As we mark the 20th anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death this weekend, High Times wanted to pay tribute to Garcia and The Grateful Dead with our unique compiled list of the Top 10 Grateful Dead lyrics about drugs.
While we realize some of these are Bob Weir/Phil Lesh/John Perry Barlow/etc. Dead songs, the fact is Jerry barely wrote lyrics. The words to his tunes were primarily penned by his long-time songwriting partner, Robert Hunter. As you will see, the lyrics reference both positive and negative drug experiences—whether conscious or bubbling in the subtext below the surface—and they span the majority of the Dead’s entire 30-year career.
1. “What a long, strange trip it’s been”
As iconic a drug lyric as there is, from the 1970 hit “Truckin’,” the song details the Dead’s drug bust by shady New Orleans cops in January 1970. Bonus drug line in this song: “What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?”—which can be viewed as a longing for the innocent days of marijuana, compared to the harder drugs creeping into the Dead scene at the time.
2. “There was Cowboy Neal, at the wheel, of a bus to never-ever-land”
From 1968’s “That’s It For The Other One,” the song recalls the Dead’s adventures with Merry Prankster Neal Cassady and is an aural link to their fantastic beginning as the house band for the original Ken Kesey-Pranksters’ legendary acid tests. Most rock groups start humbly—the Dead started by making history!
3. “Drivin’ that train, high on cocaine, Casey Jones you better watch your speed”
It’s the instantly recognizable 1970 lyric from “Casey Jones,” which metaphorically unifies the fast-lane coke lifestyle with an out-of-control train heading for an inevitable crash.
4. “I had a steady job, hauling items for the mob”
It’s just one of the thinly veiled drug references from 1987’s “West L.A. Fadeaway.” Also, the lyric,“Looking for a chateau,” is a reference to the Chateau Marmont, where John Belushi overdosed on a speedball in 1982.
5. “Maybe you had too much too fast”
This lyric is from “Shakedown Street” in 1978. Besides the obvious lyrical reference to substance overindulgence, the term “Shakedown” has since become culturally synonymous with the crowd gatherings and commerce conducted outside jam band concerts, where fans buy and sell just about everything—including drugs.
6. “Well, lie down smokin’ honey; have yourself a ball”
A line from “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion),” it can be interpreted as a nod to the fun of getting stoned on weed. The rocking tune was the first song on the Dead’s 1967 debut album, and one that was performed at the recent Fare Thee Well concerts in Chicago—where thousands had a ball while smokin’.
7. “Confusion’s prince is at my door, the crown I wear’s the one he wore”
It’s from the relatively obscure Dead song “Mindbender,” from 1965—the year of their formation. The lyric (probably) written by bassist Phil Lesh poetically conjures the LSD experience.
8. “I was having a high time, living the good life”
This lyric is from “High Time,” Jerry’s 1970 country-esque ballad. OK, maybe it’s not specifically about pot, but the lyric syncs with the soaring optimism produced by kind bud. And it likely makes you think of a certain magazine and website…
9. “Patience runs out on the junkie”
This 1989 lyric is from “Victim or the Crime” and speaks to the darker side of drug use. It’s an ironic Gerrit Graham line sung by Weir, considering that heroin-using Garcia was standing right across the stage from him.
10. “Let it grow, let it grow, greatly yield”
It’s from the Weir/Barlow 1973 epic “Weather Report Suite: Part II.” While this song is about the miracle of agriculture in general, the lyric cited can’t help but evoke images of Northern California’s lush fields of outdoor cannabis.