisdom? “I had to learn the hard way to let her pass by...”

    Or maybe some cosmic teaching? “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

    This song is laced with memorable and meaningful lines, showcasing Robert Hunter at the height of his songwriting chops, and paired perfectly with a similar accomplishment from Jerry Garcia. Few songs in the Dead repertoire can get at us in so many ways, make us see our lives from so many angles simultaneously, and immediately launch us all into a groove of furious dancing.

    “Scarlet Begonias.” It’s the one Dead tune I’ve heard played repeatedly at San Francisco Giants games.

    It debuted on March 23, 1974, at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California—a show that also featured the first “Cassidy,” and the sound test for the Wall of Sound. After that, it was never long out of rotation, and from 1977 on, it was rarely without its mate, “Fire on the Mountain.” The song’s final performance by the Dead was on July 2, 1995, at Deer Creek Music Center, in Noblesville, Indiana. “Scarlet Begonias” was played 316 times in concert.

    The song was recorded on Grateful Dead From the Mars Hotel, on June 27, 1974, and it opened side two of the LP. It was the first song I played on my new stereo system at college. (Who cares? I do—it was a memorable moment in my music listening life.)

    This is definitely a story song. Like most of Hunter’s story songs, it has an uncertain outcome, and the sequence of events is a bit up for grabs. Our narrator is in London, walking around in the neighborhood of the US Embassy, and sees a pretty girl—his gaze is drawn to her. They meet, she either is or is not impervious to his charms, they engage in a (likely metaphorical) game of cards, and he learns to let her pass by—but what is meant by learning the hard way? “Do they, or don’t they”, as I believe Blair Jackson summarized the central mystery of the song.

    But does it matter whether they did or didn’t? Clearly, he wanted to. He was drawn to her. There is nothing wrong about it, it’s just the way of the world. There’s nothing wrong with the way she moves, there’s nothing wrong with her other charms, and there isn’t anything wrong with the reciprocating look in her eye. After all, sings the narrator: “I ain’t often right, but I’ve never been wrong,” adding, “It seldom turns out the way it does in the song.” Hmmmm.

    I’ve gone round and round in my head about all the clues in the song.

    “She was too pat to open, and too cool to bluff.” Sounds like a card game metaphor for a one-night-stand courtship. But what might it mean, exactly? Your speculation welcome, as always, here. One idea I’ve heard is that the sensible formulation of the lines would be “She was too cool to open, and too pat to bluff,” and maybe Hunter is just switching up the meanings—along the same lines as the sky being yellow and the sun, blue. And if he’s picking up his matches at the end of the evening (I always envisioned the old use of matches as stand-ins for chips, used to bet in a poker game, but maybe the matches were used for something else…), is he a winner or a loser?

    The sense of déjà vu our narrator experiences as he “picks up his matches” and closes the door—is that a sense that he is doomed to repeat this longing, this pursuit (successful or not) on an endless basis? OK—that’s what I get from it, I admit. “The open palm of desire,” as Paul Simon refers to that aspect of the human condition, “wants everything, wants everything.” This song is laced with desire, innocence, lost innocence, regret, and recurring longing—and self-revelation.

    And then, the magic.

    That last verse takes the entire story—sad or not—that has gone before: the story of the human condition of falling prey to desire and then moving beyond it again only to know that one will fall again, and blows it all out of the water.

    The glee that pervades a crowd when that verse is sung! We can look around the room, and see, not just a crowd of crazy happy dancers, but an actual community of fellow-passengers on the planet, all playing in the Heart of Gold Band. Shaking hands with each other, though we feel like strangers. (“Shake the hand, that shook the hand...” comes to mind, from side one of the album...)

    And, like the imagery in “China Cat Sunflower” that Hunter is glad no one has ever had to ask the meaning of, we are presented with the perfect line: “The sky was yellow and the sun was blue.” The condition of altered perception allows us to break out of our straightjacket of loneliness, and to connect with our tribe, and, by extension, to the entire world of beings.

    Musically, the song has magic to match the words, and more. The bouncing opening riff, the verse, the bridge, and then back into that riff for an extended jam that can lead anywhere before settling, usually, into “Fire on the Mountain.” And, at the end of “Fire,” a quick return to the “Scarlet” riff. Such satisfying sonata form happiness!

