• October 31, 2013
    http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-when-push-comes-shove
    Greatest Stories Ever Told - “When Push Comes to Shove”

    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!)

    “When Push Comes To Shove”

    Just pokin’ around looking for an appropriate song for Hallowe’en and the Day of the Dead, it occurred to me that “When Push Comes to Shove” does deal explicitly with fear. My first choice for this week had been “Touch of Grey,” but I think I’ll save that one.

    Lots to be afraid of out there in the world, but with all that there is to fear, what is it that the character in the song (the person to whom the singer is addressing the song) afraid of?

    Love.

    There may be a phantom in the closet. Or a mystery killer from Channel Four, but those pale in comparison to love.

    And although it may not be the strongest Grateful Dead song, or even one that has a lot of staying power, it does in some way exemplify a talent of Robert Hunter—finding the surprising contradictions in our lives and exposing them—in this case, humorously or perhaps sarcastically, but with serious intent behind his castigations. Garcia gives it a catchy, bouncy tune, but there is something lacking, conviction-wise, in the end product, I always found. Maybe it’s the lack of a bridge.

    The song was first performed on December 15, 1986, at the Coliseum Arena in Oakland. Also debuted in that show was “Black Muddy River.” It was played a total of 58 times, and given its final performance on July 17, 1989, at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. The song appeared on “In the Dark,” released in July 1987.

    I find it very interesting, lyrically, that the instrument of torture, and of the love that kills, is the perennial Grateful Dead symbol, the rose. Hmmmm. Yes, it is in the garden, surrounded by roses, that the character in the song is punched, captured, slapped, and ultimately loved to death, wrapped in their sweet perfume.

    Could it be that everyone, by this point in the band’s journey, was simply sick and tired of roses?

    Hunter once said “I've got this one spirit that's laying roses on me. Roses, roses, can't get enough of those bloody roses. The rose is the most prominent image in the human brain, as to delicacy, beauty, short-livedness, thorniness. It's a whole. There is no better allegory for, dare I say it, life, than roses.”

    The Psalter Map, c. 1265

    So here he takes those “bloody roses” and makes them the symbol of a deadly love, a love to be feared.

    And really, in the context of the entire body of lyrics—especially Hunter’s, but of the band as a whole, this makes sense. Love, as an abstract concept, may be esteemed and put forth as the greatest value (“love will see you through,” “without love in the dream it will never come true,” etc.), but when it comes to actual, described love relationships, there isn’t a song in the repertoire that makes sense to sing, say, at a wedding.

    The lovers in Grateful Dead songs are mostly either losing one another, or struggling along in some way: telling “sweet lies, one last time,” or “sitting and crying at home.” The song with the sweetest line, “I love you more than words can tell,” “Brokedown Palace,” is nevertheless about saying goodbye to that lover—perhaps in mourning at her passing, but nonetheless, within the context of sadness.

    “Push,” then, puts that right out there. It takes THE big Grateful Dead motif, the rose, and has that symbolize the thing to be feared, which, conversely, is also the thing most to be prized: love. Roses, as so perfectly stated by Hunter in the previous quote, express the duality of all things (Gurdjieff said “roses, roses, thorns, thorns”). There is no better allegory for, dare I say it, love, than roses.

    I do really enjoy the litany of things to be feared brought up in the song. There are surprises, obscure references (“bullets made of glass” seems to be a nod to an element in a Jules Verne book, for instance), and the evocation of the fear inherent in any kind of serious exploration of the unknown: “here there may be tigers” as a corollary of a convention in ancient maps to warn of danger: “here be dragons.” (Although, when I actually went looking for such maps, I really couldn’t find any…oh well. Doesn’t mean it’s not part of our consciousness, just because it doesn’t exist in “reality.” Checking Wikipedia today, I find an article entitled “Here be dragons” which cites two occurrences on ancient maps. So, real after all. But still.)

    We’ve all, probably, had love relationships that have not been the easiest thing. And maybe we come to be afraid of love. Maybe we feel smothered by its sweet perfume and thorny branches. But really, when push comes to shove, is there anything we’d rather risk?

