• March 14, 2013
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-uncle-johns-band-0
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Uncle John's Band"

    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.

    “Uncle John’s Band”

    In a number of communities across the United States this year, entire towns, cities, and counties are participating in the Big Read, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. And of those Big Read participants, quite a few are reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Here where I live, in Sonoma County, California, March is Emily Dickinson month this year.

    She wrote these lines in her poem #478:

    I had no time to Hate -
    Because
    The Grave would hinder Me -
    And Life was not so
    Ample I
    Could finish - Enmity -

    Nor had I time to Love -
    But since
    Some Industry must be -
    The little Toil of Love -
    I thought -
    Be large enough for Me -

    Ain’t no time to hate. Barely time to wait. And, where does the time go, anyway?

    “Uncle John’s Band” is yet another Robert Hunter / Jerry Garcia composition that carries within it enough room to consider the universe and our lives in the universe — it seems to be a universe itself. From its opening lines, which can serve as either / both warning and / or encouragement, to its gentle invitation to “come with me,” the song resonates in our lives fairly continuously if we want it to.

    Hunter the storyteller can also be Hunter the aphorist—one who crafts brilliant little double-edged phrases that help and haunt us as we blunder forward through our lives. Like Shakespeare, his phrases can easily be pulled out of the context of their settings and used as mottoes or admonishments; reassurances or daring propositions, depending on how they are needed at any given moment. Maybe you have had the experience of suddenly hearing a Hunter line in a new way, appropriate to that particular moment or event in your life. It’s happened to me many times — a line will just jump out at me and ambush me, or hug me, or astound me in a new way.

    “Uncle John’s Band” is one of those wide-open lyrics that has invited many interpretations (including a wonderful facetious one by Hunter himself—something about trained circus ants, I seem to remember….). One of my proudest moments as someone who devoted a LOT of time to annotating the lyrics was when I received an email from Hunter telling me I was “right on the money” with the direction of my notes on “Uncle John’s Band.” It was when I was exploring the possible origins of the song in the work and personnel of the New Lost City Ramblers, that wonderful old-timey band whose members included Mike Seeger, John Cohen, and Tom Paley. “Uncle John” was a nickname for Cohen, and Hunter and Garcia were both fans who saw the band play a number of times.

    New Lost City Ramblers

    The song’s first documented performance was at the Fillmore West on December 4, 1969. It was released as the opening song on Workingman’s Dead in 1970. It remained steadily in the repertoire, and was played a total of 330 known times. The only year in which it was not played, aside from the 1975 hiatus, was 1978.

    Blair Jackson once wrote something to the effect that “Uncle John’s Band” is the song. I’ve thought a lot about that statement over the years. And I think I know, or feel more than know, what he meant. When the Dead played the song, the crowd came together in a huge way. We were in that band; we were coming to hear Uncle John’s band by the riverside. We loved it when the words got muffed, and then the line “how does the song go?” would jump out at us. Jerry grinning at his own flubs, everyone smiling onstage before they buckled down and got into that amazing Bulgarian-sounding jam—a sudden veering from friendly folk music into the enchanted and risky realm of weird time signatures and modal scales. Everything about the Dead, it seemed, could be wrapped up in that song. Beauty and danger, all swirled together. Familiarity and risk-taking. Dark and light. And then, arising from that dark swirling jam the chorus: “Come hear Uncle John’s Band….” Campfire time again. Hands clapping in time, the crowd being the rhythm section. Then off again into some other song…or back to one previously abandoned…

    Eminently danceable, the tune would bring the entire crowd to fresh heights of happiness time and again. And it is so singable!

    Isn’t it great that crows tell the story of life and death? (I think of it every time I see a crow.)

    And what about those walls made of cannonballs? Are we Americans proud of that, or scornful?

    And where was that silver mine? Are you stuck in one?

    Regardless: there ain’t no time to hate. In my mind, if there is just one lesson to take from all of Hunter’s poetry, that is the one. He approaches it from a number of angles, but for me, it always comes down to that. “Without love in the dream, it’ll never come true.”

