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I would like to open a discussion on the lyrics of Terrapin Station. I honestly think I might have posted such a topic many years ago, but my search failed to reconcile the vague memories, so I do apologize if this is a repeat. Much of my time over the past few years has been spent on the lyrics of The Velvet Underground/Lou Reed amongst a few more minor bands. However, today is a good day for some GD, and what better than their masterpiece Terrapin Station, which some even consider to be the magnum opus of the Hunter/Garcia songwriting partnership. I was inspired to analyze the lyrics to this song after watching the Tarkovsky masterpiece Andrei Rublev, which made me think a lot about this song. Maybe at some later point, I will go into why I think the two relate...if anyone has seen the film/cares to hear me ramble.

 

In order not to overload this first post, I think I am only going to publish the Lady with a Fan section first, Maybe other’s thoughts will help inform interpretations of the later sections.

 

So without further delay let’s begin…

 

Lady with a Fan

 

LWAF serves as the central allegory to this song. In this section there are four main characters (in sequence of appearance): the storyteller, the sailor, the soldier, and the lady with a fan.

 

Let my inspiration flow
in token lines suggesting rhythm
that will not forsake me
till my tale is told and done

 

While the firelight's aglow
strange shadows in the flames will grow
till things we've never seen
will seem familiar

 

The first two verses focus on our storyteller. They seem to play much into the idea of a Homeric poetic who tells stories from memory and with poetic rhythm. The calling to “let my inspiration flow” implies some sort of divine intervention that will take place in order to tell this story. Perhaps the storyteller is merely some sort of conduit for this celestial story/knowledge that is about to be conveyed to us.

 

Shadows of a sailor forming
winds both foul and fair all swarm
down in Carlisle he loved a lady
many years ago

 

I found it interesting the mentioning of a singular lady. This gives us a glimpse into the level of love this sailor may have once had. In addition, the fact that is was many years ago, shows us that he has either been unable to recover from this love emotionally or has yet to find someone dear enough to him. Regardless, this sets up the clear idea that the sailor is a much more emotional person in contrast to the soldier. Carlisle is likely a reference to the old English city that served as an important military settlement, being once the military stronghold of Rome to defend Hadrian’s wall and later a battleground area between Scotland and England. It gives us a setting of the UK, with the story being told in Scotland, but I am not sure of any significance to this. My guess is that Carlisle simply sounded best in the song.

 

Here beside him stands a man
a soldier by the looks of him
who came through many fights
but lost at love

 

These lines give us a glimpse into the type of person the soldier is. Saying that he “came through many fights but lost at love” gives us an indication that he has been quite successful in his vocational duties, likely highly respected amongst his fellow soldiers. However, his dedication to his life as a soldier has caused him to fail at ever finding love, whether he has cared to find it or not. This shows us where his focus lies, which contrasts that of the sailor, who has given his life more to love and had once had a committed relationship. The contrast between the sailor/soldier reminds me much of the Meyers-Briggs contrast between F/T.

 

While the storyteller speaks
a door within the fire creaks
suddenly flies open
and a girl is standing there

 

Eyes alight with glowing hair
all that fancy paints as fair
she takes her fan and throws it
in the lion's den

 

"Which of you to gain me, tell
will risk uncertain pains of Hell?
I will not forgive you
if you will not take the chance"

 

Here we are introduced to our fourth and final character of the eponymous allegory, the lady with a fan. With “eyes alight with glowing hair all that fancy paints as fair” we are given that this is a someone of divine like beauty, powerful enough that men of great power and fortune act foolhardy in hopes of attaining her affection. Beyond this, we are not really given a glimpse into the type of person she is.

 

The sailor gave at least a try
the soldier being much too wise
strategy was his strength
and not disaster

 

Here the characters play into their attributes we have been given. The sailor, driven by his emotions, immediately leaps into the lion's den to retrieve the fan, with little concern for his wellbeing, whereas the soldier relying more on logic and strategy does not.

