deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #0 of 40: David Dodd (ddodd) Wed 3 Sep 03 15:23
    
Jack Straw
w: Hunter m: Weir
AGDL: http://arts.ucsc.edu/gdead/agdl/jstraw.html
LASF: http://www.whitegum.com/songfile/JACKSTRA.HTM
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #1 of 40: Alex Allan (alexallan) Thu 4 Sep 03 19:27
    
Jack Straw 
Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Bob Weir

Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

We can share the women, we can share the wine
We can share what we got of yours, 'cause we done shared all of mine
Keep on rolling, just a mile to go
Keep on rolling, my old buddy, you're moving much too slow

I just jumped the watchman right outside the fence
Took his rings, four bucks in change, ain't that heaven sent
Hurts my ears to listen, Shannon, burns my eyes to see
Cut down a man in cold blood, Shannon, might as well be me

We used to play for silver now we play for life
And one's for sport, and one's for blood at the point of a knife
And now the die has shaken, now the die must fall
There ain't a winner in the game
He don't go home with all, not with all

Leaving Texas, fourth day of July
Sun so hot, the clouds so low, the eagles filled the sky
Catch the Detroit Lightning out of Santa Fe
The Great Northern out of Cheyenne, from sea to shining sea

Gotta go to Tulsa, first train we can ride
Gotta settle one old score, one small point of pride
There ain't a place a man can hide, Shannon, will keep him from the
sun
Ain't a bed can give us rest now, you keep us on the run

Jack Straw from Wichita cut his buddy down
And dug for him a shallow grave, and laid his body down
Half a mile from Tucson, by the morning light
One man gone and another to go
My old buddy you're moving much too slow

We can share the women we can share the wine
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #2 of 40: David Gans (tnf) Wed 10 Mar 04 18:00
    

"I had just read 'Of Mice and Men' for about the tenth time.  I was com-
pletely smitten by that story.  I took a step back in time into the Depres-
sion, and that era, and this story emerged between me and Hunter about these
two guys on the lam... ne'er-do-wells... victims of the Depression."

- Bob Weir 3/2/04
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #3 of 40: Marked from the Day That I was Born (ssol) Thu 11 Mar 04 14:09
    
Heh... another dislocation in time... ambiquity between the musical
themes, the implied temporal space... and the rails the song rideäF@f
course.
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #4 of 40: David Dodd (ddodd) Fri 12 Mar 04 08:47
    
But were they the victims or the crime?
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #5 of 40: lenny or squiggy (xian) Mon 3 May 04 09:18
    
Tangent: the ending of Of Mice and Men brought me to tears when I read
it at age 11 or 12, a landmark experience for me in terms of the power
of literature as art.
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #6 of 40: Alex Allan (alexallan) Thu 10 Jun 04 18:06
    
Hearing Weir talk about "Of Mice And Men" makes me wonder if he wrote
some of the lyrics as well as the music. In the O'Franken interview, he
certainly seems to imply that some of the ideas for the story came
from him ("I just went there and made up my own sad little story").

In "Box Of Rain," some of the lyrics are in italics (eg "Hurts my ears
to listen ..." and "We used to play for silver ..."). The same is true
for "Sugar Magnolia" but with a footnote saying lyrics in italics were
written by Bob Weir.

That may not mean that much, since there are other purely Hunter songs
with sections in italics. And the sheet music clearly says words by
Hunter and music by Weir.

Nonetheless, it set me thinking.
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #7 of 40: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Fri 11 Jun 04 07:46
    
It would be very interesting to hear the whole story about the
interactions between Hunter and Weir in the course of the development
of this song.
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #8 of 40: Christian Crumlish (xian) Fri 11 Jun 04 10:46
    
I always assumed the italics in ABOR are there to set off dialogue
between the two protagonists.
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #9 of 40: AZanimal (zepezauer) Fri 11 Jun 04 11:47
    
So did I.  But then I always assumed the same thing about the parts
sung by Jerry, and the two don't correspond.
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #10 of 40: Christian Crumlish (xian) Sun 13 Jun 04 08:58
    
interesting...
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #11 of 40: from TIM (tnf) Tue 28 Sep 04 07:44
    



Tim writes:


Jack Straw the British Foreign Sec has no talent for anything apart from
being a snivelling little piece of shit. If he has to do a cameo, could he be
The Watchman? Then we can see him get knocked on the head by Shannon. I'm not
a violent man, but I make exceptions for some people...

I see the characters as younger, like the boys in Cormac McCarthy's Border
Trilogy books (All The Pretty Horses etc), or the young Ben Johnson and Harry
Carey Jr. in John Ford movies, or in a different location, Dustin Hoffman and
Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy.

