• August 1, 2013
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-wharf-rat
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Wharf Rat"

    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!)

    “Wharf Rat”

    “My name is August West…”

    So begins the second verse of “Wharf Rat,” a song I have long considered to be a key song—one that helps to unlock the whole body of work Robert Hunter created along with Jerry Garcia.

    The shape of the story told by the song is recursive—a sort of passing-of-the-torch for the down-and-out. The narrator whose voice frames the story is well on his way, from the sound of it, to being out there on the street, looking for spare change. In fact, he already doesn’t even have a dime; all he has is some time to listen. (Brings to mind the old saying, “I’m so poor, I can’t even pay attention!”)

    Hunter and Garcia both had a certain amount of experience to draw on in writing and singing about being homeless, on at least semi-indigent, living in cars in their early years of first acquaintance, crashing where they could. The fact that Hunter has Garcia sing a song, one of whose characters is named August, seems possibly significant in light of Garcia’s birthday: he would have been 71 years old this week—born on August 1, 1942. There are other examples of songs in which Garcia sings lyrics, crafted by Hunter, which seem like personal cautionary tales: “Althea,” for example. So is this August West a character Garcia might have become had he not made other decisions?

    “Wharf Rat” was first performed by the Dead on February 18, 1971, at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY. This is another of those shows that included a number of firsts: “Bertha,” “Greatest Story Ever Told,” “Loser,” and “Playing In the Band.” This is the beginning of the songwriting period in which Hunter and Garcia collaborated on a series of great story songs set in an America peopled by outlaws, the down-and-out, and a range of more or less disreputable characters. The song was never given full studio treatment, although the version released on “Skull and Roses” did benefit from some studio enhancement, with Merl Saunders’s organ track overdubbed after the fact.

    The song was an extremely solid member of the rotation, appearing nearly 400 times (393, according to DeadBase X), making its final appearance on June 25, 1995, at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

    Back to the arc of the story. The song’s initial narrator seems to be a relatively young man who is wandering down by the docks of the city. He encounters a panhandler, August West, who then tells his story to the listening young man. August professes love for his “Pearly Baker,” apparently a girlfriend.

    Two things here, both fascinating, both probably without any particular bearing on the song.

    There were historical figures named August West and Purley Baker.

    From an article about a historical plaque dedication in 2003 in Greenfield, Ohio:

    In 1837 a runaway slave named Augustus West arrived in the Greenfield area and along with local farmer Alexander Beatty, authored a story that has become a part of both the area's and the nation's history. To raise money to purchase his own land, West and Beatty devised a scheme to travel back south, sell West back into slavery, help him escape and then split the profits. On at least three documented occasions the two employed this money making scam and their story became the basis for a 1971 Hollywood film, The Skin Game, starring James Gardner and Louis Gossett, Jr.

    West used his profits to purchase land near the intersection of Bonner and Barrett Roads in Fayette County. Some distance from the road he built a "mansion" and the dirt road leading up to his front door became known as Abolition Lane.

    In the years that followed, at least twelve cabins were constructed on West's land and these became temporary residences for other runaway slaves who needed a place to live and work as they stole their way further north to freedom.

    Historically, Purley Baker was a man—the head of the Anti-Saloon League, which was an anti-drink temperance organization in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century. This is one of those wonderful occurrences in Hunter’s lyrics of a name that carries a weight that might go completely unnoticed—who has heard, these days, of Purley Baker or his organization? It came to my attention thanks to a reader sending a contribution to The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics website. And I think someone sent me a photo once of a bar ironically named “Purley Baker’s.” Possibly in upstate New York. Anyone?

    So, in this song, Pearly Baker becomes the idealized woman of August West’s dreams and of his past. He feels betrayed by all those who told him he would come to no good—Pearly believed them. (Italics Hunter’s.)

