• October 24, 2013
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-truckin
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Truckin'"

    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!)

    “Truckin'”

    Sometimes I think about this song, and I wonder about the weight of years, relatively speaking—how all the years combine, and how, when this band, which was ultimately to tour for 30 years, was just five years old, several members got together to write an autobiographical song in which the refrain noted “what a long strange trip it’s been.” And if it seemed long after five years, how must it have seemed after 10, 20, 25…? Did it start to seem that all this life was just a dream?

    The lyrics were written under pressure, in the studio, during the recording of American Beauty, with Hunter running back and forth with hastily-written verses that somehow, despite the fact that were purpose-written on the spot, seem to have some pretty good staying power. There are rumors that he originally wrote “Garlands of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street” as an intentionally hard-to-sing line, just to enjoy watching Weir try to wrap his mouth around them, eventually relenting and substituting “arrows of neon,” just to make it possible to sing.

    The music credit is shared by Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and Phil Lesh. Hunter gets the credit for the lyrics. And Hunter took the bare bones outline of some of the band’s adventures and misadventures and fleshed them out with memorable features, highlighting their trips around the country with specific references to places and occurrences. In the process, he came up with a chorus consisting of a couple of phrases that are now, eternally, in the cultural psyche: “Sometimes the light’s all shining on me / Other times I can barely see. Lately it occurs to me / What a long strange trip it’s been.”

    At some point, Hunter was accused of using a cliché in that final phrase of the chorus. When something you make up becomes such a commonly-used turn of phrase that your own invention of it is accused of being cliché, that’s some measure of wordsmithing success, I would say. (It reminds me of the story about the old-timers from the mining country who shook their heads in dismay at what the band did to that old tune, “Cumberland Blues.”)

    The country is criss-crossed: Chicago, New York, Detroit, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Buffalo, then, without being named, California—“I’m goin’ home…”

    Along the way, the band encounters the reality of life on the road, where all the cities blend into a single city—“it’s all the same street.” They stick together, more or less in line, as they determinedly lay down their cards: taking their music to every corner of the country, whether they be welcomed or not. They encounter hostility in New Orleans, with their famous arrest—Lesh notes, in talking about the song, that their early touring days pre-dated the “rock and roll bubble,” whereby major rock bands would get something of a free pass for infractions of many kinds. They spend time in hotel rooms. It’s tiring and boring—maybe it’s time to settle down? And when it’s all over, and they are finally home, licking their wounds and patching their bones—hey! it’s time to start the whole process over again.

    “Truckin’” was first performed on August 18, 1970, at the Fillmore West. The show opened with an acoustic set, and “Truckin’” was the first song. Other firsts that night included “Ripple,” “Brokedown Palace,” and “Operator.” The song was performed 520 times, placing it at number 8 in the list of most-played songs, with the final performance on July 6, 1995, at Riverport Amphitheatre in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

    It was released on American Beauty in November 1970, after being recorded in three weeks at Wally Heider studios in September. It was also released as a single in January 1971, backed with “Ripple.”

    Pretty much anyone who saw the band do the song more than once probably saw Bobby mess up the lyrics. But it never mattered in the least. What always struck me about this song in concert was the almost foolhardy, even fearless, way the band charged into the jam at the end, as if daring each other to just try to do something really crazy, for once. I got the sense that not only did they not know where they were going with the music once it got to the jam, but they simply didn’t care, and they refused to be intimidated—a good match for the crazy adventure they were on, described in the words of the song.

    The Anthem to Beauty video contains a wonderful segment about “Truckin’,” and the common element running through each band member’s statements about the song is that it was truly an autobiographical song. It was a description of what the band actually lived through. Hunter notes that he did write additional verses over the years, and that initially he had thought it would grow with the band’s history, but he realized that once it was “down,” it was down—“you don’t go back,” he said. (Perhaps a lesson that could be applied to “Black Throated Wind.”)

    But over and above the face-value autobiographical fun of the song and the stories it tells or hints at, several of the band members also express the idea that the song appealed to the band’s listeners in a special way. (Lesh notes that it was the closest they came to a hit on American Beauty.) It expressed the feeling, and the reality, of being out on the road in America—a rite of passage in those days. (And perhaps still today for many.) It gives expression to the impulse to explore America, to find adventure, to do something with, as Garcia put it, “no commercial potential.” It captures the ups and downs we all feel as we make our way through life: it “takes time--you pick a place to go, and just keep Truckin’ on,” with the light shining on you sometimes, and sometimes picking your way along in the dark. Lesh, thinking back on the times captured in the song, says “And I see a group of much younger people doing things in a way that I envy now, looking back on it.”