Tim
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #12 of 40: from BAMFINNEY (tnf) Sun 23 Jul 06 09:20
    



From "bamfinney":


Greetings,

I was musing on the various levels of meaning in Jack Straw and thought I
might share some insights I've had about it. Hopefully it's worth the time!


This song seems to pitch two travelers at odds. The character "Jack Straw" is
not named in the song and the only other character that is named is referred
to as "Shannon."  The title, Jack Straw, reminds me of a scarecrow: an empty
imitation representing the real substance, or a "straw dog (man)": something
set up as a target, which is fictional but based on some reality: as in a
theory a disbeliever misrepresents and then attacks those misrepresentations
as if they are the true underpinnings of the theory (which they are not: it
is a "straw dog" not the real dog which is attacked). This is a very common
practice for those who are not well versed in the subject they are attacking,
or those who find no issues with the real theory but nonetheless are on the
defensive for one reason of another.

The "bad" character in Jack Straw is perhaps a "straw dog"; he's the kind of
person the Dead are to some degree set against, extra baggage to be drug
around ("Bertha don't you come round here anymore": almost too much trouble
to be worth it). Perhaps "Shannon" in the first few lines is Jack Straw: the
guy who jumps the "watchman" and steals his stuff, killing him in the
process; the guy who has to go to Tulsa and commit an act of vengeance
because of wounded pride (not too virtuous). Perhaps there is "no honor among
thieves," but Shannon has crossed a line ("you keep us on the run") and the
other character has serious issues with Shannon's behavior: "Burns my ears to
listen, burns my eyes to see; cut down a man in cold blood, Shannon, might as
well been me!"

The one having a moral dilemma with Shannon's actions is the one we are to
emulate. The opening lines of the song might point to this: "Cause we done
shared all of mine." This sarcasm is biting. Shannon takes ("shares") the
other man's woman and wine. He is a moocher. Shannon is someone to put up
with, a man of straw, without substance or virtue, but the other character
does put up with him, surprisingly. Maybe you can't always choose your
friends or companions? Maybe Fate puts us with folks we don't always
understand or agree with but who we walk with anyway, as in Uncle John's
Band: "no time to hate".

In the end, Jack Straw (who I think is Shannon) cuts "his buddy down." This
is one less man Jack has to put up with (he's already killed one: the
watchman "in cold blood," and certainly intends to deal with another: the one
in Tulsa who hurt his pride). His dead buddy is one less person to hinder his
un-virtuous lifestyle, one less person to preach to him ("might as well been
me," and it in fact was him who also died, buried in a shallow, hurried,
disrespectful grave!). In the end, the bad guy wins, but does he? "One man
gone (Shannon's buddy) and another to go (Shannon himself); my old buddy
you're moving much too slow." Shannon is perpetually on the run. No matter
how many "buddies" he has, he'll always be on the run and he'll always
subject his buddies to his particular predicament. Reminds me of certain
characters in Friend of the Devil and Sugaree: being "on the run" is a large
theme worth serious exploration in the Dead's music, but the one on the run
is not necessarily to be envied.

Another take could be that Jack Straw is the one Shannon kills in the end,
not Shannon himself. Perhaps the best morality, in the end, turns out to be
straw. The moral position has been seen by some to be the weaker position.
Even Jesus said, "Do not resist one who is evil?turn the other cheek,"
(Matthew 5:39) and "the meek will inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5, see also
Psalm 73, "Why do the wicked prosper"). Despite his position against
Shannon's "sins," which would be the "right" position, he is cut down anyway.
Religious history is full of "saints" who are cut down for their faith. One
would think "God" would protect "his" own, but "the good [often] die young."
But, perhaps it is better to die young and be good than to narrowly survive,
get away with murder, and be on the run?

Either way, this song presents to us a paradox of right and wrong, of tricky
friendships that are worth keeping despite their trickiness, as well as the
logical progression of things starting out bad and ending up worse (Shannon's
buddy should have known what the outcome would be if things started out on
the wrong foot to begin with). Who's shoes we stand in depends upon the
choices we make, but in the end, "like the good book says, you're gonna reap
just what ye sow" (Thanks, Pigpen).

The lyricist gives us a playful, yet serious, look at Life in all its twists
and turns. You can't avoid the paradoxes and you can't always chose sides so
easily or even at all. All you can do sometimes is "keep on rolling," your
foot always in that next "mile to go."
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #13 of 40: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Tue 25 Jul 06 07:30
    
Interesting, but a key premise is wrong. 