    He spends his life drunk or in jail—doing time for the crime of someone else (either “some other fucker” or “some motherfucker,” not sure which—Garcia’s singing often sounds like the latter). But in the song’s amazing middle, one of the great Garcia bridges moves the time signature into waltz time, and August West avows that he will get back on his feet, if the good Lord wills it. (Though earlier, he had already stated bluntly that his maker was no friend of his—a key moment.) Moving back into march time, the music frames West singing what seems to be an extension of the bridge: “I’ll get up and fly away…”

    In my book and on my website, I compared these lines to the song “I’ll Fly Away,” which I incorrectly identified as a folk song. In fact, it was written as a gospel song composed in 1929 by Albert Brumley. However, I do feel somewhat justified by my further reading about Brumley’s composition of the piece, since it, in turn, was inspired by an old ballad, “The Prisoner’s Song,” with this line: “If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly.” The folk process is a wonderful thing.

    Such a sad moment in the song—you know, listening, that August West will never get back on his feet again, much less fly away, and even less that Pearly has been true to him to his dying day. Does the narrator’s response: “I’m sure she’s been…” strike you as sincere? Is he being reassuring, or self-satisfiedly sarcastic?

    Sad enough—but it gets worse.

    Our initial narrator now returns to the song, getting up to wander around, with no particular place to go—just hanging around. And he, too, has a girl, and he, too, is sure that she has been true to him. So sure that he repeats himself. “I know she’s been, I’m sure she’s been true to me.”

    The song always seemed to me to be partially aimed at the Deadheads. As a group, we were perhaps more in danger of falling victim to our addictions than mainstream society. And the fact that our own 12-Step group, of which I am a proud participant, calls itself the Wharf Rats, speaks volumes.

    I never tire of this song. It makes room for some of Garcia’s most impassioned singing and soloing; the harmonies often soar; and the repeated suspended A chords beg for resolution that will never be granted.

    So, it’s August, and today, August First, is Jerry Garcia’s birthday. Happy August. Happy birthday, Jerry!

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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!)

“Wharf Rat”

“My name is August West…”

So begins the second verse of “Wharf Rat,” a song I have long considered to be a key song—one that helps to unlock the whole body of work Robert Hunter created along with Jerry Garcia.

The shape of the story told by the song is recursive—a sort of passing-of-the-torch for the down-and-out. The narrator whose voice frames the story is well on his way, from the sound of it, to being out there on the street, looking for spare change. In fact, he already doesn’t even have a dime; all he has is some time to listen. (Brings to mind the old saying, “I’m so poor, I can’t even pay attention!”)

Hunter and Garcia both had a certain amount of experience to draw on in writing and singing about being homeless, on at least semi-indigent, living in cars in their early years of first acquaintance, crashing where they could. The fact that Hunter has Garcia sing a song, one of whose characters is named August, seems possibly significant in light of Garcia’s birthday: he would have been 71 years old this week—born on August 1, 1942. There are other examples of songs in which Garcia sings lyrics, crafted by Hunter, which seem like personal cautionary tales: “Althea,” for example. So is this August West a character Garcia might have become had he not made other decisions?

“Wharf Rat” was first performed by the Dead on February 18, 1971, at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY. This is another of those shows that included a number of firsts: “Bertha,” “Greatest Story Ever Told,” “Loser,” and “Playing In the Band.” This is the beginning of the songwriting period in which Hunter and Garcia collaborated on a series of great story songs set in an America peopled by outlaws, the down-and-out, and a range of more or less disreputable characters. The song was never given full studio treatment, although the version released on “Skull and Roses” did benefit from some studio enhancement, with Merl Saunders’s organ track overdubbed after the fact.

The song was an extremely solid member of the rotation, appearing nearly 400 times (393, according to DeadBase X), making its final appearance on June 25, 1995, at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

Back to the arc of the story. The song’s initial narrator seems to be a relatively young man who is wandering down by the docks of the city. He encounters a panhandler, August West, who then tells his story to the listening young man. August professes love for his “Pearly Baker,” apparently a girlfriend.

