Grateful Dead

Greatest Stories Ever Told

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. With Grateful Dead lyrics, there’s always a new and different take on what they bring up for each listener, it seems.

- David Dodd

  • Robert Hunter: “’Tennessee Jed’ originated in Barcelona, Spain. Topped up on vino tinto, I composed it aloud to the sound of a jaw harp twanged between echoing building faces by someone strolling half a block ahead of me in the late summer twilight.”

  • If I ever find a vintage sign at a railroad crossing that actually says “Caution: Do Not Stop On Tracks,” I will be sorely tempted to steal it. Maybe that’s why you don’t see signs with those exact words—they’ve all been stolen by Deadheads. (This is one of two early “signage” songs, the other being “No Left Turn Unstoned,” aka “Cardboard Cowboy,” a reference to the unbelievable number of “No Left Turn” signs in San Francisco, I believe. Are there more songs based on street signs? A new motif!)

  • As I write this, it is April Fool’s Day.

    There are quite a number of fools in Grateful Dead songs.

    “You thought you was the cool fool...”

    “Don’t lend your hand to raise no flag atop no Ship of Fools...”

    “Heaven help the fool...”

  • Jerry Garcia’s first solo album, Garcia, yielded quite a set of songs for the band’s repertoire over the years. “Deal,” which opens the album, is a perfect example, a perfectly-crafted gem of a song that kicks off a set of songs...

  • “Pride of Cucamonga” is one of the several songs Lesh wrote with lyricist Bobby Petersen, and its road-oriented words fit in with the outlines of Petersen’s life spent out on the edge of an empty highway.

  • It took a LONG time for me to warm up to “Victim or the Crime.” Others characterized it as angular and dissonant, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything about it for somewhere around my first 20 times hearing it.

  • I can’t resist proceeding on to complete the “Help / Slip / Frank” trilogy with this week’s post. “Franklin’s Tower” is the most memorable song from my very first Grateful Dead concert, on October 9, 1976 at the Oakland Coliseum, when the Dead opened for The Who.

  • A couple of summers ago, I was visiting New York City with my family. We were at the wonderful Natural History Museum, taking the elevator to an upper floor, and I noticed a message on the brass plate with all the buttons for floors, etc: “Help is on the way,” it said.

  • Once in a while, I like to spend a blog post considering a worthy cover tune. And what is more appropriate for Valentine’s Day week than “Not Fade Away”?

Greatest Stories Ever Told