    Probably not a great prompt for online discussion via the comments. Who wants to bare their soul about this topic in particular. So maybe we could look at some great scary stories—they don’t have to be about love. Fear is a good one, all on its own!

    Happy hallowe’en, everyone!

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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!)

“When Push Comes To Shove”

Just pokin’ around looking for an appropriate song for Hallowe’en and the Day of the Dead, it occurred to me that “When Push Comes to Shove” does deal explicitly with fear. My first choice for this week had been “Touch of Grey,” but I think I’ll save that one.

Lots to be afraid of out there in the world, but with all that there is to fear, what is it that the character in the song (the person to whom the singer is addressing the song) afraid of?

Love.

There may be a phantom in the closet. Or a mystery killer from Channel Four, but those pale in comparison to love.

And although it may not be the strongest Grateful Dead song, or even one that has a lot of staying power, it does in some way exemplify a talent of Robert Hunter—finding the surprising contradictions in our lives and exposing them—in this case, humorously or perhaps sarcastically, but with serious intent behind his castigations. Garcia gives it a catchy, bouncy tune, but there is something lacking, conviction-wise, in the end product, I always found. Maybe it’s the lack of a bridge.

The song was first performed on December 15, 1986, at the Coliseum Arena in Oakland. Also debuted in that show was “Black Muddy River.” It was played a total of 58 times, and given its final performance on July 17, 1989, at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. The song appeared on “In the Dark,” released in July 1987.

I find it very interesting, lyrically, that the instrument of torture, and of the love that kills, is the perennial Grateful Dead symbol, the rose. Hmmmm. Yes, it is in the garden, surrounded by roses, that the character in the song is punched, captured, slapped, and ultimately loved to death, wrapped in their sweet perfume.

Could it be that everyone, by this point in the band’s journey, was simply sick and tired of roses?

Hunter once said “I've got this one spirit that's laying roses on me. Roses, roses, can't get enough of those bloody roses. The rose is the most prominent image in the human brain, as to delicacy, beauty, short-livedness, thorniness. It's a whole. There is no better allegory for, dare I say it, life, than roses.”

The Psalter Map, c. 1265

So here he takes those “bloody roses” and makes them the symbol of a deadly love, a love to be feared.

And really, in the context of the entire body of lyrics—especially Hunter’s, but of the band as a whole, this makes sense. Love, as an abstract concept, may be esteemed and put forth as the greatest value (“love will see you through,” “without love in the dream it will never come true,” etc.), but when it comes to actual, described love relationships, there isn’t a song in the repertoire that makes sense to sing, say, at a wedding.

The lovers in Grateful Dead songs are mostly either losing one another, or struggling along in some way: telling “sweet lies, one last time,” or “sitting and crying at home.” The song with the sweetest line, “I love you more than words can tell,” “Brokedown Palace,” is nevertheless about saying goodbye to that lover—perhaps in mourning at her passing, but nonetheless, within the context of sadness.

“Push,” then, puts that right out there. It takes THE big Grateful Dead motif, the rose, and has that symbolize the thing to be feared, which, conversely, is also the thing most to be prized: love. Roses, as so perfectly stated by Hunter in the previous quote, express the duality of all things (Gurdjieff said “roses, roses, thorns, thorns”). There is no better allegory for, dare I say it, love, than roses.

I do really enjoy the litany of things to be feared brought up in the song. There are surprises, obscure references (“bullets made of glass” seems to be a nod to an element in a Jules Verne book, for instance), and the evocation of the fear inherent in any kind of serious exploration of the unknown: “here there may be tigers” as a corollary of a convention in ancient maps to warn of danger: “here be dragons.” (Although, when I actually went looking for such maps, I really couldn’t find any…oh well. Doesn’t mean it’s not part of our consciousness, just because it doesn’t exist in “reality.” Checking Wikipedia today, I find an article entitled “Here be dragons” which cites two occurrences on ancient maps. So, real after all. But still.)

We’ve all, probably, had love relationships that have not been the easiest thing. And maybe we come to be afraid of love. Maybe we feel smothered by its sweet perfume and thorny branches. But really, when push comes to shove, is there anything we’d rather risk?

