Down By The Docks Of The City

The brown rat is also known as the common rat, street rat, sewer rat, or a wharf rat.  Rats are said to be the first to sense an impending disaster, thus leading to the phrase, leaving like rats on a sinking ship.  The Grateful Dead song ‘Wharf Rat’ was written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter and it appears on the 1971 Skull & Roses album on Warner Bros. Records.  It is their seventh album and their second live double album and it became their first album to be certified gold.  ‘Wharf Rat’ was recorded at the Fillmore East, on April 26, 1971 and Jerry Garcia plays lead guitar and sings lead vocals on this song. Bob Weir plays rhythm guitar and does backup vocals, while Phil Lesh plays bass guitar, Bill Kreutzmann is on drums, Ron “Pigpen”  McKernan is playing the organ and Merl Saunders playing the organ on this song was mixed in later.

The song features two characters, the narrator and the old man August West that he runs into down by the docks who tells his story.  August West is a down on his luck alcoholic that attempts to bum a dime for a cup of coffee.  He says that he is in love with a woman named Pearly Baker.  August loves Pearly even more than he loves his wine, and certainly more than his maker, meaning God.  August feels that God has turned against him, because he landed in jail for a crime that somebody else committed.  August reflects on his life of being in jail and being drunk on Burgundy wine and he feels that he can pull himself out of this rut that he is in, if the good Lord is willing to help him.

It is easy to blame God for your troubles, especially when you drink a lot and get some bad breaks out of life, but August wants to start a new life, or so he says.  He knows the life he has is not so great and he wants to pick himself up and fly away.  August goes on to say that his girl Pearly has been true to him.  The story switches back to the narrator making a condescending remark saying, “I’m sure she’s been.”  The narrator leaves August the wharf rat and he wanders around downtown, because he has nothing better to do.  He reflects on his girl Bonnie Lee who he feels is true to him and somehow I think that the narrator is going to end up being a wharf rat also some day.

Old man down
Way down, down, down by the docks of the city
Blind and dirty
Asked me for a dime, a dime for a cup of coffee
I got no dime but I got some time to hear his story
My name is August West, and I love my Pearly Baker best more than my wine
More than my wine
More than my maker, though he’s no friend of mine

Everyone said
I’d come to no good, I knew I would Pearly, believe them
Half of my life
I spent doin’ time for some other fucker’s crime
The other half found me stumbling ‘round drunk on Burgundy wine

But I’ll get back on my feet again someday
The good Lord willin’
If He says I may
I know that the life I’m livin’s no good
I’ll get a new start, live the life I should
I’ll get up and fly away,
I’ll get up and fly away, fly away

Pearly’s been true
True to me, true to my dyin’ day he said
I said to him
I said to him, “I’m sure she’s been”
I said to him, “I’m sure she’s been true to you”

I got up and wandered
Wandered downtown, nowhere to go but just hang around
I’ve got a girl
Named Bonnie Lee, I know that girl’s been true to me
I know she’s been, I’m sure she’s been true to me

Written for Song Lyric Sunday where the theme is Zodiac animals being Rat/Ox/Tiger/Rabbit/Dragon/Snake/Horse/Sheep/Monkey/Rooster/Dog/Pig

12 thoughts on “Down By The Docks Of The City

  1. Mournful music with devastating lyrics. Two strikes against him and trying to keep the third from being his end. This is the first GD song I listened to to the end.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.