deadsongs.vue.40 : China Doll
permalink #0 of 6: David Dodd (ddodd) Tue 2 Sep 03 15:02
    
China Doll
w: Hunter m: Garcia
AGDL: http://arts.ucsc.edu/gdead/agdl/doll.html
LASF: http://www.whitegum.com/songfile/CHINADOL.HTM
  
deadsongs.vue.40 : China Doll
permalink #1 of 6: Alex Allan (alexallan) Tue 2 Sep 03 18:32
    
China Doll 
Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Jerry Garcia

Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

A pistol shot at five o'clock
The bells of heaven ring
Tell me what you done it for
No I won't tell you a thing

Yesterday I begged you
Before I hit the ground
All I leave behind me
Is only what I found

If you can abide it
Let the hurdy gurdy play
Stranger ones have come by here
Before they flew away

I will not condemn you
Nor yet would I deny
I would ask the same of you
But failing, will not die

Take up your china doll
It's only fractured
Just a little nervous from the fall
La la la la la la la
  
deadsongs.vue.40 : China Doll
permalink #2 of 6: David Gans (tnf) Mon 3 Dec 18 09:37
    

Got a question about "China Doll" from a friend:




We know Hunter likes to keep things vague intentionally, but at the same time
there should be clues.

China Doll: We know it’s a suicide song—I think I read someplace that
that was its original title.

The question is, in your opinion, did the person die or not die?

Evidence for dying:
1) “Tell me what you done if for?”  “No, I won’t tell you a
thing.” (i.e., can’t say, because they are dead, and didn’t leave a
note.
2) “The bells of heaven ring.” (self-explanatory)

Evidence for not dying: “Take up your china doll, it’s only fractured,
just a little nervous from the fall.”

Thoughts?
  
deadsongs.vue.40 : China Doll
permalink #3 of 6: David Gans (tnf) Mon 3 Dec 18 09:37
    

I shared the question on a mailing list and got one interesting reply right
away:

> I’ve always thought the major key ending, and the lyrics of being only
> fractured and “just a little nervous from the fall” meant that in the
> end, our narrator turned out alright.
  
deadsongs.vue.40 : China Doll
permalink #4 of 6: David Dodd (ddodd) Mon 3 Dec 18 13:33
    
It might help to try to assign voices to the lines of the song (sort
of "Jack Straw" style) although they never performed it that way.
Who says what to whom during the song? Was there one suicide,
possibly to be followed by another that was not carried out? It's a
puzzle. 

Here's one possibility: 

(Third person narrator): A pistol shot at five o'clock
The bells of heaven ring

(Person number one--alive): Tell me what you done it for

(Person number two--now dead): No I won't tell you a thing
Yesterday I begged you
Before I hit the ground
All I leave behind me
Is only what I found

If you can abide it
Let the hurdy gurdy play
Stranger ones have come by here
Before they flew away

(Person number one): I will not condemn you
Nor yet would I deny
I would ask the same of you
But failing, will not die

(Narrator): Take up your china doll
It's only fractured
Just a little nervous from the fall
La la la la la la la
  
deadsongs.vue.40 : China Doll
permalink #5 of 6: coal will turn to gray (comet) Mon 3 Dec 18 19:04
    
I agree with David. I always took it as a tonic coming out of Dark
Star and Space, where the "clouds of delusion" and discordant
improvisations weighed a little heavy. We're not as perfect as a
porcelain doll, but neither is it fatal. 
  
deadsongs.vue.40 : China Doll
permalink #6 of 6: David Dodd (ddodd) Tue 4 Dec 18 09:27
    
Or, now I re-read my proposed narrative, here's a thought:

(Third person narrator): A pistol shot at five o'clock
The bells of heaven ring (meaning that there's a new soul asking for
admittance)

(Angel at the pearly gates, greeting newcomer): Tell me what you
done it for

(Person number two--now dead): No I won't tell you a thing
Yesterday I begged you (i.e. prayed for something, was unanswered)
Before I hit the ground (i.e. before I fell down dead)
All I leave behind me
Is only what I found

(Angel again, explaining the music in "heaven"): If you can abide it
Let the hurdy gurdy play
Stranger ones have come by here
Before they flew away

(Narrator?): I will not condemn you
Nor yet would I deny
I would ask the same of you
But failing, will not die

Take up your china doll
It's only fractured
Just a little nervous from the fall
La la la la la la la

I dunno. Kind of falls apart there at the middle of the song....
  



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