deadsongs.vue.22 : Black Muddy River
permalink #0 of 8: (alexallan) Wed 10 Sep 03 23:49
Black Muddy River 
w: Hunter m: Garcia
deadsongs.vue.22 : Black Muddy River
permalink #1 of 8: Alex Allan (alexallan) Wed 10 Sep 03 23:50
Black Muddy River 
Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Jerry Garcia

Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

When the last rose of summer pricks my fingers
And the hot sun chills me to the bone
When I can't hear the song for the singer
And I can't tell my pillow from a stone

I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And sing me a song of my own
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
Sing me a song of my own

When the last bolt of sunshine hits the mountain
And the stars seem to splatter in the sky
When the moon splits the south west horizon
And scream of an eagle on the fly

I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And listen to the ripples as they moan
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
Sing me a song of my own

Black muddy river
Roll on forever
I don't care how deep and wide
If you got another side
Roll muddy river
Roll muddy river
Black muddy river, roll

When it seems like the night will last forever
And there's nothing left to do but count the years
When the strings of my heart start to sever
And stones fall from my eyes instead of tears

I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And dream me a dream of my own
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
Sing me a song of my own
And sing me a song of my own
deadsongs.vue.22 : Black Muddy River
permalink #2 of 8: David Dodd (ddodd) Tue 8 Jun 04 09:02
Posting this on behalf of Tim White:

Date: 8 Jun 2004 13:24:08 -0000
From: Tim White <>
Subject: More on the Watersons/GD


Waterson:Carthy have a new CD just out, "Fishes and Fine Yellow Sand" (Topic
TSCD542 in the UK)which includes another beautiful version of Black Muddy
River sung by Norma with Eliza and (need I say?) a great guitar part from

There's already been some discussion about W:C and the GOGD on the And We
Bid You Goodnight thread, here's an extract from the notes to the new CD,
written by Martin and Norma:

"Somebody - and neither Norma nor I knows who - sent us a ninety minute tape
with just one song on it. Black Muddy River. Norma found the tape when she
was hunting around for songs to put on her first solo CD for Ryko in 1996.
Every gig we do we say that some unknown person sent it and as yet no-one
has come forward to claim it as their gift. Whoever you are, thank you very
much. She didn't recognise the band at the time nor did she recognise the
singer, neither did Liza nor did I. It was John Chelew - who produced the CD
- who identified the band as the Grateful Dead and the singer as Jerry
Garcia, who wrote the song along with Robert Hunter. I think it sums up, but
in uniquely American terms, what we all do and what it feels like. Thank him
very much indeed as well."

So there you go - though I must have seen them perform BMR half a dozen
times and I don't recall the mystery tape story.

The new CD is great BTW, standout for me is Eliza's hypnotic reading of
Captain Kidd, perhaps her best vocal yet on record.


"Peace is not simply the absence of conflict, but the existence of justice
for all people." Martin Luther King Jr.
deadsongs.vue.22 : Black Muddy River
permalink #3 of 8: from DANIEL COHEN (tnf) Sat 4 Sep 04 08:15

From Daniel Cohen:

I was recently at the Mythic Journeys conference in Atlanta. One of the
presentations was called "Orpheus: shamanic singer", and the speaker read
many poems relating to Orpheus. In my report on the conference and this
workshop in particular I wrote

Something else that came to my mind in that workshop was the song Black Muddy
River, sung so beautifully by Norma Waterson. This song was originally one of
the Grateful Dead's songs. They were certainly shamanic performers (and knew
it), and it occurred to me that the river could be one of the rivers of
Hades, and that the "I" of the song could even be Orpheus. Indeed, the writer
of the lyrics of this song (and many others of the Grateful Dead's songs) was
Robert Hunter, a poet who has also published a translation of Rilke's
"Sonnets to Orpheus", so such resonances could well have been in his mind
when he wrote the song.

