"I'd rather be with you"

The Annotated "Standing On the Moon"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
1997-98 Research Associate, Music Dept., Univ. of California at Santa Cruz
Copyright notice
"Standing On the Moon"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

Standing on the moon
I got no cobweb on my shoe
Standing on the moon
I'm feeling so alone and blue
I see the Gulf of Mexico
As tiny as a tear
The coast of California
Must be somewhere over here - over here

Standing on the moon
I see the battle rage below
Standing on the moon
I see the soldiers come and go
There's a metal flag beside me
Someone planted long ago
Old Glory standing stiffly
Crimson, white and indigo - indigo

I see all of Southeast Asia
I can see El Salvador
I hear the cries of children

And the other songs of war
It's like a mighty melody
That rings down from the sky
Standing here upon the moon
I watch it all roll by - all roll by

Standing on the moon
With nothing else to do
A lovely view of heaven
But I'd rather be with you

Standing on the moon
I see a shadow on the sun
Standing on the moon
The stars go fading one by one
I hear a cry of victory
And another of defeat
a scrap of age-old lullaby
Down some forgotten street

Standing on the moon
Where talk is cheap and vision true
Standing on the moon
But I would rather be with you
Somewhere in San Francisco
On a back porch in July
Just looking up to heaven
At this crescent in the sky

Standing on the moon
With nothing left to do
A lovely view of heaven
But I'd rather be with you - be with you

"Standing On the Moon"

Recorded on

First performance: February 5, 1989, at Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland, California. (I was there!) Appeared in the second set, third position, following "Man Smart, Woman Smarter," and preceding "Playing in the Band." It remained steadily in the repertoire thereafter.


A color of deep blue named for the plant from which it derives. Here's a picture of an indigo plant from Michael Abrams' Florida Wildflower Page.

I can see El Salvador...

This note from a reader:
Subject: Standing On The Moon Annotation
Date: Thu, 11 Jun 1998 13:33:57 -0700
From: Dana Leighton (leighton@mother.com)
Hi David:
I wanted to add my perspective on "Standing On The Moon," particularly the lines "I can see El Salvador/I can hear the cries of children/And other songs of war." I volunteer for an organization on behalf of human rights in Central America, mostly in Guatemala. The civil war there was primarily a war fought in and around the villages of mostly indigenous people living in the mountain highlands of this beautiful and lush country.
The Guatemalan military would sweep through entire villages, killing or maiming in the name of warning other villages to not help the rebels. As you might suspect lots and lots of innocent villagers were killed, tortured, raped, and maimed. I can't even imagine the horror these people went through.
Unfortunately, what makes this even more difficult is that the Guatemalan military was receiving military training and money from the U.S. Government. The U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, GA, had for some time taught torture, blackmail, and extortion as ways for countering insurgency (read: the will of common people). Many Guatemalan military leaders graduated from the SOA.
The curriculum has supposedly been revised to not include those atrocities, but the School remains active, and some of its graduates (Manuel Noreiga and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia.) are some of the most notorious violators of human rights in the world.
This URL is a link to a page about the exhumation of a mass grave at Las Dos Erres in Guatemala (67 children's skeletons, median age 7).
This URL links to the School of the Americas Watch home page:
I recommend two movies about the situation there:
  1. Romero (with Raul Julia, an excellent film)
  2. Men With Guns
Feel free to include any of this information on your web page. It's good for people to know the reality behind the lyrics. Thanks so much for your work.

A scrap of age-old lullaby Down some forgotten street

Compare to the lines in "Stella Blue":
"In the end there's still that song
comes crying like the wind
down every lonely street
that's ever been"

crescent in the sky

Resonances with "Terrapin Station's" line about "a brand-new crescent moon."

But I'd rather be with you

An emotionally charged line, often sung over and over by Garcia in concert. Proposed by some as an appropriate epitaph for him. See Stanley Mouse's art which uses this line as a title.

And this note from a reader:

Subject: Standing on the Moon
Date: Wed, 13 Nov 1996 01:48:52 -0500
From: Djhegland@aol.com

Hi. Here's a thought about the "I'd rather be with you" coda in Standing on the Moon. I was performing a solo acoustic rendition of the song between sets of my own band, and the particular night when this hit me was one of our all-time best gigs. It was an outdoor scene with a fairly large and intense crowd. When I got to the "I'd rather be with you coda", it occurred to me that I would rather be out in the audience enjoying the show -- even though playing live music is my favorite thing in the world. The thing about performing live music is that you can only experience your own performance in two ways -- on stage and on tape. I suddenly felt that what Hunter/Garcia might have meant was that being on stage is so completely different from being in the crowd that one might just as well be standing on the moon -- that's how far away it seems sometimes. Just think -- the Grateful Dead provided all of us with a truly amazing experience for 30 years, and Jerry, as well as BobBillMickeyPhil, NEVER got to experience the thing that we all loved so much. They experienced something quite different.

...but I would rather be with you... somewhere in San Francisco...on a back porch in July...just looking up to heaven at this crescent in the sky.

Thanks for creating this page.

8-) dave

First posted: August 15, 1995
Last revised: June 11, 1998