Hey Tom Banjo

The Grateful Dead song “Mountains Of The Moon” has lyrics by Robert Hunter and the music was written by Jerry Garcia.  It is not a song about the Earth, however it does mention the Earth and it is actually not even about the moon.  It is a complicated song that may best be described as a minstrel song, being a folk song with lyrical poetry and it features a musical style which could probably be used to dance the minuet to.  A minstrel was a medieval European entertainer and this term originally described any type of entertainer such as a musician, juggler, acrobat, singer or fool, but later the term came to mean a specialist entertainer who sang songs and played musical instruments.  This song brings you back to the days of Robin Hood where wandering minstrels played fiddles, the lute, and small percussion instruments.  This song features Tom Constanten as the keyboardist who also played harpsichord and he joined the Grateful Dead in November 1968, but departed two years later.

Hunter is an extraordinarily well-read guy, and he has a command over myth and language that is expressed in this song.  He wrote elegant words for this symbolic tale that is set in a magical land of romance and it includes fragments of a thousand dreams.  The song starts off by mentioning ‘Cold Mountain’ and this might have something to do with Han-Shan the early Chinese Buddhist Taoist transcendental poet, who was referred to as the Master of Cold Mountain, and who always had his sidekick friend Shi-Te tagging along with him.  Torn Banjo is a suitor who pursues the jade merchant’s daughter, where jade is the symbol of long life.

The Titan Atlas carried the Earth on his back, and he had seven daughters, the Pleiades.  After Atlas was forced to carry the heavens on his shoulders, Orion began to pursue all of the Pleiades, and Zeus transformed them first into doves, and then into stars to comfort their father.  The Pleiades star cluster was an object of wonder and the subject of myth and legend in almost every culture on the planet.  Only six stars are distinctly visible to the naked eye and the ancient Greeks explained the disappearance of the seventh star with the myth of Electra, an ancestress of the royal house of Troy.  After the destruction of Troy, the grief stricken Electra abandoned her sisters and was transformed into a into a star, the dark, so-called lost star of the Pleiades although others say a comet, but from then on Electra would be viewed as a sign of impending doom.

Laurel, or the laurel tree, is another symbol of long life and of success, as the laurel crown or wreath was given to the winner of a chariot race.  Heigh-ho the carrion crow is line from a nonsense nursery rhyme that goes like this, “A carrion crow sat on an oak, Fol de riddle, lol de riddle, hi ding do, Watching a tailor shape his cloak; Sing heigh-ho, the carrion crow, Fol de riddle, lol de riddle, hi ding do!”  The carrion crow is a significant feature in Celtic and Norse mythology and few birds have as much written about them as the crow.  They are a symbol of loneliness and solitude, and are often misunderstood.  Some people view them as cunning demons or devils.  There is no denying the fact that Edgar Allen Poe was able to capture a person’s attention, and make them think with his dark poem “The Raven”, which is about an amazing little bird that sat on top of his chamber door speaking to him.  With one word ‘nevermore’ the bird was able to drive the man mad, with rage and anger.  Edgar Allan Poe mentions the ‘mountains of the moon’, in his 1849 poem “Eldorado”.

Hunter may have been talking about Alfred the Great, King of England, who raised an army to defeat the invading Danes from the stronghold of the impenetrable British marshes in his lyrics the Marsh King’s Daughter.  His name literally means, ‘Adviser to the elves’, or this could be a toad demon from Hans Christian Andersen.  This song is utterly distinctive, mixing mystery with intellectual content and chivalrous romance.  It has nothing to do with rock and roll, but everything to do with the development of a great song writing relationship, a partnership between Hunter and Garcia that was about to create a postmodern dream world.

Playboy After Dark was an American television show hosted by Hugh Hefner that aired from 1969 to 1970.  I found a video of the Grateful Dead from this show playing ‘Mountains of the Moon’, which has very good quality, however you may have to look at a few topless women.  The video goes straight into another one of their songs titled Saint Steven.  I hope you enjoy the Grateful Dead at the Playboy Mansion in January 1969.

Cold Mountain water
the jade merchant’s daughter
Mountains of the Moon, Bow and bend to me
Hi ho the Carrion Crow
Folderolderiddle
Hi Ho the Carrion Crow
Bow and bend to me

Hey Tom Banjo
Hey a laurel
More than laurel
You may sow
More than laurel
You may sow

Hey the laurel
Hey the city
In the rain
Hey, hey,
Hey the white wheat
Waving in the wind

20 degrees of solitude
20 degrees in all
All the dancing kings & wives
assembled in the hall
Lost is a long & lonely time
Fairy Sybil flying
All along the all along
the Mountains of the Moon

Hey Tom Banjo
It’s time to matter
The Earth will see you
on through this time
The Earth will see you on
through this time

Down by the water
The Marsh King’s Daughter
Did you know?
Clothed in tatters
Always will be
Tom, where did you go?

Mountains of the Moon, Electra
Mountains of the Moon
All along the
All along the
Mountains of the Moon

Hi Ho the Carrion Crow
Folderolderiddle
Hi Ho the Carrion Crow
Bow and bend to me
Bend to me

Written for 2/18/18 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “Earth”.

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