"You gave all you had, why you want to give more?"

The Annotated "Fire On the Mountain"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
1997-1998 Research Associate, Music Dept., University of California, Santa Cruz
"Fire On the Mountain"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Mickey Hart
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

Long distance runner what you standing there for?
Get up, get off, get out of the door
You're playing cold music on the bar room floor,
drowned in your laughter and dead to the core
There's a dragon with matches loose on the town
Take a whole pail of water just to cool him down

Fire - Fire On the Mountain
Fire - Fire on the mountain

Almost aflame still you don't feel the heat
Takes all you got just to stay on the beat
You say it's a living, we all gotta eat
but you're here alone there's no one to compete
If mercy's in business I wish it for you
More than just ashes when your dreams come true

Fire - Fire on the mountain
Fire - Fire on the mountain

Long distance runner what you holdin out for?
Caught in slow motion in your dash to the door
The flame from your stage has now spread to the floor
You gave all you got, why you wanta give more?
The more that you give, why, the more it will take
to the thin line beyond which you really cannot fake

There's a fire
Fire on the mountain

"Fire On the Mountain"

Recorded on

Mickey Hart recorded

Covered by

And this note from a reader:

Subject: fire on the mtn. annotation
Date: Mon, 21 Oct 1996 05:16:59 -0400 (EDT)
From: Edward Brough Holzwanger

I just happened to be reading over your lyrics for fire on the mtn. and felt that they were incomplete. I know Widespread Panic has covered the song on a number of occassions, and they always add two extra verses, which I believe are in the original set of lyrics composed by Hunter.

"blind man, blind man, call your dog
he lifts his leg on the fire, he's [hoggin'] the log
fire on the mountain, here she comes, here she comes
all the way around"

"THe more that you give, the more....
Out of the frying pan into the fire,
Over the [rattrap] and under the wire
Fire on the mtn. here she comes, here she comes
all the way around"

"Fire on the mountain, it's coming around
It never goes up and it never comes down."

I don't know if you purposely excluded these lyrics, if they aren't the original lyrics at all, or whether you were not aware of their existence. I hope this helps.


Thanks, Ed! Hunter does include some lyrics like these in his anthology, but in a slightly different version.

First performance: March 18, 1977 at Winterland Arena, San Francisco. "Fire" closed the first set, following its eternal partner, "Scarlet Begonias." This combination of tunes, which often enclosed some wonderful jamming, came to be known as "Scarlet Fire." It remained steadily in the repertoire from then on.

Covered by Phish (1984) This note from a reader:

Subject: fire on the mountain
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 1996 00:12:58 +0100
From: hpein

dear david, just wanted to add another interesting little tid bit to your fire on the mountain annotation. as many other mentions were made of parodies, i wanted to mention at least one other one that i know of. i have a tape of phish from 1985 in which they sing different lyrics and the refrain is fire, fire up the ganja. according to the helping phriendly book, the phish equal of deadbase, they mention that the band in fact playing that song may not be phish. anyway, whoever sang it, it is kind of an amusing version of the song.


Also worthy of note is the hilarious sendup by Leftover Salmon on their Bridges to Bert album: "Pasta On the Mountain."

This note from a reader:

Date: Thu, 16 May 1996 19:32:03 +0000
From: Brad Phillips
To: ddodd@serf.uccs.edu

Dear David,

I am really enjoying your Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics Page. GD exegesis is a fabulous idea for a web page. My fellow deadheads and I have of course been doing this kind of thing on an informal basis for years.

A note to your ongoing Fire on the Mountain page. When I saw the reference to "Pasta on the Mountain," I was reminded of a "tribute" by the S.F. Bay Area avant garde band/performance artists, Idiot Flesh.

They arose from the infamous U.C. Berkeley co-op, Barrington Hall. There was always a large deadhead contingent in residence there, but also a fair amount of tension between the deadheads and the more "punk" element. The building was covered inside and out with some of the most interesting art and graffitti. My favorite was on the outside in large letters easily visible to anyone driving up Dwight Way. It read: FUCK THE DEAD. Most probably assumed this to be a necrophilia reference. We know better.

Anyway, this band, then called Acid Rain (they had to change their name when they realized there were probably about 100 unsuccessful bands of the same name), performed at one of the infamous (there's that word again) "Wine Dinners". These events were closer in spirit to the original acid tests. Shortly after Jerry fell into his first diabetic coma, they played a version of Fire on the Mountain with the refrain:

"Jerry, Jerry's in a coma." Even those of us pulling for Jerry couldn't help but laugh.

Idiot Flesh has an eponymous album currently in release, but I don't know the details (label, etc.) They are really weird. I doubt they will ever attain commercial success. They are at the forefront of the "Rock Against Rock" campaign.

Just thought you'ld like to know. Keep up the good work.

