"It's even worse than it appears but it's all right."

The Annotated "Touch of Grey"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd

Copyright notice
"Touch of Grey"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission

Must be getting early
Clocks are running late
Paint by number morning sky
Looks so phony

Dawn is breaking everywhere
Light a candle, curse the glare
Draw the curtains
I don't care 'cause
It's all right

I will get by / I will get by
I will get by / I will survive

I see you've got your list out
Say your piece and get out
Yes I get the gist of it
but it's all right

Sorry that you feel that way
The only thing there is to say
Every silver lining's got a
Touch of grey

I will get by / I will get by
I will get by / I will survive

It's a lesson to me
The Ables and the Bakers and the C's
The ABC's we all must face
And try to keep a little grace

It's a lesson to me
The deltas and the east and the freeze
The ABC's we all think of
Try to give a little love.

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
but it's all right.

Cows giving kerosene
Kid can't read at seventeen
The words he knows are all obscene
but it's all right

I will get by / I will get by
I will get by / I will survive

The shoe is on the hand it fits
There's really nothing much to it
Whistle through your teeth and spit
causeit's all right.

Oh well a Touch Of Grey
Kind of suits you anyway.
That was all I had to say
It's all right.

I will get by / I will get by
I will get by / I will survive
We will get by / We will get by
We will get by / We will survive

"Touch of Grey"

Hunter has posted the manuscript of an early draft of the song in his archives.

Recorded on

Covered by

First performance: September 15, 1982 at the Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland. "Touch of Grey" was the encore.

This from Robert Hunter's online journal, January 8, 2006:

Flipping through a green hardbound 1980 notebook I come upon a run of pages in which I discover "Touch of Grey" - dozens of verses that gradually fall away until the familiar ones emerge. As I read, I'm not otherwise than the person who wrote it down. It's the blear light of dawn after being up all night. I sit at the kitchen table in a 16th Century house in rural England, turning what I feel into images, awash in that writing trance in which I spent, and spend, so much of my life; a place that doesn't have much relationship to the nominal time stream. If I could slip back physically and change anything, perhaps I'd rip out those pages. No getting the genie back in the bottle.

Even this is bound to pass
Not the first, you're not the last
Fortune smiles then turns away
but it's okay
When it goes from bad to worse
Not the last, you're not the first
Today's tomorrow yesterday
So what's to say?
I will get by
I will get by
I will survive
It's a lesson to me
The Ables, the Bakers and C's
The ABC's of the fast ball curve
Trying not to lose your nerve

light a candle, curse the glare

Hunter notes, in Box of Rain, that this line was by Garcia.

It is a clever play on the saying, coined by Adlai Stevenson in 1962 in reference to the death of Eleanor Roosevelt, that: "She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness..."

The line also provides a nice resonance with, and may be the source of, the album's title, "In the Dark."

every silver lining's got a touch of grey

A play on the saying: "Every cloud has a silver lining."

This saying was also the basis for the song "Look For the Silver Lining," with words by B.G. de Sylva and music by Garcia's namesake, Jerome Kern.

I will survive

A key line for many Deadheads. The cartoon strip, "Rose Is Rose," by Pat Brady, included the line dribbling from a radio, published in September, 1995.

The Ables and the Bakers and the Cs

Able and Baker are the first two words in the military communication alphabet, used to make spelling more intelligible over radio communications devices. So they are literally "ABC's". Here's a table comparing the old and new standard phonetic alphabets. The new one is used by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency. (Note that "Delta," from the song's next bridge, is the only other easily identifiable alphabet letter.) NASA has posted a listing of the old (Pre-1954) and new alphabets.