    Looking forward to reading your thoughts about the song. Was there a time when something about this song, in the immortal words of The Beatles, “zapped you right between the eyes”?

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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!)

“Scarlet Begonias”

It’s a bouncy, bubbling song. It seems to be about one, thing, then blossoms into being about everything. It’s got lyrical motifs aplenty (flowers, nursery rhymes, gambling, shapes, colors, musical forms, precious metals, and more). This song, come to think of it, has it all.

Do you need encouragement and inclusion? “Everybody’s playing in the heart of gold band.”

How about some hard-fought wisdom? “I had to learn the hard way to let her pass by...”

Or maybe some cosmic teaching? “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.”

This song is laced with memorable and meaningful lines, showcasing Robert Hunter at the height of his songwriting chops, and paired perfectly with a similar accomplishment from Jerry Garcia. Few songs in the Dead repertoire can get at us in so many ways, make us see our lives from so many angles simultaneously, and immediately launch us all into a groove of furious dancing.

“Scarlet Begonias.” It’s the one Dead tune I’ve heard played repeatedly at San Francisco Giants games.

It debuted on March 23, 1974, at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California—a show that also featured the first “Cassidy,” and the sound test for the Wall of Sound. After that, it was never long out of rotation, and from 1977 on, it was rarely without its mate, “Fire on the Mountain.” The song’s final performance by the Dead was on July 2, 1995, at Deer Creek Music Center, in Noblesville, Indiana. “Scarlet Begonias” was played 316 times in concert.

The song was recorded on Grateful Dead From the Mars Hotel, on June 27, 1974, and it opened side two of the LP. It was the first song I played on my new stereo system at college. (Who cares? I do—it was a memorable moment in my music listening life.)

This is definitely a story song. Like most of Hunter’s story songs, it has an uncertain outcome, and the sequence of events is a bit up for grabs. Our narrator is in London, walking around in the neighborhood of the US Embassy, and sees a pretty girl—his gaze is drawn to her. They meet, she either is or is not impervious to his charms, they engage in a (likely metaphorical) game of cards, and he learns to let her pass by—but what is meant by learning the hard way? “Do they, or don’t they”, as I believe Blair Jackson summarized the central mystery of the song.

But does it matter whether they did or didn’t? Clearly, he wanted to. He was drawn to her. There is nothing wrong about it, it’s just the way of the world. There’s nothing wrong with the way she moves, there’s nothing wrong with her other charms, and there isn’t anything wrong with the reciprocating look in her eye. After all, sings the narrator: “I ain’t often right, but I’ve never been wrong,” adding, “It seldom turns out the way it does in the song.” Hmmmm.

I’ve gone round and round in my head about all the clues in the song.

“She was too pat to open, and too cool to bluff.” Sounds like a card game metaphor for a one-night-stand courtship. But what might it mean, exactly? Your speculation welcome, as always, here. One idea I’ve heard is that the sensible formulation of the lines would be “She was too cool to open, and too pat to bluff,” and maybe Hunter is just switching up the meanings—along the same lines as the sky being yellow and the sun, blue. And if he’s picking up his matches at the end of the evening (I always envisioned the old use of matches as stand-ins for chips, used to bet in a poker game, but maybe the matches were used for something else…), is he a winner or a loser?

The sense of déjà vu our narrator experiences as he “picks up his matches” and closes the door—is that a sense that he is doomed to repeat this longing, this pursuit (successful or not) on an endless basis? OK—that’s what I get from it, I admit. “The open palm of desire,” as Paul Simon refers to that aspect of the human condition, “wants everything, wants everything.” This song is laced with desire, innocence, lost innocence, regret, and recurring longing—and self-revelation.

And then, the magic.

That last verse takes the entire story—sad or not—that has gone before: the story of the human condition of falling prey to desire and then moving beyond it again only to know that one will fall again, and blows it all out of the water.

The glee that pervades a crowd when that verse is sung! We can look around the room, and see, not just a crowd of crazy happy dancers, but an actual community of fellow-passengers on the planet, all playing in the Heart of Gold Band. Shaking hands with each other, though we feel like strangers. (“Shake the hand, that shook the hand...” comes to mind, from side one of the album...)