Two things here, both fascinating, both probably without any particular bearing on the song.

There were historical figures named August West and Purley Baker.

From an article about a historical plaque dedication in 2003 in Greenfield, Ohio:

In 1837 a runaway slave named Augustus West arrived in the Greenfield area and along with local farmer Alexander Beatty, authored a story that has become a part of both the area's and the nation's history. To raise money to purchase his own land, West and Beatty devised a scheme to travel back south, sell West back into slavery, help him escape and then split the profits. On at least three documented occasions the two employed this money making scam and their story became the basis for a 1971 Hollywood film, The Skin Game, starring James Gardner and Louis Gossett, Jr.

West used his profits to purchase land near the intersection of Bonner and Barrett Roads in Fayette County. Some distance from the road he built a "mansion" and the dirt road leading up to his front door became known as Abolition Lane.

In the years that followed, at least twelve cabins were constructed on West's land and these became temporary residences for other runaway slaves who needed a place to live and work as they stole their way further north to freedom.

Historically, Purley Baker was a man—the head of the Anti-Saloon League, which was an anti-drink temperance organization in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century. This is one of those wonderful occurrences in Hunter’s lyrics of a name that carries a weight that might go completely unnoticed—who has heard, these days, of Purley Baker or his organization? It came to my attention thanks to a reader sending a contribution to The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics website. And I think someone sent me a photo once of a bar ironically named “Purley Baker’s.” Possibly in upstate New York. Anyone?

So, in this song, Pearly Baker becomes the idealized woman of August West’s dreams and of his past. He feels betrayed by all those who told him he would come to no good—Pearly believed them. (Italics Hunter’s.)

He spends his life drunk or in jail—doing time for the crime of someone else (either “some other fucker” or “some motherfucker,” not sure which—Garcia’s singing often sounds like the latter). But in the song’s amazing middle, one of the great Garcia bridges moves the time signature into waltz time, and August West avows that he will get back on his feet, if the good Lord wills it. (Though earlier, he had already stated bluntly that his maker was no friend of his—a key moment.) Moving back into march time, the music frames West singing what seems to be an extension of the bridge: “I’ll get up and fly away…”

In my book and on my website, I compared these lines to the song “I’ll Fly Away,” which I incorrectly identified as a folk song. In fact, it was written as a gospel song composed in 1929 by Albert Brumley. However, I do feel somewhat justified by my further reading about Brumley’s composition of the piece, since it, in turn, was inspired by an old ballad, “The Prisoner’s Song,” with this line: “If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly.” The folk process is a wonderful thing.

Such a sad moment in the song—you know, listening, that August West will never get back on his feet again, much less fly away, and even less that Pearly has been true to him to his dying day. Does the narrator’s response: “I’m sure she’s been…” strike you as sincere? Is he being reassuring, or self-satisfiedly sarcastic?

Sad enough—but it gets worse.

Our initial narrator now returns to the song, getting up to wander around, with no particular place to go—just hanging around. And he, too, has a girl, and he, too, is sure that she has been true to him. So sure that he repeats himself. “I know she’s been, I’m sure she’s been true to me.”

The song always seemed to me to be partially aimed at the Deadheads. As a group, we were perhaps more in danger of falling victim to our addictions than mainstream society. And the fact that our own 12-Step group, of which I am a proud participant, calls itself the Wharf Rats, speaks volumes.

I never tire of this song. It makes room for some of Garcia’s most impassioned singing and soloing; the harmonies often soar; and the repeated suspended A chords beg for resolution that will never be granted.

So, it’s August, and today, August First, is Jerry Garcia’s birthday. Happy August. Happy birthday, Jerry!

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“My name is August West…”

So begins the second verse of “Wharf Rat,” a song I have long considered to be a key song—one that helps to unlock the whole body of work Robert Hunter created along with Jerry Garcia.

