Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: October 25, 1979 (Listen Now)

Maybe the dark is from your eyes. You know you got such dark eyes.

By The Deadhead Cyclist

For Week


There are few opening chords in the Grateful Dead repertoire as recognizable, or as welcome, as the sustained and once repeated D-minor of Shakedown Street. Often positioned as the first song of the set, the tune never failed to evoke an amplified sense of excitement, especially as the crowd began to anticipate the extended, often brilliant instrumental jam to follow the final recitation of the mantra, “You just gotta poke around.” Among the many fine versions of this anthemic piece, there are few that rank higher than the one performed on 10/25/79 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New Haven, CT, the Deadhead Cyclist’s pick for T.W.I.G.D.H.

As a member of the band Hindsight Classic Rock, I once read with great interest a list of things you should never say onstage to your audience. Among these faux pas were such favorites as, “Sorry, I forgot the lyrics” (I actually saw David Crosby say this during a concert), “Any requests?” (unless you want some idiot to yell, “Free Bird”), and, “How does it sound out there?” (an insult to the sound guy running the mixer). But the cardinal sin is to scream out, “Hellooooo, New Haven” (or fill in the blank of whatever city you happen to be visiting).

The Dead had numerous alternatives for rallying the civic pride of the cities and towns they visited, ranging from tunes like Truckin’ (“New York, got the ways and means”) and Dancing in the Streets (“Don’t forget that Motor City”), to the adaptable verse in New, New Minglewood Blues, “T for Texas, and it’s T for Timbuktu. Yes, and it’s T for (name of city), where the little girls know what to do.” But beyond these gimmicks, in Shakedown Street you have an entire tune tailor-made for a touring band to make an intimate connection with any community of fans, punctuated by the lyric, “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart, when I can hear it beat out loud!”

As is the case with all of Robert Hunter’s poetry, there’s deeper meaning to be found within these lyrics. So let’s “poke around” a bit. For the purposes of this exercise, imagine that you are the narrator of this story, that you love the town you live in, and that a friend has just complained to you, “This town ain’t got no heart; even the sunny side of the street is dark.” Now, the ball is in your court to volley back a reply. Your knee jerk reaction is to defend your beloved town, and to refute what you identify as a “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” moment. But wanting to be a good friend, you begin by validating the claim with some external possibilities, even though you feel that the issue lies internally:

 Maybe that’s ’cause it’s midnight, and the dark of the moon besides.

But with that said, you’re poised to pounce with the truth:

Maybe the dark is from your eyes.

You know you got such dark eyes.

In this response, you’ve conveyed that you understand your friend’s negative opinion of the town, and acknowledge the possibility that there could be factors at play outside of anyone’s control – such as the time of day and the position of the moon. But ultimately, you see the claims as being a matter of attitude, of her “dark eyes,” and you continue in the same vein by insisting that the town does, indeed, have heart, and that the evidence is in the heartbeat that you can clearly hear “beat out loud.”

How are you allowing your “dark eyes” to cause you to believe that the “sunny side of the street is dark?”

Now, let’s turn this “upside out” and “inside down,” cast you in the role of the disaffected individual, and think of the town that “ain’t got no heart” as a metaphor for every aspect of your life that troubles you. Ask yourself: How are you allowing your “dark eyes” to cause you to believe that the “sunny side of the street is dark?” If you’re like most of us, you can conjure a list of answers to that question, especially given that of the 108 billion people who have ever lived on this planet over the course of some 50,000 years, we’re among the most privileged in terms of comfort, abundance, and longevity. Within that context, it can easily be argued that virtually all of our “problems” are fundamentally “first world,” imagined through dark eyes.

Consider this: If your own dark eyes are the reason your “town” has no heart (remember that “town” is a metaphor for what you don’t like about your life – your job, your relationships, your health, etc.), it follows that the solution is completely within your control. Simply put, you need to lighten up your eyes. I know, I know, that’s easier said than done. When we’re in the habit of looking at things one way, it’s not so easy to change our perspective, especially at a certain age, when our practices are deeply established.

But let’s riff off of the words “habit” and “practice” for a minute, because in those two words lie the secret to losing those dark eyes. As human beings we are creatures of habit, the very fact of our existence inexorably linked to our habitual nature. Evolutionarily speaking, over the course of some 3.5 billion years of animal life on Earth, all of the species that didn’t adhere to a habitual framework went extinct. Humans are literally the latest, most successful result of billions of years of trial and error. 

Change is challenging. When facing the prospect of altering a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior or way of thinking, our brains are neurologically hardwired to believe that maintaining existing habits is necessary for our survival. The good news is that we can learn new habits that take the place of old ones. Here’s where practice comes into play.

Years ago, I was in the habit of using only three fingers on my left hand to play lead parts on the guitar, when someone suggested that incorporating my pinkie finger would help me become a better player. Because of my previously established habit, this was a very difficult proposition, and at first I struggled to make the change. But with practice, I was gradually able to replace my old method with a new one, and now playing with four fingers is as natural as playing with three used to be.

This same principle applies to attitude, and represents the key to changing our thinking about the parts of our lives that could use a tune up. Looking at life through dark eyes is a bad habit that reinforces the belief that the “sunny side of the street is dark,” when in fact it is only “your darkness” that “crackled like a thundercloud.” Understanding our habitual nature, identifying the calcified beliefs that you would like to shed, and practicing the new habits you want to replace them with is the right recipe. You can do it; You just gotta poke around!  


Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: October 25, 1979 (Listen Now)

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