The Countertop Chronicles

"Run by a gun zealot who's too blinded by the NRA" - Sam Penney of

Monday, March 08, 2004

Monday Song Lyric

Juan Non-Volokh’s Sunday Song Lyric has started showcasing libertarian musicians. Not a bad idea. Last week, he looked at some Oingo Boingo Danny Elfman lyrics. This week he is showcasing Rush. Ugh. While I can appreciate that Rush might be a libertarian band, I still don’t like them. As He Who Shall Not Be Named has pointed out … the musicianship is fine, too fine, and they end up missing soul. That and Geddy Lee’s ear pitching voice is enough to drive me crazy. Eee Gads!!!!! Its like fingernails on a chalkboard.

I, of course, would argue (and have) that the Grateful Dead, purveyors of the great American modern traveling minstrel road show were (and still are) the torchbearers of libertarianism within popular culture. While social conservatives hated their drug fueled concert spectacles, economic conservative had to admire the ultimate free market atmosphere (as long as you weren’t hawking trademarked items TOOO conspicuously) that followed wherever the band went. You wanted something and you could ALWAYS find someone selling it, with the price fluctuating as the market demanded and bartering with something of equal or greater value (tickets!!!!) always a possibility. Heck, it also showed the extent of free market, libertarian, charitable giving as people would always dispense with free, “miracle”, tickets for the great unwashed masses just, or shortly after, the shows would start.

Still, most fans did not even realize they were taking part in the greatest libertarian experiment ever. One look around the parking lot found people hawking the wares of whatever liberal interest group of the day was striking out. Often times, this involved the environmental prostitutes at Greenpeace and other such organizations I despise. However, for the most part, the band avoided these connections and preferred to let their “music do the talking.”

In doing so, when they weren’t noodling around in a drug induced fog, the music was a celebration of a time remembered, a style from before. As direct descendants of the Beat writers of San Francisco, they immediately picked up on a lot of the themes, specially of the joy of cross country travel, that Jack Kerouac wrote about and Neil Cassady (who was both the main character in one of the bands most popular songs, That’s It For The Other One and the shares a name with another, Cassidy) inspired. With the exception of the psychedelic space trips, the Dead’s most memorable songs were all glorious celebrations of the road and travel, whether it is through the considerable number of railroad songs, cowboy jingles, or simply Truckin’ tunes, a Dead show promised to harken back to the time of Steinbeck and before. These songs all looked out at an expansive world, where anything was possible and life lived to the fullest evolved directly from nature. No government, just one person striking out on their own, with no support other than that they create.

Many of these songs, especially the ones sang by Bobby Weir came to us from the gifted mind of the noted libertarian John Perry Barlow. John, the Thomas Jefferson of Cyberspace (A William Gibson term he first applied to the internet in 1990) is the cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a prolific speaker and writer as well as blogger.

One of my favorite Barlow-Weir song has long been Black Throated Wind. A fairly regular song for the Dead in the mid 70s, it was dropped from their usual rotation until it made a striking comeback (with partially revised lyrics) at a great show in Landover Maryland at the Cap Center that I was lucky enough to attend. Narrated by a hitchhiker coming home at the end of his journey along the interstates of America, it fits squarely within the realm of the popular stories from the road that these authors mastered. It’s a haunting and powerful, shuffling number, that exhibits, in parts, as much angst as you are likely to see from the Dead. I strongly recommend the version available on Dicks Picks #8

Black-Throated Wind
Words by John Perry Barlow ; music by Bob Weir

Bringing me down,
I'm running aground
Blind in the light of the interstate cars.
Passing me by,
The busses and semis,
Plunging like stones from a slingshot on Mars.

But I'm here by the road,
Bound to the load
That I picked up in ten thousand cafes and bars .
Alone with the rush of the drivers who won't pick me up,
The highway, the moon, the clouds, and the stars.

The black-throated wind keeps on pouring in
With its words of a life where nothing is new.
Ah, Mother American Night , I'm lost from the light.
Ohhh, I'm drowning in you.

I left St. Louis, the City of Blues ,
In the midst of a storm I'd rather forget.
I tried to pretend it came to an end
Cause you weren't the woman I thought I once met.

But I can't deny that times have gone by
When I never had doubts or thoughts of regret
And I was a man when all this began
Who wouldn't think twice about being there yet.

The black-throated wind keeps on pouring in.
And it speaks of a life that passes like dew.
It's forced me to see that you've done better by me,
Better by me than I've done by you.

What's to be found, racing around,
You carry your pain wherever you go.
Full of the blues and trying to lose
You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know.

So I give you my eyes, and all of their lies
Please help them to learn as well as to see
Capture a glance and make it a dance
Of looking at you looking at me.

The black-throated wind keeps on pouring in
With its words of a lie that could almost be true.
Ah, Mother American Night, here comes the light.
I'm turning around, that's what I'm gonna do

Goin back home that's what I'm gonna do
Turnin' around,
That's what I'm gonna do

'Cause you've done better by me
Than I've done by you. . .