Overnight a winter storm dumped some snow in the Northeast. Some high accumulation up around Boston, only about six inches here near Long Island Sound. New Haven tends to luck out with winter storms, I’ve noticed. Anyway, there was steady snow falling most of the evening and night hours yesterday, which inspired my choice of today’s song.
The song, “Rain and Snow,” is an English folk song from the Appalachians. It’s got that down-home feel, alright, which is what the Grateful Dead were good at getting, in their heyday. I first saw them live in 1977 and the last time in 1987, when they backed Dylan. They were known as a great live band throughout their existence and it’s true that to get any sense of what they were all about, you had to be there. Recordings don’t quite do it, somehow. I’d had enough of the band, actually, by the mid-80s, but that probably has something to do with the Eighties, in general.
I did hear them play this song—designated “Cold, Rain and Snow”—at least once: in May, 1981, at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, but I tend to associate it with their show I saw there in January, 1979, because it snowed heavily for the ride home. I must’ve put on the live version on Steal Your Face when I got back to my friends’ place.That evening sticks in my memory for reasons having to do with a fraying love affair, and it may have been, in some ways, the start of warm thoughts about the woman who would become my wife. She was married to her first husband at the time, and she and he were good hosts for two teens up against it. I mean, the girl who went with me to the show no longer considered herself my girlfriend, but I was still hoping. Rather painful for all concerned, which is no doubt why I still remember it.
“I married me a wife / She’s been trouble all my life / Run me out in the cold, rain and snow.” That’s really all you need to know. The song is a wandering excursus on that basic riff. Each time Jerry Garcia, singing, comes back to “cold, rain and snow, rain and snow,” the message gets engraved deeper and deeper. This song is about elemental coldness, yes, but it’s also about the feeling perhaps best summed-up by Will Geer as “Bearclaw” Cris Lapp in Jeremiah Johnson (which I played on the DVD player while drifting dreamward this morning): “a woman's breast is the hardest rock that the Almighty ever made on this earth, and I can find no sign on it.” Sure, Bearclaw is in the Rockies and this is the Appalachians, but, y’know, mutatis mutandis. Lyrically, it’s all understatement, as only a man of few words can muster: “She went up to her room / Where she sang her faithful tune / I’m goin’ where those chilly winds don’t blow.”*
|Will Geer as Bearclaw Cris Lapp|
The evocation of cold, rain and snow, and chilly winds, is enough to make this song appropriate for today (12 degrees, feels like -1). The YouTube video finds the Grateful Dead playing the song as an encore at Radio City in NYC in 1980, close enough to the time I saw them do the song—personally, I feel that the version I have on a download of the show I saw (5/4/81) is better. In fact, it’s my definitive version of this song because Garcia catches fire, vocally, at the end. Not something that happens all that often. It was kind of a prickly concert anyway, opening with “Don’t Ease Me In.” Maybe it suited my mood. I was a new father—of a two-month old—and certain realities were closing in, possibly. In any case, nothing would ever be the same again, not even blissful bouncing along to the Grateful Dead.
|Jerry Garcia, c. 1980|
*It should be noted that the song the Dead adapt includes the lines: "She came into my room / Where she met her final doom / And I ain't gonna to be treated this old way." At least Jerry just goes off grumbling instead of killing the bitch.