"Oh, oh bitter olives in the sun..."

The Annotated "Pride of Cucamonga

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
1997-1998 Research Associate, Music Department, University of California, Santa Cruz
Copyright notice
"Pride of Cucamonga"
words by Robert Petersen; music by Phil Lesh

Out on the edge of the empty highway
Howling at the blood on the moon
Big diesel Mack rolling down my way
Can't hit that border too soon

Running hard out of Muskrat Flats
It was sixty days or double life
Hail at my back like a shotgun blast
High wind chimes in the night

Oh, oh, pride of Cucamonga
Oh, oh, bitter olives in the sun
Oh, oh, I had me some loving
And I done some time

Since I came down from Oregon
There's a lesson or two I've learned
By standing in the road alone
Standing watching the fires burn

The northern sky it stinks with greed
You can smell it for miles around
Good old boys in the Graystone Hotel
Sitting doing that git-on-down

Oh, oh, pride of Cucamonga
Oh, oh, silver apples in the sun
Oh, oh, I had me some loving
And I done some time

I see your silver shining town
But I know I can't go there
Your streets run deep with poisoned wine
Your doorways crawl with fear

So I think I'll drift for old where it's at
Where the weed grows green and fine
And wrap myself around a bush
Of that bright whoa, oh, Oaxaca vine

Yes it's me, I'm the pride of Cucamonga
I can see golden forests in the sun
Oh, oh, I had me some loving
And I done some time
And I done some time
And I done some time

"Pride of Cucamonga"

Recorded on From the Mars Hotel.

Never performed live.

Muskrat Flats

This doesn't seem to be an actual geographical location. There is a Muskrat Creek in Wyoming, and a Muskrat Falls in Newfoundland, but from the context of the song, this should be a place in Oregon or California.

The "Flats" designation is a common one in American slang, according to the Dictionary of American Regional English, which says that it is used "often in combinations; used as a jocular or derogatory nickname for a town or district." Some example given are: Goose Flats, Oakie Flats, Poverty Flats, Pot Liquor Flats, Tar Hill Flat, Penrose Flats, etc.

This note from a reader:

Subject: GD lyrics The Pride of Cucamonga
Date: Sun, 12 Mar 2000 09:17:51 -0800
From: michael patrick mccullough

Hello David,

I was checking out your excellent *The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics* site and would like to comment on *The Pride of Cucamonga.* This song has always been one of my favorites and for many years I have intuitively and strongly felt that “Muskrat Flats” referred to Klamath Falls, Oregon (where I have lived since 1987.)

First of all, it is on the border (can't hit that border too soon) between Oregon and California. Second of all, if a person was hitch hiking on either the North or South edge of town the main highway (highway 97 - a major truck route) he would be standing on a highway with water on both sides - still, shallow water with plenty of tules. eagles, and muskrats. Third, and less significantly, we have numerous forest fires every Summer / Autumn (like most of Oregon); but one could easily stand on the highway and look up at the fires in the mountains every year without fail.

Then I clicked on a few of your links and found the short poem “Bitter Olives.”

“those long fires of autumn / pigpen & i saw along / highway 99 / bitter olives / in the stare & blister of sun.”

This poem is clearly related to the song lyrics. Okay, Hwy 99 sort of sounds like US 97 (main North South hwy through Klamath Falls) but the actual State Hwy 99 is seventy miles West going through Ashland Oregon. At the border, however, it isn’t flat and watery - it is the Siskyou Pass on I-5. Hwy 99 is the old Oregon state highway that has in most places become I-5 - the giant North South super highway on the West Coast.

When I clicked on your link for Robert M. Petersen I was surprised to find that he was *from* Klamath Falls, Oregon. This clinches it for me. Since Klamath Falls is a place he left. presumably to find bigger and better things, it would not surprise me that he might rename it Muskrat Flats, a nickname, as you say, “of jocular or derogatory” nature. I have heard Klamath Falls, for example, jokingly referred to as “Ketchup Flats” and “Calamity Flats;” but never “Muskrat Flats.”

Klamath Falls is a nice place, incidentally. It is a small, blue collar, timber and agricultural center pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. Not for everybody, I guess, but it suits me.


michael patrick arthur mccullough, d.p.m. a.k.a. michael@magick.net

bitter olives

Also the title of a poem by Petersen, in the collection Alleys of the Heart.
"those long fires of autumn
pigpen & i saw along

highway 99

bitter olives
in the stare & blister of

Pride of Cucamonga

The label of a jug wine produced in the late 1960's by the Joseph Filippi Winery in Rancho Cucamonga. An article on the winery's website confirms that the label is being revived for a fine wine in its new incarnation. The article includes this paragraph:
A Venetian immigrant named Giovanni Filippi founded his vineyards in 1922, and in 1934 with his son Joseph, made a name in table and altar wine. Joseph and his son Joey boosted production, creating a jug brand offering nine different varietals and a name so distinctive - Pride of Cucamonga - that the Grateful Dead used it in a 1974 song.

Anne Lamott's novel Rosie, (North Point Press, 1983), repeatedly refers to one of its characters as the "Pride of Cucamonga," in a joking way, but in explicit reference to "an old Grateful Dead song."

Cucamonga is a city in San Bernardino County, in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Pop. ca. 110,000; Elevation 1,110 ft. The word "cucamonga" is from the Shoshonean, meaning "sandy place." The city's corporate name is Rancho Cucamonga.

It was mentioned in the Jan & Dean song "The Anaheim Azuza and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association." I'm pretty sure of that title, but if I got it wrong, please let me know. It's a fond childhood memory. Right up there with "Dead Man's Curve."

And this note from a reader:

Date: Tue, 29 Aug 95 00:11:13 -0700
From: Daniel Sittner
Subject: Cucamonga

Hi David,

May I add something to the Pride Of Cucamonga dept. ? There is a mention of this place in another song as well: Louis Jordan's "How Long Must I Wait For You" ("Track 99 for CoupeCaMonga" or smth.)

Just to add ... :-)


Graystone Hotel

"Graystone" is the name applied by inmates to almost every jail building, and is often formalized into the actual name of the jail, as was the infamous maximum-security Graystone at the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, California.

"Graystone College n. Und. a prison. Also Graystone Hotel, Gray-Rock Hotel. Joc. Cf. GRAYBAR HOTEL.
1933 Ersine Pris. Slang 41: Graystone College, any prison. 1962 Crump Killer 198: I nodded to the County Jail: "There's the Graystone Hotel," I said...."-- Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

that get-on-down

There is some speculation on what this phrase might mean in The WELL's Deadlit conference, topic number 161.

silver apples in the sun

Ives Chor wrote to point out the following:
Date: Mon, 4 Dec 1995 19:39:57 -0800
From: Ives Chor

"Pride of Cucamonga" could have a link to "Silver Apples of the Moon", which is a line (or close to one) from "Pride of Cucamonga". In fact, I think I remember your having some exposition of that phrase in "Pride" earlier, but it's no longer there.

Good point, Ives!

Oaxaca vine

A reference to marijuana grown in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
First posted: March, 1995
Last revised: October 31, 2005