Probably not a great prompt for online discussion via the comments. Who wants to bare their soul about this topic in particular. So maybe we could look at some great scary stories—they don’t have to be about love. Fear is a good one, all on its own!

Happy hallowe’en, everyone!

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Just pokin’ around looking for an appropriate song for Hallowe’en and the Day of the Dead, it occurred to me that “When Push Comes to Shove” does deal explicitly with fear. My first choice for this week had been “Touch of Grey,” but I think I’ll save that one.
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Greatest Stories Ever Told - “When Push Comes to Shove”
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Just pokin’ around looking for an appropriate song for Hallowe’en and the Day of the Dead, it occurred to me that “When Push Comes to Shove” does deal explicitly with fear. My first choice for this week had been “Touch of Grey,” but I think I’ll save that one.
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Just pokin’ around looking for an appropriate song for Hallowe’en and the Day of the Dead, it occurred to me that “When Push Comes to Shove” does deal explicitly with fear. My first choice for this week had been “Touch of Grey,” but I think I’ll save that one.

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"They Love Each Other" works for a wedding.
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Good point, Mary! Any others out there? Maybe "If I Had the World To Give"?
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I was at those shows, six weeks after Garcia's return on Halloween at the Kaiser, from the diabetic coma. My recollection is they played Push Comes to Shove all three nights. Those were great shows, everyone was glad to be together again with the holidays right around the corner.
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Yes, perhaps there is structure lacking musically. It's kind of a follow up to Ramble on Rose in a sense, and sneakily similar in tempo and feeling. Using literary and biblical illusions to create an atmosphere. It did take a while to realize the reflexive iconography that makes this song truly lyrically strong. Though it got undermined by the band after rotating in "Standing on the Moon" and "Foolish Heart" and other then current tunes, I wish they had kept it around a while longer.
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This is the first time I ever bothered to read the lyrics for this song. To me, this is the best example yet of a tune Jerry could have done better with but Hunter was really flimsy with his rhyming lyrics (ear,nose, eye, head?). I do, however, disagree with the premise that most people are more afraid of love than sharp weapons and mass killers, zombies, monsters and what have you. Certainly some, but not most. Indeed, most people are out there pining away for the real thing according to my observation. This song was so weak musically I'm surprised Jerry just didn't chuck it when the final product was ready for delivery. Push is right up there with Day Job, Wave To The Wind, Keep On Growing and other late songs (Hunter written or not) that were just not up to par. To my ears, it really broke up the stream of energy in any set it was played in. On another tack, the best proposal/marriage song was Jack-A-Roe, which I'm told Jerry called in some shows as a favor for friends or in return for a favor.
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Always thought of this song as a reference to Jerry acknowledging his health/drug issues of the recent past. With the roses as a substitute for the legion of die-hard, increasingly concerned fans fearing the unthinkable . By the skin of his teeth, seat of his pants or luck of the draw, he survived. We wouldn't had accepted anything less. Not many roads when one fears love. Could have remained in rotation forever to address any number of issues. Gatecrashers come to mind for instance. The luxury that is Robert Hunter.
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Sometimes I wonder Who Hunter has in mind when he writes his songs.Do you suppose its the same person? I imagine its a Fear-based/Love-deprived Condition that is all too common among us while we're traveling Through this Land. Following the Theme about Lost Souls sitting under a Weeping Willow 'Comes a Time When the Blind Man Says When Push Comes to Shove You're Afraid of Love' ( I want to use the word "Nexus" here but don't know how ) as the Hurt gets Worse and the Heart gets Harder
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This song came across like Day Job in concert, even though both songs have great lyrics and catchy choruses, they never resin-ated with the crowd live. As far as wedding songs go - Ruben and Cherise for me. If you could see my heart you would know it's true.
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OK, then... extreme paranoia comes to mind when I read these lyrics. They paint a powerful lyrical picture. The song just doesn't get me off. Maybe it's the cliched title, or the repetitive chorus. It's a better song than I can write, I will give you that.
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But from the perspective of today, I almost think it's more successful as a Hunter song, which it's easy to mentally hear, than it is as a Dead song. What can I say, I also love Day Job, and think it has a bit of the same issue.
