Grateful Dead

My Brother Esau

Lyrics By: John Barlow
Music By: Bob Weir

My brother Esau killed a hunter
Back in nineteen sixty nine
And before the killing was done
His inheritance was mine
But his birthright was a wand to wave (note 1)
Before a weary band
Esau gave me sleeplessness
And a piece of moral land

My father favoured Esau (note 2) (note 3)
Who was eager to obey
All the bloody wild commandments
The old man shot his way
But all this favour ended when
My brother failed at war
He staggered home
And found me in the door (note 4)

Esau skates on mirrors any more (note 5)
Meets his pale reflection at the door
Yet sometimes at night I dream (note 6)
He's still that hairy man
Shadow boxing the apocalypse
And wandering the land
Shadow boxing the apocalypse
And wandering the land

Esau holds a blessing
Brother Esau holds a curse (note 7)
I would say that the blame is mine
But I suspect it's something worse (note 8)
The more my brother looks like me
The less I understand (note 9)
The silent war
That blooded both our hands

Sometimes at night (note 10)
I think I understand
Way late at night
Oh, I feel I understand
It's brother to brother
And it's man to man
And it's face to face
And it's hand to hand
The shadow dance
The silent war within
The shadow dance
Never ends, never ends, never ends
Shadow boxing the apocalypse
Yet again, yet again
Shadow boxing the apocalypse
And wandering the land

(1) I believe Weir once sang "When at first my brother walked away" here
(2) the sheet music has "Our father ..." but Barlow's lyrics have it as "My father ..." and that's what Weir sang
(3) the first version, on 25 March 1983, had a different second verse (thanks to Todd Prusin for pointing this out)

Esau tried to build a world
A marvelous disguise
Where every street is easy
And there?s nothing to deny
And although he gave me all his cards
I could not play his hand
I made a choice
That soon became a stand

(4) the sheet music has "... at the door" but Barlow's lyrics have " the door." Weir sang both versions
(5) in place of these two lines, Weir sometimes sang

Esau, he's on rollerskates today
Selling real estate to someone in LA

or (from 14 July 1985: thanks to Todd Prusin)

Esau he?s on rollerskates today
He gets around the darkside of town, way down around LA

(6) the sheet music wrongly has "But sometimes at night ..."
(7) this is what Weir sings, and the sheet music has, but Barlow's lyric site has "Brother Esau bears a curse"
(8) the sheet music has "I suspected something worse" but that seems to be another mistake
(9) Weir sometimes sang "the more I understand," eg on 30 December 1986 (thanks to Brian Schnapp for this)
(10) The version here is as on "In The Dark." Live versions differed in this last semi-ad-lib section.

My Brother Esau