And, like the imagery in “China Cat Sunflower” that Hunter is glad no one has ever had to ask the meaning of, we are presented with the perfect line: “The sky was yellow and the sun was blue.” The condition of altered perception allows us to break out of our straightjacket of loneliness, and to connect with our tribe, and, by extension, to the entire world of beings.

Musically, the song has magic to match the words, and more. The bouncing opening riff, the verse, the bridge, and then back into that riff for an extended jam that can lead anywhere before settling, usually, into “Fire on the Mountain.” And, at the end of “Fire,” a quick return to the “Scarlet” riff. Such satisfying sonata form happiness!

Looking forward to reading your thoughts about the song. Was there a time when something about this song, in the immortal words of The Beatles, “zapped you right between the eyes”?

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It’s a bouncy, bubbling song. It seems to be about one, thing, then blossoms into being about everything. It’s got lyrical motifs aplenty (flowers, nursery rhymes, gambling, shapes, colors, musical forms, precious metals, and more). This song, come to think of it, has it all.
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Greatest Stories Ever Told - “Scarlet Begonias”
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t’s a bouncy, bubbling song. It seems to be about one, thing, then blossoms into being about everything. It’s got lyrical motifs aplenty (flowers, nursery rhymes, gambling, shapes, colors, musical forms, precious metals, and more). This song, come to think of it, has it all.
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t’s a bouncy, bubbling song. It seems to be about one, thing, then blossoms into being about everything. It’s got lyrical motifs aplenty (flowers, nursery rhymes, gambling, shapes, colors, musical forms, precious metals, and more). This song, come to think of it, has it all.

