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

  • Last week’s post about “U.S. Blues” made me think, quite naturally, of “One More Saturday Night.” The background is well-documented, and easily found on Alex Allan’s Grateful Dead Lyric and Song Finder site. But the gist of it is that the song began as a Hunter lyric, but Weir ran with an early draft, wrote a whole song, keeping only one line, really (“one more Saturday night”) and Hunter took his name off the lyric. So it stands as a song with words and music by Weir.

  • There’s a wonderful scene in The Grateful Dead Movie, where one particular Deadhead is right on the rail during the opening number, perfectly lip-synching the entire rendition of “U.S. Blues” that opens the live concert portion of the movie. Who is that guy? Someone must know. I would like to say “thank you for a real good time” several times over to that particular person, for permanently blazing onto my consciousness a face imbued with the ecstasy of being in the front row at a Dead show. Hurray, whoever you are!

  • In the fields around Olompali, just north of Novato, California, on the ancient site of the home of the native peoples, where the Grateful Dead briefly held court, you see swaths of lilies in spring, lining the creekbeds, fed by the water flowing down off the mountain on its way to the San Francisco Bay estuary. A little bit of research tells me that the lilies growing in the creek are unlikely to be natives themselves—pretty sure they are calla lilies run rampant, but it does seem likely that these lily fields may have been in evidence during the Dead’s residency at Olompali. And, interestingly, there are lilies native to Marin county - the Tiburon Mariposa Lily, which has only been found growing in the wild in one place in the world.

  • “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart, when I can hear it beat out loud.” [Italics Hunter’s.]

    This is a song that wants us to listen, to give things a minute before we pass judgment on them, to check our negativity. I find it a nice pair, thematically, with “Eyes of the World” — it’s telling us to wake up, and consider the possibility that our perception may be as much at fault as the world, when we see only darkness.

    “Shakedown Street” is the title track of the studio album Shakedown Street. When I run into this phenomenon, I pay attention. The first studio album for which the Dead used a song title as the album title was Blues for Allah. And the only other ones besides Shakedown were Terrapin Station and Built to Last.

  • Expecting to find all kinds of strange time signature and key changes, I opened up my copy of The Grateful Dead Anthology to page 21, “Born Cross-Eyed,” words and music by Bob Weir.

    And there is strangeness in the music, for sure, but it is cleverly disguised as a quarter-note triplet rhythm against a steady four-four. Although it is possible that whoever notated the piece simply chose to represent it that way, because whenever the time signature changes from 4/4 to 2/4, it’s notated as a quarter note triplet over the two beats: in other words, really moving into 3/8 or 3/4 time.

  • Continuing the theme from last week of songs from the never-recorded post-American Beauty studio album, how about if we talk about “Brown-Eyed Women”?

    I went to Terrapin Crossroads not too long ago with a whole bunch of friends, mostly librarians, to compete in the Trivia Night contest, up against Phil and his team, and about five other teams. We came in third, and actually beat Phil’s team, which was pretty good, I thought. The only Grateful Dead-related trivia was a fill-in-the-blank lyrics question: “Delilah Jones was the mother of twins, _____ times over, and the rest were sins…” I am happy to say our team got that one right.

  • Of all the greatest of the Grateful Dead’s great story songs, I think “Jack Straw” might deserve some kind of an award for managing to be the most fully-fleshed-out and the most enigmatic of all. And I think the enigma revolves around the ambiguity in one line in particular.

  • I have gone back and forth and back again, and maybe forth again, over the years in my conception of how to hear “Black Peter” — whether as a dire piece, or a philosophical piece, or what.

  • I had the distinct pleasure of being present for Brent Mydland’s first show with the Dead, at Spartan Stadium in San Jose. I had been at the previous show, a benefit for the Campaign for Economic Democracy (Tom Hayden’s organization) at the Oakland Coliseum Arena, and I guess that means I was also at Keith and Donna’s final show. The energy Brent brought was immediately evident, and I have a particular memory of Phil pointing at Brent with glee, to a cheering crowd.

Greatest Stories Ever Told