    Thanks, Emily, and thanks, Hunter.

    Your turn again—have at it. I can hear your voice…

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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.

“Uncle John’s Band”

In a number of communities across the United States this year, entire towns, cities, and counties are participating in the Big Read, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. And of those Big Read participants, quite a few are reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Here where I live, in Sonoma County, California, March is Emily Dickinson month this year.

She wrote these lines in her poem #478:

I had no time to Hate -
Because
The Grave would hinder Me -
And Life was not so
Ample I
Could finish - Enmity -

Nor had I time to Love -
But since
Some Industry must be -
The little Toil of Love -
I thought -
Be large enough for Me -

Ain’t no time to hate. Barely time to wait. And, where does the time go, anyway?

“Uncle John’s Band” is yet another Robert Hunter / Jerry Garcia composition that carries within it enough room to consider the universe and our lives in the universe — it seems to be a universe itself. From its opening lines, which can serve as either / both warning and / or encouragement, to its gentle invitation to “come with me,” the song resonates in our lives fairly continuously if we want it to.

Hunter the storyteller can also be Hunter the aphorist—one who crafts brilliant little double-edged phrases that help and haunt us as we blunder forward through our lives. Like Shakespeare, his phrases can easily be pulled out of the context of their settings and used as mottoes or admonishments; reassurances or daring propositions, depending on how they are needed at any given moment. Maybe you have had the experience of suddenly hearing a Hunter line in a new way, appropriate to that particular moment or event in your life. It’s happened to me many times — a line will just jump out at me and ambush me, or hug me, or astound me in a new way.

“Uncle John’s Band” is one of those wide-open lyrics that has invited many interpretations (including a wonderful facetious one by Hunter himself—something about trained circus ants, I seem to remember….). One of my proudest moments as someone who devoted a LOT of time to annotating the lyrics was when I received an email from Hunter telling me I was “right on the money” with the direction of my notes on “Uncle John’s Band.” It was when I was exploring the possible origins of the song in the work and personnel of the New Lost City Ramblers, that wonderful old-timey band whose members included Mike Seeger, John Cohen, and Tom Paley. “Uncle John” was a nickname for Cohen, and Hunter and Garcia were both fans who saw the band play a number of times.

New Lost City Ramblers

The song’s first documented performance was at the Fillmore West on December 4, 1969. It was released as the opening song on Workingman’s Dead in 1970. It remained steadily in the repertoire, and was played a total of 330 known times. The only year in which it was not played, aside from the 1975 hiatus, was 1978.

Blair Jackson once wrote something to the effect that “Uncle John’s Band” is the song. I’ve thought a lot about that statement over the years. And I think I know, or feel more than know, what he meant. When the Dead played the song, the crowd came together in a huge way. We were in that band; we were coming to hear Uncle John’s band by the riverside. We loved it when the words got muffed, and then the line “how does the song go?” would jump out at us. Jerry grinning at his own flubs, everyone smiling onstage before they buckled down and got into that amazing Bulgarian-sounding jam—a sudden veering from friendly folk music into the enchanted and risky realm of weird time signatures and modal scales. Everything about the Dead, it seemed, could be wrapped up in that song. Beauty and danger, all swirled together. Familiarity and risk-taking. Dark and light. And then, arising from that dark swirling jam the chorus: “Come hear Uncle John’s Band….” Campfire time again. Hands clapping in time, the crowd being the rhythm section. Then off again into some other song…or back to one previously abandoned…

Eminently danceable, the tune would bring the entire crowd to fresh heights of happiness time and again. And it is so singable!

Isn’t it great that crows tell the story of life and death? (I think of it every time I see a crow.)

And what about those walls made of cannonballs? Are we Americans proud of that, or scornful?

And where was that silver mine? Are you stuck in one?

Regardless: there ain’t no time to hate. In my mind, if there is just one lesson to take from all of Hunter’s poetry, that is the one. He approaches it from a number of angles, but for me, it always comes down to that. “Without love in the dream, it’ll never come true.”