The shape of the story told by the song is recursive—a sort of passing-of-the-torch for the down-and-out. The narrator whose voice frames the story is well on his way, from the sound of it, to being out there on the street, looking for spare change. In fact, he already doesn’t even have a dime; all he has is some time to listen. (Brings to mind the old saying, “I’m so poor, I can’t even pay attention!”)

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I don't know what it is about wharf rat... Just absolutely love it. Love the slow but not too slow tempo... Usually after the drums in set 2. A perfect song for that slot until they ramp it up to end the second set. Jerry's solo is always perfect too.My favorite version has to be Boston 5/7/77. I realize that this is an obvious choice but there's a reason for that. It's just exactly perfect on account that they're the Absolutely Perfect Brothers Band.
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I wanted to name my son August West Wilson. Call him Auggie. I was told August is a girls name.. I mentioned a guy named Augustus Caesar, to no avail. Andrew it is. I just love this song. It speaks of addiction,a chance at benediction, jealousy. I guess I'm an in the darkie, I loved when the bridge would come,and Brent,Jerry,and Bob would nail it with their gruff harmonies. Deep song. When we were all going to jail, were we pushing 2 for 5? Some other fuckers crime, but it's okay to drink yourself to death...I'll get a new star....Live the life I should.... Then worry about your girl cheatin on you...
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What a great song...I have a "Friend of August West" sticker on my big book...and a "Let Go and Let Jerry" was on my old Subaru that I passed on to a friend before I left the States. The lyrics and music go great together, and it was always a nice post-drums/space Jerry classic back in the 80s and beyond (right up there with Stella Blue, Morning Dew, etc.). Burgundy happened to be my personal favorite, although I haven't had any of that in 'a few 24 hours', as they say. The "dime for a cup of coffee...I got no dime, but I got some time to hear his story" part might be a favorite spot...the power of compassion, and of actually taking the time to really listen...for many people who really are down and out (having reached a 'bottom' spiritually and emotionally)this kind of experience, being able to share their stories with someone, even a stranger, who is willing to care and listen, is worth more than gold. Of course, my minimal experience with Wharf Rat meetings is that set-breaks are so noisy you can't really have a good meeting in the way I like 'em...but that's beside the point! An awesome tune, for sure...makes me think of that legendary Orpheum '76 show; you know the one! :)
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Always want to hear another version of this one-esp. the pronounced gospel versions where they slowed it down even more before another launch into the final crescendo.
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I loved when Jerry reached this part of the song it was the jumping off point for the band to start going nuts; always made me think of NYC when they played this, being from NY. Happy Birthday Jerry, in the words of Roger Waters, Wish you were here!!!!!
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First, David thanks for running this blog!...Grateful Dead music, to me, has always had a spiritual dimension: not just great music and lyrics but songs that somehow, someway speak to the soul. Franklin's Tower, Eyes, Fire and Wharf Rat are among the vanguard of those songs. I'd been 'hearing' Grateful Dead music for a while before, one day at the Student Center at the College of Charleston (I should have been studying...but then I wouldn't have spent 8 beautiful years there) Wharf Rat stopped me dead in my tracks with its dark, haunting lyrics and compelling story line. The same thing had happened earlier with Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone": someone, somewhere is talking to ME. Telling ME a story, showing ME a parable or something. Before I succumb to paralysis through analysis I will submit that through the darkness, depression and despair in the atmosphere of the lyrics comes that beautiful ray of light in August West's submission to God's will in his hope to get a new start and fly away...fly away. We've all been there. Maybe not as down and as out as August West but in our own ways we fall down or hit plateaus but because we have hope, we persist...and grow...and live...and love. It's a flicker of light in total darkness like only the Grateful Dead can do it. It's really cool to that the first Wharf Rat emerged from within Dark Star!
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I had heard Wharf Rat performed a few times live by the Grateful Dead, but the words never came into as clear a focus as they did when I heard Robert Hunter perform the song at a small club in NYC (I'm pretty sure it was The Other End). I hung on every word, following the tale of these two characters that didn't know how much alike they really were. The story just unfolded as it never had before for me. Hunter has done this for me on a few of his and Jerry's tunes over the years, but his performance of Wharf Rat was indeed an epiphany, and the song was (for me) no longer just another mellow tune coming out of Space.
