"All graceful instruments are known"

The Annotated "New Potato Caboose"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
1997-98 Research Associate, Music Dept., University of California, Santa Cruz
"New Potato Caboose"
Words by Robert Petersen, music by Phil Lesh
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing Co., Used by permission.
Last leaf fallen;
Bare earth where green was born.
Black Madonna, two eagles hang against a cloud.

Sun comes up blood red;
Wind yells among the stone.
All graceful instruments are known.

When the windows all are broken
and your love's become a toothless crone,
when the voices of the storm sound like a crowd,
winter morning breaks;
you're all alone.

The eyes are blind,
blue visions are all a seer can own
And touching makes the flesh to cry out loud.
This ground on which the seed of love is sown.
All graceful instruments are known.

"New Potato Caboose"

Songbook availability:

Musical details:

Recorded on

Deadbase lists 20 performances of "New Potato Caboose" from 1967-1969.

See Christian Crumlish's observations on the song.

New Potato

"The New Potatoes" is the title of a traditional Irish jig.

Black Madonna

For information on the Black Madonna, see Ean Begg: The Cult of the Black Virgin. (1985)

The Bob Dylan song, "Gates of Eden," contains the lines:

"Motocycle Black Madonna
Two-wheeled gypsy queen."

And this note from a reader:

Subject: Black Madonna
Date: Tue, 12 Feb 2002 19:28:32 -0800
From: "Brendan Riley"

Hello David,

I met you in Petaluma last year (or so) at Copperfield's for the book signing and you told me to post something if it ever occurred to me. So, I'm listening to the newly re-issued Anthem (which sounds SO nice and clear it's the cat's pajamas) and I do hear "above the doorknob" on New Potato Caboose, but re: the Black Madonna; I wanted to say that I am a familiar of Catalonia, Spain, where "la virgen negra" or Black Madonna is revered by all Catalan Catholics as their patroness and protectress; there is a statue of her located in a sanctuary behind the apse of the basilica at the legendary holy mountain monastery on Montserrat, about 50 Km from Barcelona; legend says that it was found in a cave in the mountain centuries ago; pilgrims journey to the shrine by the thousands each year to venerate the statue, which is not actually "black" i.e. not African but a very dark hued wood; I imagine that at least some of these facts are located in the book on the cult of the virgen you cited but since my wife is Catalan I sort of felt honor bound to reply.


Brendan Riley

All graceful instruments

This note from a reader:
Date: Mon, 17 Jun 1996 08:11:39 GMT
From: Alex Allan
Subject: New Potato Caboose

I was at Glyndebourne on Saturday for a performance of Handel's Theodora (we Deadheads have catholic musical tastes!) and was struck by one of the choruses which went:

"Bless thy graceful intruments with liberty and life"
This made me wonder if "graceful instruments" was a biblical quotation, but I couldn't find it in my Concordance (Theodora was an early Christian martyr).

May be no more than an interesting coincidence, but it intrigued me.

Best wishes

Excellent find! Thanks, Alex.

"All Graceful Instruments" is also the title of a song by the band Sandoz on their album, Unfamiliar Territory.

Thoughts from Christian Crumlish

Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2000 19:36:41 -0700
From: "Christian Crumlish"

Another thing that may have slipped through the cracks, also resulting from my Bobby Petersen obsession is that I'm afraid the entire Black Madonna thread re New Potato Caboose is misguided, though still worth keeping as a footnote given Hunter's suggestion that we each have our own versions of the songs and each set of lyrics is as valid as another. Anyway, I'm fairly certain that the song in fact starts thusly:

New Potato Caboose

The last leaf fallen, bitter herb
Above my doorknob two eagles hang against a cloud
Sun comes up blood red
Wind yells among the stone
All graceful instruments are known.

I'm also in search of the story of the name of that song. I'm working (not really but gearing up to do so) on a paper tentatively called "The Cryptical Envelope Filter" about the nomenclature of the songs on Anthem of the Sun. I seem to recall a story that another Haight scene band had a song called Potato Caboose and the Dead named their "all graceful instruments" song after it as a semifacetious act of homage or one-upmanship, somewhat analogous to all new minglewood blues and new, new minglewood blues. Part of my premise is that they had a Beat distrust for nomenclature and other rational, academic systems. As a library science person you must appreciate that not everyone enjoys being catalogued easily. But that's a story for another day. If you'd like to see my not-for-publication-yet draft of the Petersen paper I presented last year ("And I Done Some Time: Bobby Petersen’ s Influence on the Drifter Mystique in Grateful Dead Lyrics or something like that"). Let me know and I'll send you a copy of the current draft.


keywords: @music
DeadBase code: [NEWP]

First posted: August 25, 1995
Last revised: Feburary 13, 2002