deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #51 of 80: Bryan Miller (bamfinney1) Fri 20 Apr 07 15:54
    
Now, whether or not Abel really withheld that info from Cain, or
whether Cain simply rejected or ignored it, we don't know. I'd like to
think that Abel was a good witness before he died. For Cain to be
murderous, is an indication of a deeper issue. He would not have gone
into exile if he didn't actually kill Abel. Perhaps he should have sat
beneath his fig tree and prayed.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #52 of 80: Marked from the Day That I was Born (ssol) Sat 21 Apr 07 07:46
    
Nice analysis of MHSUT, but we'll never know if it's right. As
mentioned, RH is a Wizard of Ambiquity and those that love his work are
often permitted and required to paint them with our own meanings.
Still, you've illuminated it well with your vision.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #53 of 80: Bryan Miller (bamfinney1) Sat 21 Apr 07 19:35
    
Yeah, I kinda took the story beyond the lyrics a little. These lyrics
seem to tell of living folks, or at least they are living lyrics, ideas
having lives of their own (like Jerry's guitar notes as he once said).
I always wonder what happens to these characters after the song leaves
them. I especially wonder that about Jack Straw. What the heck does he
do now that his friend and traveling companion was hung and laid in a
shallow grave? He probably went to some small town in Mexico to hide
out for a while. 
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #54 of 80: Marked from the Day That I was Born (ssol) Sun 22 Apr 07 08:51
    
Well, allowing the listener to wander around his or her own world to
find their own meaning in the words is sort'a Hunter's MO. I figure
that's a good part of why the songs are so precious to us.

I like the notion of continuing the story of his characters after the
song fades or swirls into another. I often have to stop myself in my
own lyric writing from copping to blatantly from him and his themes and
characters. another Hunter, Thompson, poses the same problem for me in
my prose.

But it's funny that you mention Jack Straw. It's one of the few lyrics
that I've  heard him speak explicitly about in terms of setting. He
once remarked that what he had in mind was two Depression era down n'
outers hitchin' a ride on train, having some unspecified falling out.
After Straw kills his buddy, he takes what little money the poor fellow
had. I remember being kind'a shocked that he would reveal so much of
what he was thinking as he wrote.

But back to the original point you made, most people see some sort of
cowboy movie in the song. I used to and sometimes still do. But,
mainly, today it is linked to a tragic, desperate moments in my life
and those of my departed best friend, and young Lisa who died at the
hands of a drifter in Vermont. The lyric is open enough to be made our
own. Hunter has a certain knack for that.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #55 of 80: Bryan Miller (bamfinney1) Sun 22 Apr 07 13:35
    
I'm sorry to hear about those tragedies in your life, expecially Lisa.
It's a solid thing that the Dead gives us these songs and lyrics to
help deal. It is quite amazing, really. A certain song can speak to you
in ways that it seem to heal (and many other things beside), or at
least give hope of healing. The sympathy I find in Jerry's voice, the
commonality I find in Hunter's lyrics really is medicine. Lots of
Bobby/Barlow songs do that too. For me, Black Throated Wind is such a
song. It speaks to me about my marriage. And the song ends with me
going back home to the one I truly love (of course I never really left,
but you know what I mean).

There was quite a round of discussion concerning Jack Straw a while
ago about whether or not Jack killed his buddy or whether the fuzz
finally caught up with 'em and hung Shannon, Jack somehow escaping the
same fate. "Jack Straw from Whicita cut his buddy down." Does "cut"
mean kill or cut down from a hangman's noose was the pivotal point in
the discussion.

However, MHSUT has been very precious to me of late. Many of us feel
"marked" from birth (whether our literal birth or our metaphoric
"birth"), a certain feeling of destiny, direction, unavoidable notions.
And to know we're half-steppin' down a well worn trail is certainly
comforting to say the least!

I've noticed two different drum beats on it too. One double time, and
one half time, or however you might say it. I'm always partial to the
slower of the two. It lets me ease into it better, the beat is more
spread out, easier to weave in and out of.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #56 of 80: Marked from the Day That I was Born (ssol) Wed 25 Apr 07 15:13
    
Very nice thoughts.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #57 of 80: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Thu 10 May 07 07:46
    
Just to lower the tone of this discussion, Half-Step is a nickname I
have encountered in Bermuda, where just about every male seems to have
one. It refers to the gait adopted when making a quick exit with the
trousers around the ankles.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #58 of 80: Bryan Miller (bamfinney1) Thu 10 May 07 08:04
    
Oh, boy! Old Cain caught with his pants down. Now that is something!
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #59 of 80: David Dodd (ddodd) Tue 15 May 07 17:05
    
That is fabulous! Geez, when will I ever get to update the annotated
lyrics book? This would be a definite entry...
Meanwhile, Robin, with your permission, I'd like to include your note
in the annotations on the website--ok by you?
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #60 of 80: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Mon 21 May 07 07:52
    