Thanks, Emily, and thanks, Hunter.

Your turn again—have at it. I can hear your voice…

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In a number of communities across the United States this year, entire towns, cities, and counties are participating in the Big Read, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. And of those Big Read participants, quite a few are reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Here where I live, in Sonoma County, California, March is Emily Dickinson month this year.

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there are so many changes and harmony lines going on that I have a hard time keeping in range. BUT WHO CARES? A version to listen to is 5/21/82. also 4/29/71. and 9/24/83. and 9/6/80. AND 9/18/74. As a teacher, I have always liked "he's come to take his children home." The nurturing protectiveness of that sentiment has always kept me focused.
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there are so many changes and harmony lines going on that I have a hard time keeping in range. BUT WHO CARES? A version to listen to is 5/21/82. also 4/29/71. and 9/24/83. and 9/6/80. AND 9/18/74. As a teacher, I have always liked "he's come to take his children home." The nurturing protectiveness of that sentiment has always kept me focused.
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Mr. Dodd, its amazing how deep into a song you can get and still leave an open-ended discussion on the meaning! Many GD lyrics have hit me in different ways over the years but this one has been the same. At least so far...but this is also a song that is sort of embedded in my mind as what the Grateful Dead represent, which goes along with Blair's statement. But to me, its part of the Skeletons From the Closet which got me started on this amazing musical journey. Yes, I am young but I still love the music and I will happily let Skeletons sit on the shelf and collect dust for the rest of my life. It was my, and probably many others my age, first glimpse of the GD. And because of all this, for some reason I never really stop to think about what the lines are about...then I read what Mr. Dodd writes and it feels like something I already knew. Not that I could ever explain it...I hope Im making sense.
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John Cohen is huge in his work with traditional music. He went to Peru in the 50s to record "huayno" music. Also film maker and photographer. He published a book of photographs of Bob Dylan taken in the early 60s. OK the song. I love Uncle John's Band and all of Workingmans Dead. "He's come to take his children home" makes me think of the pied piper. "Dont tread on me" from the old revolutionary war flag and also the Massachusetts navy flag. My father who was a WW2 veteran used to fly it under the U.S. flag. I think of the, at times libertarian aspects of the Grateful Dead and the Dead-Heads. "Are you kind?" became a mantra of sorts for many of us. The jam had the feeling of soaring, lifting, flying. I really learned to dance at Dead shows starting in 1970. Powerful medicine to be liberated by dance and the music of the Dead.Life grows toward light.Again many thanks to the Grateful Dead, Robert Hunter, and keep up the good work David Dodd.
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for me, it's in perennial contention with Terrapin and Ripple for that position. I first heard it live 5/21/82 at the Greek, and while I haven't listened to that version for some time, in my mind I still hear the skip in the tape (don't ask) and can still sing the Jerry solos from memory.
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When I first bought a guitar six or seven years ago, UJB was the first song I wanted to learn to play. It is one of the finest songs I've ever heard.
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This song does capture the essence of the Grateful Dead perfectly. Perfect song to turn someone on to the Dead. 'Thought I heard a blackbird singing, up on bluebird hill. ' always takes my mind back to UJB. Makes me think the crow not only told us a story, he sung it! After reading this post, I did some research on crows. ' It has been said (attributed to native Americans) that if you hear something in the forest that you cannot identify (assuming you know all the common forest sounds), it is a raven.' - interesting quote I stumbled across. Thanks David.
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This song does capture the essence of the Grateful Dead perfectly. Perfect song to turn someone on to the Dead. 'Thought I heard a blackbird singing, up on bluebird hill. ' always takes my mind back to UJB. Makes me think the crow not only told us a story, he sung it! After reading this post, I did some research on crows. ' It has been said (attributed to native Americans) that if you hear something in the forest that you cannot identify (assuming you know all the common forest sounds), it is a raven.' - interesting quote I stumbled across. Thanks David.
