Still Crazy After All These Years

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For some time now I have treated the nomination game simply as a weekly ritual in which I try to identify a Grateful Dead song (or two) to fit the theme. Whether or not the guru takes the bait is neither here nor there.

This last week’s theme of crisis, however, made the (first) song I picked burrow its way under my skin as I – not unusually – found it on repeat in my head over the past few days. I love the oddity of Bob Weir’s music but I didn’t consider Throwing Stones one of his most intriguing creations, apart from the Ring-a-ring o’ roses refrain. John Perry Barlow’s lyrics have long impressed, though, and it was this aspect of the song that made me want to update my nomination into a mini-essay of justification. I didn’t, and ParaMhor didn’t pick it. So it goes.

What really hit me on reconsidering the song was how the issues it touches on – written about in 1982 – are still significant components of the World’s crises almost 40 years later.

  • Environment

The concern at the time was exploitation of the Amazon rainforest. Not only has that happened, the new Brazilian regime is planning to make it worse. Added to all the other ways humans are destroying the air, water and land, this opening description of our planet looks prescient.

A peaceful place, or so it looks from space
A closer look reveals the human race
Full of hope, full of grace, is the human face
But afraid we may lay our home to waste

 

  • Corruption

Money and power corrupt. Oil- and mineral-rich countries almost invariably have very rich rulers, very poor citizens, very weak legal systems… and strong state security. We all know the answer to the question in these lines:

Commissars and pinstripe bosses roll the dice
Anyway they fall, guess who gets to pay the price?
Money green, or proletarian gray
Selling guns instead of food today

 

  • The War On Drugs

Written as the Reagan administration was providing weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras by smuggling their cocaine into the USA, the shameful, hypocritical, deadly ‘war on drugs’ continues and shows little sign of being resolved.

Shipping powders back and forth
Singing black goes south and white comes north

 

  • Inequality and Separation

Given the recent news that 26 individuals own as much wealth as 50% of the World’s poorest people, the gap between the haves and have-nots seems only to have got worse, as has the gap of understanding and empathy between nations and tribes. The line about current fashions also seems particularly prescient of our Instachat times….

And the whole world full of petty wars
Singing I got mine and you got yours
While the current fashions set the pace
Lose your step, fall out of grace
The radical, he rant and rage
Singing someone got to turn the page
And the rich man in his summer home
Singing just leave well enough alone

 

  • Political stupidity

There used to be people who were described as statesmen: politicians who considered a wider picture, who put others’ problems above their own agendas, who could sublimate their egos to a more valuable cause. No more; now they just hurl lies and accusations at each other, intent only on burnishing their own images. No wonder the kids are watching cat videos and flossing.

And the politicians throwing stones
So the kids, they dance, they shake their bones
‘Cause it’s all too clear we’re on our own
Singing ashes, ashes, all fall down

 

Weir and Barlow’s re-purposing of the children’s rhyme, with its (unwarranted but still powerful) association with the Plague, ties everything together perfectly. Atishoo to ashes is a stroke of genius: what a song!

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