"I guess they can't revoke your soul for trying"

The Annotated "Truckin'"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
Copyright notice
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Garcia, Lesh, Weir
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

Truckin' - got my chips cashed in
Keep Truckin - like the doodah man
Together - more or less in line
Just keep Truckin on

Arrows of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street
Chicago, New York, Detroit it's all on the same street
Your typical city involved in a typical daydream
Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings

Dallas - got a soft machine
Houston - too close to New Orleans
New York - got the ways and means
but just won't let you be

Most of the cats you meet on the street speak of True Love
Most of the time they're sittin and cryin at home
One of these days they know they gotta get goin
out of the door and down to the street all alone

Truckin - like the doodah man
once told me you got to play your hand
sometime - the cards ain't worth a dime
if you don't lay em down

Sometimes the light's all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it's been

What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
She lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same
Living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine
all a friend can say is "ain't it a shame"

Truckin' -- up to Buffalo
Been thinkin - you got to mellow slow
Takes time - you pick a place to go
and just keep Truckin on

Sitting and staring out of a hotel window
Got a tip they're gonna kick the door in again
I'd like to get some sleep before I travel
but if you got a warrant I guess you're gonna come in

Busted - down on Bourbon Street
Set up - like a bowling pin
Knocked down - it gets to wearing thin
They just won't let you be

You're sick of hanging around and you'd like to travel
Tired of travel, you want to settle down
I guess they can't revoke your soul for trying
Get out of the door - light out and look all around

Sometimes the light's all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
what a long strange trip it's been

Truckin - I'm goin home
Whoa-oh baby, back where I belong
Back home - sit down and patch my bones
and get back Truckin on


Musical details: Recorded on:

First performance: August 18, 1970, at the Fillmore West, San Francisco. They opened the show with an acoustic set, and "Truckin'" was the first song. Other firsts in the show were "Operator", "Brokedown Palace," and "Ripple." It remained in the repertoire thereafter.


Weir, Hunter, Lesh, and Hart were interviewed about the song in the film Classic Albums: The Grateful Dead: American Beauty. (Aired on VH-1, April 1997. Directed by Jeremy Marre. Copyright Isis Productions, Daniel Television, Grateful Dead Productions, 1997.)

Weir: There was a romance about being a young man on the road in America, and you had to do it! It was a rite of passage. And at the same time, it was the material that you drew from to write about. We were starting to become real guys, and really enjoying the hell out of it. We toured more or less four to six months out of the year. It was our bread and butter-we weren't selling that many records. And we had a lot of fun out on the road, got into a lot of trouble... We left some smoking craters of some Holiday Inns, I'll say that, and there were a lot of places that wouldn't have us back. All of this is absolutely autobiographical, all the stuff in "Truckin."

Hunter: This was written over a long period of time. And there were lots-I had a verse: "Once in a while the music gets into the street, fifty old ladies bug every cop on the beat, they're putting the lock on Lindley Meadow and Kezar, beginnin' to look like we can't play in the park." Yeah, that kind of stuff, had lots and lots of verses, I thought, we had all thought that we could keep adding to Truckin over the years, but the funny thing is, once you get it down, it is down. You don't go back, you don't revisit it.

Hart: It was autobiographical. We told our story in song. So, I knew that the words were strong. They were powerful, they were depicting real events in real people's lives, and they became part of the fabric, part of the history of our day. People could sing it and know there were events directly connected with it.

Lesh: In those days there wasn't any rock and roll bubble that would isolate us from the world as we went through it. So the walls of the hotels were all thin, and we didn't charter planes, so we flew commercial when we flew, and a lot of times we took buses, and I see a group of much younger people doing things in a way that I envy, now, looking back on it.

This note from a reader:

From: J.Bernstein [mailto:J.Bernstein@sheffield.ac.uk]
Sent: Monday, September 08, 2003 7:13 AM
Subject: Annotated GD: Complilations/Soundtracks: GD in a Woody Allen film!


In Woody Allen's CELEBRITY (1998) Kenneth Branagh goes to his 20- something high school reunion and the band on stage is playing the Grateful Dead's TRUCKIN! I didn't hear it for what it was while watching the film (who the heck would have expected a Grateful Dead song in a Woody Allen film?) but I discovered the truth in the list of music during the end credits. It knocked me out because I was expecting to read through Woody's usual list of 1920s and 1930s music and then in the midst of all that I saw Phil Lesh's name! Then my eyes focused and I saw the rest: Garcia, Weir, Lesh, Hunter . . . I got such a kick out of this!
Unfortunately I can't confirm this via a web link (I looked and looked) but the dvd is readily available.
Jeff Bernstein


According to The Golden Road,
"'Truckin'' was a popular dance step, and the word is immortalized in a number of '20s and '30s songs, including the blues "Keep on Truckin'" and Blind Boy Fuller's "Truckin' My Blues Away.""--Winter 1984.