        Old             New                     Old             New

      Military       International            Military       International

     ----------     ---------------          ----------     ---------------

  A     Able            Alfa              N     Nan             November

  B     Baker           Bravo             O     Oboe            Oscar

  C     Charlie         Charlie           P     Peter           Papa

  D     Dog             Delta             Q     Queen           Quebec

  E     Easy            Echo              R     Roger           Romeo

  F     Fox             Foxtrot           S     Sugar           Sierra

  G     George          Golf              T     Tare            Tango

  H     How             Hotel             U     Uncle           Uniform

  I     Item            India             V     Victor          Victor

  J     Jig             Juliet            W     William         Whiskey

  K     King            Kilo              X     X-ray           X-ray

  L     Love            Lima              Y     Yoke            Yankee

  M     Mike            Mike              Z     Zebra           Zulu

A Columbia University web site gives detailed info on phonetic alphabets. (Excerpted below)

Interestingly, there are two streets in Palo Alto, Abel and Baker, named for unusual reasons, as you can read in the Palo Alto Historical Association's web site. Note that the street name is spelled "Abel" as in "Cain and Abel," but seems to have been named for the military alphabet nonetheless.

Able and Baker were also the names of two pioneering animal astronauts.

Here is an edited version of the resource which can be found at the Columbia University site, which gives quite a number of such alphabets:


Subject: Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta: phonetic alphabets (revised)

Date: 21 Apr 1995 19:41:24 GMT

           Phonetic Alphabets (Alpha Bravo etc)

There is a widely known alphabet Alpha Bravo ... Yankee Zulu.

Such alphabets are variously known as phonetic alphabets,

radio alphabets and spelling alphabets. This collection

currently includes alphabets for the following languages:

 English, French, German, Dutch, Flemish, Spanish,

 Italian, Rumantsch, Slovak, Polish, Hungarian,

 Croatian, Turkish, Swedish, Finnish, Russian,

 Chinese and Esperanto.

This posting supersedes the one of 10th March. There are numerous

changes and additions.

Some of the more recent new material:

                      Spanish                 21 Apr 95

                      Turkish                 10 Mar 95

                      Croatian                24 Jan 95

                      Russian (Anna Boris)    15 Dec 94

                      Esperanto               17 Nov 94

My thanks to the many contributors, not all of whom are acknowledged


I can make no guarantee of accuracy of this information; indeed

please send me any corrections or additions.

In my capacity as the editor of this collection I have no objection

to the further electronic distribution of this posting in full in

circumstances where it is likely to be of interest.

Comments in square brackets are my own.

                               Brian Kelk  bck1@cl.cam.ac.uk

                               21 April 1995

***** ENGLISH *****

The NATO phonetic alphabet (as per the Cambridge Encyclopedia

of Language under Seaspeak):

Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India

Juliet Kilo Lima Mike November Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo

Sierra Tango Uniform Victor Whiskey Xray Yankee Zulu

[The same alphabet, modulo Alfa and Juliett, is approved by

 the International Civil Aviation Organization and the FAA.

 The International Telecommunication Union Phonetics list

 has: Alfa, Juliette, Oscar/Oskar, Victor/Viktor.

 Dates from about 1956.

 UK police use Indigo(?) instead of India.

 See also http://aviation.jsc.nasa.gov/alphabet.html

Telecom B:

Alfred Benjamin Charles David Edward Frederick George Harry

Isaac Jack King London Mary Nellie Oliver Peter Queen Robert

Samuel Tommy Uncle Victor William Xray Yellow Zebra

[Found also in Swedish, Dutch, Hungarian telephone directories.

 A Swiss directory has: Andrew Charlie Lussy Queenie Sugar.

 French/German vocabulary books: Andrew Charlie Lucy Mike

 Nelly Sugar Xmas]

British A:

Amsterdam Baltimore Casablanca Denmark Edison Florida

Gallipoli Havana Italia Jerusalem Kilogramme Liverpool

Madagascar New_York Oslo Paris Quebec Roma Santiago Tripoli

Uppsala Valencia Washington Xantippe Yokohama Zurich

[An 'international' alphabet in a Dutch telephone directory

 has: Danemark. A 'French' alphabet in a Hungarian directory

 has: Cassablanka Danemark Que'bec Upsala Zu"rich.

