deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #26 of 39: Gary Burnett (jera) Fri 16 Mar 07 10:55
There have been times when I thought I was the only person around who
really liked "London Town"!  If one could just excise the horrible
"Morse Moose and the Grey Goose" from it ...

Of course, I also like much of "Back To The Egg," so my taste in these
things is probably pretty suspect.
deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #27 of 39: Marked from the Day That I was Born (ssol) Fri 16 Mar 07 16:57
My gopod, one other person knows about "London Town"!
deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #28 of 39: David Gans (tnf) Fri 16 Mar 07 18:27

I found myself craving "Ram" not long ago, and when I put it on I enjoyed it
immensely.  A guilty pleasure, I guess.
deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #29 of 39: Gary Burnett (jera) Sat 17 Mar 07 06:42
Oh, no!  There's nothing whatsoever to feel guilty about for enjoying
"Ram" -- it's a wonderful album!
deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #30 of 39: Marked from the Day That I was Born (ssol) Sat 17 Mar 07 10:10
Heh! I'm reading a little book of Einstein's essays and letters; "The
World as I See It". The guy was not just a scientist but possibly the
greatest practical philosopher of his age. Brilliant stuff in that slim
volume. So, that song from "Ram" that I hadn't recalled in years has
been running around my head. "Uncle Albert" likely has nothing to do
with Einstein, but it does in my mind today.

So, do you folks think "China Cat Sunflower" is a worthwhile diversion
deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #31 of 39: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Sun 18 Mar 07 00:51
So, do you folks think "China Cat Sunflower" is a worthwhile diversion

China Cat Sunflower is the consummate diversion, "'cause you're gonna
miss him when he's gone..."
deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #32 of 39: David Dodd (ddodd) Thu 3 Jan 13 08:07
Posted, with permission from the sender:


I'm sure you know this already, but I just learned that "I rang a
silent Bell" in China cat could refer to a gambling term from last

While lazing around here, I watch 'Pawn Stars' on History channel.
They just reviewed a gambling machine which had a bell imprinted on the
top of it, and b/c gambling was illegal...if one won at the game, it
was called ringing the silent bell. Episode "Rick's Big Bet" S1 Ep10.

I thought that was neat, and it would figure in Hunter's imagery, for
he was young at a time that the phrase may have been uttered around


deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #33 of 39: David Dodd (ddodd) Fri 3 Jan 14 13:55
Here's my current post on, for the "Greatest Stories Ever
Told" blog, featuring "China Cat Sunflower."