Sure thing David. Goes for anything I post.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #61 of 80: David Dodd (ddodd) Mon 21 May 07 19:32
    
Thanks!
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #62 of 80: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Tue 2 Oct 07 06:34
    
In respect to the ship coming in, a passage on illicit trades
conducted by Bermudians (typically a white captain commanding a crew
including black slaves) in the early eighteenth century from Packwood's
seminal treatise on slavery in Bermuda:

"Often, they lured unsuspecting vessels to their graves on these
remote islands; then stripped the disabled ships of everything they
could carry away - cargo, rigging, sails, loose planks, etc. These
items were easily disposed of at Curacao, St Eustatius, St Thomas and
the French Islands. If the price was right, the Bermudian sloop itself,
might be sold. Intercourse, with known pirates, constituted the chief
illicit trade."

Cyril Outerbridge Packwood, "Chained to the Rock", Eliseo Torres &
Sons NY / Baxter's Ltd Hamilton, Bermuda, 1975, p. 47

So maybe the verse refers to false lights, deliberate wrecking and
pillage? "When your ship comes in" may not be a virtuous circumstance
at all.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #63 of 80: Marked from the Day That I was Born (ssol) Tue 2 Oct 07 10:53
    
Oh, the irony and ambiguity double-play again! Nice.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #64 of 80: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Wed 3 Oct 07 06:26
    
Oops, make that "Chained on the Rock" in post 62 above.

I am starting to get a handle on this song after about three years of
trying to play it. It has always been one of my favourites, and I am
getting a better understanding of why: the ragtime meets rock 'n' roll
of the music and the just out of reach implications of the lyric. Great
improvising potential. Plus one of the greatest opening lines, of
course.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #65 of 80: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Mon 1 Mar 10 05:39
    
I have been thinking about Half Step some more. The "farewell to you
old southern skies" brings to mind the exodus from the south of the
United States, particularly the Mississippi basin, as farming became
mechanised. Inevitably the journey was north, especially towards the
great industrial centres of Chicago and Detroit. Yet the refrain is
"across the Rio Grandee-o", a journey to the south. 

The tone also changes with the refrain, to a more reflective, resigned
mood.

Has something happened? Has a crime been committed, so that the
hopeful journey north has become a flight to the south instead?
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #66 of 80: Gary Burnett (jera) Mon 1 Mar 10 07:26
    
I read it as a journey from the south to the *further* south of
Mexico.  I.e., away from the southern United States to the very
different culture and setting down Mexico way.  I think it's a
variation on the old "on the lam across the border" motif, with one of
a long series of Hunter's ne'er-do-well narrators. You're right,
though, in that we don't really know why it's happening, & the clues
are pretty sparse.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #67 of 80: David Gans (tnf) Mon 1 Mar 10 09:30
    

I suspect it's got more to do with Hunter coming back to the Bay Area after a
sojourn in New Mexico.  Referred to in our 1977 interview.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #68 of 80: David Gans (tnf) Mon 1 Mar 10 09:30
    

The Rio Grande runs through Albuquerque, y'know.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #69 of 80: Gary Burnett (jera) Mon 1 Mar 10 09:58
    
Of course, the autobiographical is never the only vector of meaning in
any of these songs.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #70 of 80: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Mon 1 Mar 10 11:33
    
Hmmm. Mississippi doesn't sound too south of the border, nor does rock
and rye.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #71 of 80: Gary Burnett (jera) Mon 1 Mar 10 11:55
    
I do, you realize, live close enough to Mississippi and have been
there often enough to be very well aware that it's not "south of the
border."

By the same token, the Rio Grande goes nowhere near Mississippi.

It's a pretty enigmatic song, even the title -- the words "Mississippi
Half-Step Uptown Toodle-oo" all make sense individually, but don't
really parse as a traditionally meaningful phrase (nor are they
repeated in that order in the song itself).  By the end of the song, we
know that the south is involved somehow, that a departure from the
south is taking place, that a half a cup of rock & rye factor in, and
that the Rio Grande is being (or is going to be) crossed.

In the reading that I'm sort of pushing here, the protagonist, for
reasons that are not known but that might have something to do with a
crime, leaves Mississippi and heads south (and, obviously, west) to
cross the Rio Grande into Mexico.  
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #72 of 80: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Mon 1 Mar 10 12:04
    
Yes, Gary, I am also inclined to that reading. 

My south of the border doubt is in respect of David's suggestion that
it might have something to do with Hunter's homecoming from Mexico.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #73 of 80: Gary Burnett (jera) Mon 1 Mar 10 12:18
    
The New Mexico angle is interesting, for sure, especially in light of
details like silver mines.
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #74 of 80: Gary Burnett (jera) Mon 1 Mar 10 12:18
    
(Sorry to have been a bit snippy in my reply -- this damn broken
kneecap makes me periodically grumpy for no good reason.)
  
deadsongs.vue.137 : Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo
permalink #75 of 80: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Mon 1 Mar 10 12:31
    
Yikes, sounds like a good reason to me.
  

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