Reprinted in the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics by permission of Robert Hunter.
"The repair sad mutthead forkbender orange in the how are you, did they?" is nonsense without reference, hence not allusive. Had it discernible rhythm, it might be termed 'rhythm allusive' but my example lacks even that. The only way on earth such a sentence would likely get written is as an example of a null allusive set. Bingo! An allusion! To Set Theory! The exception that proves the rule.
In another time's forgotten space
your eyes looked through your mother's face
Wildflower seed on the sand and stone
may the four winds blow you safely home.
[You have your mother's eyes, child,
the very shape, color and intensity
of the eyes that looked through
her face so long ago. Borne on the
varied winds of chance and change,
like a dandelion seed, you may find
yourself deposited on barren soil.
My wish for you is that the forces
that brought you there may sweep
you up again and bear you to fertile ground.]
"In another time's forgotten space
your eyes looked through your mother's face."
[Relative immortality of the human
species is realized through reproduction.
Dominant traits inherited from an ancestor,
the lyric suggests, share more than mere
similarity with those of the forebear,
but are an identity, endlessly reproducible.
In other words, when someone says
"You have your mother's eyes"
they are not speaking in simile
nor would it be incorrect to say
that "your mother has your eyes,"
if, in fact, possessiveness is
an appropriate term in the context.
Poetic license will assume it is,
if only for the sake of moving on
to the next couplet.]
You ask me where the four winds dwell
In Franklin's tower there hangs a bell
It can ring, turn night to day
Ring like fire when you lose your way
[note that this song appeared in 1975,
the year after my son was born and the
year before the American Bicentennial.
Both facts are entirely relevant. The
allusion to the Liberty Bell and the
situation of the Philadelphia Congress
in the hometown of Ben Franklin has not
gone unnoticed by other commentators.
This song is a birthday wish both for
my son and for my country, each young
and subject to the winds of vicissitude.
Individual and collective freedom,
liberty, conscience, all that is conjured
by those concepts, is suggested
in the image of the tolling bell.]
God help the child who rings that bell
It may have one good ring left, you can't tell
One watch by night, one watch by day
If you get confused just listen to the music play
[The Bell, rung once, cracked and could not
be safely rung again. From an actual bell,
it therefore became a symbol of the
potential to ring. The single toll, signaling
birth, can now be heard only in its
reverberations in our history and ideals.
Some have had to bear those ideals in
difficult circumstances (war, the Great
Depression and general benightedness)
others have had the more enviable task
of keeping watch (eternal vigilance)
during periods of conscious and dynamic
change: the full light of day. The sixties,
the writer assumes, were such a time.
You can't tell if ringing that bell
a second time would destroy it in
the act of producing another mighty
peal and it might be foolish, if courageous,
to try. Perhaps the "music"of
the original ideals symbolized by
the first and only toll should be taken
to heart and implemented, rather than
obviated by a new source of ideation
(communism, anarchy, religion based
governmental apparatus. etc.) To resolve
this confusion, pay attention to the
original inspiration (the Constitution,
the Bill of Rights, collectively.
Individually, maintain awareness of
conscience and one's own early ideals.]
Some come to laugh their past away
Some come to make it just one more day
Whichever way your pleasure tends
if you plant ice, you're gonna harvest wind
[This verse scarcely needs commentary
in light of the above remarks. The precursor
to the 1st couplet is "I Come for to Sing" as
performed, possibly written, by Pete Seegar.
The 2cnd couplet source is the biblical
"Who sows wind reaps the hurricane."]
In Franklin's Tower the four winds sleep
Like four lean hounds the lighthouse keep
Wildflower seed in the sand and wind
May the four winds blow you home again
[We assume a bell tower for the great bell.
By the trope of simile, we see the bell tower
(the day watch) turned to a lighthouse
and the four winds become sleeping hounds,
(the night watch) worn out by the events
of such a metaphorical day as related
by e.e.cummings in his familiar lyric
"All in Green Went My Love Riding"
(Poem 6 from TULIPS AND CHIMNEYS)
"four lean hounds crouched low
and smiling . . ." By the use of quotative
allusion the lyric attempts to borrow
some of the emotive spark of cumming's
poem, providing a kind of "link button"
into a different but complementary space.