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that for me conjures up visions and thoughts of the Grateful dead's creation of a parallel universe. I alway's remember Jerry's comments at the famous(infamous) press conference after the Ashbury bust about "the simple life". Of course the song is darker because it is a struggle to reinvent and to shed. The Dead never told anyone to come along-it was always an individual choice and they didn't rant about politics-very dark at the time-but just maybe there was another place to go. The Dead always seemed to me to go THERE. Unlike other bands at the time-the Dead didn't patronize, cajole or bully. Let one thing go and maybe pick-up another in your own way and go home if you wish to. That they could do such a thing in the fortress America of the time is truly amazing. After all look what happened to John Sinclair and John Lennon. Its better to make your own plan and not react to some one else's plan. Essence of the Dead-yeah you got that so right.
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Most of this song is about one person calling to another for love and reviewing the facts of life in the US. Althea is another tune, not as epic, that represents some of the same sentiment. Most of us take Uncle John's Band to mean the Grateful Dead, with Uncle John equaling Jerry. Hence the term Uncle Jerry became very popular on tour. But it doesn't necessarily have to mean that... I think the power behind this tune is not the words. It is the way Jerry built the tune. He is at his most brilliant best here taking us to other dimensions. I remember a show in New Haven where Bob was sick and the whole vibe was a little weak but they led into the drums with a stellar Uncle John's that blew me out of the old Coliseum into deep, deep space. Jerry could just go on and on and on with this tune and the drummers would not go into their solo till he was finished, as it should have been. At this particular show Jerry allowed Brent to tack on the "Only A Fool" they ever played while he Bob & Phil took an early brake.. "Have you seen the like Their walls are made of cannon balls Their motto is don't tread on me" I can relate very well with this, it is the predominant attitude where I live N. New England. As for it being "the" tune? I think that misses the point. It could be any tune on any night when they were hitting on all cylinders.
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So as synchronisity would have it. I was pondering this piece day before yesterday. It happened to be Kerouac's BD and I reached for my beloved City Lights 1994 edition of "The Scripture Of The Golden Eternity". I turned to a random page and this "...Are you generous and are you kind, those are the true virtues, and they're only conceptions." Jumped out at me. UJB makes me think of long warm hugs from seldom seen friends who's love is always there no matter the time or distance between. Uncle Johns Band is like a Baptism at the river. It invites us in. Home- come along or go alone, but don't just follow let's talk and discover together. We hear you- anybody's choice, it's all one thing - one song- how does it go?? However we want it to. Sit here by river and we'll float away together thru space and time to wherever it takes us.The Golden Eternity. "Gone are the days we stopped to decide where we should go we just ride." [ can we do Crazy Fingers next?] Happy Birthday Phil !!!!
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Hey everyone and Happy Birthday to Phil Lesh! Nice set of comments so far--I really have to agree, laughing, with stolzfus about the difficulty landing the actual melody line on UJB. Lots of great harmony lines to choose from, and which one is the melody, anyway? Whoah, what I want to know--how does the song go? mustin321: thank you for the kind comments. Please call me David or Dave! "Mr. Dodd" reminds me of my Library School project, the Machine-Readable Database of Death (MRDOD)--a MARC format (librarians out there will know what I mean) for cataloging graves. Still think that's a great idea, but then along came the World Wide Web and made a lot of stuff superfluous. Sorry for the digression.... Strider 88--thanks very much for the pointer to John Cohen's work. marye--thank you for chiming in. I will have to try to track down my own first UJB. And when I get around to Terrapin, I plan to quote your amazing, eternal description of one night at Kaiser being so very far into Terrapin (do you remember the piece I'm thinking of?) And since you said not to ask--WHAT skip in WHAT tape? Sounds like a story to me... castle17: ambitious to take on as a first song something with so many rhythmic changes. Good for you! hippeJameZ--very interesting piece of info about ravens/crows. Are they the same bird? I have always wondered. I should go do more work on that... Underthevolcano: light and dark are major themes in the Dead's music, and thank you for those notes. anna rRxia (very interesting pseudonym--any clue for us what it might mean?): Absolutely--any song could be "the" song on any given night. A memorable one for me was a particular "The Wheel" at the Oakland Coliseum Arena in 1979. Wow. ohsograteful44: Thanks so much for this pointer. I am unfamiliar with the work, and will have to find it now! Keep 'em coming! I appreciate the requests for a next song from ohsograteful44--I have been trying to mix up and alternate, kind of like at a show, so I will put "Crazy Fingers" into the next available "Jerry spot."
