"Reaching for the gold ring down inside"

The Annotated "Crazy Fingers"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
1997-1998 Research Associate, Music Dept., University of California Santa Cruz
See Jurgen Fauth's essay for some insight into the song.
"Crazy Fingers"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission

Your rain falls like crazy fingers
Peals of fragile thunder keeping time

Recall the days that still are to come
Some sing blue

Hang your heart on laughing willow
Stray down to the water
Deep Sea of Love

Beneath the sweet calm face of the sea
Swift undertow

Life may be sweeter for this, I don't know
See how it feels in the end
May Lady Lullaby sing plainly for you
Soft, strong, sweet and true

Cloud hands reaching from a rainbow
Tapping at the window touch your hair

So swift and bright
Strange figures of light
Float in air

Who can stop what must arrive now?
Something new is waiting to be born

Dark as the night
You're still by my side
Shining side

Gone are the days we stopped to decide
Where we should go
We just ride

Gone are the broken eyes we saw through in dreams
Gone - both dream and lie

Life may be sweeter for this I don't know
Feels like it might be alright
While Lady Lullaby sings plainly for you
Love still rings true

Midnight on a carousel ride
Reaching for the gold ring down inside

Never could reach
It just slips away but I try

"Crazy Fingers"

Recorded on

First live performance June 17, 1975 at Winterland, as show opener! This show also featured the first "Franklin's Tower" and "Help on the Way". The song has been in and out of the live repertoire ever since.

Crazy Fingers

Two references here so far:

This note from a reader:

Subject: Crazy Fingers
Date: Mon, 17 Feb 1997 17:37:02 -0600
From: Jim Chrzan

Brand new surfer and your great page was my first stop! Regarding Crazy Fingers...if you are interested...as a musician this song includes quite a vast array of chords and key changes--majors to minors, suspended fourths, naturals to flats, etc.

Unlike a Fire on the Mountain where Jerry could jam in his sleep, a Crazy Fingers jam would require him to keep on his toes mentally and indeed physically possess "Crazy Fingers." Perhaps while Jerry was coming up with the incredibly complex chord progression, this ran through his mind.

Keeping it alive in Chicago

Hang your heart on laughing willow

Most obviously, a reference to the old song, "There is a Tavern in the Town," words and music anonymous, circa 1883:
"Fare-thee-well, for I must leave thee,
Do not let the parting grieve thee,
And remember that the best of friends must part, must part.
Adieu, adiu, kind friends, adieu, adieu, adieu,
I can no longer stay with you, stay with you,
I'll hang my harp on a weeping willow tree,
And may the world go well with thee."

Another resonance is to be found in the Bible, Psalm 137:

"We hanged our harps upon the willows..."
from the famous psalm "By the Waters of Babylon."

Who can stop what must arrive now?

This note from a reader:
From: Andrew Murawa [mailto:amura@firstent.org]
Sent: Monday, April 29, 2002 5:16 PM
Subject: Crazy Fingers - Annotation

Hey David,

Love the annotated lyrics page you put together. Thanks for many a great read, and for all the hard work you've put in. I'm not sure if this is the email address appropriate for this comment, but I noticed the other night in listening to Crazy Fingers a line that reminded me of Yeats' The Second Coming, specifically the final two lines: And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born? I was reminded of these lines of course by the couplet in the song:

Who can stop what must arrive now?
Something new is waiting to be born
Of course, the only real resemblance is the "to be born" phrase, but for some reason it seems to fit, at least in my current mindset. Anyway, just a thought, for what its worth.

Thanks again,
Andrew Murawa

Reaching for the gold ring...

To "reach for the brass ring," has been absorbed into idiomatic English.
"brass ring, Informal. 1. wealth, success, or a prestigious position considered as a goal or prize: Few of those who reach for the brass ring of the Presidency achieve it. 2. the opportunity to try for such a prize. [from the practice of picking a ring from a box while riding a merry-go-round: whoever selected a brass ring received a free ride.]" --The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 2nd ed.

And this note from a reader:

Date: Fri, 20 Oct 95 10:55:20 -0700
From: Barbara Saunders
Subject: reaching for the gold ring

I didn't see this in your analysis, but I always associated the "gold ring down inside" as an allusion to Carl Jung's assertion that the ring (and the circle) symbolize perfection of the self, wholeness, completion.


And another reader writes:

Date: Sat, 28 Dec 1996 08:45:15 -0500 (EST)
From: aloha keylor

My name is Jeff Lifson

just came across your annotated grateful dead lyrics... great stuff, nicely done....please keep it up... I am an appreciative longtime deadhead from the Bay Area, now living in near DC...

RE: Crazy Fingers

"midnight on a carousel ride,
reaching for the gold ring down inside

never could reach it
it just slips away but I try"

An alternative take is a spiritual twist on a literal interpretation. On some older carousels, (including if I remember correctly--it has been a while--the one in Golden Gate Park) tangent to the edge, there would be a stand with a brass ring, that the rider could try to reach for and grab as they went by, to win a prize...it wasn't easy, you had to really stretch and reach, and there was only an instant as you went by where the angle and opportunity were right...

Perhaps the lyric takes off from that literal image, using it as a metaphor applied to the effort to strive for enlightenment and spiritual growth...particularly when things are difficult (in the midnight of the soul)... capturing the image of struggling to do one's best to make the most of a difficult and fleeting chance to grasp a prize, that instead of being just outside the circumference of the moving carousel, is deep inside....

...or at least that is what I always thought it meant...


Thanks again...

keywords: @rain, @rainbow, @music, @lullaby, @haiku
DeadBase code: [CRAZ]
First posted: March 10, 1995
Last revised: June 14, 2002