I wasn’t sure exactly why, but I had been saving “China Cat Sunflower”
for a special occasion. Celebrating the start of a new year seems like
an appropriate occasion, so let’s look at what is probably my number
one desert-island song. I mean, if I had to whittle it all down to just
one song I could bring with me, this would be it. And in particular
the Europe ’72 recording.
This song opened my ears to the band in a big way. And I have spent
many hours with it over the years, never getting tired of it. I don’t
tire of it musically, or lyrically. I don’t tire of the interplay
between the words and the music. I relish each new dive into this song.
And I’m not sure why this is. I do remember when it “happened” to me.
I was home for Christmas break from college, and a friend and I went
shopping for records. She was a huge Deadhead, and I was a neophyte.
She told me I should buy the triple Europe ’72 album, so I did. And
that night, I put it on my parents’ record player—an old Magnavox
console--when they were somewhere out and about, and listened. I lay on
the floor of their living room, and stared at the cottage-cheese
ceiling, and watched the patterns form and re-form there, to the music
that was playing—such a delicate constellation of intertwined guitar
notes. I couldn’t believe the intricacy! I couldn’t fathom how it was
being done.
And I don’t think I actually understood very many of the words—they
were more like part of the instrumentation, like the poetry of HD Moe
that I later came to love because he used words in this way to create a
stained-glass verbal image.
Learning the words took awhile.
First, I started in the time-honored method of lifting the needle from
the groove and setting it back just a bit to try to catch the words.
My transcription didn’t get very far using this method. It wasn’t until
David Gans published an interview with Robert Hunter in BAM magazine,
which included the lyrics to “China Cat Sunflower,” that I had any real
inkling what was being sung.
That said, actually having the words didn’t do that much to clarify
anything, and I think that’s just exactly what Robert Hunter would have
Hunter’s statements about the song include this, from his lyric
anthology, A Box of Rain:
“Nobody ever asked me the meaning of this song. People seem to know
exactly what I’m talking about. It’s good that a few things in this
world are clear to all of us.”
And, from an interview with David Gans, in his Conversations with the
“I think the germ of ‘China Cat Sunflower’ came in Mexico, on Lake
Chapala. I don’t think any of the words came, exactly-the rhythms came.
I had a cat sitting on my belly, and was in a rather hypersensitive
state, and I followed this cat out to—I believe it was Nepture—and
there were rainbows across Neptune, and cats marching across the
rainbow. This cat took me in all these cat places; there’s some essence
of that in the song.”
The song is part of what was a set of lyrics sent by Hunter to the
band when they recruited him to be the lyricist for the group. A note
on Alex Allan’s Grateful Dead Lyric and Song Finder site says: “Robert
Hunter played Saint Stephen>Alligator>China Cat Sunflower>The
Eleven>China Cat Sunflower on 18 March 2003 to illustrate how the songs
had originally been conceived.”
The kaleidoscope of imagery in the song does seem fairly clear in the
overall state of mind it’s communicating. Hunter referred to the effect
as something along the lines of a “glittery image bank,” saying: I can
sit right here and write you a ‘China Cat’ or one of those things in
ten minutes. How many of those things do you need…?”
Given that’s true, still—I’m endless fascinated by the selection of
images in the song, and the way they play off each other and off of my
own state of mind or place of being at any given moment or stage in my
Hunter mailed the lyrics to the band in mid-1967, and by January 1968
the band was performing a medley of songs that included “Dark Star,”
“China Cat Sunflower,” and “The Eleven.” The first known live version
of the song dates from a Carousel Ballroom performance on January 17,
1968. The song evolved over the ensuing months, including changes in
key, tempo, and arrangement, until sometime in the summer of 1969, when
it was paired, for the first time, with “I Know You Rider.” Once that
pairing became the standard, it was locked in, with the single
exception noted in DeadBase being a March 9, 1985 version where it went
into “Cumberland Blues.” “China Cat” remained steadily the repertoire,
with the exception of the years 1975-1978, when it was played just
once, in 1977. Overall, it was performed live 552 times that we know
of, making it the fifth most-played song by the band, and number one in
songs sung by Garcia. Its final performance was on July 8, 1995, at
Soldier Field, in Chicago.
The song was released in its studio version on Aoxomoxoa, in June
Looking at the lyrics as a whole, and comparing them to a kaleidoscope
in the effect they have on the mind, I see a range of accessible and
yet mysterious associations and cross-references. Maybe it’s a
reflection of Hunter’s mind in the self-described “hypersensitive
state,” but it works fine for any listener who can picture silk
trombones, violin rivers, Cheshire cats peeking through lace bandanas,
and crazy quilt star gowns. I see crazy quilts, and lacey patterns, and
weaving in and out of everything, cats. No commonality seems to link
the imagery, except that they can take us on a journey.
We see Leonardo da Vinci’s mirror-script, for instance. If you
happened to be holding the album cover for Aoxomoxoa in your hand, the
mirroring is the theme both of the album’s title and of Rick Griffin’s
artwork. Mirrors feature in a couple of early Hunter lyrics, from “Dark
Star’s” shattering mirror, to the window-mirror in “Rosemary.” The
mirror in “China Cat” is introduced only if you find yourself thinking
about the “Leonardo words.”
As far as the cats go, we have a number of possibilities. First,
there’s the China Cat of the title and first line. There’s a whole
ceramic artform in Japan, dating to the 17th century, devoted to
creating and decorating china cats, called Kutani, in which ceramic
cats are beautifully painted. A related version of these cats is called
Some things just resist logic or understanding—how the particular
journey Hunter was on transpired is completely out of our reach, as is
that of any one of us taken as an individual. And yet we can share the
sense of the experience, understanding that there is something beyond
reason, something vast and visual and auditory that is ready to be
tapped at any moment, if only we can access that place and state of
I am very happy that Robert Hunter gave it a go. And I’m glad to know
that there are those who understand without needing to understand.
Happy New Year, everyone!
deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #34 of 39: coal will turn to gray (comet) Fri 3 Jan 14 22:01
Maybe he meant China Scat
deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #35 of 39: Christian Crumlish (xian) Mon 21 Apr 14 15:55
I'm reluctant to even bring this up except that RH once said that
people who really get what China Cat really get it so I'm going out on
a limb here but I think it's actually a song a song about sex through a
psychedelic lens.

Something about the copper-dome bodhi dripping a silver kimono (sounds
somewhat phallic to me), peeking through a lace bandana like a
one-eyed Cheshire (sounds kind of yonic or clitoral to me), crying
Leonardo words from out a silk trombone (sounds kind of ejaculatory to
me), beneath a shower of pearls (sounds kind of jismatical to me), etc.
deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #36 of 39: David Gans (tnf) Mon 21 Apr 14 16:14
deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #37 of 39: David Dodd (ddodd) Mon 21 Apr 14 16:32
Yes, I've heard that interpretation. "Rang a silent bell," and all.
Kinda compelling.
deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #38 of 39: coal will turn to gray (comet) Mon 21 Apr 14 21:17
Sometimes a scat is only a scat  8-0
deadsongs.vue.39 : China Cat Sunflower
permalink #39 of 39: The faster we go, the rounder we get (icenine) Thu 24 Apr 14 11:22
I resemble Hunter's earliest remarks on this song...over the years, as
I listened to this song in concert in various altered states and
picked up snippets of the lyrics, the lyrics and music just deeply
resonated with me, long before I was able to access the actual written this day, I carry around in my briefcase a print copy of
the lyrics to pull out at work and go off into that space again while
at work...I return to work activities, refreshed...have never analyzed
the lyrics, I just respond viscerally and have left it at that, happy
to have such a powerful response to this particular song

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