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I started going to see the Boyz again after my crash and restoration to sanity in 1980 I was delighted to find out about the Yellow Balloons and the WR community. Made the next years so much better. Still goes along at Furthur gigs. Never had a problem with the break noise myself. This song has a special place in my head and heart. Best to Cosmic Charlie all the folks who meet at Holy Innocents in SF on Thursday nights. Happy to be here now and there then.
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I named my adopted cat August back in 1994 and he just turned 20. His kidneys have been failing for a couple years, possibly from the burgundy wine, but I give him fluid injections every other day and he is still a happy camper and full of life. He probably thinks he'll get back on his feet again some day, but he's already there. The song has given me a lot and my buddy Gus has given me more.
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"Some other fucker" who committed the crime August did time for might also be his own past self, or could surely have been himself one and the same and he's just absolving himself of it, or smearing it away from him, by saying that. The song's all ambiguity, sure, except August's description, the facts of the encounter, and the given circumstances of these fellows ("nowhere to go but just to hang around," and so on). But there's no evidence in the song, is there, that Pearly hasn't been true to August, in some manner, if only internal to him. There's such strength to that, in the lyric, that "you know, listening" differently, cannot negate.
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I've always felt that Wharf Rat was one of the very best songs written by the Hunter-Garcia Tag Team. And the story of the collaboration was quite interesting, with Robert giving Jerry the song and Jerry G finishing his part that same day. Amazing. Don't know how long Robert worked on it, nor do I know how much and what Jerry added to it but it was a one day thing from what I've read. It's such a heavy a personal story, one character to another character, full of despair, hope and contradiction. And it makes me wonder if the other song I mentioned in the title of this train of thought was supposed to be a 'part 2' of this one from another songwriting team in the band, intentional or not. We can only hope for the best for the "August West"ies that we all know. We can only do so much for them to help themselves. We are the captains of our own ship. Ultimately it's up to ourselves as individuals to make the first step and live one day at a time. And now I'll get up and fly away. To bed for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow's another day.
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From my perspective, Mission In The Rain is "part 2" of this wonderful, bleak, depressing tale from Robert & Jerry. From the first time I heard Wharf Rat when Skullfuck was released, I was riveted by the story and multiple narratives by the two characters. To this day, I consider it one of the finest Hunter-Garcia creations. For me Mission In The Rain is told from the narrative of either August West or the 2nd character in WR. The notion of wearily trudging the rainy, cold streets of the Mission District, reminds me of the "...Wandered downtown, nowhere to go just to hang around..." line in WR. In Mission the verse: I must turn down your offer but I'd like to ask a break You know I'm ready to give everything for anything I take to me is directly related to the WR lines: asked me for a dime-- dime for a cup of coffee I got no dime but I got time to hear his story I get the same emotional, raw, empathetic picture of loneliness and down-and-out drudgery in both and have often listened to these as a pair. Both songs bring a human dimension to the face of homelessness and those living on the streets. David, thank you for Greatest Stories - what a wonderful way to explore, share, and think about the complexities of the bands music and the prolific words of Hunter and Barlow. Now that I FINALLY can log on to the site I can contribute! :-)
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Thank you for another great story. The story about Augustus West and Alexander Beatty is one of the coolest stories Ive heard in a while. Stick it to the man! One show at a time...of course.
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I never considered this song in the context of Hunter and Garcia's relationship.Now I will likely always looks at them as the characters of this tragedy. Like a Twilight Zone episode where a young Jerry gets wrongfully accused and thrown in jail for half a life time. Then there would have been no composer to set Hunter's words to music...no resulting fame and fortune to which both were blessed...just a sad twist of fate. it makes me shudder. Sorry to say it took me a while to develop an appreciation for this song. I found it long and monotonous and heavy. The title Warf Rat is so UnAttractive and the tale is one of misery. Yet I have come to love it more and more. The opposite of a Pop song that is terrific at first and then grows old and tiresome. Warf Rat keeps getting better and better with each listen; both lyrically and musically. I especially love the middle where the band summons a renewed determination to break out of the miserable state they are in and fly away to the better place where Pearly waits -faithful and true. Then we are left to wonder if the success was ever achieved..but there is a bit of added enthusiasm as the song comes to a close with two sorry bums with no money and no place to go. I have to think the black slaves who had a dream of making their way to Purley Baker's Abolition Lane would feel the same sense of dispair mixed with encoragement to keep on keeping on in hope of a dramatic reversal of fortune. An Epic Tale of finding the way to Pearly's Place.