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Another wonderful song, and that's a great write-up David. To me this is like a magic realist painting. You're walking along in a city just thinking there's a nip to the air today, and all of a sudden BAM, there's an incident or a sight or a glance that grabs you and the whole scenario suddenly becomes vivid. It could be an illusion but while the magic is so present you might as well as follow it. This feeling of heightened reality is similar to the feeling of déjà vu mentioned a few verses later, "I had one of those flashes, I'd been there before." I've always felt déjà vu was a feeling caused by remembering a dream. We often experience states where the sky is yellow and the sun is blue, there are bells on a beautiful woman's shoes, there are scarlet begonias tucked into her curls (a scarlet begonia is pretty big, so how exactly would being tucked into her curls work??), and the wind in the willows (a book I loved as a child) plays tea for two. It's called dreaming, where the mind replays all the things that have happened to us that day, jumbles them around, and hopefully internalizes them and makes sense of them. While this is happening it doesn't seem strange at all. We spend a lot of our time in this state of heightened reality where a few of the multitude of images passing us by jump right off the page into our lives. I remember the summer Mars Hotel came out like a dream from long ago, and I remember what this song meant to me at the time. Was that a dream or a time of heightened reality? I also (as mentioned in earlier posts) saw Hunter sing this in Boston recently, surrounded by roses that had been thrown on the stage. He introduced this as written for his wife, and I've always heard, "The love that's in her eye," even when Garcia sang it. Another memory of this song is hearing DSO do it as an encore at the recent concert in Concord NH I've mentioned. They closed not by going into FOTM, but with the sudden ending to the jam, like jolting awake from a dream and having it still echoing in your soul.
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Oh--I knew the album from a long time ago already--but I wanted Scarlet Begonias to be the first song played on my new system. It was just exactly perfect.
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Sometimes I'd be at a show and this song in particular, usually after smoking some good stuff; I found myself thinking Jerry was slipping in some magic words from a different language.Ha ha! must have been really good stuff. I sure miss going to the show.
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On David's Annotated Lyrics site there's much commentary about the line "she was too pat to open and too cool to bluff". Here's my take on that-- I hear it is an example of a koanic conundrum. If one is dealt a pat hand, then declining to open is itself a kind of bluff. So, if you are too cool to bluff, how do you not open? The line about picking up matches? I don't hear a metaphor here--the matches are just ordinary matches to go with your smokes. Why does he pick them up? Only as a poetic convenience because "matches" rhymes with the following (more important line) "one of those flashes". Okay, specific line readings aside, the really notable aspect of Begonias is here we have another absolutely essential Dead tune. An ode to youthful freedom and folly. A catalyst for simple joys and communal exuberance. As usual, Dr Dodd hits the nail on the head by noting that moment so sacred to all who've enjoyed hearing this in concert: The wind in the willows playing Tea for Two The sky was yellow and the sun was blue Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand Everybody is playing in the heart of gold band Heart of gold band Wow! The verse carries exclamation points on every line! It marks the end of the structured part of the song and sends us on our way into that joyous journey of shared movement, sailing weightless, buoyed by that glorious sound of rhythms within rhythms, strings within strings, notes within notes. Finally, the lyrics have come to remind me that Jerry found such a beautiful way to cover "What a Wonderful World", which includes the verse The colors of the rainbow So pretty in the sky Are also on the faces Of people passing by I see friends shaking hands Saying "How do you do?" They're really saying, "I love you".
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She is the woman I always hoped to be. I've always been too Pat to open. I've been for 21 years. I too have always wondered about those begonias. Ruby Begonias?
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I love the pairing of Scarlet/Fire. But of the versions I've heard, those that inspire me most are pre-Fire. For example, the closing jam on the DP12 version is one I can get lost in every time. It's got a steady cadence and progression until it "arrives". And then having done so seems to go so many places without really ever leaving. Masterpiece of music.
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https://archive.org/details/gd1976-10-01.sonyECM33p.moore.berger-tallma… RIP Jerry Moore: he recorded this 20' from the stage 10/1/76 in Indy. The whole show rocks! Scarlet with Donna's vocals and dancing has a mystique to it with great piano and guitar work. I always thought Jerry was mentioning a pack of cigarettes when he sang "too pat (packed?) to open". If you ever smoked Lucky's or Camels, you always tapped the pack down on a hard surface so the cigs would burn slower, and sometimes, too packed to pull out of the pack! BTW, side 1 of Mars Hotel contains US Blues, China Doll, Unbroken Chain and Loose Lucy. I never did figure out what those colorful characteristics represent, or spell out, beneath the album title, and again on the back cover.
