"See here how everything lead up to this day..."

The Annotated "Black Peter"

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

Copyright notice
"Black Peter"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

All of my friends come to see me last night
I was laying in my bed and dying
Annie Beauneu from Saint Angel
say "the weather down here so fine"

Just then the wind
came squalling through the door
but who can
the weather command?

Just want to have
a little peace to die
and a friend or two
I love at hand

Fever roll up to a hundred and five
Roll on up
gonna roll back down

One more day
I find myself alive
maybe go
beneath the ground

See here how everything
lead up to this day
and it's just like
any other day
that's ever been

Sun goin up
and then the
sun it goin down
Shine through my window and
my friends they come around
come around
come around

People may know but
the people don't care
that a man could be
as poor as me...
"Take a look at poor Peter
he's lyin in pain
now let's go run
and see"

Run and see
hey, hey,
run and see

"Black Peter"

Musical details: Recorded on

First recorded performance was December 4, 1969, at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. In the repertoire ever since.

Patti Smith performed the song live in the days immediately following Garcia's death.

Black Peter

The traditional counterpart to Saint Nicholas. According to The Folklore of World Holidays:
In the Netherlands, [Saint Nick] "is accompanied by Spanish blackamoor servants in medieval costumes. They are called 'Black Peters' and carry bundles of switches to beat naughty children." --p. 581.

And this message, posted first on rec.music.gdead and reprinted here with the author's permission:

Date: 7 Aug 1995 14:39:13 GMT
From: Tom Murphy
Subject: black peter

I just started reading The Once and Future King, by T.H. White. It is the telling of the tale of King Arthur's childhood and development. In the first story, "The Sword and the Stone," there is a scene where young Arthur is taken by Merlyn the magician on a quest to discover the meaning of power. He is taken to the "Keeper of the Moat," whose name is none other than Black Peter!! Might this be the source for the Dead tune of that name??


Another message, this one from Jurgen Fauth:

  • Date: Fri, 3 Nov 1995 11:20:56 -0600
    From: Jurgen Fauth


    I was just stopping by to look at "Black Peter"-- I remembered that as a kid in Germany, we had a card game that was very common, called "Schwarzer Peter." As far as I remember, you had to draw and trade cards in some way, one of them being the "Black Peter." Whoever got stuck with that card when the game was over lost. There is also an idiom in German, "jemandem den schwarzen Peter zuschieben." Directly translated, it means to "slip someone the Black Peter"-- to put the blame on them, to frame them, to put the ball in their court: if they keep it, they lose.

    "See here how every day..." reminds me of the end of "Ball and Chain" on some old Janis Joplin recording, where she says something to the effect "tomorrow? yesterday? It's all the same fucking day!" I haven't listened to that in a long time, though, and might be imagining things....

    And finally, there's a movie by a [Czech] director [Milos Forman] called "Black Peter" that came out around 68 [1963]-- this might be the closest to actually influencing Hunter. I'd check the web movie database, but my browser is tied up with this email.


  • Thanks, Jurgen!

    Another note from a reader:

    From: Drew Bear [mailto:shakymink at darkhorsemail dot net]
    Sent: Thursday, May 16, 2002 1:46 PM
    Subject: Black Peter AGDL

    I have a friend who's russian who says that black Peter accompanies Santa Claus. Where Santa is plump and rosy and jolly, Petter is tall, gaunt, sallow and throughly unpleasnt. He rides with Santa to beat and whip the children who are bad.

    Thanks for your work.

    A new generation of Dead Fan,

    And another:

    From: ROBERT STEINHILBER [mailto:robertsteinhilber at email.msn.com]
    Sent: Saturday, April 13, 2002 8:36 AM
    Subject: Song: BLACK PETER

    Dear Mr Dodd

    Looking at your literary references to the song BLACK PETER, I did not see any mention of the Arthur Conan Doyle story THE ADVENTURE OF BLACK PETER from THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. I don't know if this is anything you are interested in, but I thought I'd pass it on to you.

    Best, Robert Steinhilber

    Saint Angel

    This seems to be a mythical place, perhaps near Fenario. The closest geographical name is San Angelo, Texas. Any ideas?

    who can the weather command?

