Listen To The River Sing Sweet Songs To Rock My Soul

Robert Hunter wrote the song ‘Brokedown Palace’ while he was staying in London in 1970 and it was composed on the same afternoon as ‘Ripple’ and ‘To Lay Me Down’.  ‘Brokedown Palace’ and ‘Ripple’ both came out on the American Beauty album, which was the fifth studio album by the Grateful Dead that was released November 1, 1970 and Garcia recorded ‘To Lay Me Down’ on his 1972 solo album Garcia.

Robert Hunter was probably familiar with that old sailor song called ‘Fare Thee Well Marianne’ when he wrote this song.
Fare thee well, my own true love
rare thee well, my dear
The ship is sailin’ and the wind blows tree
And I am bound away to the sea, Marianne
Ten thousand miles away from home
Ten thousand miles or more
The sea may freeze or the earth may burn
If I never more return to you, Marianne
The lobster boiling in the pot
The bluefish on the hook
Their suffering’s long but it’s nothing like

The ache I bear for you, Marianne
And if I had a flask of gin
Sugar here for two
And a great big bowl to mix them in
I’d pour a drink for you, Marianne
So fare thee well, my own true love
Fare thee well, my dear
The ship is sailing and the wind blows free
And I am bound away to the sea, Marianne

It is often said that life is about the journey, not the destination, I guess because your memories come from things that you do on the way.  ‘Brokedown Palace’ is a peaceful song and it may be one of the most beautiful songs ever written, however it borders on being morbid and therefore you need to be mature in order to enjoy it.  I see it as a guy singing to his lover about his oncoming demise.  It starts off with a goodbye and then it is states the birds that were singing have flown, except you alone.  The guy wants to leave this brokedown palace on his hands and knees, to roll.  He will make himself a bed by the waterside and roll.  In that bed, he will lay his head and listen to the river.  The river will make him sleepy like a lullaby that his Mama once sung.  He is going home to rest his bones, listen to the river sing sweet songs that will rock his soul.  He is going to plant a weeping willow on the bank of that river hoping it will grow.  Lovers can come and go, as the river will roll.  He says goodbye again and that he loves her more than words can tell.

He may have some terminal illness, so he is getting ready to die and does not want to leave without saying a last goodbye to the one person (the last singing bird) who has stayed with him through the whole ordeal.  He wants to be buried by the river, the rushing water is a constant thing providing peace, as the river will roll, roll, roll.  He probably led a long life, because he is getting sleepy and he is preparing to leave is his own old and frail body.  He thinks about his Mama and all the things that he has done since he left home.  He planted a tree and he hopes that lovers will come by to see the willow and this will give him peace in the afterlife.

Ken Kesey a long time friend of the Grateful Dead said that he lost his 20-year-old son Jed Kesey, due to injuries he suffered in an accident on an icy road.  In January 1984, the van carrying members of the Oregon wrestling team slid off an icy highway in Washington, and went off a cliff, killing Jed and another Oregon wrestler.  After Jed had been dead a few months he went with his family to see the Dead.  They did their usual stuff and got their big ovations and then, they started playing ‘Broke Down Palace’ and they all turned toward Ken and his family.  And that song helped to heal their bruised hearts.  When the song was over there was no applause, as everybody was crying, just like when Eric Clapton begins to sing ‘Tears in Heaven’.  This Clapton song was inspired by the death of Clapton’s four-year-old son, Conor who fell out the window of a 53rd-floor apartment.

During August 1970, Garcia’s mother Ruth was involved in a serious car accident near Twin Peaks in San Francisco where the car she was in went off a cliff.  Garcia was recording the American Beauty album at this time, and he often left the sessions to visit his mother with his brother Clifford.  Jerry’s mother Ruth Marie Garcia died on September 28, 1970.  Some people say that ‘Brokedown Palace’ was written about Jerry Garcia’s mother Ruth, as she was dying in the hospital.  I don’t think that this is right and although I could not find the exact date that Robert Hunter wrote this song, it seems like it was written in the early part of 1970.  I also do not know the exact date of Ruth Garcia’s accident, but the Grateful Dead started playing ‘Brokedown Palace’ on August 18, 1970 in the Fillmore West.  ‘Brokedown Palace’ is probably taken from Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.  In this novel, the brokedown palace is an abandoned dilapidated warehouse known to some of Cannery Row’s less prosperous, who refer to it as the Palace Flophouse.  The cannery workers, some bums and beggars start to furnish it, so they can live at the Palace Flophouse and Grill.

The weeping willow is a symbol for unlucky love and it indicates cycles, rhythms, and the ebb and flux.  Robert Hunter’s words provide the band’s poetic story telling soul.  This song can sooth anyone whose heart has been wounded.  Video recorded at Hampton, VA on 3/24/87.

Fare you well, my honey
Fare you well, my only true one
All the birds that were singing
Are flown, except you alone

Gonna leave this brokedown palace
On my hands and my knees, I will roll, roll, roll
Make myself a bed by the waterside
In my time, in my time, I will roll, roll, roll

In a bed, in a bed
By the waterside I will lay my head
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

River gonna take me, sing me sweet and sleepy
Sing me sweet and sleepy all the way back home
It’s a far gone lullaby sung many years ago
Mama, Mama, many worlds I’ve come since I first left home

Going home, going home
By the waterside I will rest my bones
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

Going to plant a weeping willow
On the bank’s green edge it will grow, grow, grow
Singing a lullaby beside the water
Lovers come and go, the river will roll, roll, roll

Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

Written for 11/11/18 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “soul”.

10 thoughts on “Listen To The River Sing Sweet Songs To Rock My Soul

  1. This was very nice to listen to, thanks for the introduction. Also, it’s the name of one of my favorite movies of all time, but didn’t realize the screenwriter had taken the name of the movie from this song. According to Wikipedia, that’s exactly what he did (I just looked it up). Learn something new every day! 🙂

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