 

The sailor coming out again
the lady fairly lept at him
that's how it stands today
you decide if he was wise

 

The sailor comes out again from the lion's den, presumably with the fan this time—we don’t really know. Regardless he has clearly won the lady. Importantly we are told “that’s how it stands today”. This shows us that the lady was not deceitful and they theoretically live “happily ever after”. Even more importantly we are told “you decide if he was wise”. Although it may seem the sailor is the one who won and the soldier walked away with nothing from this encounter, is that really the case? What does the soldier have?

 

The storyteller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice
his job is to shed light
and not to master

 

This plays much into the idea of all great storytellers. Their job not being able to tell us what to do, but simply to illuminate the complications of life and decisions we must face. This really embodies the approach Hunter has always had to lyrics, to simply shed light.

 

Since the end is never told
we pay the teller off in gold
in hopes he will come back
but he cannot be bought or sold

 

The storyteller has served their role and we compensate them for it. We may wish to know more, but the storyteller would be doing us a disservice if they did. It reminds me of when I was a child and would be upset when movies ended on cliffhangers or just left you in some ambiguous state. I would always wonder “but what happens?” As I grew older, I realized this was exactly what they were supposed to do. Storytellers are not there to tell us how to think or what is right and wrong but simply give us things to think about so that we can decide for ourselves.

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The great karmic cycle.

From the vantage of the station itself, there may only be two: the lady and her beloved.  And they are us - The storyteller is just a medium for our convenience here below as we try to find our lady/Jack O' Roses.

Whether seen metaphorically as one's internal struggle or just as different loops in the cycle, the sailor and the soldier are one and the same.

Strategy has no place in the rollercoaster of love, it will always be a disaster beyond any rationality - The lady leaps for the one who keeps trying despite this.

 

This was my take the first night of this last newyears anyway...

 

I highly recommend reading all the lyrics to part two of Hunter's suite, never played by the Dead - Very illuminating.

https://www.whitegum.com/songfile/TERRSUIT.HTM

 

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While the opening verse is an ode to the poetic muses I believe this verse is an ode to LSD. At the beginning the narrator wants rhythmic flow to his lyrics. Now the lyrics must be enhanced. I’ve never read this and have asked several people and all are like naw but if you look this over, everything in this verse is on point for my theory. 
 

Inspiration, move me brightly
light the song with sense and color
Hold away despair
more than this I will not ask
Faced with mysteries dark and vast
statements just seem vain at last

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36 minutes ago, sml said:

The great karmic cycle.

From the vantage of the station itself, there may only be two: the lady and her beloved.  And they are us - The storyteller is just a medium for our convenience here below as we try to find our lady/Jack O' Roses.

Whether seen metaphorically as one's internal struggle or just as different loops in the cycle, the sailor and the soldier are one and the same.

Strategy has no place in the rollercoaster of love, it will always be a disaster beyond any rationality - The lady leaps for the one who keeps trying despite this.

 

This was my take the first night of this last newyears anyway...

 

I highly recommend reading all the lyrics to part two of Hunter's suite, never played by the Dead - Very illuminating.

https://www.whitegum.com/songfile/TERRSUIT.HTM

 

I will definitely take a look at part two, which I actually was not aware of.

 

Maybe strategy has no place in the rollercoaster of love. I think this is why the soldier forgoes heading into the lion's den. I don't think the soldier is not attracted to the lady by any means. He simply does not see it as wise or even worth it. The soldier reminds me much of the more modern successful CEO and powerful attorney, someone who dedicates their life to their craft, but in doing so forgo love.

 

However, I have to disagree when it comes to "always be a disaster beyond any rationality". In this story the sailor comes out of the lion's den and successfully wins the lady. We are given no indication that their romance ends disastrously. If anything, we are given quite the opposite in the line  "the lady fairly lept at him/that's how it stands today". I think their love is successful. This is not to be a dig on the soldier either. The sailor has his love and the soldier has his successes on the battlefield. They have pursued different paths in life, although they all end up at Terrapin Station.

