Tox Tunes #99: Casey Jones (Grateful Dead)

July 5, 2015, 2:49 pm

The critical response to the final 3 performances of the Grateful Dead’s “Fare Thee Well” tour has been decidedly mixed. In the New York Times, Jon Pareles reported that “Even with a handful of the Dead’s inevitable stumbles, the music was strong.”

On the other hand, Greg Kot’s review in the Chicago Tribune was headlined “Grateful Dead pay slack tribute to legacy.”

This time around, as the Times cleverly notes, its “as much about today as yesterday, more hashtags than hash, less Summer of Love than summer of ‘likes.'” Some fans are coming not in psychedelically-painted VW buses, but via private jet.

Interestingly, the band did not include in their Friday or Saturday Chicago set lists  either “Truckin’ ” or “Casey Jones” — certainly two of their most popular songs, and the two which contain some of their most obvious drug references.

The reference to cocaine in the first verse has nothing to do with the actual legend of Casey Jones, an engineer for the Illinois Central Railroad who was killed in a train wreck on April 30, 1900, apparently sacrificing his life as he stayed at the controls in an attempt to slow his train before it plowed into another stopped on the tracks.

There is no evidence that Casey Jones — reportedly a teetotaler — was on cocaine or any other legal or mind altering substance at the time of the accident. Apparent Robert Hunter, the Dead’s lyricist, just came up with lines “Driving that train, high on cocaine/Casey Jones you better watch your speed” and then couldn’t think of a suitable replacement, so just kept them. (A rejected alternative went: “Driving that train, lugging propane.”) Other versions of the original ballad imply — without justification — that Casey was a union scab, and that his wife was having an affair with a railroad man from another line.

Related post:

Tox Tunes #98: Truckin’ (Grateful Dead)

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