Even if such resonances were not consciously in Hunter's mind, I think they
may still have been there unconsciously.
Daniel Cohen
deadsongs.vue.22 : Black Muddy River
permalink #4 of 8: David Gans (tnf) Sat 13 Aug 11 08:54
Interesting observation/question from a musical colleague:

I was thinking about "Black Muddy River" (which was a blast to
perform, btw):

Black muddy river
Roll on forever
I don't care how deep or wide
If you've got another side

One of the first songs I ever heard by the Dead (I was a newbie when I
bought "In The Dark" at age 14), and this song continues to be one of
the most personally moving for me.

Intriguing, I think, how those particular lines could be interpreted
in virtually opposite ways, either spiritual/suggesting the comfort of
afterlife, or fundamentally nihilistic and stoic.  Is Hunter saying
he's able to accept the blackness of the river *because* it has another
side, or that he truly doesn't care if it has another side ?  Such an
interesting song because it could really be interpreted as almost
Christian, or defiantly Atheistic, or really anything in between.

Maybe from the number of times you undoubtedly saw Jerry sing the
song, you have an opinion on how he might have felt those lines ?
deadsongs.vue.22 : Black Muddy River
permalink #5 of 8: Steve Biederman (sbied) Sun 14 Aug 11 20:50
Not sure about the rest, but definitely spiritual and comforting.
deadsongs.vue.22 : Black Muddy River
permalink #6 of 8: David Dodd (ddodd) Wed 11 Dec 19 11:29
From an email:


Thanks for everything you do on the annotated Dead lyrics site.  The
content is amazing.

I have a question for you, though.  After having read both your
annotation and the line-by-line analysis and searching the Internet
in general, I am surprised that I can't find anyone (besides me) who
thinks that the "black muddy river" is the river Styx from Greek
mythology.  Having been raised on healthy diet of Greek mythology, I
thought it was pretty obvious.  However, when I went looking, I can
find a nary a reference to it online.

The song is pretty clearly about death:
- The Last Rose of Summer is an old Irish song about death 
- The "hot sun chills me to the bone," as the site says, is about
death and evokes similar lines, e.g., in New Speedway Boogie where
"in the heat of the sun a man died of cold"
- The "strings of my heart start to sever" per the line-by-line is
about heart failure and possibly a reference to Jerry's heart attack

Styx, as you undoubtedly know, is the river the separates the world
from the underworld in Greek mythology and when you die you have to
pay the ferryman, Charon, to cross it or wander by its banks for 100
years (walking, if you will, along the banks of the black muddy
river).  I'm not so literal to assume the song is talking about this
purgatory-like outcome; you could also walk along the banks, fare in
hand, while waiting for Charon to show up from his prior crossing.

This then provokes the question as to whether Styx is generally
described as black and muddy.  The first search result for "river
Styx black muddy" is this:
-river-styx-in-whose-dark-stock-graphic/664674107.  Not a bad start.

However, more searching doesn't find consistent references to it as
a "black, muddy" river -- but interestingly, what's thought to be
the real river that inspired Styx, the Mavroneri, is a literal
translation for "black water."  So in that sense, we can argue that
Styx is black, and at least Wikipedia seems to think it's muddy though it doesn't document why.

In McNally's Long Strange Trip I at least found a reference to Styx
and Black Muddy River:

Dark and majestic, narrated by a singer terribly conscious of no
longer being young and of the wretched glory of freedom, the song
came out of Hunter's dreams, of burrowing to a place that was beyond
the Styx, where, he said, it was "vast and it's hopeless.  It's
death with the absence of the soul, and the narrator is 'whistling
in the dark, saying there's something warm on the other side."

This sounds much more like Styx than beyond Styx.

If you have any other thoughts or source on this, I'd be interested.

Dave Kellogg
deadsongs.vue.22 : Black Muddy River
permalink #7 of 8: beneath the blue suburban skies (aud) Wed 11 Dec 19 11:58
we'll never know now...
deadsongs.vue.22 : Black Muddy River
permalink #8 of 8: David Dodd (ddodd) Wed 11 Dec 19 13:25
Except, it's not about knowing, right? It's about what we put into
the words, and how they resonate with any of us. That was Hunter's
outlook, anyway, and why he tended not to weigh in on "meaning." 

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