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To me the brilliance of the lyrics is from the literary use of paradox. Each lyrical phrase has a contradictory partner. If we look up synonyms for 'paradox' we find words like mystery, abiguity, and enigma. This is exactly what Robert Hunter was aiming for, and achieved. We know what the song is about and yet we know nothing about it. Starting with mere differences of opinion-- not a chill to the winter but a nip to the air-- by the end of the song we end up in some kind of alternate world where 'the sky was yellow and the sun was blue.' This transformation is paired perfectly with the music of course; we are at first listening to the narrator and find ourselves joining him on the journey.
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“I felt as if my world had been turned on its head; as if I had woken up to find a blue sun in the yellow sky, or heard animals speaking like men.” Barack Obama on realising that his father was not the hero he had imagined. From 'Dreams from my father' (1995). I wonder if that image came to him from Scarlet Begonias, although here it is used in a very different context.
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Ted, if you hold the cover of From the Mars Hotel upside down in front of a mirror, you will see that those cryptic figures spell out "Ugly Rumors". I'm sure lots of folks know this, but who knows why?
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I'll be doggone, One Man. Somehow a flickering recall of knowing this graphical discovery 39 years ago has re-emerged. Kelly-Mouse art is amazing! The San Francisco Mars Hotel was down the street from the studio where the album was recorded. There used to be another Mars Hotel in Spokane WA, but I believe it burned down. Cosmicbadger: interesting information about Obama and his late father. Yesterday's tv news featured a piece with the President whistling a tune before his cabinet meeting: sounded like Mellancamp's Little Pink Houses. Kathleen Sebelius may have twirled for a moment.
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I met my Scarlet at Irvine in '88. The lights dimmed, telling us the second set was percolating, then those familiar notes started reverberating throughout the soundscape. She was a brunette and had a ring of flowers around her hair (begonias? not sure. think they were petunias). She moved up the hill about two rows towards me and smiled. We danced that tune off as it was nobody's business, then she was gone. Thought I saw her again in Eugene in '93 but I can't be sure. I, to this day, have not forgotten that smile. Good, no, great times.
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I heard that that little tidbit was apparently going to be the name of the album as a play of words on ugly roomers, a comment on the less than mainstream denizens of the Mars Hotel (I got the sense that maybe there were people living there on assistance to cope with various disabilities). But they figured it would be too snarky. Or something like that. I first heard the song live 6/11/76 at my first show, but the one that really comes to mind is 5/11/78. It felt 4 dimensional in the room. I'd never heard Fire before and it just was all so perfect. Of course, SPAC in '83 was also a standout. As far as "too pat to open" goes, I always interpreted that line as talking about the experience of approaching her (or not) rather than her actions in a game. Too pat being too put together to be able to unpack, or in other words, open, and too cool to bluff meaning that there's no way you could bluff your way through her "patness". It somehow resonated with me in the context of being in another country, with social niceties that aren't really your own, especially if you live a somewhat fringe existence, even in your own country. Hunter goes over to Grosvenor Square and meets a nice English girl, and of course she's going to have this veneer of English manner and charm that seem inscrutable and the normal American ways of bluffing your way through the niceties not only won't work, but would be an affront to this person with whom, after all, there ain't nothing wrong. I would bet we've all been in that situation once or twice. And then after we let it pass by, we realize the greater community in which we reside.
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Former UK Prime Minister, war monger and GWB poodle Tony Blair had a college band called Ugly Rumours. Note adoption of British English Spelling. The Stop the War Coalition released a single in February 2007 credited to Ugly Rumours, with the band fronted by a lookalike claiming to be Tony Blair. The single, a cover version of Edwin Starr's hit "War", had a notable video. It reached number 6 in the UK midweek charts on 28 February, and charted at number 21 on 4 March. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ugly_Rumours_%28band%29
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I must say I truly enjoy these Weekly Explorations of All these Greatest Stories of the Good Old Grateful Dead! My Favorite Dead Song is typically the One I happen to be Listening to... and my Favorite Girl to Admire is the one I happen to be Admiring. I am Fickle that Way. "I’ve gone round and round in my head about all the clues in the song." Me Too, David. I can Imagine You watching the Vinyl going Round and Round on your new Turntable. What a Perfect Song to appreciate the quality of a new Sound System with. Its the whole Unrequited Love Dance, or so it Seems to me. Boy Sees Pretty Girl but soon Finds She is not as Interested in Him as He is in Her. I've been Pondering the Similarity of this "Scarlett Begonia" Story with the one in "Feel Like a Stranger". "She Showed me a Look that said Lets Go" "It Could be an Illusion, but I Might as Well Try" " Might as Well..Might as Well.." until I'm "Tore Up Over You and I Just Can't Find My Way" "She was Too Pat to Open and Too Cool to Bluff" "If This is Love then How Would I Know" "I Had to learn the Hard Way to let Her Pass By" That was a Typical Dance for a Fickle Guy Like Me (I am Fortunate to Now be Married 27 years and Freed from this Game!) Chasing an Illusion usually leads to Disillusion and Resentment and all that Torn Up Emotional Baggage Then Comes the "Light" to Shine the Way. Everything is made Right. "There Ain't Nothing Wrong..." Notice how the last part of "Scarlett" engages an Appreciation for the Whole Community rather than just One Particular Girl No More Feeling Like a Stranger when You are Playing in the Heart of Gold Band