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...of this tune is included on the Austin '71 RT Bonus Disc.
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The Pivotal Moment is when Jerry sings "I Know That The Life I'm Living's No Good" Emotion beyond Words that only Jerry could express the way he does
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Thanks for another very good post. I have really grown to appreciate these posts as they have given me a deeper appreciation for the songs. I have always been more attuned to the music with the lyrics in the background-- I can actually sing along with many songs (not just GD, but all artists), but don't pay much attention to the story arc behind them. So, many thanks for delving deep. Wharf Rat has always been one that I followed, though. Great son with a great story line. Someone on one of Blair's blog posts awhile back wrote that of the many GD songs, he/she felt that Wharf Rat was the one that stayed most consistent over the years. Other songs went through various tempo and other changes, but Wharf Rat remained pretty consistent. I agreed with that assessment. Anyways, thanks for bringing life to many of the Dead's songs.
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I always wake early in this desert town of 20,000. Just this morning 5AM I have my first cup of coffee and step out into the cool pre-dawn air. So around to the front of the house I see yet another cold hobo asleep on the front porch. Two days ago in the drizzling rain I meet my friend Tom a Vietnam Vet, cheap vodka killing his pain. His nephew helps him to steady up. I offer Tom a ride to his Hogan but no he wants to sleep in his camp towards the edge of town. Decades of broken glass reflects broken treaties and broken lives. The halfway house closed down for two months now and over 70 homeless souls wander to other sources of food, drink and depression. Come winter it hits below zero on some nights. Exposure takes some to a cold end. I thank my lucky stars for my work, for a warm place to live. A few good breaks can help a man make a decent life for himself. One bad break or bum steer can ruin a person. So you may ask, what the hell does this have to do with Wharf Rat, Jerry sings with conviction and soul to heavens and cries out the warning to the bowels of hell.(Hells of our own making) I think of Jack London, born in Oakland, a street tough who lived as an oyster pirate in his youth. His spirit of survival and passion for life burned bright. We may conquer our demons or we may be consumed by them. And to quote Jack , "I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."- Jack London
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Jack London was a brilliant writer, and his prose is quite evocative. But I believe Neil Young said it more succinctly – “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”.
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Reading your post has given me renewed energy. THANK YOU.
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Pearly Baker's in Easton PA. The Bar often has LIVE music and great beers on tap. It's a Fun place with a nice atmosphere. Here's a little history from their website. Built in 1869, 11 Centre Square, the building which houses Pearly Baker’s Ale House, has been a restaurant for nearly 70 years. Originally built as Easton’s first YMCA, the building was converted into a GE store in the early nineteen hundreds before opening as the Manhattan Club in the Forties. It was during this time that 9,000 hand-cut lead Czech crystals were fabricated by the Easton Lighting Company into the dining room chandelier. In the Eighties, Charlie’s Bar took over the building & operated until 1994, when Pearly Baker’s Ale House was established.
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Wow. Some great posts here. Thanks to all!
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I’ve always taken the line “spent doing time for some other f’ers crime” to mean that August was paying for his own poor youthful decisions. Decisions made by him, but a person he no longer is, hence the “other” and not that he spent time in jail as some kind of victim or martyr. And the thought that August is in fact Jerry in a life that could have been in the sense that “but for the grace of God there go I” is reinforced by the fact that Jerry drew a well known piece of art titled “August West” that is thought by many to be a kind of self portrait. It is well documented that Jerry reached out to those marginalized by society and actually seemed to be attracted to them. In any case this is a great song that I can listen to over and over.