Step It Down has a section on the "Zudie-O", a dance which incorporated "trucking"--

"You better say 'strutting' instead of 'trucking.' They're about the same, but the old folks just didn't like you to say it so raw."--p. 137
and, later, describing the step:
"The step used in this dance also takes the same count and is a 'strutting' two-step: step forward with the right foot, bring the left foot up to a close, step in place with the right foot, and rest. Repeat with the opposite feet."--p. 137

The Oxford English Dictionary cites many different meanings for "truck" and "trucking". One shade has "truck" as slang for sexual intercourse, which may explain the statement above about "trucking" being too raw a word for the "old folks." And regarding the dance:

"5. To dance the truck. U.S. slang. 1937 Amer. Speech XII. 183/1 Only negroes can really truck. [etc.]"
trucking 2. The action of dancing the truck. slang. 1944 C. CALLOWAY Hepster's Dictionary in Of Minnie the Moocher (1976) 260 Trucking, a dance introduced at the Cotton Club in 1933."

The OED also recognizes the phrase "Keep on trucking":

"to persevere: a phrase of encouragement. 1972. Sat. Rev. (U.S.) 28 Oct. 12 One poster...shows the famous R. Crumb cartoon characters and bears the caption: 'Let's Keep on Truckin'."

The New Grove Dictionary of American Music describes "Truckin'" as a dance step which was incorporated into the "lively and strenuous circle dance", the Big Apple. It describes the "truckin'" step, "with its shuffle step and waving index finger."

The Great Song Thesaurus lists one other song entitled "Truckin'": (1935), w. Ted Koehler; m: Rube Bloom.

doodah man

Skeleton Key cites Hunter as saying that the doodah man is just lifted from the "doodah" chorus of "Camptown Races", by Stephen Foster.

This note from a reader:

Subject: doodah man Date: Wed, 23 Jan 2002 14:48:18 -0500 (EST) From: Tom Parmenter
"Skeleton Key cites Hunter as saying that the doodah man is just lifted from the "doodah" chorus of "Camptown Races", by Stephen Foster. "

Well, that's as may be, but I saw the Grateful Dead on a bill with the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band at the (New) Boston Tea Party in 1969 or so and the two bands were really digging each other. Almost all of the Dead came out of the dressing room to watch the Bonzos' act, something I've hardly ever seen, so I've always been pretty sure that the doodah-man line came from that gig. After all, the song is about gigging.

Best regards,
Tom Parmenter

soft machine

Possibly an allusion to William Burroughs novel, The Soft Machine.

According to The Dictionary of Literary Biography,

"The 'soft machine' is both the 'wounded galaxy,' the Milkwy Way seen as a biological organism diseased by the virus-like Nova Mob, and the human body, riddled with parasites and addictions and programmed with the 'ticket' )that is, obsolete myths and dreams) written on the 'soft typewriter' of culture and civilization."--vol 8, p. 95

There was also a British rock band by the name of Soft Machine, in the late 60's to early 70's.

The Pop-O-Pies, on their version of "Truckin'" sang:

"Dallas, got a soft-drink machine..."
I always loved that.

And this note from a reader:

Subject: truckin Date: Sat, 12 Apr 1997 17:31:49 -0700 From: Jonathan Parent

I was reading and very much enjoying your pages of GD songs and ran on the part about "soft machine". I read your link of the soft machine and found my take to be very differant. I was thinking that it referred to the "political machines" of the 20's and 30's. The cities were notorious (e.g. Chicago, New York, Detroit) for their corupt govenment--Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall in New York and other rings of the like. Also, moonshine was run by truckers. Moonshine was the staple of big biz in the 20's and 30's. A soft machine could be referring to the fact that if you wished to "operate" you had to pay a small percentage of your haul. A soft machine could refer to the fact Dallas bosses might not enforce the fee, so the truckers would go there. Also Houston - too close to New Orleans could refer to rival machines in compition. And if you "worked" with one machine but not the other, you might not be so welcome. As for New York - got the ways and means, might refer to the ways and means commity, a board of biz that regulated biz and imposed high taxes and tarrifs on interstate commerce. A lot of blue grass music is tales of a working mans strife, what's more that than Truckin'?