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He picked up the matches and closed the door and turned into the Dragon with Matches lose on the town. Greek 85 is the Scarlet I like to listen to. Anyone who sweats like that must be all right.
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Of all the Grateful Dead's songs, along with Operator, Scarlet Begonias is one of the most fun to play on the guitar (those two songs just seem to fit right under the fingers) and I think it's in the single digits among their very best. After a few years riding - and growing up with - the wonderfully jazzy smooth sounds of Wake of the Flood, Mars Hotel's release was something new entirely, and Loose Lucy, Unbroken Chain and Scarlet Begonias in particular showed a new level of guitar interplay much more intense and precise than previous records. It really was one of the best recorded albums of its day, especially if you were able to get one of Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab's master recordings. Scarlet Begonias starts out kinda slow with some nicely funky guitar and bass figures and from then on it's balls to the walls and you'd better just hang on lightly because it only gets more intense from there. I really love the studio version, but they took it over the top at Cornell and I think I'll go put that exact song on my stereo right now. That said, however, I generally like the stand-alone versions better than the ones attached to Fire on the Mountain which, like Row Jimmy, is one of those songs where Jerry oft times tended to overdo the wah and just drag it out too long. And I'd bet most anything that he'd first laugh and then not disagree. Lyrically speaking, the parts I find most interesting are in the lines: “She had rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes And I knew without asking she was into the blues As I picked up my matches and was closing the door I had one of those flashes I had been there before Been there before… Well I ain't often right but I've never been wrong It seldom turns out the way it does in the song Once in a while you get shown the light In the strangest of places if you look at it right…” A one-of-those-flashes similar occurrence happened to me once in New Orleans when a girl I could have sworn I went to high school with walked out of a bar looking exactly as she did forty years ago. I thought about it for a moment before scratching my gray beard, turning and walking away…closing the door (but not necessarily the mind), so to speak. He’s Gone, Born Cross-Eyed, and quite a few others also touch on this theme, as David observed, of déjà vu or reincarnation, but each song has its own unique twist in how it deals with the perplexing encounter: “Seems like I've been here before Fuzzy then and still so obscure…” or "Rat in a drain ditch, caught on a limb You know better, but I know him Like I told you, what I said Steal your face right off your head" Perhaps someday, as Scarlet Begonia's last verse intones, we'll put all of those curious confusions behind: "The wind in the willows playing Tea for Two The sky was yellow and the sun was blue Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand Everybody is playing in the heart of gold band Heart of gold band..." As Peter Pan might muse in a fairy dust-off whilst wingin' Wendy out the window o'er Grosvenor Square: "Now that's a really happy thought indeed..." Doomp da-do-de doomp... HA! I really love this song.
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Sandy kicked our asses here on the Jersey shore. Ours (Dead On Live) was the 1st show held at the Count Basie Theater after the power finally came on. A good portion of the audience were quite possibly still homeless. I used the opportunity to bring up the house lights for "Strangers stopping strangers" line (around 5 min in) and have everyone meet the neighbor they helped or meet the neighbor that helped them. It was a magical moment in the show. People were hugging each other. Heck of a song, indeed. Random audience vid posted on youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uqkhqDM6oXA
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I think Dave hit it right on with the comic teaching part....Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.....it's one of those lines that I always think about living my life......you need to open up and pay attention to the world around you there's lots of beauty out there, you just have to find it. If more people listened to music, really listened and especially listened to the Dead the world would be a better place....Peace
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Wonderful elucidation of a great song full of pregnant lines and charming imagery. "She was to pat to open and too cool to bluff" evokes for me a stunningly beautiful girl who could stroll through the gates of hell, a lions den or a drunken frat party without giving an inch and exit unscathed.
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This is clearly a potential sexual encounter with an otherwise coupled man and an extremely attractive woman. "Had to learn the hard way to let it pass by."
