Ever Since They Tore The Juke Box Down

The Grateful Dead song ‘Row Jimmy’ was written by Garcia and Hunter and released on their 1973 album Wake Of The Flood.  This song can mean many things to different people, but I will give you my take on it and then you can make your own decision.  I think that this song carries a Dorian message (relating to the Blue Tang fish in the Nemo movies) and that is to just keep swimming, or for Jimmy it is to just keep rowing in the face of any adversity.  The song starts out with the lyrics, Julie catch a rabbit by his hair”, which is sort of a homophone, or maybe it is a pun, as hares and rabbits are both in the family Leporidae, but they’re separate species, as hares have longer ears and bigger feet.  Why does Julie catch this rabbit?  I could be way off base here, but I wonder if Julie was pregnant and maybe the rabbit was needed for a pregnancy test.

I am going to go with Julie being a hooker as in the next line of this song it says, “Come back step, like to walk on air”, which would be a great trick defying the laws of Physics if a person could walk on air, so Julie does tricks.  The song is narrated by someone who is not Jimmy or Julie, but it might be a voice that is inside of Jimmy’s head.  It might be like that Seinfeld episode where Jimmy is this guy who always refers to himself in the third person.  Anyway the narrator says, “Get back home where you belong and don’t you run off no more Don’t hang your head let the two-time roll”, which means that they are a couple, and even though Julie ran off and cheated on Jimmy, he still wants her.  I think that Julie has returned pregnant, that she deceived Jimmy, having a sexual relationship with someone else, two timing him while they were a couple, but Jimmy is willing to forgive and he feels that she does not need to hang her head in shame.

Jimmy and Julie live in poverty inside a “Grass shack nailed to a pine wood floor”.  He says, “Ask the time? Baby I don’t know”, possibly he does not know this because he can’t afford a simple watch.  He has a laid back attitude, “Come back later, we’ll let it show And I say row, Jimmy row Gonna get there? I don’t know”, which makes me think that they get by perhaps living on the banks of the Mississippi, as I always get this Tom Sawyer feel from this song.  It might be possible that Jimmy has some sort of a rowboat and that he ferries people across the river.  Maybe the river current is very strong and one of his customers asks him “Gonna get there?” to which Jimmy says, “I don’t know”.  There is a good possibility that this customer really wants to reach his destination, so he gives Jimmy a tip saying, “Here’s my half a dollar if you dare?”  Jimmy is happy to get the extra money, so he does a “double twist when he hits the air”.  Then he “Looks at Julie down below”, with her big belly and he is proud that he can support his family.  He also notices that “the levee is doin the do-pas-o”, which is a dance step very similar to the better known do-si-do.

Jimmy and Julie are scraping by even in this time of hardship and he reminisces, “Broken heart don’t feel so bad Ain’t got half a what you thought you had Rock your baby to and fro Not too fast and not too slow.”  They will have their baby and that will make them happy.  Things are not going so well for the town where they live, “That’s the way it’s been in town ever since they tore the juke box down Two-bit piece don’t buy no more not so much as it done before.”  The juke box is a relic of a purer time in America, when nobody had smart phones to listen to their music.  Buck Owens wrote the song ‘Put A Quarter In The Jukebox’ and that is the same as a two-bit piece.  It has become more difficult for Jimmy and Julie to get by in this one horse town without any music (no juke box), except Jimmy continues his singing saying, “row, Jimmy, row
…Get down, row, row, row, row and his song helps them get by.  I probably missed the boat with my analysis on more than a few points, but anyway that is what I think this song is all about.

Bob Hunter said that the title of his song ‘Row Jimmy’ came from a line that was originally in a song that he wrote called ‘Fair To Even Odds’ around 1970.  Bob had no music to go with his song and years later Pete Sears who was was bassist and key­boardist with Jefferson Star­ship from 1974 to 1978 realized that the words to ‘Fair To Even Odds’ almost perfectly matched some music that he had written.  Pete called Bob and they collaborated on this song for Pete’s solo album, The Long Haul in 2000.

Julie catch a rabbit by his hair
Come back step, like to walk on air
Get back home where you belong
and don’t you run off no more

Don’t hang your head let the two-time roll
Grass shack nailed to a pine wood floor
Ask the time? Baby I don’t know
Come back later, we’ll let it show

And I say row, Jimmy row
Gonna get there?
I don’t know
Seems a common way to go
Get down, row, row, row
row, row

Here’s my half a dollar if you dare
double twist when you hit the air
Look at Julie down below
the levee doin the do-pas-o

And I say row, Jimmy, row
Gonna get there?
I don’t know
Seems a common way to go
Get down, row, row, row
row, row

Broken heart don’t feel so bad
Ain’t got half a what you thought you had
Rock your baby to and fro
Not too fast and not too slow

And I say row, Jimmy, row
Gonna get there?
I don’t know
Seems a common way to go
Get down, row, row, row
row, row

That’s the way it’s been in town
ever since they tore the juke box down
Two-bit piece don’t buy no more
not so much as it done before

And I say row, Jimmy, row
Gonna get there?
I don’t know
Seems a common way to go
Get down, row, row, row
row, row

Written for March 31, 2019 Song Lyric Sunday where the prompt is Record/Juke Box/DJ/Radio.

22 thoughts on “Ever Since They Tore The Juke Box Down

  1. Garcia looks like he’s got a halo around his head with his hair in the light. As packed as the stadium is, I’m sure he was a spiritual leader to many. I like the way you try to break the lyrics down. The band meshes very well with each other.

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    1. I guess you are hoping your anecdote conveys your disdain, but all we witness is your desperation for attention.

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    1. Song Lyric Sunday always amazes and surprises me, as there is so much diversity and knowledge shown each week by all the contestants and each week I look forward to your contribution.

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  2. Love hearing the Grateful Dead doing any song. This is another good one. There is probably more live recordings of them than any other group in history.

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