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Well, heck. I am learning stuff about Deadnet. You can't use angle brackets. You'll have to plug in your own user names there. Wish I could edit a pot. Anyway, they are in order of those who posted previous to my post. Fixed--removed the angle brackets!
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Of course, I made a mistake in relying on my terrible memory. Hunter's facetious interpretation of the song was about trained fleas, not ants. Sheesh.
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since I have long since forgotten whatever it was I said about Terrapin, I await that post with apprehension. But I do love that song, and I can still remember my stunned delight when I realized it was about the Lady of Carlisle, as I had been a huge Ian & Sylvia fan for years (and indeed one of the things I liked best about Festival Express was ol' Ian singing along with the boys on the train). As for the skip, well, I had a nice first-generation tape of that show almost immediately from James Olness. I played it and played it and played it. One ill-fated day I was playing it in something that had a record button, and instead of hitting rewind so I could hear a favorite jam yet again, I hit record. AAAAAAAGHH!!! I have a digital version of that show now, but it doesn't sound right because I'm so used to that tape.
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I've gotta say, "When life looks like Easy Street there is danger at your door" is such classic, quintessential Hunter.
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Always one of my very favorite songs, but maybe not one I'd use to turn someone on to the Dead. The line "Goddamn, well I declare!" seems to be off-putting to some religious folks, I've found from experience. It's not often you hear "Goddamn" in a song, in fact I can't think of any others(?) It sorta comes as a shock, right in the middle of such a beautiful acoustic song. I like it, and think it gives the song some real "teeth". It still seems a little shocking to me after 30+ years of listening to it. And yeah, the line "When looks like Easy Street....." just perfectly quintessential Hunter. My favorite version is still the studio version, the first one I ever heard.
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to "The Golden Road". Only more organic and mature.What a difference choice lyrics can make.
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There's a great PBS - Murder Crow airing on Nature. Fascinating.
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In my early days of loving GD I came across a National Geograghic article about Golden Gate Park and the designer/ architect of the park was John Mcleran, unsure of the last name spelling. I thought it was fitting that Uncle Johns band was indeed the band who played in the park he designed. Then in 1980 John Scher introduced them on 6/8 and he knocked off the "old" John and there was a new "John". I guess I was wrong both times! Thank you Dave, I enjoy your work!!!
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That is hilarious though. I had no idea there was such a thing. And I personally think that Crazy Fingers would be a great song. I would love to see what everyone has to say about that one. But i dont really care what songs are coming. They all have brought really interesting comments so far. Gone are the days we stopped to decide where we should go, we just ride. Almost as good as "what a long strange trip its been" ;)
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Sugar Magnolia Think about it Dark Star is Dark Star It is a unique entity Sugar Magnolia expresses the GD ethos in many ways Spring is almost here :))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))
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.
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David, The website I visited the other day informed me that there is a difference between crows and ravens. I always thought they were the same. The crow has a 'Caw-Caw' sound, while the raven has a 'Gronk-Gronk' sound. The raven has a shinier-wet look to it, and is generally bigger. I think most of what we see in America is crows, and the Raven is found more so in Australia.. that's from my memory banks, so not 100% sure. Here are some more facts about both of them that I reposted from a site I just visited: Crows are associated with war and death in Irish mythology. In Cornish folklore crows are associated with the "otherworld" and so must be treated with respect. In Australian Aboriginal mythology, the crow is an ancestral being. In Buddhism the protector of the Dharma is represented by a crow in one of his physical/earthly forms. The raven is revered as God by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest in North America and in northeast Asia. Several totem poles erected by native Americans in Washington, Alaska and Oregon depict ravens and the stories they feature in. In the Old Testament of the Bible there are several references to common Ravens. In the British Isles, ravens were symbolic to the Celts. In Irish mythology, the goddess Morrígan alighted on the hero Cú Chulainn's shoulder in the form of a raven after his death.
