deadsongs.vue.126 : Lost Sailor
permalink #0 of 3: David Dodd (ddodd) Mon 8 Sep 03 08:43
Lost Sailor
w: Barlow m: Weir
deadsongs.vue.126 : Lost Sailor
permalink #1 of 3: Alex Allan (alexallan) Mon 8 Sep 03 21:22
Lost Sailor 
Lyrics: John Barlow
Music: Bob Weir

Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

Compass card is spinning
Helm is swingin' to and fro
Ooh where's the dog star
Ooh where's the moon
You're lost sailor
You've been too long at sea

Some days the gales are howling
Some days the sea is still as glass
Ooh reef the mainsail
Ooh lash the mast
You're lost sailor
You've been too long at sea

Now the shore-lights beckon
Yeah there's a price for being free

Yeah the sea birds cry
There's a ghost wind blowin'
It's calling you to that misty swirling sea
Till the chains of your dreams are broken
No place in this world you can be

You're lost sailor
You've been way too long at sea
Now the shore-lights beckon
Yeah there's a price for being free

Drifting yeah drifting
Yeah drifting and dreaming

'Cause there's a place you've never been
Maybe a place you've never seen
You can hear her calling on the wind
Go on and drift your life away
Yeah just drifting and dreaming
Maybe drift your life away
Drifting and dreaming
Yes I'm going on a dream
Maybe going on a dream
Maybe going on a dream
Maybe going on a dream
deadsongs.vue.126 : Lost Sailor
permalink #2 of 3: Brian Noe (noebie) Mon 29 Sep 03 07:58
another one of <barlow>'s coolest lyrics -- and kind of a companion to
"saint of circumstance"
deadsongs.vue.126 : Lost Sailor
permalink #3 of 3: David Dodd (ddodd) Mon 23 Dec 13 14:14
From the "Greatest Stories Ever Told" blog I'm writing on
this year, my entry on "Lost Sailor" / "Saint of Circumstance":

to add your comments!

“This must be heaven” pretty much sums up my life philosophy. As far
as we know, it’s all we’ve got, and you have to admit, it’s a pretty
amazing place, this planet we’re on, and these bodies we get to occupy
for whatever amount of time we have.
This pair of Bob Weir / John Barlow songs manages to get at a number
of major Grateful Dead themes and motifs within their space. Ambiguity
(“Sure don’t know…); rainbows; cats (“tiger in a trance”); weather;
gambling (‘odds against me…”); and I’m sure I’m missing something.
“Lost Sailor” and “Saint of Circumstance” were written in Mill Valley
in July 1979.
The band first performed the pair of songs on August 31, 1979, at
Glens Falls Civic Center, in Glens Falls, New York. “Lost Sailor”
debuted earlier that month, on the fourth of August, at the Oakland
Coliseum Arena, and was played four times on its own prior to August
31. “Saint” was played mostly (but not always!) in a pair with “Sailor”
until March 24, 1986, at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, after which
“Sailor” was dropped permanently from the rotation. “Saint” remained in
the rotation thereafter. Its final performance was on July 8, 1995, at
Soldier Field. “Lost Sailor” and “Saint of Circumstance” appeared on
Go To Heaven, released in April 1980.
The pairing of the two songs may have been musically motivated, but
there is at least one distinct link between them, lyrically, in that
both refer to the Dog Star (Sirius). “Sailor” asks “Where’s the Dog
Star?” and “Saint” answers “See that Dog Star shinin’.” And both songs
feature a narrator who is unsure where he may be going, but seems
willing to keep going nonetheless. Is it the same narrator / character
in the two songs? Or is in one character in the first, and another in
the second? If it’s the same character, what part of his story are we
hearing in each song? Do they follow on each other?
It seems appropriate that there are as many unanswered and
unanswerable questions contained in the lyrics as are asked or hinted
at by the narrator. “Maybe going on a dream.” “Sure don’t know what I’m
going for…”
Reason is no help—the line in “Saint,” “Holes in what’s left of my
reason” harkens back to “Playing in the Band”: “Some folks trust to
reason…” And likewise, the lines echo “Dark Star” (note the pun-like
similarity to “Dog Star”) and its lines: “Reason tatters, the forces
tear loose from the axis.”
So, forget reason. Just head off and move forward, right? (“I’m gonna
go for it for sure,” and “Go on and drift your life away.”)
In live performance, “Sailor” frequently ended with a largely
improvised Weir-style rave-up (with Garcia’s guitar lines dancing in
and out) that included some strong philosophizing about the difference
between “freedom from” and “freedom to.” I’m pretty sure this song
introduced me to that concept, and I’ve been grateful for the
distinction, which comes in handy, actually, in daily life. You can ask
yourself, in any given situation where you are aching to be free,
whether it is moving towards something, or away from something, that
you are longing for. One is a negative motivation, the other, positive.
Not to say that it’s never necessary to get free of something—that
freedom from cannot be a positive thing. One article on freedom
delineated “freedom from” as corresponding to safety or security, while
“freedom to” would be characterized as liberty.
The more I look at the two sets of lyrics, the more correspondences I
can pick out. Is it possible that Barlow originally wrote them as a
single lyric? The reference to “sirens” in “Saint” (“I can hear the
sirens call”) makes us think of Odysseus and his journey as a lost
sailor. In fact, maybe that’s a key to the song(s).
In “Sailor,” a line that never made much sense to me is “Ooh, lash the
mast.” But if we think about the Odysseus story of his encounter with
the sirens, he had his crew lash him to the mast so he would not
succumb to their call. (“You can hear her calling…”) Hmmm. Maybe…

I love the musical hooks in both songs. In particular, “Saint” has two
very strong ones—the “Holes in what’s left of my reason, holes in the
knees of my blues,” and, cheesy though it may be, “Sure don’t know what
I’m goin’ for, but I’m gonna go for it for sure.” The manner in which
both of these strong hooks emerge from the drifty “rain fallin’ down…”
jammy sections only adds to their punch. “Drifting and dreaming,”
So if you’re on a journey (and who isn’t?), and you find yourself
adrift, or pursuing the call of the sirens, and the compass card is
spinning around, well, the weather will change eventually. And if
you’re still walking, then, hey! You’re sure that you can still dance.

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