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He's Gone

Grateful Dead's "He's Gone" is a timeless classic, a song that has been beloved by fans of the band since it was first performed live on October 19, 1971, at the Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Just a few months before the band debuted the song to the world through their 1972 Summer European Tour. The song was performed 608 times until it's last performance taking place on July 2, 1995, at the Deer Creek Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana. Although the band never recorded the song for an album, it's official release is their live Performance of the song in Amsterdam in 1972. its catchy melody and poignant lyrics tells a story of loss, grief, and redemption that still resonate with audiences to this day.



The song begins with the lines "Rat in a drain ditch, caught on a limb / You know better but I know him". These lines set the stage for the rest of the song, suggesting that the person who has passed away was not necessarily a good person, but was still loved by those who knew him.

As the song continues, the lyrics delve deeper into the emotions of grief and loss. Lines like "Like I told you, what I said / Steal your face right off your head" capture the confusion and disorientation that can come with the death of a loved one. The image of "stealing your face" suggests that the speaker is struggling to recognize themselves or their world in the wake of the loss.


But despite the sadness and pain of the lyrics, "He's Gone" is ultimately a hopeful song. The chorus, with its refrain of "Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile", suggests that even in the face of tragedy, there is still joy to be found in life. The repetition of the word "smile" reinforces this message, encouraging listeners to focus on the positive aspects of their lives rather than dwelling on their pain.


One theory that may have inspired the lyrics to "He's Gone" was a lawsuit that took place between the band and drummer Mickey Hart's Father.


In April 1969, the Grateful Dead found themselves in financial turmoil, as they often did. They had dismissed Bill Graham as their manager earlier that year, and were racking up expenses with endless studio sessions. It was then that Mickey recommended his father, Lenny Hart, as a manager to help them get out of debt. Despite initial distrust from those around the band, the members were enthusiastic about Lenny, and he quickly took control of their finances.


However, suspicions began to arise after a year had passed, and the band discovered that Lenny had been stealing checks, keeping fake books, and hiding their money in his own accounts. He fled to Mexico with the money, leaving the band broke. The Grateful Dead decided not to pursue him, but Lenny was eventually found in San Diego in August 1971, pretending to be a minister, and was arrested.


The Grateful Dead sued Lenny, and he was put on trial for embezzling from the band. He eventually repaid some of the money and was sentenced to six months in jail in March 1972. That same month, the trial inspired Robert Hunter to start writing a song about Lenny, which warned others about him. "He's Gone" possibly referring to his flee to Mexico, rather than a death. However, the song ended up becoming an anthem for Pigpen after he died, and its meaning shifted over time. The song continued to evolve, with its lyrics becoming more ambiguous and open to interpretation. Ultimately, the Grateful Dead did not create the meaning of the song, and it became something that listeners could personalize and connect with on their own.


Musically, "He's Gone" is a classic Grateful Dead song, with its blend of folk, rock, and psychedelic influences. The song's instrumentation is relatively simple, with a catchy guitar riff and a driving rhythm section providing the backbone for the melody. But it is the vocal harmonies that really make the song shine, with Garcia and the rest of the band weaving their voices together in a way that is both haunting and beautiful.


"He's Gone" has become a beloved classic not just because of its catchy melody or its poetic lyrics, but because of the emotional journey it takes listeners on. It captures the full range of human emotions, from sadness and grief to hope and joy, and it reminds us that even in the darkest of times, there is always a reason to smile.

 

He's Gone By Grateful Dead

Rat in a drain ditch, caught on a limb, you know better but I know him

Like I told you, what I said, steal your face right off your head

Now he's gone, now he's gone, Lord he's gone, he's gone


Like a steam locomotive, rollin' down the track

He's gone, he's gone and nothin's gonna bring him back, he's gone

Nine mile skid on a ten mile ride, hot as a pistol but cool inside


Cat on a tin roof, dogs in a pile

Nothin' left to do but smile, smile, smile

Now he's gone, now he's gone, Lord he's gone, he's gone


Like a steam locomotive, rollin' down the track

He's gone, he's gone and nothin's gonna bring him back, he's gone


Goin' where the wind don't blow so strange

Maybe off on some high cold mountain chain

Lost one round but the price wasn't anything

A knife in the back and more of the same


Same old, rat in a drain ditch, caught on a limb

You know better but I know him

Like I told you, what I said

Steal your face right off your head


He's gone, now he's gone, Lord he's gone, he's gone

Like a steam locomotive, rollin' down the track

He's gone, he's gone and nothin's gonna bring him back, he's gone

Like a steam locomotive, rollin' down the track

He's gone, he's gone and nothin's gonna bring him back, he's gone


Ooh, nothin's gonna bring him back

Ooh, nothin's gonna bring him back

Ooh, nothin's gonna bring him back

Ooh, nothin's gonna bring him back

Ooh, nothin's gonna bring him back

Ooh, nothin's gonna bring him back

Ooh, nothin's gonna bring him back

Ooh, nothin's gonna bring him back (he's gone for good)

Ooh, nothin's gonna bring him back

Ooh, nothin's gonna bring him back


 

Notable Live Versions:


"Official Release"


Very Playful Bridge "oooooo Nothings gonna bring him back" Lot of space.. 10/06/1973



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