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Junior Boarder

GD song meanings

#200417 2 years ago
I happened to stumble across this article about the meaning of Dire Wolf:


I had heard about the Zodiac reference to this song, but never knew the rest of the story. Was it really written from the dead man's perspective???

This got me thinking about what GD songs we can really say we know what they're about. Robert Hunter has always been very private and not willing to reveal what the songs are about, preferring instead to let the listener decide, but there are a few that we can say for sure:

Birdsong - written for Janis Joplin
Might As Well - written about the Festival Express trans-Canadian train ride and tour
Cassidy - Neal dying and Cassidy Law being born
Mission in the Rain - basically a guy walking around SF's Mission District and his thoughts. 10 yrs ago I walked these streets...
Wharf Rat - a guy talking to a street character, the wharf rat. I got no time but I got some time to hear your story...

A few GD songs to me are about the band themselves: Truckin, Playing in the Band, The Music Never Stopped, and to some extent, Fire on the Mountain
Quite a few Brent tunes are obviously about a troubled relationship - Far From Me, Blow Away, etc. OK, most of Brent's tunes...

I have been told of a possible meaning of Franklin's Tower, having to do with the 1976 bicentennial, and the birth of the USA, your eyes looked from your mother's (England's) face. The bell in the song is supposedly the Liberty Bell and when it rang it rang freedom for the newly born nation. Rolling away the dew was described as the method used for manufacturing a bell. Who knows? Who can say for sure but Hunter himself?

A bunch of songs are actually based on older traditional songs, but lyrically and musicaly re-written, with similar stories or mythology: Casey Jones, Dupree's Diamond Blues, Stagger Lee, Candyman.

The Other One has a little reality to the lyric, the story of Weir getting busted for hitting a cop with a water balloon which the cop figured out who did it just from Weir's smile..... the heat come round and busted me for smiling on a cloudy day

There must be other songs with obvious or not so obvious meanings. Do you have any to share? Any theories on the meaning of GD tunes???
These are the good old days!!
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Senior Boarder
" If it wasn't recorded - it will be forgotten "

Re: GD song meanings

#201757 2 years ago
"New Speedway Boogie", was written about the Altamont Disaster where the Stones used Hells Angles for Security in '69.

The lyric: "In the heat of the sun, a man died of cold" refers to Meridith Hunter, an audience member who was killed by the Hell's Angels.
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Platinum Boarder
On the day I was born daddy sat down and cried

Re: GD song meanings

#203288 2 years ago
There's a book I have (I can't remember the name of it off hand) that descibes the meaning of all their songs. I've read about half of it. Definitely an interesting read. I'll try to dig it up and post the title when I find it.
I went walkin' out last summer
Tryin' to find a breath of air
I went walkin' on the mountain
A friend had told me I'd find you there
Platinum Boarder

Re: GD song meanings

#203900 2 years ago
yup I have it the book is by david dodd if you look on line amazon and put in greatful dead books it will come up I cant remember the name at the moment but it is an awsome book I highly recomend gettig it . It will make you smart.
Let It SHIIIINE !!!!!!!!!!
Junior Boarder

Re: GD song meanings

#203967 2 years ago
New Speedeway Boogie is about the Altamont Free Concert and the presses involvement surrounding the incident.
My Brother Esau also refers to Altamont with its opening line.

Hunter and Garcia have also said many of his song are semi auto-biographical about Jerry and/or the Grateful Dead itself. Some of these songs include

Mission in the Rain
Dark Star
Standing on the moon
Days Between
Lazy River Road
So Many Roads


Alabama Getaway is about the Godchaux's and their departure form the band
Bertha is about an office fan
Junior Boarder

Re: GD song meanings

#204007 2 years ago
Robert Hunter's own explanation of what Franklins Tower meant to him in response to a critical essay claiming that Grateful Dead lyrics have no meaning. Of course this is just his meaning, and these songs can have different meanings for everyone, no right or wrong here. Hunter says that each person's interpretation of the songs is really their own work of art.
Junior Boarder

Re: GD song meanings

#204009 2 years ago
and in that vein... my take on Mission in the Rain is that it was about Jerry's (or whosever) heroin addiction, the mission kind of being a big drug area in SF.
Platinum Boarder

Re: GD song meanings

#204697 2 years ago
WeCanRun wrote:

Alabama Getaway is about the Godchaux's and their departure form the band

How is that so? I've never read or heard about that...
Platinum Boarder

Re: GD song meanings

#204700 2 years ago
Even Hunter's reluctance to commit his songs to print reflects this commitment to ambiguity. In the preface to his collected lyrics, he says "My versions of these songs are no more 'the real ones' than those that may have spoken to some of you through the music darkly twenty years ago. I hope that seeing the intended words will provide you with an interesting, if not always convincing variant on the words some of you actually heard." (Box of Rain, Preface.)

(A nice comment from Hunter on this phenomenon occurs in his poem "Opening Statement", from his collection Sentinel:

"There is nothing more perfect
or pleasant than that we be here,
ear to ear, later to walk away
able to whistle the tune of it all,
the feeling if not the words which
duck into flame and are gone,..." )
This stance allows the band's careful listeners to be able to get as much out of a lyric as they are willing to put into it. The meanings of the songs change over time, they evolve within the minds of the listeners, just as any poetry, or, for that matter, any art, is open to constant interpretation and re- interpretation. It allows for countless repeated listenings without fear of boredom.

More importantly, though, the band is taking a position in relation to authority. They occupy the stage, but the words coming from the stage are not sermons, and they want to be unambiguous about their ambiguity. This is a very practical reflection of the 1960's values which gave rise to the band: to be "straight", i.e. sure of oneself and of what one believes, and willing to impose those beliefs on others, is not a desirable quality. This value permeated everything about the band, and is especially noticeable in the lyrics.

To say any more would be too definitive
If i told ya all that went down,it would burn off both your ears
Last Edit: 2 years ago by 83msg1sttyme.
Junior Boarder

Re: GD song meanings

#204919 2 years ago
Thanks everybody for the feedback.

I've heard the Alabama Getaway explanation before but found it hard to believe but who knows.... sounds a bit harsh.
These are the good old days!!
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