deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #0 of 33: David Dodd (ddodd) Mon 8 Sep 03 09:34
    
Ship Of Fools
w: Hunter m: Garcia
AGDL: http://arts.ucsc.edu/gdead/agdl/ship.html
LASF: http://www.whitegum.com/songfile/SHIPFOOL.HTM
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #1 of 33: Alex Allan (alexallan) Mon 8 Sep 03 20:27
    
Ship Of Fools 
Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Jerry Garcia

Copyright Ice Nine Publishing; used by permission.

Went to see the captain, strangest I could find
Laid my proposition down, laid it on the line
I won't slave for beggar's pay, likewise gold and jewels
But I would slave to learn the way to sink your ship of fools

Chorus
Ship of fools on a cruel sea
Ship of fools sail away from me
It was later than I thought when I first believed you
But now I cannot share your laughter, ship of fools

Saw your first ship sink and drown from rocking of the boat
And all that could not sink of swim were just left there to float
I won't leave you drifting down but whoa it makes me wild
With thirty years upon my head to have you call me child

[chorus]

The bottle stand is empty now, as they were filled before
Time there was and plenty, but from that cup no more
Though I could not caution all, I still might warn a few
Don't lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools

[chorus]
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #2 of 33: David A. Mason (mntnwolf) Wed 9 Feb 05 07:47
    
Has anyone ever figured out the 2nd verse of this?
What is he talkin' about, or trying to say....?
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #3 of 33: Christian Crumlish (xian) Wed 9 Feb 05 10:47
    
btw, in verse 3 isn't it "as empty"? 

that is, originally "the bottles stand as empty, as they were filled
before" and later "the bottle stands as empty, as it was filled
before"?

as for verse 2, it's like chinacat - i don't have a literal
interpretation for you, but i feel like i understand what it's saying.

i often saw the Ship as the Grateful Dead beast itself but also as
America or american politics.

What stranger captain could one find than Captain Trips?
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #4 of 33: David Dodd (ddodd) Wed 9 Feb 05 14:13
    
Oops. Yes, it should be "as empty." Definitely. I have also always seen it
as a take, not just on American politics, but politics generally. Or any
bandwagon generally. There's also some distant relationship to The Golden
Vanity, a Child ballad.
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #5 of 33: David Dodd (ddodd) Wed 9 Feb 05 14:14
    
The Golden Vanity

THE GOLDEN VANITY

There was a gallant ship from the northern counteree,
And the name she went under was the Golden Vanity.
They feared she would be taken by the Turkish enemy
That was cruising in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,
That was cruising in the lowlands low.

The first that came on deck was a little cabin boy,
Saying, "Captain what will you give me if the ship I will destroy?"
"Gold I will give you and my daughter for your bride
If you'll sink her in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,
If you'll sink her in the lowlands low."

The boy took an auger and overboard went he,
The boy took an auger and swam out in the sea,
He swam till he reached the Turkish enemy
For to sink her in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,
For to sink her in the lowlands low.
The boy bored three holes and two of them bored twice
While some of them were playing cards and some were shaking dice
He saw their dark eyes glitter as the water it rolled in,
Now she's sinking in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,
Now she's sinking in the lowlands low.

The boy dropped his auger and back swam he,
He swam till he reached the Golden Vanity,
Saying, "Captain pick me up, I am drifting with the tide,
I am drowning in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,
I am drowning in the lowlands low."

"O no my boy to pick you up that I never will,
I'll sink you, I'll drown you, I'll do it with a will,
Nor gold will I give you nor my daughter for your bride
But I'll sink you in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,
I'll sink you in the lowlands low."

The boy turned around and swam to the other side,
Saying, "Shipmen pick me up, I am drifting with the tide,
Shipmen pick me up, I am drifting with the tide,
I am drowning in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,
I am drowning in the lowlands low."

The shipmen picked him up and on the deck he died,
They wrapped him in his cot for it was long and wide,
They wrapped him in his cot and they buried him with the tide
Now he's sinking in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,
Now he's sinking in the lowlands low.

About three weeks later, the weather being fine and clear
A voice came from heaven which smote the captain's ear,
Saying, "Captain you have been very cruel to me.
Now I'll sink you in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,
Now I'll sink you in the lowlands low."

The captain laughed a scornful laugh, an evil man was he,
He feared no retribution, so peaceful was the sea,
But soon the waves were breaking o'er the Golden Vanity,
Now she's sinking in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,
Now she's sinking in the lowlands low.

The sailors in their life belts were rescued from the sea
But the wicked captain perished with the Golden Vanity,
A giant wave came over and it swept him out to sea,
Now he's sinking in the lowlands, lowlands, lowlands,
Now he's sinking in the lowlands low.

Child #286
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #6 of 33: David Gans (tnf) Wed 9 Feb 05 22:08
    
That song appears on the CD "American Spring" by The Mix - Melvin Seals, john
Kadlecik, Kevin Rosen, and Greg Anton.  Nicely sung by John.