    This is the band’s own story song. Other bands have written their own story songs through the years, but I can’t think of any that really captures the feeling of adventure, fearlessness, longing for home, and recognition of the cycles of our existence in the same way as “Truckin’.”

    And not only that, but it is a GREAT dance tune!

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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!)

“Truckin'”

Sometimes I think about this song, and I wonder about the weight of years, relatively speaking—how all the years combine, and how, when this band, which was ultimately to tour for 30 years, was just five years old, several members got together to write an autobiographical song in which the refrain noted “what a long strange trip it’s been.” And if it seemed long after five years, how must it have seemed after 10, 20, 25…? Did it start to seem that all this life was just a dream?

The lyrics were written under pressure, in the studio, during the recording of American Beauty, with Hunter running back and forth with hastily-written verses that somehow, despite the fact that were purpose-written on the spot, seem to have some pretty good staying power. There are rumors that he originally wrote “Garlands of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street” as an intentionally hard-to-sing line, just to enjoy watching Weir try to wrap his mouth around them, eventually relenting and substituting “arrows of neon,” just to make it possible to sing.

The music credit is shared by Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and Phil Lesh. Hunter gets the credit for the lyrics. And Hunter took the bare bones outline of some of the band’s adventures and misadventures and fleshed them out with memorable features, highlighting their trips around the country with specific references to places and occurrences. In the process, he came up with a chorus consisting of a couple of phrases that are now, eternally, in the cultural psyche: “Sometimes the light’s all shining on me / Other times I can barely see. Lately it occurs to me / What a long strange trip it’s been.”

At some point, Hunter was accused of using a cliché in that final phrase of the chorus. When something you make up becomes such a commonly-used turn of phrase that your own invention of it is accused of being cliché, that’s some measure of wordsmithing success, I would say. (It reminds me of the story about the old-timers from the mining country who shook their heads in dismay at what the band did to that old tune, “Cumberland Blues.”)

The country is criss-crossed: Chicago, New York, Detroit, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Buffalo, then, without being named, California—“I’m goin’ home…”

Along the way, the band encounters the reality of life on the road, where all the cities blend into a single city—“it’s all the same street.” They stick together, more or less in line, as they determinedly lay down their cards: taking their music to every corner of the country, whether they be welcomed or not. They encounter hostility in New Orleans, with their famous arrest—Lesh notes, in talking about the song, that their early touring days pre-dated the “rock and roll bubble,” whereby major rock bands would get something of a free pass for infractions of many kinds. They spend time in hotel rooms. It’s tiring and boring—maybe it’s time to settle down? And when it’s all over, and they are finally home, licking their wounds and patching their bones—hey! it’s time to start the whole process over again.

“Truckin’” was first performed on August 18, 1970, at the Fillmore West. The show opened with an acoustic set, and “Truckin’” was the first song. Other firsts that night included “Ripple,” “Brokedown Palace,” and “Operator.” The song was performed 520 times, placing it at number 8 in the list of most-played songs, with the final performance on July 6, 1995, at Riverport Amphitheatre in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

It was released on American Beauty in November 1970, after being recorded in three weeks at Wally Heider studios in September. It was also released as a single in January 1971, backed with “Ripple.”

Pretty much anyone who saw the band do the song more than once probably saw Bobby mess up the lyrics. But it never mattered in the least. What always struck me about this song in concert was the almost foolhardy, even fearless, way the band charged into the jam at the end, as if daring each other to just try to do something really crazy, for once. I got the sense that not only did they not know where they were going with the music once it got to the jam, but they simply didn’t care, and they refused to be intimidated—a good match for the crazy adventure they were on, described in the words of the song.

The Anthem to Beauty video contains a wonderful segment about “Truckin’,” and the common element running through each band member’s statements about the song is that it was truly an autobiographical song. It was a description of what the band actually lived through. Hunter notes that he did write additional verses over the years, and that initially he had thought it would grow with the band’s history, but he realized that once it was “down,” it was down—“you don’t go back,” he said. (Perhaps a lesson that could be applied to “Black Throated Wind.”)

