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!)
Maybe it’s true everywhere in the world, but the county I live in, Sonoma County, California, is a hotbed of local music. There is a plethora of bands, songwriters, studios, and venues here—ranging through all genres of music, from the all-volunteer symphony The American Philharmonic, to songwriters trying to break through to a larger audience.
A recent discovery for me was a local Petaluma band called The Incubators. No, they are not egg farmers, but their name does pay tribute to Petaluma’s historical role as egg basket to the Bay Area. And no, they’re not a Dead cover band. But they do a couple of Dead-related tunes as part of their regular repertoire, one of which is “They Love Each Other.” (The other I’ve heard is an amazing “Viola Lee Blues.”)
When Chris Chappell, the band’s male vocalist (the female vocalist is Katie Freeman—they both play guitar and write songs) heard I was the author of The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, he immediately informed me that my book was lacking in a couple of places. Most notably, he had unearthed several missing pieces in “They Love Each Other.”
Nothing an author likes more than to be informed of mistakes or lacks in one’s work—no, really! I live for that.
Chappell told me that “Katie and I pored through each version of ’73 to figure out these lyrics - we cover the tune in this fashion, complete with bridge and extra verse...”
Here are the missing verse and the lost bridge as sent to me by Chappell:
Though you're making noise,
Just can't hear your voice,
They're on a dizzy ride and you're cold sober
Why can't you believe what I say is true,
Everything I'm saying, Lord, I heard it first from you
Heard your news report,
You know you're falling short,
Pretty soon won't trust you for the weather
And here’s a link to a video of The Incubators performing the full version at The Starry Plough in Berkeley.
Of course, now I see those words included in the Grateful Dead Lyric and Song Finder, and reproduced on dead.net as well…but I am grateful to Chappell for calling them to my attention!
“They Love Each Other” (from now on I’ll use the shorthand TLEO)--words by Robert Hunter, music by Jerry Garcia-- was played at my very first Grateful Dead concert, on October 9, 1976 at the Oakland Coliseum, when the Dead opened for The Who. The acoustics in the big outdoor space weren’t the best (some say they were atrocious, but I liked the echo!), and so I, being unfamiliar with any of the Dead’s songs at that point (I went to hear The Who...), heard the refrain as “They love each other—don’t you concede that it’s true...?” (Walked out of that show a Deadhead.)
Its debut performance by the Dead was quite a bit earlier, on February 9, 1973, at Maples Pavilion, Stanford University. This was another one of those shows where a number of songs were debuted, including “China Doll,” “Eyes of the World,” “Here Comes Sunshine,” “Loose Lucy,” “Row Jimmy,” and “Wave That Flag.” Wow! Clearly, Garcia and Hunter were on a songwriting binge. It was later recorded in the studio for the Garcia solo album Reflections. Much like Weir’s Ace “solo” album, much of Reflections was actually the Dead playing with Garcia, and TLEO is such a case. It was released in January 1976.
The song stayed in the repertoire fairly steadily, though the performance frequency trailed off in the late 80s and into the 90s. They played it for the final time on September 27, 1994, at the Boston Garden.
Lyrically there’s a lot to like about this song, as far as I’m concerned. I like the opening line, with its twisting of Merry Go Round into Merry run around. (And I am starting to be aware that merry go rounds and carousels are a motif in Hunter’s lyrics.) I like the idea that love is like a diesel train—in a couple of ways: one, you won’t know where its been, and two, you better not be there when it rolls over. Trains are, after all, one of the primary motifs of Grateful Dead lyrics. What’s that Phil Lesh quote about “cats, cards, and trains…”?
It’s a self-evident thing, that they love each other. It’s unexplainable. It’s a fine thing. There’s nothing that is lacking—nothing anyone needs to add or do. (That line: “Nothing that you need to add or do”—always loved that line!)
What is a merry run around, though? I guess I picture a playground merry go round, the kind that you run with to get going, then hop onto. “A shove in some direction...” Although, if that’s what it is, then why is it sailing up and down? Hmmm? Can someone answer me that?
The lost verse sings of a “dizzy ride”—once again, sounds like the proverbial playground merry-go-round. So, as usual with Hunter’s lyrics, there’s a certain opacity. Just when you think you’ve got that gold ring of “meaning,” it just slips away. But we try, right?
There aren’t very many straight-ahead love songs in the Grateful Dead repertoire. Usually there is something to regret, or some implied sadness or reason to be careful about love. Or it is just flat-out unreal almost to the point of parody, as in “Sugar Magnolia.” But I think this is one example. Were it not for the verse that is something of a clinker for me: “He could pass his time ’round some other line / But you know he chose this place beside her...” this would be a very sweet song. I mean, what about the girl—you think she doesn’t have her pick of the field, too? Anyway. That aside, it’s a sweet love song, and the chorus is something to sing to your beloved. And “TLEO” is something you might have engraved on the inside of your wedding bands, if you are a Deadhead couple.
Musically, this song is classic Garcia. It has a funny little off-beat thing going on, and the bouncy ascending motif is elegant, simple, and catchy. And I always loved the punchy ending.
Don’t you concede that it’s true?
To me the open line of “Merry run around” seems to be establishing a character in the story. That character being named “Merry” now I’m not sure how Robert Hunter originally spelled the word on the lyric sheet, but if it had been “Mary” that would seem to confirm my suspicions. Anyways, That’s how I have always heard it. To me it seems that at this point in the song the two people who “Love each other” have not yet me. Mary has been out running around looking for something (most likely love, given the context of the rest of the song) in any particular way or direction it may present itself. Then the following two lines from the first verse give an ambiguous pice of loosely formed insight on the topic of love. The second verse follows this same format the first two lines establishing the other character or the “He” in the story. The one that Mary falls in love with.