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...Never Told...until it was far too late...So long and thanks for the songs...and the left-handed monkey wrench...quite handy, if you know howand when to use it, that is... All aboard, the SOF Wonder what happens when matter finally outpaces The Light...and reaches the true light... We're just going to have to outrun this explosion and/or implosion and get the frack outta here... Engage when ready, Gage.
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...Never Told...until it was far too late...So long and thanks for the songs...and the left-handed monkey wrench...quite handy, if you know how and when to use it, that is... All aboard, the SOF Wonder what happens when matter finally outpaces The Light...and reaches the true light... We're just going to have to outrun this explosion and/or implosion and get the fuck outta here... Engage when ready, Gage.
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we've got both of 'em in Oakland. Ravens are BIG.
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One thing I love about the song (and I knew the song for decades before I noticed this) is that each verse has a theme, defined by the question at the end. First verse is about hard times to come. When that happens, we find out whether the people around us are kind. Since we know it's coming, we want to know, "Are you kind?" Next verse, yes, life is uncertain, but we can go through it together. "Will you come with me?" Then the Crow tells us that life is short - you come like the morning sun and go like the wind. "Where does the time go?" But there is the music to get us through. But it's not just the musicians; it's anybody's choice. They beg us to call the tune. "How does the song go?" There is so much more in the song. I hear that there are people whose walls are built of cannon balls, but there is no time to hate. It's OK. Uncle John's Band is playing to the tide, and he's come to take us home.
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I had a thought that UJB was a song that spoke of the strife and troubles that were going on in Amerika during the late sixties early seventies. Kind of a "lets all settle down and take it easy" song. "Ain't no time to hate, barely time to wait". "Got some things to talk about, here beside the rising tide" could speak of the rising tide of hatred towards hippies and anti war protesters during those times. God Damn, well I declare, have you seen the like, their walls are built of cannon balls, their motto is don't tread on me, could represent the establishment (particulairy Nixon and his type) and their eagerness to use arms against their own children to quell the hippy wave, don't tread on my particular beliefs or I will use these cannon balls on you. Got some things to talk about now. 'He's come to take his children home" perhaps is a cry of retreat to all who thought they could change the world peacefully. God Damn, well I declare, have you seen the like of these crazy bastards that would just as soon shoot you as accept a different kind of thinking. Happy Birthday TC
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"have you seen the like of these crazy bastards that would just as soon shoot you as accept a different kind of thinking." I had to underline that, too precious to let it go unnoticed.
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The altered chorus after verse two God damn well I declare, have you seen the like? Their walls are made of cannonballs, their motto is 'Don't tread on me'. is quite a distinct contrast to the hip wisdom of the verses and the inclusive enthusiasm of the rest of the choruses. It is easy to hear the first lines as referring to Uncle John's Band, and then see the rest as a stout declaration of American patriotism, solidarity with the spirit of independence that fired those who fought the British and honoured that motto. This is the libertarian declaration that has already been noted. I have always heard it differently, that there is an I (the singer), you (the listener) and him (Uncle John) that constitute an Us for whom the entry test is "Are you kind?", and a Them, those of the cannonball walls and fierce motto.
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"there is an I (the singer), you (the listener) and him (Uncle John) that constitute an Us for whom the entry test is 'Are you kind?', and a Them, those of the cannonball walls and fierce motto."