But over and above the face-value autobiographical fun of the song and the stories it tells or hints at, several of the band members also express the idea that the song appealed to the band’s listeners in a special way. (Lesh notes that it was the closest they came to a hit on American Beauty.) It expressed the feeling, and the reality, of being out on the road in America—a rite of passage in those days. (And perhaps still today for many.) It gives expression to the impulse to explore America, to find adventure, to do something with, as Garcia put it, “no commercial potential.” It captures the ups and downs we all feel as we make our way through life: it “takes time--you pick a place to go, and just keep Truckin’ on,” with the light shining on you sometimes, and sometimes picking your way along in the dark. Lesh, thinking back on the times captured in the song, says “And I see a group of much younger people doing things in a way that I envy now, looking back on it.”

This is the band’s own story song. Other bands have written their own story songs through the years, but I can’t think of any that really captures the feeling of adventure, fearlessness, longing for home, and recognition of the cycles of our existence in the same way as “Truckin’.”

And not only that, but it is a GREAT dance tune!

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Sometimes I think about this song, and I wonder about the weight of years, relatively speaking—how all the years combine, and how, when this band, which was ultimately to tour for 30 years, was just five years old, several members got together to write an autobiographical song in which the refrain noted “what a long strange trip it’s been.”
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Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Truckin'"
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Sometimes I think about this song, and I wonder about the weight of years, relatively speaking—how all the years combine, and how, when this band, which was ultimately to tour for 30 years, was just five years old, several members got together to write an autobiographical song in which the refrain noted “what a long strange trip it’s been.”
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Sometimes I think about this song, and I wonder about the weight of years, relatively speaking—how all the years combine, and how, when this band, which was ultimately to tour for 30 years, was just five years old, several members got together to write an autobiographical song in which the refrain noted “what a long strange trip it’s been.”