    This note from a reader:
    From: Dan Kravitz [mailto:swillmaster at suscom-maine.net]
    Sent: Saturday, September 07, 2002 5:32 PM
    Subject: Black Peter

    Can't find a way to post notes on the site, which I've enjoyed for years.

    Nobody has posted on "who can the weather command?" Sounds like a comment on the radical violent Weathermen offshoot of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), named after Dylan's "don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." Their leadership was the Weather Command - Bernardine Dohrn in charge if I remember correctly.

    Would like to know if there is a link to post directly on the site. Sorry I can't find it if it's there.

    Dan Kravitz

    Roll on up, gonna roll back down

    This note from a reader:
    Date: Tue, 03 Oct 2006 20:34:03 -0400
    From: Donald Schneier
    Subject: Black Peter

    David: Just a thought, after listening to Black Peter recently. How about "Roll on up, gonna roll back down." as a reference to Sisyphus? That would tie in especially with the "and it's just like every day, that's ever been" motif in the song.
    Don Schneier

    and it's just like any other day that's ever been

    Compare Seneca:
    "A day differs not a whit from eternity." ("Nihil interesse inter diem et saeculum.")--from Ad Lucilium.
    and Thomas Carlyle:
    "The poorest day that passes over us is the conflux of two eternities; it is made up of currents that issue from the remotest Past, and flow onwards to the remotest Future." --Signs of the Times.

    This note from a reader:

    From: Chuck Duncanson [mailto:evilchuckles2001@yahoo.com]
    Sent: Sunday, April 06, 2003 1:44 AM

    Hello David,

    I've been a fan of this website for a couple years now and have tried to keep my eyes open for an allusion that I could write to you about and I think I have finally found one. I'm an actor and have recently been playing the part of Hamm in Sammuel Beckett's Endgame. Among the several interpretations of the play is the idea that Hamm is confined to his chair waiting to die. In fact, at one point he refers to the day of his death as "a day like any other day." This reminds me of Black Peter and his proclamation that his day of death is, "just like any other day that's ever been." Just a thought. Keep up the great work!

    Now let's go run and see

    This note from a reader:
    Subject: Black Peter
    Date: Sun, 02 Feb 1997 04:19:22 -0500
    From: Guy Urban


    First, thank you for your towering work on the GD lyrics project. I am writing with a comment regarding the end of Black Peter, which has always had a chilling effect on me. I recently made a connection that must have been there in the back of my brain for years.

    As a classical musician, I've been familiar with Alban Berg's opera "Wozzeck" for thirty years. I also read the original play by Buechner that the opera was based on, back when I was taking high school German. The story is an especially dark and haunting one (check it out if you don't know it), and it ends with the death of a woman whose small child is playing out on the street. Here are the last lines of the opera libretto (translated into English):

    Ring-a-ring-a roses
    A pocket full of...

    (The singing game is interrupted by other children bursting in.)

    One of the new children:
    Hey, Katie! Have you heard about Marie?

    2nd child:
    What happened?

    1st child:
    Don't you know? They've all gone out there.

    3rd child (to Marie's little boy):
    Hey! Your mother's dead!

    Marie's son (still riding his hobby horse):
    Hop hop! Hop hop! Hop hop!

    2nd child:
    Where is she then?

    1st child:
    She's lying out there, on the path near the pond.

    3rd child:
    Come and have a look!

    (All the children run off.)

    Marie's son (continuing to ride):
    Hop hop! Hop hop! Hop hop!

    (He hesitates, then rides off after the others.)

    Although the context is different, the tone of the passage and the image of "Let's go run and see" are strikingly resonant with the end of Black Peter. Knowing of Hunter's interest in German literature, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he was making a deliberate allusion to Buechner, or perhaps Berg's opera, which is more widely known. Your previous German commentator on the Black Peter page makes the German connections even more convincing.

    One more strand in Hunter's world-weaving and culture-mixing legacy.

    Guy Urban (Watertown MA)

    Keywords: @death, @weather
    DeadBase code: [PETE]
    First posted: August 8, 1995
    Last revised: October 12, 2006