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I a little less than a month shy of my 15th birthday and had been into the Dead in that fanatical and obsessive teenage way for about a year. My father, who had stopped seeing the band after seeing cops beating kids at an American University show in the early 70s (perhaps the free 9/30/72 show???) Anyway, when I asked him if I could go to the RFK show, he certainly knew better than to let me run amock with the heads, so he decided that he would accompany me to the show. We went with my step-brother and his girlfriend, (now wife of 15 + years -- the met in line for JGB tix!) both of whom had been on the bus for years. Walking in from the lot, my step-brother asks what I wanted to hear at my first Dead show... my response, which I had thought of for weeks leading up to this night, was immediate - "Wharf Rat" and "Ship of Fools." He chuckled, and said "Yea... good luck with that" (or something to that effect.) Both songs, second set, and a Shakedown opener! My dad got to hear Mama Tried, one of his all time favorite tunes, and today, he is not only on the bus again, but I think he may be driving some of the way! Anyway, not really about WR, but I know that it was one of the tunes that hooked me from the beginning, and I haven't looked back since!
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3 years 11 months
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Wharf Rat is a feeling to me. Listened to it a hundred times a hundred years ago. Rainy miserable day yesterday and I took off work and played old music on you tube all afternoon. Played wharf rat first time in years. Decided to wikipedia the song for insight and stumbled upon your BRILLIANT literary analysis here. Well done. Bravo. Thanks. I actually logged in and got an account here just to send you this random note of thanks. Your remarkably intelligent post has inspired me and I wish you well
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3 years 5 months
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I have had this song going through my head in recent days. I kept thinking "All of my life" was part of the lyrics but I didn't know what song it came from. Then this morning, Wharf Rat came on GD Radio, almost as if it was answering my question. Then I looked up the lyrics. The music is beautiful, and the lyrics are sad and powerful. There is additional power these days, given all the innocent people being released from prison and death row who were wrongfully convicted.
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3 years 5 months
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Burgettstown, June 15, 2017 show still in my mind. Words cannot convey my feelings as I realized they're playing Wharf Rat. My first "Friends of August W." show was July '86 Rubber Bowl with Dylan and Petty. A group of us went together, safety in numbers. During the set break we had a mtg. A few yrs later my sponsor, Denny H., re-lit my fire for The Dead, coaxing me to attend more shows. He taught me to find The Wharf Rat table, outdoors, from the pit (where else?) over your left shoulder, indoors behind the stage right side. We attended shows within a few hundred miles. I just saw the Fenway poster, and well I'm stoked. I'm told WR's started MTG in Philly, possibly '86 Spectrum. I'd like to hear heads recollections. What a long strange trip it's been...
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11 years 4 months
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WR was the first GD song that got me into the lyrics as I first heard the early LPs in my buddy's dorm room. So many themes here...shattered dreams; probably false hope; empathy; "there but for the grace of God go I". Heck, just the fact that the story line is homelessness..in a song written in the late 60s-early 70s. it is extremely powerful poetry, set to the perfect musical accompaniment. Half of my life I did time for some other f'ers crime...the other half found me stumbling around drunk on burgundy wine...this line just tells an entire life story in a coupla dozen words. the other half "found me"...not "I did". some other f'ers crime. You sort of think that maybe some were his crimes, but at least some other dudes were doing time for some of THIS f'ers crime. got no dime, but I got some time to hear his story...what if we all extended this simple act of caring to less fortunate souls? (I know I rarely if ever have). Maybe that was important than the dime? wow.
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10 years 2 months
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...more than my maker, though he’s no friend of mine.I have been a fringe fan of YOURS, DDodds, since the hardcover Annotated Lyrics is SO AWESOME. Admittedly, I mostly use the online version, but the book is pure gold, counting the woodcut style art. I am so deeply impressed that you’re a Wharf Rat, and to me, it explains why your work is so excellent. And it’s why THIS page is so profound. For a few years, I couldn’t hear the song w/o hating the disease that led to Jerry’s demise, but now I hope Terrapin Family band plays it in Oct at DC’s new venue. Go Dave. Keep on keeping on!