Allusion here functions as a sort of
shorthand cross-patch into a series
of metaphoric events which, with
a double-clutch shift of simile,
access a downloadable description of
the kind of day it's been for a 'wildflower
seed' in its adventures in the wind.
There may be some objection to the
elastic interchangeability of the similes
of hounds and winds in this set of couplets,
but the test of the allusion, as I see it,
is whether or not the appropriate emotions
are evoked to lead to satisfying closure
and an opening door on other possibilities.]
[Now to the real stretch: "Roll away the dew."
The line is appropriated from a fairly
well known sea chantey whose chorus goes:
"Roll away the morning dew
and sweet the winds shall blow."
As surely everyone knows by now,
Bonnie Dobson's song "Morning Dew"
(made famous by Garcia's singing of it)
is set in the aftermath of nuclear war.
Reason he can't "walk you out
in the morning dew, my honey"
is because of fallout, though Garcia
has wisely dropped the verse
containing this denouement, allowing
the song a heightened romantic mystery,
achieved through open-ended ambiguity.
For generations now alive,
the nuclear specter personifies
the forces which most threaten our
attempt at Jeffersonian democracy.
With the song's sub-allusion to
"Roll away the Stone," an anthem
of joyous Eastertide resurrection,
a resultant combination message
of dire necessity (as in the final:
you've got to roll away the dew)
and promise of renewal, in case
resolution is effected, are enjoined.
Should this hyper-allusive train
of thought become too confusing
to process, the invitation to just
"listen to the music play"
acknowledges both the melody
and performance context of the lyric
and the metaphoric bell described above.]
Well, now that you know what I meant by it,
it's no great shakes is it? Mystery gone,
the magician's trick told, the gluttony
for "meaning" temporarily satisfied,
one can now take issue with my intent
and avoid the song itself, substituting
the assignable significance for the music.
Attempts by language to overdetermine language are doomed out the door, so I content myself with providing these clues for threading the maze of "Franklin's Tower" and as a grudging key to my methods. I feel that much of what you've said in your essay is rich, correct and thought provoking and appreciate your accurate estimation of the concert context as adjunct to the lyric, and vice versa. The contextual sub-meaning (the way the song manifests itself in concert) is certainly a factor which occasionally determines certain choices in subsequent material. Too much of that would be a striving after sameness of effect, though (even if it does all sound the same to an uninitiated ear.)
Oh, one other thing: you labeled "what a long, strange trip it's been" as "cliched." Aren't you putting the cart before the horse? "Truckin'" was the originating vehicle of the phrase, which had not, to my knowledge, been coined before. The fact that it has entered the catchphrase banks of the language in a ubiquitous way may render subsequent usage cliched, but surely not the invention itself, unless all widely adopted phrases are deemed trite by virtue of their durability. You also mentioned that the "What in the world ever became of Sweet Jane?/She's lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same" verse was probably an in-joke not meant for a broad audience to grasp. The intention was a parody of the '40's warning-style of singing commercial, specifically "Poor Millicent, poor Millicent/ She ne-ver used Pep-so-dent/ Her smile grew dim/ And she lost her vim / So folks don't be like Millicent / Use Pep-so-dent! " I'm sure that the allusiveness, not that entirely outre in the '60's, is well lost here in the '90's. So, it's perhaps an in-joke, but not one meant for private consumption. Just a bit of black humor that fails to fire and emerges, instead, as an enigma. I guess the question here is whether an allusion must be blatantly perceivable as such in order to avoid the uncharitable label of "nonsense."
Thank you for taking my work seriously enough to spend considerable effort in explicating it according to your lights.
Robert Hunter 3/4/96
Disorient slow quill to provide
Dense unsingable margin
Dispersing in tonal cluster under
A lilac roof of chintz Vermeers
Incorporate chance nomenclature
Corresponding to a netting of wind
Revolving in unintentional resolve
Interrogating with no question mark
Non-circular limited clock of the day
Before rude lingual enforcement
Immerses momentos of dux redux
More given to flux than flight in Shank's aviary
Where no one spits in the beer of slumber
With less reluctance than an attested breeze
(from the Collected Sonnets of Cosmo Nitram,
soon to appear on [Hunter's] pages)
©1996 by Robert Hunter. Downloads
for private circulation gladly permitted.
Posted in the Annotated GD Lyrics March 28, 1996, by permission.