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 in the extreme
Ain't nobody messing with you but you, your friends are getting most concerned
Loose with the truth, maybe it's your fire, but baby 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 getting hot, you know this space is getting hot
I told Althea I'm a roving sign, that I was born to be a bachelor
Althea told me, okay, 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 thing
Talking a lot about less and less and forgetting the love we bring
Music by Jerry Garcia
Althea lyrics by Robert Hunter
First performed 8-4-79 Oakland Auditorium Arena
Final performance 7-8-95 Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Althea lyrics copyright Ice Nine Publishing Company, Inc.
Grateful Dead Songs - Althea
Althea is a classic Hunter/Garcia ballad and is one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs. It debuted in concert in 1979 and was played 272 times appearing regularly until the end in '95. It's not a song well suited to improvisation and was mainly performed in the first set. It was never paired with any other tunes but it did evolve over the years gaining energy and emotional power as it became more polished. I tend to prefer the way it was performed in the post coma era (after Jerry's near death experience in '86) the best - although the mellow, hypnotic groove with which the song was originally performed was pretty sweet too. After extensive listening I've got to say my two favorite periods for this song are '81 and '90.
It was released on Go To Heaven and is one of that albums few saving graces as far I'm concerned. The definitive version (in my opinion) appears on Without a Net and was recorded at the Cap Centre in Maryland on 3-15-90. It's an incredibly passionate and well performed version of the song that I could listen to over and over (and I have). It's got that something extra (Jerry's really into it) that makes the difference between mediocre and spectacular in Grateful Dead songs.
(Above) 10-25-80 Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY
Photo by Peter Simon
The same version appears on the limited edition Terrapin Station release which contains the whole show from 3-15-90. For some reason they don't sound the same to me though, I prefer the version on Without A Net. This makes me think that they must have done some overdubs or worked some other studio magic on that version - which isn't unlikely. The band members tended to be very critical of their performances and always wanted to fix things that they perceived to be problems. This might seem like heresy to the purists among us but I figure we can always just listen to the untouched version if we want, especially now that multiple sources of nearly every show are available through the Live Music Archive and from bittorrent sites.
Meaning Of Althea Lyrics
On the surface the Althea lyrics appear to be a deep conversation between two lovers. However, the lines are deliciously vague and open to all kinds of interpretations. One possible theme that can be seen in the final verse is the danger of forgetting what's really important in life.
There's three direct refences to Shakespeare's Hamlet in Hunter's Althea lyrics. They can be seen in the lines "clown in the burying ground", "the fate of Ophelia", and "sleeping and perchance to dream".
It has been suggested that some of the lyrics were meant as a cautionary message from Hunter to Jerry but I'd be surprised if it were true. Hunter rarely wrote with such clear and specific meaning in his Grateful Dead lyrics. I can see where this idea might come from however - Jerry's drug problems began around this time and the line "Ain't nobody messing with you but you, your friends are getting most concerned" seems particularly apt.
I must really love this song because even after listening to 60 some odd versions of it continuously over the course of 4 days I still didn't tire of it.
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