The Band

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  • DanielSpace
    2 months 2 weeks ago
    Terrapin Family band really
    Terrapin Family band really like their music
  • PeggyO.WharfRat
    1 year 1 month ago
    Pearly Baker best, more than my wine...
    ...more than my maker, though he’s no friend of mine.I have been a fringe fan of YOURS, DDodds, since the hardcover Annotated Lyrics is SO AWESOME. Admittedly, I mostly use the online version, but the book is pure gold, counting the woodcut style art. I am so deeply impressed that you’re a Wharf Rat, and to me, it explains why your work is so excellent. And it’s why THIS page is so profound. For a few years, I couldn’t hear the song w/o hating the disease that led to Jerry’s demise, but now I hope Terrapin Family band plays it in Oct at DC’s new venue. Go Dave. Keep on keeping on!
  • mkav
    1 year 4 months ago
    this was the one
    WR was the first GD song that got me into the lyrics as I first heard the early LPs in my buddy's dorm room. So many themes here...shattered dreams; probably false hope; empathy; "there but for the grace of God go I". Heck, just the fact that the story line is homelessness..in a song written in the late 60s-early 70s. it is extremely powerful poetry, set to the perfect musical accompaniment. Half of my life I did time for some other f'ers crime...the other half found me stumbling around drunk on burgundy wine...this line just tells an entire life story in a coupla dozen words. the other half "found me"...not "I did". some other f'ers crime. You sort of think that maybe some were his crimes, but at least some other dudes were doing time for some of THIS f'ers crime. got no dime, but I got some time to hear his story...what if we all extended this simple act of caring to less fortunate souls? (I know I rarely if ever have). Maybe that was important than the dime? wow.
  • Default Avatar
    rcgabelmanjr@g…
    1 year 4 months ago
    WR
    Burgettstown, June 15, 2017 show still in my mind. Words cannot convey my feelings as I realized they're playing Wharf Rat. My first "Friends of August W." show was July '86 Rubber Bowl with Dylan and Petty. A group of us went together, safety in numbers. During the set break we had a mtg. A few yrs later my sponsor, Denny H., re-lit my fire for The Dead, coaxing me to attend more shows. He taught me to find The Wharf Rat table, outdoors, from the pit (where else?) over your left shoulder, indoors behind the stage right side. We attended shows within a few hundred miles. I just saw the Fenway poster, and well I'm stoked. I'm told WR's started MTG in Philly, possibly '86 Spectrum. I'd like to hear heads recollections. What a long strange trip it's been...
  • Default Avatar
    Aceserve
    3 years 5 months ago
    Wharf Rat song & lyrics
    I have had this song going through my head in recent days. I kept thinking "All of my life" was part of the lyrics but I didn't know what song it came from. Then this morning, Wharf Rat came on GD Radio, almost as if it was answering my question. Then I looked up the lyrics. The music is beautiful, and the lyrics are sad and powerful. There is additional power these days, given all the innocent people being released from prison and death row who were wrongfully convicted.