 

I will go into the karmic cycle more in the next two parts of the song.

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"You decide if he was wise". The sailor risked everything to rescue a trinket for this lady, who placed his life in peril to see how far he would go for her. What will she make him do next to prove his love? Was it a wise decision to start out like this? 

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Did you throw your fan
too far this time?
Well, well, well ...
from the lion's den
to the morning star
to the gates of Hell!

 

The lion's den lies far behind
in visions of the damned
Jack O' Roses one more time
My lady, here's your fan

Terrapin
let me rise, let me fall, let me climb, let me crawl
but let me in
Accept this fan as a token of what I meant to do
for I really do love you

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I will write more at a later date but for now... I’m gonna quote our fair lady poet Emily. 
 

That I have loved thee

I bring the proof. 
That til I loved, I did not love enough. 
Thou dost doubt me, my sweet? 

I have nothing to show but Calvary. 
 

and it’s not a religious poem. 

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   I think the backstory needs to be added. Supposedly, this song came to both Jerry and Robert Hunter as a thunderstorm rolled through the San Francisco Bay Area. The two were not together. They were on other sides of town. The music to Jerry, the words to Hunter.  It’s been awhile since I read that. Maybe someone could elaborate. 
   My other point is that when I was introduced to the Grateful Dead and their universe, it was explained to me that the song was about LSD. Terrapin Station is code for Trippin’ Station. 
  My other other point is that when I listen to this song, along with many other Grateful Dead songs, I don’t try to understand what exactly it means. I let the song take me for a ride. Through the forty years now, the song’s meaning changes as my phases of life change. I keep it vague so it can continue to work for me. I do believe that was Robert Hunter’s goal. 

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I never had this thought or interpretation until a recent show in AC. I had just found out that my mom was terminally ill with stage 4 brain cancer. Terrapin Station at least for the night represented heaven or death. You get there by living your life loving recklessly without thought or reason. But that was just one nights interpretation. The song has created a myriad of emotions in my heart. Truly a masterpiece. 

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1 hour ago, Greg from Chestertown said:

 My other other point is that when I listen to this song, along with many other Grateful Dead songs, I don’t try to understand what exactly it means. I let the song take me for a ride. Through the forty years now, the song’s meaning changes as my phases of life change. I keep it vague so it can continue to work for me. I do believe that was Robert Hunter’s goal. 

I could've said the same thing. I'm interested in the meaning of songs but I keep that separate from listening to them...

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25 minutes ago, Mason's Child said:

 The song has created a myriad of emotions in my heart. Truly a masterpiece. 

Sums up the conversation nicely.

 

Cosmic Mike - good stuff.  I look forward to your continued analysis as you delve into the "Terrapin Station" section.

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Plot twist: Meat Loaf is the soldier, "No, I won't do that". Had this insight looking into the mirror while brushing my teeth this morning 😛

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Wait - Terrapin is a turtle?  I thought it was psychic train that could transport you to the farthest reaches of your subconscious

 image-20150122-29832-17j22fj.jpg?ixlib=r

 

I think I need some re-edumakation.

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On 3/2/2020 at 3:21 PM, Cosmic Mike said:

While the firelight's aglow
strange shadows in the flames will grow
till things we've never seen
will seem familiar

 

I'll just touch on this section.  While in college circa '96 I read (a very little bit of) Plato's Book VII, which is part of The Republic, I believe.  I was stunned at the similarity of the allegory of the cave section of Book VII to these lines by Robert Hunter.  It's a long story, but Plato describes these people that literally live trapped in a cave, and all they can see are the shadows of statues that their fire projects on a wall.  I don't remember many more of the details, but Plato uses this situation to describe education.  When the people's eyes have adjusted, over time, they begin to see things, i.e., they learn.  Search out the actual writings or at least the Cliff notes version and I'm sure you'll agree: Plato's Book VII was the INSPIRATION (if you'll excuse the pun) of these here lines.