Jessup H. Ross

Sometimes the light's all shining on me

In Behind the Hits, Hunter describes writing the song, and notes that the line "Sometimes the light's all shining on me" is by the band, not by him.

What a long strange trip it's been

Arguably one of the most famous lines in rock and roll, this snippet has served as title and subtitle to a large number of books and articles, invoking, as it does, the epoch from which it stems. It rates an entry of its own in Skeleton Key, which notes that the line's abbreviated form, "WALSTIB", is instantly recognizable to Deadheads.

Here's a list (not claiming exhaustiveness) of books and articles which have used the phrase in their titles:

sweet Jane

Robert Hunter, in his essay in reponse to Jurgen Fauth's piece on this site, provides an explanation for this line:
"The intention was a parody of the '40's warning-style of singing commercial, specifically "Poor Millicent, poor Millicent/ She ne-ver used Pep-so-dent/ Her smile grew dim/ And she lost her vim / So folks don't me like Millicent / Use Pep-so-dent! " I'm sure that the allusiveness, not that entirely outre in the '60's, is well lost here in the '90's. So, it's perhaps an in-joke, but not one meant for private consumption. Just a bit of black humor that fails to fire and emerges, instead, as an enigma."

Listeners may well tend to think of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane."

And this note from a reader:

Here's an interesting interpretation of the lines, "What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?/She lost her sparkle you know she isn't the same/Livin' on reds, vitamin C and cocaine/All a friend can say is 'Ain't it a shame?'"

Perhaps Sweet Jane can be seen as marijuana. Pot was all the rage for a while, but then it lost its allure, and a lot of people (especially in the early '70s) moved to pills and coke and other harder, more dangerous stuff. Somehow simple, innocent pot lost its sparkle for many. Thus you could read the whole stanza as, "Whatever became of marijuana? It used to be so much fun. Living on the hard stuff, it's such a shame to see your friends go that way."

By the way, some people have long thought that vitamin C enhances the buzz of certain drugs like LSD. And of course there's the belief, still common these days, that vitamin C can somehow save your body from the ravages of all kinds of abuse.

The stanza doesn't even have to be seen as a celebration of pot, since it could just as easily be about growing up and realizing that drugs in general always seem far more interesting when you first start playing with them than they do after a while. A lot of people have friends who went far too far on that path.

You could also point all this in a slightly different direction and think of it as a personal lament about your own loss of innocence.

All of this seems to dovetail nicely with Robert Hunter's comment that it was an in-joke about certain '60s commercials, if you think of the advertised product as pot.

I heard this basic idea some time ago from a fellow Deadhead. I only talked to him the one time so I don't remember his name. But it works so well for me that I haven't been able to hear that line ever since without thinking about it.

Dean Esmay -- esmay@syndicomm.com

This note from a reader:

-----Original Message----- From: Michael W. Fleming [mailto:mwfleming@sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Friday, December 06, 2002 6:33 AM
Subject: Trukin'


Good day! Yes, I am back to your site and wish to say I am having a good time with it. Thanx!!!

A word on the song "Truckin'". Though the Dead's lyrics may lead one to read a lot into them, there are many that are taken to face value. It is my belief that "What in the world ever happened to sweet Jane," is one line that should be. Anyone that lived those experiences of the '60's and early '70's had friends that went over the line using harder drugs and stayed there. Many of us used what was there for the experience, and many were lost in the drug(s). 'Sweet Jane' may simply have been coincidental, without any hidden meaning. While in Fairbanks a friend named Faith was pregnant which, of course, brought forth 'Keep the Baby, Faith!' (Keep the faith baby!).
There was a war on and many of my friends and associates went to war and were never seen again. Many took to the road and never returned home, myself included. It was not a rite of passage, it was adventure! All of the factors of relationships during those times were conducive to a lackadaisical sense of humanity. Often it was all we could do to hang on to our own lives and not slip over to the other side of addiction. If one was lost, it caused a ripple in the circle, but the circle got tighter.
On the lighter side, a math teacher asked the class, when was the first time we had trouble with math? I held up my hand and responded 1970! She asked why and my response, "a four-finger lid went from $5 to $10 in one week and could not imagine a 100% rise in price. At the time my wage as a Private in the Army was $80/ mo.
Not trying to clear up anything. Just that if you weren't there, you weren't. Imagine the archeologists 50,000 years from now on a dig of a commune hidden in the hills trying to figure that out!
minimize ecological and visual impact.

