"If all you got to live for is what you left behind..."

The Annotated "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
1997-98 Research Associate, Music Dept., University of California, Santa Cruz
Copyright notice
"Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission

On the day that I was born
Daddy sat down and cried
I had the mark just as plain as day
which could not be denied
They say that Cain caught Abel
rolling loaded dice,
ace of spades behind his ear
and him not thinking twice

Mississippi Uptown Toodleloo
Hello baby, I'm gone, goodbye
Half a cup of rock and rye
Farewell to you old southern sky
I'm on my way - on my way

If all you got to live for
is what you left behind
get yourself a powder charge
and seal that silver mine
I lost my boots in transit babe
A pile of smoking leather

Nailed a retread to my feet
and prayed for better weather

Mississippi Uptown Toodleloo
Hello, baby, I'm gone, good-bye
Half a cup of rock and rye
Farewell to you old southern sky
I'm on my way - on my way

They say that when your ship comes in
the first man takes the sails
The second takes the afterdeck
The third the planks and rails
What's the point to callin shots?
This cue ain't straight in line
Cueball's made of styrofoam
and no one's got the time

Mississippi Uptown Toodleloo
Hello baby, I'm gone, goodbye
Half a cup of rock and rye
Farewell to you old southern sky
I'm on my way - on my way

Across the Rio Grand-eo
Across the lazy river
Across the Rio Grand-eo
Across the lazy river

"Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo"

Recorded on Wake of the Flood. Also included on Steal Your Face, Dick's Picks, vol. 1, and on Without a Net.

First performed July 16, 1972 at Dillon Stadium in Hartford, Connecticut. Followed "Me and My Uncle" and led into "Sing Me Back Home," which closed out the first set. A staple of the repertoire ever since.

Cain caught Abel

A motive for the first murder in human history? The Biblical story of Cain and Abel is found in Genesis 4:8 ff.

An old African-American song, "Creation," contains the lines:

"Cain thought Abel played a trick
(Dese bones gwine rise ergain)
Hit 'em in the head wid a piece of brick..."
--White, American Negro Folk Songs, p. 84

Lost my boots in transit, babe

This note from a reader:
Subject: Mississippi Half-Step
Date: Tue, 30 Jun 1998 22:05:34 EDT
From: Plnnr@aol.com

Dear David:

I'm not sure if you are continuing to update the annotations, but here's one just in case. I"ve seen this particular Garcia quote referenced in a few publications, including Gans' Playing in the Band (pg. 22 in my very dog earred copy).

"Lost My Boots in Transit, A Pile of Smoking Leather..."

"Events in my life suggested to me that maybe it was going to be my responsibility to keep upping the ante. In was in an automobile accident in 1960 with four other guys...ninety plus miles an hour on a back road. We hit these dividers and went flying, I guess. All I know is that I was sitting in the car and there was this...disturbance...and the next thing I was in a field, far enough away from the car that I couldn't see it.

The car was crumpled like a cigarette pack...and inside it were my shoes. I'd been thrown completely out of my shoes and through the windshield. One guy did die in the group. It was like loosing the golden boy, the one who had the most to offer. For me it was crushing, but I had the feeling that my life had been spared to do something...not to take any bullshit, to either go whole hog or not at all...That was when my life began. Before that I had been living at less than capacity. That event was the slingshot for the rest of my life. It was my second chance, and I got serious."

We all have those moments when our life is changed. Mine happened on June 23, 1983 at Merriwether Post Pavillion in Columbia, Maryland. Like Jerry, after that "I got serious."

Thanks for the continued good works.

Lee Tyson


From the Oxford English Dictionary:
"toodle-oo int. colloq. [Origin unknown; perh. f. TOOT (An act of tooting...)] Goodbye. Cf. PIP-PIP.
1907 Punch 26 June 465 'Toodle-oo, old sport.' Mr. Punch turned round at the amazing words and gazed at his companion. ...
Also toodle-, tootle-pip.

Partridge speculates:

"...or maybe, as Mr F.W. Thomas has most ingeniously suggested, a Cockney corruption of the French equivalent of '(I'll) see you soon': a tout a l'heure."

And this note from a reader:

Date: Tue, 19 Dec 1995 18:03:49 -0800
From: Ray Brizzi
Subject: halfstep,,,,,,etc

Grately enjoying your annotated lyrics!

A couple of things on half step mississippi uptown toodeloo

You didnt mention "East St Louis Toodeloo," by Duke Ellington, also covered by Steely Dan.

Thanks, Ray!

Hello, baby, I'm gone, good-bye

This note from a reader:
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 1995 18:03:49 -0800
From: Ray Brizzi

"Hello baby I'm gone, goodbye" always reminded me of "Hello I Must Be Going," from Animal Crackers sung by Groucho Marx.

Good point, and thanks!

Rock and rye

A sweet alcoholic beverage made from putting rock candy and fruit in rye whiskey.

Compare the lines from a tune in White:

"...Farewell to Tom and Jerry
Farewell to Rock and Rye
It's a long way to old Kentucky
For Alabama done gone dry."
--American Negro Folk-Songs, p. 355. (Reported from Auburn, Ala. 1915-1916; to the tune of "Tipperary."

And this note from a reader:

Subject: half step
Date: Mon, 3 Apr 2000 22:27:24 -0700
From: Jeff Aitken

are you interested in new takes on dead lyrics?

i always thought "rock & rye" made another reference - the magnificent blend of good old GD rock & the fruits of the rye mold (ergotamine tartrate -> lysergic a.d.)

carry on

Jeff Aitken Inverness CA

And another note on this line:

Subject: Half-Step
Date: Fri, 24 Mar 2000 21:25:09 -0500
From: Kevin Matthews
Dear Mr. Dodd,
In regards to Half-Step, I noticed the reference for "rock and rye" related the lyric to a folk song...the song also had the lyric "farewell to Tom and Jerry"...obviously this is not a reference to the cat and mouse duo, but I was wondering if you knew or if you knew where I could find if the cartoon were based on some legend. The idea that the two have nothing to do with each other has occurred to me, but it seemed like more than an innoncent coincidence to me. Thank you for your time.
Kevin Matthews


Hunter's use of Styrofoam, a DOW Chemical brand name, is reminiscent (to me, at least) of Cole Porter's use of "cellophane" in "You're the Top." (1934)
Keywords: @gambling, @river, @alcohol
DeadBase code: [HALF]
First posted: April 4, 1995
Last revised: April 4, 2000