"Eight-sided whispering hallelujah hatrack"

The Annotated "The Eleven"

An installment in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.
By David Dodd

Copyright notice
"The Eleven"
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Phil Lesh
Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

No more time to tell how
This is the season of what
Now is the time of returning
With thought jewels polished and gleaming

Now is the time past believing
The child has relinquished the reign
Now is the test of the boomerang
Tossed in the night of redeeming

Eight sided whispering hallelujah hatrack
Seven faced marble eye transitory dream doll
six proud walkers on jinglebell rainbow
Five men writing in fingers of gold
Four men tracking down the great white sperm whale
Three girls wait in a foreign dominion
Ride in the whale belly
Fade away in moonlight
Sink beneath the waters
to the coral sand below
Now is the time of returning

"The Eleven"

Recorded on Live Dead, as part of a four-part jam which includes "Dark Star," "Saint Stephen," "The Eleven," and "Lovelight." Also on Two From the Vault. According to Ihor Slabicky's discography, "The Eleven" was recorded for AOXOMOXOA, but not included on the album, where it would have followed "Saint Stephen."

Covered by Solar Circus on Juggling Suns.

After steady inclusion in the live repertoire from 1968 to 1970, "The Eleven" was dropped, to be revived once, at a concert in Golden Gate Park, on September 28, 1975.

The piece is famous among Deadheads as a vehicle for furious jamming in an odd meter, 11 beats to the bar, presenting a unity of title and musical content, though not particularly of lyric content, since Hunter's countdown begins with not eleven, but eight.

Counting songs are a long-standing tradition. Everyone knows "The Twelve Days of Christmas." But how about "Children, Go Where I Send Thee"?

And of course, counting-rhymes are a major part of the heritage of nursery rhymes carried on by Hunter and Barlow both. One of the best known is "A Gaping Wide-Mouthed Waddling Frog" (a cumulative verse, ending up with the following):

"Twelve huntsmen with horn and hounds,
Hunting over other men's ground;
Eleven ships sailing o'er the main,
Some bound for France and some for Spain;
Ten comets in the sky,
Some low and some high;
Nine peacocks in the air,
I wonder how they all came there,
I don't know, nor I don't care; [see "Ripple"]
Eight joiners in joiner's hall,
Working with their tools and all;
Seven lobsters in a dish,
As fresh as any heart could wish;
Six beetles against a wall,
Close by an old woman's apple-stall;
Five puppies by our dog Ball,
Who daily for their breakfast call;
Four horses stuck in a bog,
Three monkeys tied to a clog,
Two pudding ends would choke a dog,
With a gaping wide-mouthed waddling frog."

The counting portion of "The Eleven" was originally included by Hunter as part of "China Cat Sunflower". (See Conversations with the Dead, by David Gans, p. 24-25)

This note from a reader:

Subject: AGDL: The Eleven
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 96 12:00:27 EDT
From: Jon Baker

You note that the odd meter is "presenting a unity of title and musical content, though not particularly of lyrical content."

Might I suggest another allusion in the 11-beat meter? The most popular (only?) classical piece I can think of with an 11-beat measure is the Promenade theme from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." Perhaps the lyrics' floating from one image to another alludes to this wandering from one picture to another.

Jonathan Baker

And another note from a reader:

From: Mitchell, Matthew [mailto:MMitchell@ECRI.org]
Sent: Wednesday, May 07, 2003 8:21 AM
Subject: The Eleven

A rather obvious reference to the Eleven came to mind Sunday. If you read the Acts of the Apostles, you'll see "the Eleven" referred to frequently: they are of course the apostles who remained after Judas fled and Christ was crucified and rose from the dead. (Mathias was added to their number later)
The Eleven were the founders of the Christian church, and the Holy Spirit came over them at Pentecost (Acts 2). They began speaking in many different tongues, but everyone present understood the message in his or her own tongue. This can be seen as an undoing of the curse of Babel (Genesis 11), where God confused the languages and divided the people. See http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=babel+pentecost

This all seems quite familiar to those of us who listen to the GD. They came from different musical traditions, listened to and played with an even greater diversity of musicians, and turned it all into a musical whole that speaks in different ways to different people. Everyone understands the Dead in their own tongue.

Matt Mitchell

Six proud walkers

See Green Grow the Rushes, Ho!", for the line: "Six for the six proud walkers."

A reader, Joe Zomerfeld, notes that this phrase parallels the line in "China Cat Sunflower":

"Proud-walking jingle in the midnight sun"

great white sperm whale

An allusion to that greatest of all symbols in American Literature, Moby-Dick. Benet has this to say:
"The whale, a symbol too complex for any one definition, but perhaps representing knowledge of reality, is hunted by Ahab at the cost of his own dehumanization and the sacrifice of his crew."

ride in the whale belly

Neatly tying the already mentioned symbol of the great white whale to the story of Jonah in the Bible. Chapter 2 of the Book of Jonah "sees Jonah saved from drowning by a 'great fish' and praying to God from its belly. God responds and the fish vomits him out." (The Anchor Bible Dictionary.)
keywords: @numbers
DeadBase code: [ELEV]
First posted: March 17, 1995
Last revised: May 8, 2003