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  • Writer's picturejfroth8


Updated: Sep 11, 2019

AMERICAN GUN CULTURE MYTHOLOGY IN GRATEFUL DEAD SONG LYRICS Since we are all focused on the gun issue, these days - as well we should be - I have been thinking.... have you ever noticed how many times the use of guns comes up in the music of the Grateful Dead? It is extraordinary! Especially, in the popular cowboy songs Bob Weir sings, but,also in many others. I suppose it is one of their hallmarks as an American Band, but, still.... given their all-around peaceful reputation and famously good-vibes, as a band and shamanic/cultural experience... it IS kinda remarkable, dontchya think.....? To Wit: ME AND MY UNCLE In the wild west, a man and his uncle ride into town, cheat at cards, shoot the other players, and run off to Mexico with the stolen gold. The younger man then shoots his uncle to take the gold all for himself, with absolutely no remorse. EL PASO In this romantic Marty Robbins ballad, a young man falls for a woman in a saloon and, in jealousy, has a fatal shoot out with a rival lover. He is chased by a posse as he flees the town on horseback.... and then, unable to leave her, he returns to the scene for one final kiss, is shot, and dies in her arms. BIG IRON Tells the story of a wild west town being liberated from the hold of a notorious, outlaw gunfighter. He is laid low in a showdown with a marshall, who comes to town with a "Big Iron on his hip" and the intent of dispensing justice. I'VE BEEN ALL AROUND THIS WORLD A story of a man's grim determination, for reasons unknown, to take one last stand in the Blue Ridge Mountains with a shotgun at his shoulder and a six shooter in his hand. STAGGER LEE On Christmas Eve, under a full moon, Stagger Lee shoots and kills Billy DeLion after losing his Stetson hat to him in a card game. Billy's lover, Delilah, being unable to get the local authorities to find the courage to arrest Stagger Lee for the crime, takes matters into her own hands. She meets him in a bar, shoots him in the balls, has him dragged to city hall and hung, then sings "Look Out Stagger Lee" while a street corner band plays "Nearer My God To Thee". I NEED A MIRACLE Bobby "needs a woman about twice my weight, the kinda one that packs a gun with all her other freight" CHINA DOLL An eerily gorgeous, mystical song about a suicide. It begins with the unforgettable line, "A pistol shot at 5 o'clock, the Bells of Heaven rang..." DUPREE'S DIAMOND BLUES In a bid to keep his lover happy, so that she will keep giving him "sweet jelly roll", Dupree goes down to the local jeweler to buy her a diamond ring. Realizing he cannot afford the price tag, he simply shoots the jeweler and takes the ring. After being sentenced to die for the crime, the sentencing judge admits to Dupree, confidentially, that he I fact also knows Dupree's baby very well, and they both admit it is worth the price because, "that sweet, sweet jelly's so good" CANDY MAN " if i had me a shotgun, I'd blow you straight to hell" JACK STRAW "Jack straw from Wichita cut his buddy down and dug for him a shallow grave and laid his body down"'s not explicit, but does anyone doubt that guns were involved? NEW MINGLEWOOD BLUES " Busted jail and I'm gone for good, sheriff couldn't catch me But, his young girl - sure wish she would!" He didn't use toothpicks or a "get out of jail free" card, it is safe to say! GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD "He asked me for mercy I gave him a gun Now and again these things Just got to be done" JOEY This Dylan song tells the story of an unusually positive crime figure in the New York Italian mafia. It ends with a bullet laden mob hit in a restaurant, asking the question " Joey, Joey.... What made them want to blow you away?". KNOCKING ON HEAVEN'S DOOR This beloved Dylan chestnut is about a sheriff's dying moments, asking that his badge and guns be put in the ground. MEXICALI BLUES A young man, hanging out in a border town saloon, falls in love with an alluring but, devilish Mexican girl. She makes love with him, then tricks him into a jealous gunfight with a rival....which leaves the other man dead and him with a lifetime case of the Mexicali Blues. MR. CHARLIE From the deep, Jim Crow South comes this cheerful tune with the ringing chorus line, " gonna scare you up and shoot ya - Mr. Charlie told me so!" PEGGY O JACK A ROE These two traditional folk tunes involve war, so guns come automatically, if not explicitly, into play. The above songs I have noted are mostly all staples in the Grateful Dead repertoire, but there many other, more obscure songs they have played, as well. To name a few: I Fought the Law Uncle Sam's blues Parchman Farm My Brother Essau Bring Me My Shotgun There is even a song, which i don't know the name of, where Jerry plays a character who shoots and kills his lover without remorse.... yikes! No "Father Christmas" here!! Lol Also, Mickey Hart's entire "Rhythm Devils Play River Music" LP documents the background music he made for the Viet Nam War film epic, "Apocalypse Now" ... imagine going thru the jungle and up the river on gun boats...with lots of drums... I am sure there are other numbers i have missed, amidst the enormous catalog of material that the band performed over it's thirty years and 2,200+ concerts, plus solo albums, etc. Maybe you know some others? These are timeless stories which give the Grateful Dead some of their powerful magic. - John Adams Frothingham

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