Brad Phillips

This note from a reader:

Date: Sun, 12 Nov 1995 18:25:55 -0800 (PST)
From: Eric Elliott
To: ddodd@serf.uccs.edu
Subject: Fire on the Mountain

Hi David-

Here's an obscure reference I think is interesting: The second chapter of William Golding's Lord of the Flies is titled "Fire on the Mountain," and includes the sentence, "The separate noises of the fired merged into a drum-roll that seemed to shake the mountain."


Fire On the Mountain

A standard old-time country tune, recorded by a large number of performers, including Riley Puckett and Clayton McMichen, and Gid Tanner & his Skillet Lickers.

According to Alan Lomax's Check-List of Recorded Songs in the English Language in the Archive of American Folk Song to July, 1940 (Library of Congress, 1942), a tune called "Fire in the Mountain" was played by G.G. Albritton and Cleo Wynn O'Berry on fiddle with straw beating in Sebring, Florida, in 1940.

Also included as a line in a nursery rhyme. The Annotated Mother Goose has this version:

"Hogs in the garden, catch 'em, Towser;
Cows in the corn-field, run, boys, run!
Cats in the cream-pot, run girls, run!
Fire on the mountain, run, boys, run!" (p. 260)

And this note from a reader:

Date: Sat, 15 Jun 1996 14:06:09 -0700 (PDT)
From: "W. Bubelis"

Hi, David. I'm an LIS student here at the U of Washington, and also a big fan of the Dead and your web site with all the terrific annotations. I recently visited the site for the first time in months and saw that your annotations for "Fire on the Mountain" are still a work in progress. I'd like to add something that's been on my mind about this song.

In the I Ching, the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, hexagram 56 is titled variously The Traveler, Travel, The Stranger, and so on. It is represented by the two trigrams of fire and mountain, with fire resting on mountain. The tone of this hexagram is one of a little caution. The traveler will not stay long, and thus cannot expect a lot of success; he doesn't have the perseverance to attain a lofty goal. The traveler could easily be the "long distance runner" who is addressed in the song, someone who can't stay in one place long enough to make "more than just ashes when your dreams come true."

The dragon, which I don't recall meeting in any other Dead song, is a symbol of creative power for the Chinese. The repeated references to fire hint at this power, and also to the (self-) destructive power of flame. The long-distance runner is bound with the dragon and the flame.

Thanks for putting up this site--it's a bookmark!

Wally Bubelis

More on the I-Ching:

Subject: Fire on the Mountain addition - I Ching Phoenix
Date: Thu, 8 Jan 1998 02:12:42 -0800
From: Ed Mechem

Hi David,

Here's another addition to the Fire on the Mountain I Ching section - the topmost line of hexagram 56 "suggests the idea of a bird burning its nest" (Legge translation). This of course brings to mind the Phoenix, which the Dead introduced into the iconography around the same time as FOTM (78-79), with the Phoenix on the Go to Heaven album. The same phoenix is used to even more striking effect, IMHO, in the New Year's Eve 1980 t-shirt - the Skull and Roses has these lightning bolts emanating outwards, and above it, they merge into and fuel the fire, out of which is rising the Phoenix. "Think Different" indeed...

And on that album, Go to Heaven, you have Althea with its reference to fire and creative/transformational thinking: "Loose with the truth, baby, it's your fire..."

Thanks for the great site,
- Ed

And another reader weighs in:
Subject: RE: December Update for the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics
Date: Sun, 15 Dec 96 23:56:00 PST
From: Mathieu M 2Lt 1CPTS/FMA


I was just browsing around again, and as I was looking at "Fire on the Mountain," I seemed to remember a song I used to sing in Sunday school as a little boy.

"There's a fire on the mountain tonight,
No place to run, no place to hide.
Where would you go if you had to die tonight?
There's a fire on the mountain tonight."
A little morbid for a young boy, but it made you learn your Bible verses!!

All the best,

This note from a reader:

Subject: Fire on the Mt.
Date: Wed, 21 May 1997 00:43:10 +0100
From: berryk@rs6000.verona.k12.wi.us (erik berry)

I was just browsing on your site and I thought of another reference to "Fire on the Mountain." Edward Abbey had a book in the mid-'50s entitled that. It was about an old-timer who refused to sell his land (including a mountain) to the government for nuke tests. He ultimately died and his cabins and other property were burned, reflecting as "fire on the mountain" in the observing wolf's eyes. It was a pretty straight-forward Western/eco-novel until the very end, where it got really mystic. BTW, your site is fantastically far-reaching and helpful. I linked into it from a TS Eliot page (into "Stella Blue"). Thanks

Keywords: @fire
DeadBase code: [FIRE]
First posted: October 1, 1995
Last modified: November 24, 1999