I Watched the Cars Below

‘Estimated Prophet’ is a Grateful Dead song that came out in 1977 on their ninth studio album Terrapin Station.  It had lyrics written by John Barlow and the music was composed by Bob Weir who also sings lead vocals on this.  As their own record label folded Grateful Dead Records and they went through a change in management, the Grateful Dead signed with Arista Records which was recently founded by Clive Jay Davis.  Ron Rakow skipped town with the $225,000 that he felt was owed to him and in September 1976, Rex Jackson, a member of the Dead’s hardworking, hard-rocking crew, died in a car accident.  The Dead started working with Keith Olsen a pop-oriented producer, who had just produced a huge hit album for Fleetwood Mac.  They stayed with Arista Records and later recorded Shakedown StreetGo To HeavenIn The DarkSo Many Roads and Postcards Of The Hanging.

‘Estimated Prophet’ is a misunderstood song that can be traced to Jerry Garcia’s boredom-breaking bible reading while the Grateful Dead toured in the 1970s.  Manasha Matheson met Jerry Garcia in 1978 and she was his last wife and they were both Catholic.  She said that they spent a lot of time talking about their religious beliefs, sitting up for hours while he read the Bible to her.  Particularly motivated by Old Testament stories in the books of Ezekiel and Daniel, after a show Garcia called Weir’s hotel room in the middle of the night, waking his band mate and imploring him to read the same inspiring passages.  Weir later brought the verses (Ezekiel 1:1 – 7:27; 10:8 – 19 and Daniel 7:9) to Barlow, his longtime friend and writing partner, and the two came up with ‘Estimated Prophet’.  Barlow loosely based the lyrics on the biblical Hebrew prophet Ezekiel’s first vision, and he also closely referenced the traditional folk song ‘Ezekiel Saw The Wheel’, which was recorded by Woody Guthrie and many others.

Some of the Grateful Dead fans took the music a bit too seriously, and they could easily be called zealots.  Members of the band were often a little freaked out by this crazy type of fan.  According to Weir, he and Barlow wrote the song from the perspective of a crazy, messianic zealot, who were invariably encountered in Deadhead crowds every now and then.  Weir explained that the basis of this song is a guy that he would see at nearly every backstage door.  This dude would have taken a lot of dope and be really bug-eyed, and he’s having some kind of vision.

Barlow created this deranged tripped-out Deadhead character who is a prophet, while calling on plenty of biblical images for the lyrics, like the sea parting before the singer, and fire wheels burning in the air.  This prophet is hearing voices and he thinks that he can call down thunder while his words fill the sky with flame.  He is clearly filled with delusions of grandeur and devoted to his vision.  Their producer Keith Olsen brought in Tom Scott to perform a solo on the electric woodwind instrument known as a lyricon, which is said to be capable of sounds and expression unobtainable with any other musical instrument for the Terrapin Station version of ‘Estimated Prophet’.  Scott appeared on records by George Harrison, Wings, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, the Beach Boys, Blondie, Whitney Houston, Steppenwolf, Rod Stewart and many others.

My time coming any day, don’t worry ‘bout me, no
Been so long I felt this way, I’m in no hurry no
Rainbows end down that highway where ocean breezes blow
My time coming, voices saying, they tell me where to go
Don’t you worry ‘bout me–oh no no, don’t worry ‘bout me, no
And I’m in no hurry–oh no no no, I know where to go

California, preaching on the burning shore
California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door
Like an angel, standing in a shaft of light
Rising up to paradise, I know I’m gonna shine

My time coming any day, don’t worry ‘bout me, no
It’s gonna be just like they say, them voices tell me so
Seems so long I felt this way and time sure passing slow
Still I know I lead the way, they tell me where I go

Don’t you worry ‘bout me–oh, no, no, don’t worry ‘bout me, no
And I’m in no hurry–oh, no, no, no, I know where to go

California, a prophet on the burning shore
California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door
Like an angel, standing in a shaft of light
Rising up to paradise, I know I’m gonna shine

You’ve all been asleep, you would not believe me
Them voices telling me, you will soon receive me
We’re standing on the beach, the sea will part before me
Fire wheel burning in the air
You will follow me and we will ride to glory
Way up in the middle of the air
And I’ll call down thunder and speak the same
And my words fills the sky with flame
And might and glory gonna be my name
And men gonna light my way

My time coming any day, don’t worry ‘bout me, no
It’s gonna be just like they say, them voices tell me so
Seems so long I felt this way and time sure passing slow
My time coming any day, don’t worry ‘bout me, no
Don’t you worry ‘bout me–oh, no, no, don’t worry ‘bout me, no
And I’m in no hurry–oh, no, no, don’t worry ‘bout me, no
And I’m in no hurry–oh, no, no, no, I know where to go

Written for Song Lyric Sunday where the prompt is Above/Below/Between.

13 thoughts on “I Watched the Cars Below

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