"the singing man is at his song, the holy on their knees..."

The Annotated "Days Between"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd
Research Associate, Music Dept., Univ. of California at Santa Cruz
Copyright notice; © 1995,1997 David Dodd
"Days Between"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

Steve Silberman essay on the song.
A note on the song's structure.

There were days
and there were days
and there were days between
Summer flies and August dies
the world grows dark and mean
Comes the shimmer of the moon
on black infested trees
the singing man is at his song
the holy on their knees
the reckless are out wrecking
the timid plead their pleas
No one knows much more of this
than anyone can see anyone can see

There were days
and there were days
and there were days besides
when phantom ships with phantom sails
set to sea on phantom tides
Comes the lightning of the sun
on bright unfocused eyes
the blue of yet another day
a springtime wet with sighs
a hopeful candle lingers
in the land of lullabies
where headless horsemen vanish
with wild and lonely cries lonely cries

There were days
and there were days
and there were days I know
when all we ever wanted
was to learn and love and grow
Once we grew into our shoes
we told them where to go
walked halfway around the world
on promise of the glow
stood upon a mountain top
walked barefoot in the snow
gave the best we had to give
how much we'll never know we'll never know

There were days
and there were days
and there were days between
polished like a golden bowl
the finest ever seen
Hearts of Summer held in trust
still tender, young and green
left on shelves collecting dust
not knowing what they mean
valentines of flesh and blood
as soft as velveteen
hoping love would not forsake
the days that lie between lie between

"Days Between"

Recorded on So Many Roads: 1965-1995

First performance: February 22, 1993, at the Coliseum Arena, Oakland, California. "Days Between" appeared in the second set folling Drumz and preceding "Throwing Stones." It appeared regularly thereafter, always in the second set.

Prospero, the Rose, and the Worm:
On "Days Between"

by Steve Silberman
Copyright Steve Silberman. Used by permission. [Blair Jackson asked me for a few observations about "Days Between" for his Garcia biography-in-process. There's much more to say about this beautiful song, but I say too much here already. - Steve Silberman]

"Days Between" joined the Grateful Dead oeuvre right at the time-- 1993--when old-time Deadheads were asking themselves if Garcia and Hunter were still capable of creating art that had a primordial, frightening intensity: the beauty at the edge of terror that Rilke described.

As the other songs written roughly in the same period seemed to mine well-worn images and attitudes--almost reveling in their seasoned facility to create One More Time an archetypal mood, like "Lazy River Road" - "Days Between" slipped between your clothes and your skin like a chill wind out of a grave.

It had none of the arrogant retreat to a juvenile mode of pranksterish defiance that "Liberty" had; it turned the Rockwellian nostalgia of "Lazy River Road" inward on itself, almost against itself, in an inquiry into the tenability of idealism and sentimentality in a universe where, as another song has it, "You always hurt the one you love."

The most uncompromisingly adult lyric Hunter ever wrote, the verses present a panorama or mandala of existence in which each thing is in its place, but no place is completely safe. Hunter does his all to resist the tidal pull of sentimentality, seeing, as Blake did, that even the rose at the heart of the world has a devouring worm at its heart--the "black infested trees" on which moonlight shimmers exquisitely.

The world is presented with unrelenting exactitude, a world where both the sighs of young passion in springtime and the lonely horseman, leaving only his torn song in the world as he vanishes (as the singer himself was about to vanish), co-exist, inform one another, together creating a universe of joy and horror side-by-side. Only children would have it any other way, but in the Deadhead milieu where blithe rip-offs could excuse their own shadows with a funky "It's All Good," it was an important statment, at a time when the groupmind knew something was off-kilter, decaying, galloping away from the original joy-spring, but no one could quite put their finger on it.

In their last perfect marriage of form and insight, Garcia gave Hunter's meditation a setting that recollected "Dark Star" in its uncanny, irreducible simplicity. Garcia's little figure opens like a door... and who walks out? Prospero, the aged mage of "The Tempest," who drowned his power-book as Shakespeare himself surrendered the magic-making that had been his art.

Even the tormented tone Garcia was playing with at that time--the slurring headless-horseman's cry that sounded so jarringly out of place in a celebration of precision like "China Cat Sunflower"--was at home in "Days Between," as Weir strummed phantasmal chords behind him that flickered into clarity like moon-faces resolving in water.

"Days Between" was the final battlefield where the Dead dared to face the elementary questions of existence, and refused to flinch. It has the same fated, tragic majesty that bears witness to the life force in all truly great art.

A brief, speculative note on the song's structure

Hunter has laid out the lyric in an interesting manner, comprising four verses of fourteen lines each. While fourteen lines is the traditional length of the sonnet form, Hunter's lines are much shorter than strict sonnet form would allow, but this may nevertheless be an homage to the form. More significant than the number of lines in each verse is the quite subtle reference to one season of the year in each verse, in the manner of a poet using the seasons as a metaphor for the cycles of life. The first verse is autumn, the second spring, the third winter, and the fourth summer. So it's a nonlinear year.

Headless horsemen

A reference to Washington Irving's tale, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

walked barefoot in the snow

This note from a reader:
Subject: "days between"
Date: Tue, 3 Dec 1996 02:57:11 -0500
From: Wiccello@aol.com

first of all I really like your page of annotated Dead songs !! There are a lot of words and phrases I never fully understood until now, well done!! I've been a long time fan of the Dead and one thing I've noticed is Jerry sometimes changes Hunter's lyrics in concert. I don't know if he dose it on purpose or just forgets . I heard them play "Days Between" several times, it was a break from there usual stuff and I liked it. Of the shows I saw and and the tapes I have of those shows , it sounds to me like '......stood upon a mountian top, walked barefoot thru the STARS....." (not snow). I personally like stars because it reminds me of the LSD days. Keep up the good work


DeadBase code: [DAYS]
First posted: January 11, 1996
Last revised: December 29, 1999