I thought I knew most of Jerry Garcia's stuff as he has been a musical hero since I was an undergraduate and he was the coolest man in the known universe. I would also have subscribed to the proposition that his - and everyone else's - best music is well known because it is, erm, best. The obscure stuff is obscure for a reason. Until a few days ago, I had never even heard of Reuben and Cerise.
It is one of those songs you fall in love with. Or I did anyway. It's not just the music - although of course there is that. It's the words. For the uninitiated, the usual arrangement was that Garcia did the tunes. Robert Hunter did the words. And he did them so well...
Reuben and Cerise is set at a New Orleans carnival. Cerise (cherry red) needs reassurance of Rueben's love.
Reuben Reuben tell me truly true
I feel afraid and I don't know why I do
Is there another girl for you?
She is dressed as pirouette (he must mean pierrot) in white. She receives reassurance from Reuben. Then Ruby Claire (bright red) appears as pirouette (sic) in red.
The crowd pressed round
Ruby stood as though alone
Reuben's song took on a different tone
and he played it just for her
Oh dear. Now there is where the lyrics get seriously strange...
Ruby freezes and is turned into stone. Reuben reaffirms his love for Cerise. the song ends as follows...
The truth of love an unsung song must tell
The course of love must follow blind
Reuben walked through the streets of New Orleans 'till dawn,
Cerise so lightly in his arms
and her hair hung gently down
Where are we going here? Okay I cheated a bit and did some researches. These lines are an echo of the myth of Orpheus, who is allowed to recover his dead lover Euridyce from the underworld on condition that he does not look back. The biblical story of Lot and his unfortunate wife would seem to be from the same stable.
Now that's not just a lyric for a rock song - that's a class act.
Robert Hunter is by all accounts a good bloke too. Quoting lyrics in books is a hazardous exercise. Unauthorised publication of someone else's lyrics breaches copyright and copyright holders will usually seek their cut for allowing lyrics to be used.I had a scrape myself as regards permissions but that's another story. Someone once told me that someone he knew approached Robert Hunter seeking permission to quote some of his lyrics in a book. Hunter simply replied...
'Use what you like'