'The character "Jack Straw" is not named in the song and the only
other character that is named is referred to as "Shannon."'

Jack Straw from Wichita 
Cut his buddy down
Dug for him a shallow grave
And layed his body down

I don't find much room for doubt about who was killed by whom.

I was just looking at the GD Comix take on this lyric this morning,
funnily enough.
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #14 of 40: David Gans (tnf) Tue 25 Jul 06 09:34
    

"Cut his buddy down" is ambiguous: did Jack kill him, or did he cut his buddy
down after someone else strung him up?
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #15 of 40: from BRYAN MILLER (tnf) Tue 25 Jul 06 11:12
    



Bryan Miller writes:



In my interpretation, Jack is Shannon, the violent one, the one most likely
to cut someone down. If Jack is Shannon's buddy, not Shannon himself, Jack
takes on Shannon's violence after having reproved him for it  in the first
verse (jumping the watchman).
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #16 of 40: from BRYAN MILLER (tnf) Tue 25 Jul 06 11:25
    


Bryan Miller again - I think he is responding to my post <14>:


If this is true, it would dramatically and rightly change my take on the
song. It would actually end better for the "good guy," if a good guy he is.
Shannon would have "paid" for his "sin" by death on a tree, would no longer
be "on the run" and Jack would be free. but who is the "another to go" in the
final verse of the song? I wonder...
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #17 of 40: Paul B. Israel (pauli) Tue 25 Jul 06 12:14
    
I've always thought of that as Jack Straw talking to himself and his dead
buddy Shannon about himself realizing his own days are numbered.
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #18 of 40: from BRYAN MILLER (tnf) Tue 25 Jul 06 12:37
    


From Bryan Miller:

I think I'm answering a lot of my own questions now since Russel's reply
(thanks u by the way!). I was thinking that since Bobby talks about two
"ne'er do wells," it must be that both Shannon and Jack are somewhat in the
same shoes. With Shannon having been buried, the narrator of the story
repeats the chorus, "one man gone and another to go..." Jack must be that
other man to go. Perhaps jack, the other "ne'er do well" is on the run no and
moving too slow. Perhaps he'll be hung next if they catch up with him.

I think i see this song a little more clearly now. thanks. What a great way
to come to understandings!
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #19 of 40: Lightning in a Box (unkljohn) Tue 25 Jul 06 14:25
    
I always took it to mean that Jack Straw had to get to Tulsa to settle an 
old score. He got there, cut his buddy down, buried him and then had one 
down and one to go.

I'll have to rethink him cutting someone down who was hanging. Not sure if 
it works for me.
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #20 of 40: from BRYAN MILLER (tnf) Tue 25 Jul 06 15:39
    


Bryan Miller writes:



In response to Lightning:

That would seem to be a straight forward reading of the last two verses, but
every other time "buddy" is mentioned is seems to be between Jack and/or
Shannon. I don't know if "buddy" would then be used to refer to someone he
had a score to settle with. But who knows. I figure there's gotta be some
irony in the song some where (?).
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #21 of 40: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Wed 26 Jul 06 07:05
    
Jack Straw:

"We can share ..."

Shannon:

"I just jumped the watchman ..."

Jack Straw:

"Hurts my ears to listen, Shannon ..."

Both:

"We used to play for silver ..."

Jack Straw:

"Leaving Texas 4th day of July ..."

Narrator:

"Jack Straw from Witchita .."

Jack Straw:

"Half a mile from Tuscon ..."
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #22 of 40: from BRYAN MILLER (tnf) Wed 26 Jul 06 08:31
    


Bryan Miller writes:

the very long entry i made a few days a go needs serious revising (i feel) in
light of all the responses. I certainly wont post that! It would be too
long... but weir's comments about the great depression, two guys "on the
lam," "two ne'er do wells," leads me to believe that both Jack and Shannon
show desperation in their actions and words, and desparation leads a man to
do what he perhaps would not do in other circumstances. This song is a slice
of real nitty gritty pie.
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #23 of 40: Robin Russell (rrussell8) Wed 26 Jul 06 11:21
    
Nothing is too long if we can use it to approach enlightenment.

I see Jack and Shannon as a bit worse than ne'er do wells. Murderous
sociopaths is probably closer to my perception of them.
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #24 of 40: Christian Crumlish (xian) Thu 27 Jul 06 21:32
    
i don't buy Jack=Shannon. It doesn't work for me.
  
deadsongs.vue.110 : Jack Straw
permalink #25 of 40: Christian Crumlish (xian) Thu 27 Jul 06 21:33
    
also, i wonder if any clue can be taken by considering the lines that
were given to Jerry to sing?
  

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