 An 'international' alphabet in a business book for French

 has: Italy Kilogram Zu"rich; the corresponding book for

 German has: Italy Kilogram Xanthippe Zu"rich]

Used by police in New York City:

Adam Boy Charlie David Edward Frank George Henry Ida John

King Lincoln Mary Nora Ocean Peter Queen Robert Sam Tom

Union Victor William X-ray Young Zebra

[Variants: Eddie Larry Nancy Thomas Yankee Yellow]

Used by police in Nassau County, Long Island, New York:

Adam Boston Chicago Denver Edward Frank George Henry Ida

John King Lincoln Mary Nancy Ocean Peter Queen Robert Sam

Thomas Union Victor William X-ray Young Zebra

Used by police in San Diego, California:

Adam Boy Charles David Edward Frank George Henry Ida John

King Lincoln Mary Nora Ocean Paul Queen Robert Sam Tom Unit

Victor William Xray Yellow Zebra

Used by police in Hutchinson, Kansas:

Adam Boy Charles David Edward Frank George Henry Ida John

King Lincoln Mary Nora Ocean Paul Q.. Robert Sam Tom Union

Victor William X-ray Yankee Zebra

Sometimes used by radio hams (unofficial):

America Boston Canada Denmark England France Germany

Honolulu India Japan Kilowatt London Mexico Norway Ontario

or Ocean Pacific Quebec Radio Santiago or Spain Tokyo United

Victoria Washington Xray Yokohama Zanzibar

[Much variation: Amsterdam, Brazil, Baltimore, Chile,

 Finland, Greece, Guatemala, Hawaii, Italy, Kentucky,

 Luxembourg, Nicaragua, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Texas,

 Uruguay, Venezuela, Whisky, Zulu]

The ARRL (American Radio Relay League) alphabet (1948):

Adam Baker Charlie David Edward Frank George Henry Ida John

king Lewis Mary Nancy Otto Peter queen Robert Susan Thomas

union Victor William x-ray young zebra

[Nowadays the ARRL endorses the NATO/ICAO alphabet]

Pre-1954 U.S. Navy Radio Alphabet

(Communications Handbook, 1945)

Able Baker Charlie Dog Easy Fox George How Item Jig King

Love Mike Nan Oboe Peter Queen Roger Sugar Tare Uncle Victor

William X-ray Yoke Zebra

"Used by Armed services of USA & GB" (ARRL Handbook, 1945)

Able Baker ... Easy ... Tare ...

Allied Services 1945:

Able Baker ... Edward ... Tape ...

>From a book entitled "The Complete Morse Instructor..." (1944):

Able Baker ... Easy ... Tare ...

[See also http://aviation.jsc.nasa.gov/old-alphabet.html.

 In other alphabets of the Able Baker class: affirm, cast,

 hypo, inter, negat, option, over, prep]

Western Union:

Adams Boston Chicago Denver Easy Frank George Henry Ida John

King Lincoln Mary New_York Ocean Peter Queen Roger Sugar

Thomas Union Victor William X-ray Young Zero

British Army 1927:

Ack Beer Charlie Don Edward Freddy George Harry Ink Johnnie

King London Monkey Nuts Orange Pip Queen Robert Sugar Toc

Uncle Vic William X-ray Yorker Zebra

Royal Navy 1917:

Apples Butter Charlie Duff Edward Freddy George Harry Ink

Johnnie King London Monkey Nuts Orange Pudding Queenie

Robert Sugar Tommy Uncle Vinegar Willie Xerxes Yellow Zebra

U.S. Army 1916:

Able Buy Cast Dock Easy Fox George Have Item Jig King Love

Mike Nap Opal Pup Quack Rush Sail Tape Unit Vice Watch X-ray

Yoke Zed

<rest chopped>


keywords: @age,
DeadBase code: [TOUC]
First posted: October 17, 1995
Last revised: January 9, 2006