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There were very few songs that the band did that sounded weak both lyrically and musically, but this was one of them. That Garcia and Hunter wrote so many good numbers make it all the more a mystery why it wasn't dropped before it was committed to record or CD, especially when one can think of several good songs that never made it to an official release at the time. I thought that it was flimsy when I heard it on In the Dark, and it didn't get any better with being played live. Now I think that it was a shame that 'Day Job' disappeared from the band's repertoire, but I wasn't sorry that this duffer was put to rest after 58 live plays.
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Ive always thought this song was greatly underrated and from the looks of the comments, nothing has changed. Musically, this song is powerful...simple, but effective. The lyrics are unique and catchey...that being said, i dont think Garcia sang it correctly even one time. Not sure why they dropped it...watch the Ticket to New Years and tell me this song wasnt a lot of fun.
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All right, Mr. Dodd, you have picked my interest with your conjecture of Hunter's intent in "Push" and the inclusion of The Psalter Map. A psalter is a volume containing the Book of Psalms, often with other devotional material bound in as well, such as a liturgical calendar and litany of the Saints. Until the later medieval emergence of the book of hours, psalters were the books most widely owned by wealthy lay persons and were commonly used for learning to read. Many Psalters were richly illuminated and they include some of the most spectacular surviving examples of medieval book art. Psalter world map is the name historiography gave to a medieval world map that has been found in a psalter. This mappa mundi is now conserved at the British Library in London. The small map (c. 9.5 cm or 3.7 in high) shows a lot of details. It has been written around 1260; the author is unknown. According to historian Anna-Dorothee von den Brincken it looks like a small version of the Ebstorf Map from Northern Germany. It is a typical mappa mundi that does not only show the geographical and historical knowledge but also puts it into the frame of salvation history. Jesus Christ appears in the East (i.e. "above"), as the maps of Christian Middle Ages have East above, not North, giving a blessing with his right hand. (previous four paragraphs from Wikkipedia) I stand by my evaluation of the song but I learned something new and it was topically very correct for Halloween. I have to ask, though, what was your thought in including the Psalter Map? Is this an obscure reference to to the crown of thorns Christ bore on the cross? Are you equating his scary (in the sense of being crucified) love of mankind in some way with, perhaps, rose thorns he bore on the cross? Are you further inferring that Christ's position and method of blessing was "left-handed" (for want of a better metaphor), perhaps in the manner of Hunter and Garcia's creations with the Grateful Dead and the effect of their product on the deadheads? Probably not, it just popped into my head, and I don't have a fixation on Christianity in any way. Thanks again for making me cover just a little more ground.
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Hi Anna--thanks for the great comment. The Psalter Map was included because it is one of two known ancient maps that actually comments on an area with the warning: here be dragons. I admit, the image was too small for me to locate that exact spot on the map, but I thought--hey, it's there somewhere. Maybe we can get a bigger version of the image and pinpoint just where that was. I didn't mean anything about Christianity by including the image... but I do love the possible correlation to / association with the crown of thorns.
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was the whole Roman de la Rose, which was the equivalent of a huge bestseller around the 12th century. In my grad school days I spent a good deal of time studying it. The first half was a big enough hit that another guy wrote a sequel. With new theology! Rose iconography a go go in the Middle Ages. I tend to think Hunter is well versed in such things. As evidenced by the fact that he not only writes a pretty profound song called "Rose of Sharon," he follows it up with another one called "Althea," which is the botanical name for Rose of Sharon. I do not think for one second that this is an accident.
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first of all, i love reading these, so thank you David. i do have to chime in and say that i just got hitched last Sunday and we played "They Love Each Other" from 5/12/77 for our 2nd song. i don't think anyone else knew the song but it went over well.
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I've always thought this song would have been perfect for the Jerry Garcia Band. Jackie and Gloria adding some vocal fills at the end of each verse, along with Melvin's swirly organ.