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that Bob usually messed up the lyrics....the song is just great. If they went through every song perfectly, they wouldn't be the Grateful Dead. The greatness is in the risks and chances they took and this song, being so autobiographical, displayed that every time they played it, mistakes or not. I just recently watched Ticket To New Years and one of the fans questions is "Bob, when if ever are you gonna get Truckin' straight?" Jerry says "I wouldn't dignify that with an answer..." An interesting question, especially considering they played it so many times but it was always good. That being said, I do remember reading somewhere that it bugged Jerry that Bob could remember all the words to several Bob Dylan songs but he couldn't remember Truckin'
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Dave you are obviously relying on Deadbase, which states that TRUCKIN was first performed on August 18, 1970 at Fillmore West. However, an educated guess puts its debut at August 17, 1970. The Grateful Dead had a three night stand at Fillmore West, from the 17th til the 19th. Whereas recordings and setlists exist for the two latter shows, none exist for the 17th....although an article in Playboy Magazine entitled THE GRATEFUL DEAD I HAVE KNOWN (published in early 1972) was probably recounting the 17th show. TRUCKIN is included in the setlist as per the article. Also a blog entitled Jerry's Middle finger discusses this matter. Here's the link: http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2010/01/gd-august-17-1970-fillmore-west-san.ht… By the way I was born on August 17, 1970, hence all the excitement regarding the TRUCKIN debut matter!!
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The observation by Mr. Dodd that other bands had their songs and the Grateful Dead had this song pretty much puts this one to bed. The fact that Hunter just seemed to be running around collecting notes to put it together on the fly seems entirely appropriate. They were always flying by the seat of their pants. It was like "Oh Jesus! What did I do with the file copy of our cosmic broadside?" This is like your celestial certification that you don't have to make up again. You just have to look for it because you forgot where you put it down last time. And you just know you'll be looking for it again some day. Beside that, I always loved the final jam. It was like hitting 4 creases in the firmament that let a ton of energy in. It was a song that if you heard on the radio did nothing for you but when you were there hearing it live.... Magic! (most of the time)
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Let us not forget R. Crumb. Icon, Icon, Icon Icon all day. Keep on Truckin.
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but for me 73>74 Truckin's and beyond are candy for my ears. I don't know the technical term, but the buildup they tagged on to the end, starting in 73 was nothing short of brilliant...usually. Sometimes they would get it "just exactly perfect" the first time. Other times it would take a couple of tries, before they got it. Sometimes it wouldn't work at all. Best of all they would get it right the first time and than try it again just for kicks and it would fail miserably. They were never afraid. I love that about them.
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Growing up and living in the Midwest it is rare to hear anything on the radio (even the "progressive" rock stations here) besides Truckin' and Touch of Gray. Whenever I have tried to introduce someone to a variety of GD music, I almost invariably hear, "you mean Truckin'? I've heard Truckin' and that other song they play. What's so great about the Grateful Dead?". (It's no wonder most of their concerts were on the coasts). This is the one song that everybody seems to know of. Air play of any other of their songs here is dismal at best. I've had luck with a few open-minded souls who have at least expanded their view of the Dead beyond Truckin' and TOG. And being a rock-solid Aspy my entire life, one of my favorite strings of words ever is, "set up like a bowlin' pin/ knocked down it gets to wearin' thin/ they just won't let you be". Very easily relatable, but what head among us hasn't felt the truth of these words at some point in time? (Beauty!!!!!! as I'm typing this, Truckin' just came on the radio. LOL! LOVE IT!) Who knows, maybe I'll check and see if this Grateful Dead band has a website or something :D ) Good ole GD!
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I always hear it as a song of hope -- get knocked down, get back truckin'. Together, we'll beat the man because we have perseverance going for us and he is just taking pot-shots. I love the observation that only 5 or so years into their existence, the GD already thought the trip was long and strange. And I guess it must have been. Things were changing so fast at the time. Does that happen now? I don't think it does. The changes still come, but the pace is slow. Too slow, if you ask me. We need some new deep-space thinkers like the Grateful Dead to shake things up!
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.......ahhh early 70's--grew up on East coast/LINY---first heard Dead---been back & forth US 8 times-lived in So.Cal. 6-7 yrs----moved to the Islands in 84---"takes time to pick a place to go.." The old song "That's Life"--old blues made -- famous by Frank Sinatra--has a similiar ring-to me--ups & downs--gonna get back up on yer feet again.....I've been to WAY MORE DEAD SHOWS than F.S.---Truckin encapsulated THEIR TIME-at the RIGHT TIME for all of us at that time. Just one man's reality/opinion--ALOHA!!!
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What a long strange trip it's been. Seems like they were reflecting back at being at the forefront of a grand roadshow during the psychedelic sixties while clearly ushering in a new decade with a renewed more mature outlook on life and the responsibilities of carrying on with their craft and not forgetting the the lessons learned. The light shining on them as in, performing for the masses, and barely seeing (or seeing double) as in, all of the fun after a nights work. Nonetheless it's full steam ahead.
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First time seeing the Dead perform Truckin was an acoustic version 9/17/70. First time hearing American Beauty was 11/13/70 when it was broadcast on WPLJ(?). It was just before going to see the Jefferson Airplane at the Capitol Theater, Port Chester. Other stand out performances of Truckin I was fortunate to see the Dead play live were 8/15/71 (BCT) and 5/26/73 at Kezar. By the way Dead.net should collaborate with NRPS and release a boxset of 9/17/70 through 9/20/70. Fillmore East at its best, "An Evening with the Grateful Dead". Acoustic Dead is the tops. Also Dead.net should do a rerun of the "Hard Truckers" t-shirt. A great tribute to the wildest and most professional roadies in the history of music.