 

Funny personal story regarding this.  Shortly after reading Plato's story, I happened to be on dead.net, specifically on Hunter's section.  If you recall in the infancy era of the World Wide Web, Hunter was actually on dead.net, posting his various writings, and even had a link to his email there, which didn't stay up there long if I remember correctly.  Anywho, something was wrong with his web site, like a broken link.  I dropped him a message about the error, and couldn't resist the temptation to ask him about Terrapin, and specifically these lines I quoted above.  I flat out asked him if it was Plato he was referencing.  Hunter replied the next day with a short message thanking me for making him aware of the broken link and....

 

that was it.  He did not confirm my theory.  Didn't even acknowledge it in the least.  Which makes me think I was 100% right on the money ☺️

 

Wish I had saved that email from that old college account!

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I remember in college also. My roommate was listening to terrapin station with his buddies at his buddies house. The friends  dad knocked on the door and asked what they were listening to. The dad said that it was related somehow to a classic piece of music.

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Going Where started a thread like this before the whole forum was rebooted. It was maybe 3 years ago…..

 

The story is an allegory of living  for me.

 

The storyteller represents surveying the Truth, the picture of the moment. When an event causes an emotion, your soul wants to create  something in that moment. Terrapin station is the destination achieved when life unfolds with love as the Intention. Living is an exercise in living my truth . The head might give a thousand reasons to say no, emotionally may be blocked by fear, etc but the heart speaks of life. What is the point of living if you don’t express your inner beauty of self. It takes both  intellect and passion to implement what the heart wants to create. 

The interplay of the divine masculine and feminine is an integral part of expressing intention. The feminine holds the energy (noun); the masculine is the active expression (verb).  Imagine an interior room of a castle with a beautiful women sewing a banner. The banner captures all the heart energies of the expression. The masculine takes that banner with caring, thoughtful love and then carries it out into the world.  The integrated self has this kind of marriage and personal relationship can be an outward expression of this marriage within.

 

Mike, I agree with your identification with T/F. In Terrapin Station, we see two representations of the masculine.The sailor is the person who just rides the current of the moment;  feeling is how he negotiates the waters. He flows with the Now and strikes out into the unknown. Charts helps of course…. But it is the wind that carries the boat and the sailor flings himself into the world, at its mercy.   He is the intrepid traveler. He lives by his where with all. Contrast it with the soldier, an agent of power and establishment. He instead seeks a very definitive end and for what end does he get the fan? The Grateful Dead born of Beatnik culture are all about going against the establishment and societal convention.  

 

Fans had a secret language of their own. Throwing a fan  symbolizes getting rid of a bad temper before marriage in Chinese culture. A lady with a fan is a symbol of wealth and prosperity.  The act of throwing the fan, she is in fact asking who will go the distance for love. How could someone calculating  and strategic begin to ride the current of love? Who is all in for love. Not necessarily, a physical love... though if you can find that pure expression , well way to go!!

 

Truth has no allegiances; it simply what is, until it isn’t anymore. The storyteller seeks to plainly tell the story  and thereby asks for inspiration to tell the story as it should be told. May our eyes see clearly, not blind or filtered by lies.  The spiral light of Venus, representing love, is the star shining bright in the dark mysteries wide and vast. So lost boys and girls, second star and straight on to morning into the dawning light.

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Thanks everyone for their thoughts. Some very good stuff.

 

Terrapin Station

 

Inspiration, move me brightly
light the song with sense and color,
hold away despair
More than this I will not ask
faced with mysteries dark and vast
statements just seem vain at last
some rise, some fall, some climb
to get to Terrapin

 

I find the similarities to the first verse of the Terrapin Station section and those of Lady with a Fan section interesting. Once again, we hear this call for inspiration to some seemingly divine power to provide what is needed to continue this story (or at this stage a song). The “me” here makes me think much more of Jerry himself, different from the storyteller we heard before. This gives us the feeling that what is being conveyed to us is not something a mere mortal on their own can accomplish without the help of this divine power, both Jerry and the storyteller need its help.