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This song has cute imagery -- a tiger that's going to punch you in the ear? I think of a stuffed animal here. But it's really too cute for the GD. I like the suggestion that this would have made a better JGB song. I wonder how Jerry decided which were which (and which were both). This one lacks a certain seriousness or dark twist that I think is part of most Dead songs. Also, I can't imagine this ever having been played before the 80s. I think the early-stage Dead would have been embarrassed by it. It's funny how folks grow out of those boundaries, not always to the betterment of their art.
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My wife and I also had "They Love Each Other" in our wedding ceremony as the recessional song. Ten years ago last month. I don't remember the version we used, but it was from a concert tape, not an official release.
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reminded me of living with a VW van for a while... and the push starts and shoving to a safe place to do and engine swap.. and Roger Cohen weighed in today on NYT blog about last Kombis from Brazil. His reverie was about an epic trip across the vaunted hippie trail in a Kombi named "Pigpen" with a royal straight flush splashed on the front. Check it out here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/08/opinion/cohen-the-kombi-madeleine.htm… "truckin’ on, torrid nights and the sounds of the Grateful Dead (until of course the cassette player got stolen because somebody somehow forgot to close a window)." and "those simple little sail-shaped, push-out front windows (easily pushed-in by thieves after the sound systems blasting the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “White Line Fever”)." My trips were south to Palenque, San Cristobal, Belize and the Yucatan but a lot resonates.
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i really like this song. it has grown on me over the years. i agree it is much under appreciated. i really like the album version, too. i never really knew the lyrics when the boys played it. and as for some other late songs, after so many roads come out, i really got into liberty and esp days between. i always liked lazy river road. as for day job, totally different. never liked it. and it was weird, once near the end of them playing that song, at a merr post i think, they ended a 1st set w let it grow. mickey was actually up off his kit, when jerry broke into day job. mickey stood there, bewildered, then finally went over and sat and 'played' along. billy sat there with one hand on his chin, and played his kit with his other. sometimes i think the band didnt retire that song, as hunter said, 'at the insistence of fans', but at the insistence of other band members...!!!
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My wife and I walked down the aisle at our wonderful outdoor wedding to the sound of "Sage And Spirit".
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"If I Had The World To Give" played during our first dance 7/3/95.We celebrated our honeymoon in Chicago at Soldier Field. These turned out to be the final Grateful Dead shows. : (
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    leper van atom
    5 years ago
    Wedding Songs
    "If I Had The World To Give" played during our first dance 7/3/95.We celebrated our honeymoon in Chicago at Soldier Field. These turned out to be the final Grateful Dead shows. : (
  • Default Avatar
    Dark Starr
    5 years ago
    Wedding Songs
    My wife and I walked down the aisle at our wonderful outdoor wedding to the sound of "Sage And Spirit".
  • Default Avatar
    Jakeandhank
    5 years ago
    Wedding song
    Not Fade Away
  • mp51
    5 years ago
    when push comes to shove...
    i really like this song. it has grown on me over the years. i agree it is much under appreciated. i really like the album version, too. i never really knew the lyrics when the boys played it. and as for some other late songs, after so many roads come out, i really got into liberty and esp days between. i always liked lazy river road. as for day job, totally different. never liked it. and it was weird, once near the end of them playing that song, at a merr post i think, they ended a 1st set w let it grow. mickey was actually up off his kit, when jerry broke into day job. mickey stood there, bewildered, then finally went over and sat and 'played' along. billy sat there with one hand on his chin, and played his kit with his other. sometimes i think the band didnt retire that song, as hunter said, 'at the insistence of fans', but at the insistence of other band members...!!!
  • Default Avatar
    BEAR 14
    5 years ago
    Pushin' and shovin'
    reminded me of living with a VW van for a while... and the push starts and shoving to a safe place to do and engine swap.. and Roger Cohen weighed in today on NYT blog about last Kombis from Brazil. His reverie was about an epic trip across the vaunted hippie trail in a Kombi named "Pigpen" with a royal straight flush splashed on the front. Check it out here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/08/opinion/cohen-the-kombi-madeleine.htm… "truckin’ on, torrid nights and the sounds of the Grateful Dead (until of course the cassette player got stolen because somebody somehow forgot to close a window)." and "those simple little sail-shaped, push-out front windows (easily pushed-in by thieves after the sound systems blasting the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “White Line Fever”)." My trips were south to Palenque, San Cristobal, Belize and the Yucatan but a lot resonates.