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GD71 Truckin's all rip it up, with that one being even more potent (think of it as "going to 11"). oh yeah, 9/3/77 is another hard Truckin'. off-topic, but still needs to be said: "Thank you, Lou Reed."
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Okay, kid… there was a band, real reprobates, ya'see. The mighty Grateful Dead. They followed me for a good long spell and I could not shake them. I learned to put up with it and what all. It came to feel just right even for the troubles and strangeness of the situations. Most often, that wierdness felt like a blanket warming my heart. The troubles melted into understanding as diamond cinders stoked the fire on a chilly dawn. Memories would come like ghosts ushering in A New of their own making woven, bent on fragile, raging tunes and words sung that seemed like my own invention complete with notions that I had never imagined before yet could not exists without me. Whatever. Send that Hunter fellow my bill.
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This is a song that means more than the words, this is the great American/life story. But let me delve into the words briefly. They all contribute to the story, but I love the opening "got my chips cashed in" ... it's so clever. When you cash in your chips it's either because you've won and you're getting ready to leave the casino and go party, or a euphemism for being dead (he cashed in his chips). It's the opening line, what do you think it means?
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...if you don't lay them down." No sometimes about it. That word actually belongs to the preceding line. Words to live by. Thanks, guys. Love, The Zippidy Doo-Dah Man. My, oh my.
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Best Truckin' ever performed: 10-19-74 1) Awesome jam coming at intro instead of outro 2) they nail they climatic build up at the end PonchoBill speaks of 3) The sound of the recording on the GD Movie soundtrack is awesome 4) the transition back into Truckin is a nice, slow measured build up back into the song 5) I just love it (your mileage may vary)
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When I was a boy growing up in New Hampshire the Family took the two hour Train Ride into Boston to see the Circus. My Mum kept us Amused by getting us to sing " Clickety- Clack / Clickety-Clack" with the bouncing of the Train along the Rails. Its a Sweet Memory of mine, and Trucking conjures up the feeling of that boyhood experience. It has the Clickety-Clack Rhythm underlying the Sense of Adventure and Anticipation of New Experiences followed by the Safe Return Home. A Good Trip always ends Safely Back at Home. " We're Home Because We're Home Because..." was another song my Mum had us sing over and over...and over! and A Good Trip always leads to Another Good Trip as the Desire for Home and the Desire for Adventure sets a tension to keep us more or less in line as we just Keep Trucking On.... Clickety- Clack Clickety-Clack
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I Think the "Chips Cashed In" refers to being fully invested in the Trip. and I think the Salute to Lou Reed-God Bless Him in Eternity- is Not "off topic" when I wonder "Whatever Became of Sweet Jane."
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I put a heck of a lot of change into that box at the student union when this came out as a single and it was a rip-snorting anthem to the doings in that hallowed space during a wild, woolly and strange time! Indeed! Mr Natural was truckin' along as well as I remember.
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Cryptical70:Very strange to find somebody else born on August 17th...beat you to this go- around by 20 years to the day...very wild...good research on debut of Truckin'...later, dude
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Just listened to 6/20/83. Somebody please tell me that lightning struck during the peak of the truckin jam. It sounds to me like the crowd was reacting to a little more than just stellar play.
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If you listen to some early versions of Truckin' (like this one https://archive.org/details/gd70-09-20.aud.remaster.sirmick.27583.sbeok…), you can clearly hear that Bob sings "Garlands of neon" instead of "Arrows of neon". I agree with people who say that some parts of this - fantastic - song are difficult to sing, especially this line: "most of the cats that you meet on the streets speak of true love".
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Duda-A womanizer. A man who sleeps with many women, sometimes for money. This word originates from the Saint Mary's College Student
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I can see why you call it that great version check it out if you don't understand why they call it the jimmy page version
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    deadheadben
    3 years 8 months ago
    11-6-77 'jimmy page'
    I can see why you call it that great version check it out if you don't understand why they call it the jimmy page version
  • vickersey
    3 years 9 months ago
    Who's the Doodah man?
    Duda-A womanizer. A man who sleeps with many women, sometimes for money. This word originates from the Saint Mary's College Student
  • Default Avatar
    Tomoms
    4 years ago
    "Garlands of neon and flashing marquees..."
    If you listen to some early versions of Truckin' (like this one https://archive.org/details/gd70-09-20.aud.remaster.sirmick.27583.sbeok…), you can clearly hear that Bob sings "Garlands of neon" instead of "Arrows of neon". I agree with people who say that some parts of this - fantastic - song are difficult to sing, especially this line: "most of the cats that you meet on the streets speak of true love".
  • PonchoBill
    4 years 11 months ago
    WOWEEE ZOWEEE!!!!
    Just listened to 6/20/83. Somebody please tell me that lightning struck during the peak of the truckin jam. It sounds to me like the crowd was reacting to a little more than just stellar play.
  • iceninedawg
    5 years ago
    Reply to Cryptical70- August 17th
    Cryptical70:Very strange to find somebody else born on August 17th...beat you to this go- around by 20 years to the day...very wild...good research on debut of Truckin'...later, dude