(BTW, the title track is a Hunter-Anton collaboration, also well=sung by
John.)
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #7 of 33: Marked from the Day That I was Born (ssol) Thu 10 Feb 05 14:17
    
Wow... another stream divined to the well-spring... I never knew what
anticeeded SOF, nor cared about what it was meant to say about whatever
but what it spoke to me at the moment.This is very interesting stuff.
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #8 of 33: David A. Mason (mntnwolf) Thu 10 Feb 05 21:57
    
Very interesting, yes.  But to go back --

> Saw your first ship sink and drown from rocking of the boat
> And all that could not sink of swim were just left there to float
(that should be "sink or swim" of course)

But what was this "first ship" that sank???
i've been wondering for 30 years now.......
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #9 of 33: David Dodd (ddodd) Fri 11 Feb 05 12:26
    
30 years upon your head...
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #10 of 33: Marked from the Day That I was Born (ssol) Fri 11 Feb 05 14:18
    
Heh... but what was the first ship?

Paging Dr. Inscrutable to the dayglo courtesy phone....
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #11 of 33: Lightning in a Box (unkljohn) Sat 12 Feb 05 16:07
    
I always thought the song was about Nixon and his administration. He was 
the head of the shipof fools. I don't know exactly what his first ship 
was. 
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #12 of 33: David Gans (tnf) Sun 13 Feb 05 14:50
    

It can also be interpreted as an epistle to Deadland.
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #13 of 33: Lightning in a Box (unkljohn) Sun 13 Feb 05 15:22
    
Ah, I hadn't thought of that. Then is he talking about going to see the 
captain, as in talking to himself, Capt. Trips? Or am I reaching to far?
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #14 of 33: David Gans (tnf) Sun 13 Feb 05 15:38
    

Your captainage may vary, and I wouldn't imagine Hunter thinking of "Capt
Trips" at all, but I do think it's worthwhile to imagine that Jerry is the
"Captain" in that song.
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #15 of 33: Lightning in a Box (unkljohn) Sun 13 Feb 05 16:00
    
I'll have to listen to it again and look at it differently.
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #16 of 33: David A. Mason (mntnwolf) Sun 13 Feb 05 23:02
    
> It can also be interpreted as an epistle to Deadland.

Yeah, but then i just don't "get" it...  by early 1974, what in
Deadland could've been a "first ship" that had sank & drown???
Other than the death of Pig and the Lenny Hart fiasco, it'd been
pretty smooth sailing and plenty fun up to then...  Hit albums 
and growing audiences, supreme music, Wall of Sound to debut, 
GD's own label (Round Records) going great, they were Masters of
their own little Universe in early 74, eh?

If this'd been penned in the 80's, or even 1976, i'd understand.

In this direction, the only interpretation that has made sense to
me for the "first ship" is the Haight-Asbury scene of 1966-67...
that surely did crash on the rocks, partly from a lack of communal
cooperation (rocking of the boat).  Many good-hearted people sank
in various nasty ways, many were just abandoned to float, i guess.
Some swam -- like the GD themselves, who swam Olympically.  But 
then who is this calling the singer "child", who is this strange
Captain of the new Ship...?
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #17 of 33: Lightning in a Box (unkljohn) Mon 14 Feb 05 05:37
    
I didn't start seeing shows until 1978, so I can only relate what Beth has 
said about why she split from the scene from about 1974 until about 
1985....the energy had gotten weird and stuff like heroin showing up with 
people doing it in the shows, stuff like that made her skee-dattle. So 
that might be the first ship sinking and drowning from rocking of the 
boat.........
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #18 of 33: David Gans (tnf) Tue 15 Feb 05 07:31
    

David, I am not suggesting that this is the only interpretation, nor the
"literal" "meeaning" of the song.  But it's also true that there are any
number of things that went on behind the scenes that we wouldn't know about.
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #19 of 33: David Dodd (ddodd) Tue 15 Feb 05 12:30
    
Too many Davids!
One does wonder, always, about "real" "meaning." But, as County Joe remarked
to the judge who asked him his real name: "Define real."
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #20 of 33: David Gans (tnf) Tue 15 Feb 05 14:09
    
Sorrry, I was adddress ing <mntnwolf>
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #21 of 33: neil (nlg) Tue 15 Feb 05 15:52
    
Of course, one thing that makes poetry wonderful is that meaning can
be so subjective, to the point of being utterly elusive.  Something I
think Hunter reveled in at times, to very good results.
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #22 of 33: David Dodd (ddodd) Wed 16 Feb 05 09:23
    
Yes! When I was at Davis studying literature back in the 70's, the big thing
(one of the big things...) was the heuristic nature of poetry, a concept I
embraced heartily, and which finds nearly explicit mention in "Ripple," with
its lines: "the thoughts are broken, perhaps they're better left unsung.."
and the resolution: "let there be songs to fill the air."
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #23 of 33: Marked from the Day That I was Born (ssol) Wed 16 Feb 05 11:11
    
Indeed... one of the marvels of Hunter's writing and Garcia's
interpretation and expression of those lyrics is the marvelous
plasticity in their apprehended meaning. I know that over decades of
reveling in the set of lyric/music/voice and my own growing experience
in the world, many of those tunes revealed new meanings and relevance,
and still held their basic mystery and ability to surprise.

I have no idea what that "first ship" was ;-)
  
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permalink #24 of 33: David Dodd (ddodd) Wed 16 Feb 05 13:41
    
Me neither.
  
deadsongs.vue.180 : Ship Of Fools
permalink #25 of 33: David A. Mason (mntnwolf) Wed 23 Feb 05 18:33
    
Thanks for the good discussion, guyz.   I'm satisfied -- 
If nobody has any better interpretation for this song than 
the vauge one i've mulled over for the past 30 years, if
the words are really not tied to any specific incident or 
group that we can ascertain...  Then it just is what it is.
And that's good enough.
  

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