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Perhaps the entire song (as many of the band's songs) is about life's trials and tribulations? And it's our choice to take one road or another with no editorial at all as to which road is best to take? For me, the band put the music out there to be self-interpreted. Some of us, who dearly love the band, interpreted those words in one way, and we happened to become very successful. Unfortunately others interpreted those same words differently and many are no longer with us. (My beloved brother.) And there are still others who interpreted those same words and are still locked in an adolescence which will never be regained. For me the Grateful Dead lyrics were always about choices with no commentary on those choices - just the freedom for us to make those choices. And may I say - this band taught me more about self expression and freedom to introspect than any class i had ever taken in school.
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I'm enjoying playing this and love the song overall. I can make up my own purpose/meaning for the 'it's a buck dancer's choice my friend...' but was hoping someone had a better bearing on it. For instance, I was *so* glad to read that there was an Uncle John and a band to which that referred (New Lost City Ramblers). That's cool to find out, like a lot of the other posts here.So with this reference, I have read that it refers to a buck dance -- a solo dance of Native American origin (ceremonial, a male dancer, a buck, dancing as if a deer or antelope). Well, and 'better take my advice'. So . . . this phrase is just sort of sitting out there and I'm not latching it onto anything. Okay, maybe they just wanted it that way. Maybe I'm trying to read too much into it and this specific reference doesn't mean anything other than to add a colorful phrase to the song. For instance, it could just be saying, you're on your own, like everyone else, and have to find your own path. That's fine, but I just wanted to ask if anyone had some other meaning attached to this.
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    robert4917
    7 months 2 weeks ago
    Buck Dancer
    I'm enjoying playing this and love the song overall. I can make up my own purpose/meaning for the 'it's a buck dancer's choice my friend...' but was hoping someone had a better bearing on it. For instance, I was *so* glad to read that there was an Uncle John and a band to which that referred (New Lost City Ramblers). That's cool to find out, like a lot of the other posts here.So with this reference, I have read that it refers to a buck dance -- a solo dance of Native American origin (ceremonial, a male dancer, a buck, dancing as if a deer or antelope). Well, and 'better take my advice'. So . . . this phrase is just sort of sitting out there and I'm not latching it onto anything. Okay, maybe they just wanted it that way. Maybe I'm trying to read too much into it and this specific reference doesn't mean anything other than to add a colorful phrase to the song. For instance, it could just be saying, you're on your own, like everyone else, and have to find your own path. That's fine, but I just wanted to ask if anyone had some other meaning attached to this.
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    tunein
    2 years 1 month ago
    Uncle John's
    Perhaps the entire song (as many of the band's songs) is about life's trials and tribulations? And it's our choice to take one road or another with no editorial at all as to which road is best to take? For me, the band put the music out there to be self-interpreted. Some of us, who dearly love the band, interpreted those words in one way, and we happened to become very successful. Unfortunately others interpreted those same words differently and many are no longer with us. (My beloved brother.) And there are still others who interpreted those same words and are still locked in an adolescence which will never be regained. For me the Grateful Dead lyrics were always about choices with no commentary on those choices - just the freedom for us to make those choices. And may I say - this band taught me more about self expression and freedom to introspect than any class i had ever taken in school.
  • marye
    5 years 7 months ago
    very nicely put!
    "there is an I (the singer), you (the listener) and him (Uncle John) that constitute an Us for whom the entry test is 'Are you kind?', and a Them, those of the cannonball walls and fierce motto."
  • rrussell8
    5 years 7 months ago
    Who has the cannonballs?
    The altered chorus after verse two God damn well I declare, have you seen the like? Their walls are made of cannonballs, their motto is 'Don't tread on me'. is quite a distinct contrast to the hip wisdom of the verses and the inclusive enthusiasm of the rest of the choruses. It is easy to hear the first lines as referring to Uncle John's Band, and then see the rest as a stout declaration of American patriotism, solidarity with the spirit of independence that fired those who fought the British and honoured that motto. This is the libertarian declaration that has already been noted. I have always heard it differently, that there is an I (the singer), you (the listener) and him (Uncle John) that constitute an Us for whom the entry test is "Are you kind?", and a Them, those of the cannonball walls and fierce motto.
  • Anna rRxia
    5 years 7 months ago
    @unckle sam
    "have you seen the like of these crazy bastards that would just as soon shoot you as accept a different kind of thinking." I had to underline that, too precious to let it go unnoticed.