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Love the lyrics, the look in her eye, like most of the eyes at shows so happy and dilated, though a lot of hunters songs do reference card games never really pieced this work of art to tht I more or less think of it as a meeting of chance at a show, though the square is in London maybe was influenced from Europe 72 tour, rings on fingers bells on her shoes common place among us anyway all is left to ones own interpretation have to see what my GD dictionary says is a grate book if you get the chance pick one up greate reading of tunes and other GD facts and stuff yea stuff
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I'm approaching the 32nd anniversary of meeting my Scarlet. She walked into the record store in Glasgow, Scotland, and I knew right away she was into the blues. She also purchased "Anthem of the Sun" among other. I still love my Scarlet though I usually have to call her Sheila. And this is still "our song".
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While in London recently, I spent a couple of nights a bit north of Hyde Park. Having experienced certain consciousness shifting emotions involving a "cosmic" girl that led me to recollecting what a trans-formative role the Dead played for me from 1975 to 1977, I paid homage by taking a walk to Grosvenor Square and then to nearby Berkeley Square. When I returned, I checked out David's web site for "Scarlet Begonias" and later the lyrics to "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square. I was struck with how Hunter was riffing off the later and giving us a much more complex and ultimately fulfilling set of emotions.
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11 years 2 months
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At a recent Robert Hunter show in NYC he prefaced this song with the tidbit that it was written for and with his (future) wife in mind.
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Hey, this is a wonderful blog with great comments about one of my all-time fave songs, and I agree with the woman who proclaimed the studio version to be special. I just wanted to humbly correct Mr. Dodd, though, on the following statement: "The song was recorded on Grateful Dead From the Mars Hotel, on June 27, 1974." Actually, June 27, 1974 was the release date of "Mars Hotel," not a recording date. I believe the album was mostly recorded in Feb.'74 (and March?), right after Jerry had completed the sessions for his "Compliments" album, called "Garcia" at the time. However, since we were actually at the 6/26/74 Providence Civic Center show (DP 12, Disc 1) the night before "Mars Hotel" was released, it turns out that June 27, 1974 was an incredibly exciting time for me and my friends! I had turned seventeen a month earlier. We'd seen the band just nine months prior, on September 15th at the same venue, up close on the floor for "A Swell Dance Concert." The coolest thing for us was that on 6/26/74 we were fully aware that when they played "Scarlet" and "U.S. Blues" that night, we were hearing tunes we'd be able to get the record of and spin the next day! I'll conclude with this anecdote: At a Providence Bruins game two years ago at The Dunkin' Donuts Center (formerly The Providence Civic Center), while I sat in the upper tier at the far end of the arena, directly opposite from where the stage is located for concerts, I peered down at the seats my friends and I had sat in on 6/26/74. (Sec. 109, Row F). I couldn't believe how much sweeter those seats were than how I'd even remembered them. The place was crackling with high energy that night and we really had some killer seats for it. By coincidence, the three people I attended the game with that evening two years ago were all there with me on that night in 1974.
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10 years 10 months
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a lyrical description of "the coup de foudre". Nothing is the same thereafter.
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11 years 5 months
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Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand. Reminds me of Crocodile Dundee walking down the sidewalk in N.Y.C.. As for the feeling of the song , it embraces a certain amount of naiveté and that's not a bad thing. It has an energy of the old days similar to the feeling of China Cat and Crazy Fingers. When I first heard Crazy Fingers live my thought was "Good Old Grateful Dead". Some of us continued to carry some kind of innocence into the future long past "back in the day". A heart of gold will protect a person in many ways. "but baby don't get burned". I loved hearing Scarlet Begonias live in 1974 as a stand alone work. A Scarlett-Fire that I saw live that stands out in my memory would be from Las Vegas in 1991. During the October 1974 Winterland shows my friends and I used to walk by the Mars Hotel. Music lives.
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I think I loved this song the very first time I heard it and ever since. It was certainly the studio version with its very unusually articulated guitar and keyboard parts, then later on some of the very first live tapes I received from kind schoolmates. Remember when those were like gold? The anticipation of hearing each one was electric. This many years later, I have to agree with several other posters that the stand-alone versions are the ones I crave most. I do love the pairing with "Fire" on Dave's #8 (11/30/80). Something about that one just takes me there. I also was lucky enough to catch this tune at my first show on 5/13/79. That one is no slouch, either. The aud tape I have isn't terrible (at least by that point in the show) but I would kill for a great matrix. This is certainly in my top few Garcia/Hunter tunes. But you know, Jerry never struck me as much of a ladies man and this song has him inhabiting the character of a sexually curious dude. I wonder if he was comfortable singing it. It certainly seems like he was. I just don't think of him that way. He was always this oddly asexual mega-hippie figure to me.