And this note on a variant performance version of the line:

From: TuneTree /Infoport [mailto:infoport@ibiblio.org]
Sent: Friday, August 22, 2003 6:19 PM

I love your site, and I'm always visiting. Well, I always have song interpretations and opinions, but don't want to force anything so large on others-- this however is interesting but small enough to just note: I am listening to a recording from gd1982-05-28sbd.shnf, of "Truckin'" from that date, and Bob sings "What in the world ever became of Sweet Jane / she lost her sparkle you know she isn't the same / ever since she went and had a sex change / All a friend can say is aint it a shame" Note the variation instead of the usual cocaine line.

thanks for the site!
William Vidrine TuneTree
anonymous ftp or http only!
or http://music.ibiblio.org/pub/multimedia/tunetree/

Truckin' up to Buffalo

This note from a reader:
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 1995 22:57:18 -0800 (PST)
From: Eric Elliott
Subject: Truckin'

I don't know what the origin is, but many times I've heard the phrase "Shufflin' off to Buffalo" in reference to dancing. I'm guessing that at some point Buffalo was a big dance town? Since Truckin' was a type of dance it's possible that this phrase is the source of the line "Truckin' up to Buffalo."

Thanks, Eric!

Take a look at the annotation for the word "Shuffle" in the Annotated "Chinatown Shuffle"

And another note from a Buffalo reader:

Mr. Dodd--

First off, i'd like to congratulate you on your work. What a great resource you've created!

If you find the following information useful, feel free to use it on the page:

RE: Truckin' lyric, "Truckin' off to Buffalo..."

A few notes...from a Buffalonian--

Historically, the city of Buffalo has been a hub in terms of transportation: in former years, it was one terminus of the Erie Canal; as a major producer of steel for Detroit's car industry; the largest city on the up-river side of Niagara Falls. It should also be noted that U.S. Interstate Route 90, which runs from Boston to Seattle, passes through Buffalo. Also, coming from Canada during the days of the fur trade, Buffalo was a large, convenient trading post and supply point. Rail transportation also hubbed in Buffalo.

One reader mused over historical references to the phrase, "shuffle off to Buffalo"--on this topic, it can be noted that Buffalo boasts one of the world's great historical theatres, Shea's Theatre (now Shea's Performing Arts Center). One of only four theatres outfitted by Tiffany, it was, incedentally, one of the rumoured-to-be-cancelled Ratdog venues when Jerry died in 1995. Shea's was originally a vaudeville theatre in the late 19th and early 20th century. I've included a link:http://www.sheas.org/site/live/home_flash.html for the historically-minded.

One, "for instance" of a direct quote of the aforementioned, "shuffle-off to Buffalo" is found in a lyric penned by John Fogerty:

If I had my choice, I'd shuffle off to Buffalo
Sit by the lake, and watch the world go by.
(the lake referred to is, of course, Lake Erie)

In terms of Hunter's lyric, though, my guess is that it was probably placed there more for rhyme than anything--after all, how many recognizable places can you name that reasonably fit the context of the verse? for instance, "Truckin' off to Tupelo"--the juxtapostion of the T in "to" and the T in Tupelo just wouldn't fit the easy shuffle of the verse...and there just aren't that many places i can think of off the top of my head that rhyme with "slow".

Anyone that attended a Dead show in Buffalo when they were touring--and even to this day, when Bob plays there with Ratdog--and has heard the cheer that goes up whenever the verse comes around to that particular lyric, hears something that clearly thanks Mr. Hunter for including the "City of Good Neighbors" in his lyrics. After all, 80,000 people can't be wrong! :-)

--joe burke

email: jlburke@attglobal.net

Too close to New Orleans

This note from a reader:
From: John Flanigan
Sent: Tuesday, March 04, 2003 8:44 AM
Subject: Truckin'

Mr. Dodd,
I beleive that the reference to "..too close to New Orleans.." in the song 'Truckin'' refers to the time that Jerry Garcia, or possibly the entire band got busted for possesion of pot in New Orleans. They vowed never to return, and having lived there, I don't believe they ever did. This may be an urban legend, but while I lived there that was the story that was told as to why if you wanted to see the dead in concert you would have to go to Baton Rouge.
I also think the "Soft Machine" reference is to the band, which I always thought was from Dallas, not England.
Maybe not.
Keep up the good work. How about some other artist's annotations?
Hey John--this bust is definitely not urban legend. Should've included it in my original annotations, but thanks for catching the omission!
keywords: @geography, @gambling, @autobiographical
DeadBase code: [TRUC]
First posted: May 8, 1995
Last revised: September 8, 2003