 

In the later section of this verse, there is the interesting lyric of “statements just seem vain at last”, making it seem that any effort to explain is futile. All that can be said is "some rise, some fall, some climb to get to Terrapin". The reference to “some rise, some fall, some climb” goes back to the Sailor and the Soldier. Both have chosen different paths in life, but both will get to Terrapin no matter what. Once again, Hunter is avoiding giving us any direct answers about what the right or wrong thing to do in life is. It is for us to decide. He is only to “shed light”, and trying to tell us what is right or wrong, would be trying to “master” it. After all, Hunter and Jerry are just mortals who face the same "mysteries dark and vast".

 

Counting stars by candlelight
all are dim but one is bright:
the spiral light of Venus
rising first and shining best,
From the northwest corner
of a brand-new crescent moon
crickets and cicadas sing
a rare and different tune

 

If you are living in the northern hemisphere, Venus is often very bright in the night sky, particularly during this time of year (late winter). It can be seen well with a crescent moon, when the moon’s own light isn’t crowding out the night sky (just Google “Venus crescent moon” for pictures of this). I can see it very clearly here in Denver when I go to the dog park in the evening—it is the very bright object to the west. I very much like Poetry Girl's interpretation as the spiral light of Venus shedding light through the darkness, when all stars are dim. Venus acting much like the song itself, giving light and hope when "faced with mysteries dark and vast".

 

I find it funny the lyric of a “rare and different tune”. Surely this is a rare and different tune that throws out traditional lyrical and musical structure. If anything, it is more classical in its composition of movements that make up a larger composition.

 

Terrapin Station
in the shadow of the moon
Terrapin Station
and I know we'll be there soon

 

In this verse, Hunter let’s us in on the location of Terrapin Station. I take the "shadow of the moon" being the dark side of it we never see. Although I think he is just using the idea of the shadow of the moon to describe Terrapin Station as a place we know for certain exists but can never see it until we are there. Even though I do not think this is an intentional allusion, when Hunter says “I know we’ll be there soon” reminds me of the Einstein quote, ‘I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.” Terrapin Station is always close. I am sure all of us on here have lost loved ones unexpectedly, and that does not make ourselves immune to any sudden/unexpected end. As much as we may think death is very far off, it feels incredibly close when the impending inevitability is suddenly upon us...I think Einstein meant something slightly different though 🙂.

 

Terrapin - I can't figure out
Terrapin - if it's an end or the beginning
Terrapin - but the train's got its brakes on
and the whistle is screaming: TERRAPIN

 

In the final verses of this section, the narrator is still stuck in their metaphysical quandary. They know they are arriving at Terrapin, and what is seemingly the end also appears to just be the beginning. This is the clearest reference at this point to the Buddhist concept of the wheel of life (Samsara). I don’t know much about this concept, but I have seen the fantastic Ron Fricke film “Samsara” and the Werner Herzog documentary “Wheel of Time” (both are very much worth watching), Samsara alone for the fact that it was filmed using 70mm. Regardless, I understand that being stuck in the wheel of life is considered a negative thing, and that the goal is theoretically to escape it, which is maybe why we don’t know if Terrapin is the end or beginning. We may have escaped it this time or we may just be starting all over again. We don’t really know until we get there. We cannot see it after all. All we know is that it is exists and that we are all heading there no matter what.

 

Samsara trailer:

 

 

Anyone who understands more about Buddhism, feel free to correct me on my paltry explanation of Samsara.

 

And next, my favorite but short section "At a Siding".

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Terrapin shows the Mastery of the Storyteller. Much like many of Hunter and Garcia's collaborations. Left open for interpretation by the individual . Each person interprets it according to the events experiencexperienced in life and thoughts on those experiences. To write a song that awakens the spirit and indulges deep emotional catharsis bringing sense to the world they live in is the Mastery of the Storyteller...

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1 hour ago, sml said:

Crickets and cicadas sing a rare indifferent* tune~

 

 

As is their wont.

 

And “all are dim but one is bright” is probably the lament of most teachers.

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