Music on the Bar Room Floor

Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics for ‘Fire on the Mountain’ at Mickey Hart’s ranch in heated inspiration as the surrounding hills blazed and the fire approached the recording studio where the Grateful Dead were working.  I have read that if you are being raped, that it is better to scream “Fire” than it is to scream “Rape”, because fire is deemed to be a more serious threat and that would improve your chances on getting people to react.  California has its share of mountains and it always seems to have fires, so saying “Fire on the mountain” is something that you would scream in a panic, and it should create a sense of urgency.  I have no idea what this song is actually about, but I thought I would try and have some fun with it today.

The lyrics start off with, “Long distance runner”, which makes me think about a marathon, which is a race that I have never participated in before.  The idea for the modern marathon was inspired by the legend of an ancient Greek messenger who raced from the site of Marathon to Athens, with the news of an important Greek victory over an invading army of Persians in 490 B.C.  After reaching his destination and making his announcement, the exhausted messenger collapsed and died.  So, I guess back in the day people had the job of delivering the news, which doesn’t sound like such a bad job, except that part where they die, but it seems like this runner is just standing around.  People start telling him to do his job, but this runner may have been partying too much as it says that he is, “playing cold music on the bar room floor.”  Did the people want him to stop playing ‘Baby Its Cold Outside’ because they think it is sexist, like I said this song is challenging, so let’s move on and say that this guy is not fit to have the position as the runner especially because he is “Drowned in your laughter and dead to the core”.

The next line explains better what is going on in this song, “There’s a dragon with matches that’s loose on the town”.  From what I understand dragons are capable of breathing fire, so why would a dragon need matches?  When I Googled “dragon with matches”, I found a place in Northern California that is a farm for growing weed which is run by a deadhead, no big surprise there, but I am willing to bet that the song came first.  I think this song is about getting people to react to a dangerous situation, as we can’t all just stand around and watch, somebody has to do something.  During the Grateful Dead’s heyday, the media generally depicted Deadheads as lazy, unwashed throwbacks to the 60’s who used illegal drugs, dressed unconventionally, and valued collective experiences more than material success.  The news coverage was always more negative than positive.  Most of the Deadheads that I knew were successful, well-groomed, law-abiding citizens rather than unemployed, lazy, drug-users as they were depicted in the press, but still their concerts drew out some real spacers.

I think that Hunter may have been trying to communicate with these wastoids, the burnouts that didn’t have any semblance of a life and were never going to be any thing but a loser.  He states that this guy is on fire, but he is so oblivious, that he doesn’t feel the heat.  Playing concerts was always a challenge for the Grateful Dead, because there was so much distraction about them, and if their fans took drugs, they felt that was their own personal issue.  The only qualification for being a Deadhead is loving the music, but some of their newer fans just didn’t get it and they thought it was all about drugs and they were taking that to the extreme, which became very annoying.  I think I have made my point, so on that note, I will stop here, but for me the music has never stopped.

Long distance runner, what you standing there for?
Get up, get off, get out of the door
You’re playing cold music on the bar room floor
Drowned in your laughter and dead to the core
There’s a dragon with matches that’s loose on the town
Take a whole pail of water just to cool him down

Fire, fire on the mountain
Fire, fire on the mountain
Fire, fire on the mountain
Fire, fire on the mountain

Almost ablaze, still you don’t feel the heat
It takes all you got just to stay on the beat
You say it’s a living, we all gotta eat
But you’re here alone, there’s no one to compete
If mercy’s in business, I wish it for you
More than just ashes when your dreams come true


Baby’s in scarlet, her shackles in gray
If loves to love she’s got it salted away
Out of the rat trap and under the wire
Out of the frying pan and into the fire
Put it down heavy, strip it down lean
Got to lay it down dirty and play it back clean


Fireman, fireman, call off your dog
This isn’t a blaze, it’s just a hog in the log
Cut up in sections, squirming alive
Lost to the world on that fifty-cent jive
There’s a fire on the mountain, running around
What doesn’t go up can never come down


Long distance runner, what you holding out for
Caught in slow motion in a dash to the door
The flame from your stage has now spread to the floor

You gave all you had, why you want to give more?
The more that you give, the more it will take
To the thin line beyond which you really can’t fake

Written for FOWC with Fandango – Note and for Ragtag Community – Music.

11 thoughts on “Music on the Bar Room Floor

  1. Young ladies here are taught to order a ‘Fire on the Mountain’ in the clubs if they’re in trouble. The bartenders then know to take them to a safe room and call the police.

    Good post.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, the city had a lot of sexual assault issues and so created the ‘safe word’ to help victims. This way they had no need to say what was happening and could get to safety fast on the pretence of leaving the assaulter to buy a round of drinks.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As a musician and music lover, some of my favorite memories belting out, along with Jerry, Bobby and Phil and 50,000 tied-dyed lustily singing fans. I still remember Jerry’s very last concert July ’95, Soldier Field, singing Black Muddy River “I will walk alone by the black muddy river and sing me a song of my own.” Thanks for bringing up such beautiful musical memories this morning, Jim.

    Liked by 1 person

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