I'm a Terrapin. A Maryland Terrapin that is. Graduated from The University of Maryland in 1994, and in addition to being a Terp-For-Life, Terrapin Station has probably always been my favorite Grateful Dead song. First played live on 2/26/77, Terrapin Station is probably The Dead's most majestic, inspriational song, and was a favorite of many Deadheads for the 18 years it was played on tour.
The following is my tribute to this classic piece of music, written while listening to one of may favorite versions of this song, played live at Hampton Coliseum on March 25, 1987:
Words by Robert Hunter; music by Jerry Garcia
Jerry strums, easy, smooth, the band joins in, the story begins:
Let my inspiration flow
in token lines suggesting rhythm
that will not forsake me
till my tale is told and done
While the firelight's aglow
strange shadows in the flames will grow
till things we've never seen
will seem familiar
The calm flow continues, a tale is told:
Shadows of a sailor forming
winds both foul and fair all swarm
down in Carlisle he loved a lady
many years ago
Here beside him stands a man
a soldier by the looks of him
who came through many fights
but lost at love
While the storyteller speaks
a door within the fire creaks
suddenly flies open
and a girl is standing there
Eyes alight with glowing hair
all that fancy paints as fair
she takes her fan and throws it
in the lion's den
The imagery speaks volumes of a time long ago:
"Which of you to gain me, tell
will risk uncertain pains of Hell?
I will not forgive you
if you will not take the chance"
The sailor gave at least a try
the soldier being much too wise
strategy was his strength
and not disaster
Jerry's guitar solo soars to the highest heights, powerful yet beautiful at the same time:
The sailor coming out again
the lady fairly lept at him
that's how it stands today
you decide if he was wise
The storyteller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice
his job is to shed light
and not to master
The transition begins. Jerry leads the band into a flowing jam, growing ever more silent, silent...
...until a symphonic explosion...
...then calming down once again:
Since the end is never told
we pay the teller off in gold
in hopes he will come back
but he cannot be bought or sold
Another transition, to inspriation!
Inspriation, move me brightly
light the song with sense and color,
hold away dispair
More than this I will not ask
faced with mysteries dark and vast
statements just seem vain at last
some rise, some fall, some climb
to get to Terrapin
The crowd roars with delight at the mention of Terrapin!
Counting stars by candlelight
all are dim but one is bright:
the spiral light of Venus
rising first and shining best,
From the northwest corner
of a brand-new crescent moon
crickets and cicadas sing sing
a rare and different tune
in the shadow of the moon
and I know we'll be there soon
The entire Coliseum erupts...
Terrapin!! - I can't figure out
Terrapin!! - if it's an end or beginning
Terrapin!! - but the train's got its brakes on
and the whistle is screaming:
And now for the best part...
...the band moves higher, then takes it down, wave after wave of highs and lows.
A symphonic masterpiece, 6 musicians as one, the audience screaming in ecstacy!
Will they ever stop, they could go on forever and no one would mind, wave after wave of highs and lows.
The Rhythm Devils pounding away, goading on their bandmates to keep it going, one passage more powerful than the next.
I can't see Jerry, but he must be smiling while he leads the band through this musical journey.
10,000 Deadheads are on this journey too, loving every minute.
Finally, the band takes it down a notch, then, closes out and transitions to Drums.
There's nothing quite like it, a tour de force performance like this. Terrapin is one of The Dead's most unique songs, hope you appreciate it like I do.