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As you can tell from my username Scarlet is one of my all time favorites. I have to admit that I am partial to its pairing with Fire. My most favorite Scarlet lives on 7/31/82 from Manor Downs in Austin Texas. WHAT A JAM!!!! My friends and I have always called it the "Never Ending Jam". This moniker is due to an early evening road trip through the Northern Adirondack Mountains. The Boys ripped into Scarlet and as Jerry began the solo we approached a lengthy curve in the road. The combination of the curve, Jerry's extended blazing solo and a certain chemical made this experience unforgettable!! Man he just went on and on and on!! (And so did we!!!) We certainly "got shone the light" that night! Scarlet Begonias in one for the ages!!
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From the first time I "remember" hearing all the words of Scarlet it has been my "theme" song ... "she's not like other girls".
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I love doing good things for people even those I dont know. I always feel better after helping others. This good feeling often happens in the strangest places if I look at it right. So have a grateful day, spread the love, peace. "those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God."
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The magic DD refers to - the sudden transcending of our daily dilemma(s), disappointments, missed connections, bitter wisdom and ever-repeating loops into a yellow sky world with the heart of gold band - is the essence of the Dead for me. The way the song is structured is no accident. Jerry's solo always mediates the transition, which is of course exactly as it should be. Of all the incredible music out there - containing the soul of man you might say - Mozart, Coltrane, et al., my favorite music in the world is when Garcia "takes off"and soars among the stars (or sometimes, oddly, it feels as if he's running head up and headlong through a primeval wood, sun glinting through the tall trees, able to get above the canopy, feet falling on the soft ground, no underbrush, deep silence all around). It doesn't happen all that often, but it's why I joined up. To be specific, It happened for a time during the St. Stephen/the Eleven jam in Live/Dead, in "Beautiful Jam" (I was there!!) in '71, at various times in Sugaree and Franklin's Tower and even Peggy-O, and in lots and lots of other - some unexpected - places, but where it happens most predictably for me, though still rarely enough, is in the Scarlet solo before that last glorious verse. In Dick's Picks 29, in the 1980 Fox Theater show, and elsewhere (you find 'em!), he soars - takes off - and when you land, you are in a different place. Magic, as the man says. The good ones are usually followed by a very dreamy but alert and peaking coda/jam into FOTM.
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I fell in love with the Dead in 1966 and loved them all the way through, but I think the song that most affected me over time is this one. The lyrics - as beautiful and mystifying as they are (I really don't care whether the two people did it or not - I think it might be about a prostitute, which also deepens the question about human connection) only make sense in the context of the music. Jerry's solo before the last verse is meant to open the door to an altered and much friendlier world. I can't imagine Hunter having written it without taking account of tha. And in many cases the band does it perfectly. Here is what I wrote about May 21, 1977's version - one of the best in my opinion - "A chunky emphatic Scarlet with Jerry finding the space between the beats early, then he swings into form without losing any power. Phil does the early pyrotechnics - sets the song on its up and down and up journey of the soul, then Jerry's solo - powerful, soaring, searing, he carves the meaning of the words in the sky, with all of the loss - "let her pass by"- transformed into joy - "strangers stopping strangers..." - in the 3rd chorus, with the ecstatic celebration of the last verse beautifully introduced - he opened the door as we just entered an altered world. The crowd heard it, too - they love it. And the transition is similarly perfect, gently insistent and perfectly laid down. It's a new world alright. I used to play this for my 5 year old girl on the way to school. She's 17 now and she has developed astonishingly good musical taste and a deep interest in the disasters and redemptions that humanity is prone to! Sometimes you get shown the light indeed."
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Always thought that “to pat to open” meant that she would not make the first move, and “to cool to bluff” meant that she would not pretend that she wasn’t interested. Consistent with her “calling his eye” in a way that “could have been an illusion.” But what’s with picking up his matches while closing the door?
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I think it is a metaphor for the narrator's drug addiction. Sober but on the brink of relapsing...that want...that need...that desire...that's what I read
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    paullyday
    5 months 1 week ago
    drugs
    I think it is a metaphor for the narrator's drug addiction. Sober but on the brink of relapsing...that want...that need...that desire...that's what I read
  • mkav
    5 months 2 weeks ago
    matches door---flashes before
    i read somewhere that Hunter just wanted a rhyme.
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    Skull
    5 months 2 weeks ago
    Too pat to open ...
    Always thought that “to pat to open” meant that she would not make the first move, and “to cool to bluff” meant that she would not pretend that she wasn’t interested. Consistent with her “calling his eye” in a way that “could have been an illusion.” But what’s with picking up his matches while closing the door?