"It is no surprise that the Bozos are annoyed..."

Dave Blackburn on "Saint Stephen"

(A contribution to the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics)
* Dave Blackburn  dblackbu@alleg.edu  Chem Dept, Allegheny College *
* Chemistry, Macs, Hypercard, cats,  <>< religion, & the Dead      *
* (Anyone else who held these opinions would be as crazy as I am.) *
*   "Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own"   *
*    Save a virtual tree - Don't waste bandwidth - RECYCLE it!     *

In article <2q9h1n$qvq@cmcl2.NYU.EDU> nar6149@ACFcluster.NYU.EDU writes:
>I was talking to a friend of mine who claims to know the Stephen that
>the song was written about.Apparently he ran a commune in Tennessee, and
>was a kind, gentle, wise man. Is this the guy? Anyone have any details?

Nah, that was Tennessee Jed.

The St. Stephen in question is THE St. Stephen, which you would know if you were Catholic.

To start with, look up the original reference to Saint Stephen. In the New Testament book "Acts of the Apostles", the story of Stephen is told. (Acts 6:8-7:60) Stephen is described as a good man, "full of God's grace and power", and a miracle worker. He was framed by theological/political opponents, gave a vigorous and persuasive defense at his trial, but since he was being tried by the same authorities that framed him he didn't stand much of a chance. His defense enraged the authorities, who sentenced him to death by stoning. Stephen was the first Apostle to die as a martyr.

Robert Hunter is a master of symbolic imagery, and one of his favorite images is the Rose. It's a complex and delicate flower, but one whose cruel thorns will show no mercy to the clumsy or incautious. Hunter often uses the rose as a symbol of the perfection of mystery, something to be sought, however vainly, for in the seeking is Life.

"St. Stephen, with a Rose", has transcended the mana of this world and achieved that for which we seek. "In and out of the garden he goes" refers probably to the Garden of Eden, from which the legend says fallen humanity was expelled, never to return. But Stephen, whose wisdom and gentleness were indeed saintly, may now pass freely in and out. Perhaps "with a rose" also indicates a pass-key of sorts: only after attaining the state of grace symbolized by the unattainable Rose can we return to the Garden (cf. CSNY's line in the song Woodstock, "And we've got to get back to the Garden". That ain't Madison Square they are talking about!)

The Garden is referred to as a country garden, exposed to the wind and the rain, because part of the Satori-seeking is to be at one with Nature. This is of course impossible in the city, isolated and insulated. Adam and Eve were in the Garden naked, with no need of shelter. So also is the Enlightened One in no need of clothing, except to protect those unenlightened ones with whom he deals. (In fact even his flesh is somewhat transparent, hence the portrait on the Skull & Roses album is well-known to be Stephen.)

Because the vast majority of people have not achieved that state of Grace symbolized (in Hunter's iconography) by the Rose or (in the Bible) by being "full of God's grace and power", it is no surprise that the Bozos (the rest of us) are annoyed. There is nothing so humbling, or humiliating, as to have one's own faults sharply highlighted by the perfection (in humility, not arrogance) of another. It is to be expected, then, that "Wherever he goes the people all complain."

Many people, both now and in ancient times, held the heresy that worldly wealth is a sign of Divine favor. Despite the fact that prophets and holy men have traditionally been poor or even hermits, riches and goodness are too often confused. Thus one may well ask, out of Bozo ignorance, if the pre-martyrdom Stephen was a rich man. This query is asked and answered in the next few lines:

"Stephen prospered in his time, well he may and he may decline. Did it matter, does it now? Stephen would answer if he only knew how."
With the implied parenthetical question mark after "time", there is no doubt that Hunter is of the opinion it is totally irrelevant. Not only that, but St. Stephen's level of consciousness is such that the answer itself is impossible for him to generate.

The next couple of lines, though, bring out a clear denunciation of the pursuit of worldly goods.

"Wishing well with a golden bell, bucket hanging clear to hell, Hell halfway twixt now and then, Stephen fill it up and lower down and lower down again."
Wishing for gold is not only irrelevant to Enlightenment, it is a distraction that leads only to the timeless regions of Hell, where the endless torment of "what might have been" is summarized by the second line of this triad. Stephen, though, rather than using the well in the traditional way wells are used (by telnet to well.sf.ca... Oh, wrong WELL) by lowering the bucket, filling it, then lifting it back up to drink, does the opposite. He fills the bucket (from his overflowing Waters of Life, no doubt), then lowers it down in hopes that those poor denizens of the deep might taste of the Rose.

Well, I could go on and on about this. But you've already hit "n", unless you're reading the Digest, and I have work to do this afternoon. I'll leave the rest of the exegesis (or deconstruction, if that's your bent) up to you as an extra-credit term paper.

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