Settle Back Easy, Jim

‘Althea’ is a Grateful Dead song that was recorded on their 1980 studio album Go To Heaven and it was written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter.  Althea was a mortal woman from Greek mythology, but some articles say that she was a goddess, because there is another Althea Telmentar who was known for her powers of healing and compassion and inspiring people to trust in the triumph of good, to undertake compassion and mercy, and to support one’s community and family.  She provided the comfort of healing as and the comfort of the hearth and a loving home.  The mortal Althea was the daughter of King Thestius and Eurythemis, and wife of the king Oeneus making her the queen of Calydon.  She had seven children, Meleager, Melanippe, Toxeus, Thyreus, Clymenus, Deianeira and Gorge.  In some accounts, she and the god of the sea Poseidon bore a son called Ancaeus, who became the king of the island of Samos.

One night both Oeneus and Mars [Ares] slept with Althaea.  When Meleager was born from that night, the Parcae who were the female personifications of destiny that directed the lives (and deaths) of humans and gods appeared in the palace.  They consisted of Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos known as the Fates in English, and their Greek equivalent were the Moirai.  The Fates visited Althaea shortly after the child was born to sing his fate.  Clotho said that Meleager would be noble, Lachesis said that he would be brave, but Atropos warned Althaea that if a certain log on the fire was burned Meleager would die.  When Althaea heard this, she leaped from the bed, put out the fatal brand, and buried it in the midst of the palace, so that it shouldn’t be destroyed by fire.  In time Meleager became an unbeatable warrior and an expert with the javelin.  According to the myth, Althaea committed suicide after her brothers were killed by her son Meleager during a hunting exercise, but not before she took the log that she had rescued from the fire years ago and proceeded to burn it.  Meleager felt himself devoured from within and died in agony.

This song contains a back-and-forth dialogue between the singer and Althea where the narrator tells Althea about his life situation, as a lead-up to what, apparently, is a declaration of needing to back out of their relationship.  The guy whose name is Jim asks Althea for help, telling her that he is lost and Althea tells him that he may need protection (from what, I have no clue, but maybe she heard that someone was coming after him).  Jim feels like he has been betrayed (again very vague, but I guess it is possible that someone was disloyal to him, or dishonest, or maybe this is about infidelity).  Althea tells him to chill out, saying that he may have once been Saturday’s child, (a child who is fair of face, referring to white children that are born with privilege, while others grow up in poverty), but she doesn’t seem to be sure who he is.

She brings up Ophelia from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet and says that he may share her same fate, where Ophelia climbed into a willow tree, the branch broke and she drowned, because she did not have the will, in her grief, to save herself.  Then Althea takes a line from the same play when Hamlet is questioning whether he would be better off dead or alive.  She tells Jim that he has created all of his own problems and she hopes that he eventually will be alright.  Althea thinks he can be healed by getting some rest and getting some compassion from others, but he needs to decide on a course of action soon.  Jim says that he doesn’t really want a girlfriend and she is OK with that, so they break up and go their separate ways.  A minute later, he wants her back and he gets philosophical, talking about conversation, being guilty of making the same mistakes, while he is thinking about less and less and forgetting about all the love that they shared.

I told Althea I was feeling lost
Lacking in some direction
Althea told me upon scrutiny
That my back might need protection
I told Althea that treachery
Was tearing me limb from limb
Althea told me, now cool down boy
Settle back easy, Jim

You may be Saturday’s child all grown
Moving with a pinch of grace
You may be a clown in the burying ground
Or just another pretty face
You may be the fate of Ophelia
Sleeping and perchance to dream
Honest to the point of recklessness
Self-centered to the extreme

Ain’t nobody messin’ with you but you
Your friends are getting most concerned
Loose with the truth, maybe its your fire
Baby I hope you don’t get burned
When the smoke has cleared, she said
That’s what she said to me
You’re gonna want a bed to lay your head
And a little sympathy

There are things you can replace
And others you cannot
The time has come to weigh those things
This space is gettin’ hot
You know this space is gettin’ hot

I told Althea, I’m a roving sign
That I was born to be a bachelor
Althea told me, OK that’s fine
So now I’m trying to catch her
Can’t talk to you without talking to me
We’re guilty of the same old things
Thinking a lot about less and less
And forgetting the love we bring

Written for the Halloween Special Edition of Thursday Inspiration #131 Werewolves Of London where the prompt is Jim.

5 thoughts on “Settle Back Easy, Jim

  1. This one I heard before…I read about it in one of the books I’ve read about them and listened to it. It’s a deep song.

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