Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: August 21, 1983 (Listen Now)

Ain’t nobody messin’ with you but you.

By The Deadhead Cyclist

For Week


When I began my studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz in ’75, the countercultural vibe of the ’60s was still very much alive and well. Having spent my junior high and high school years in Southern California, my primary exposure to the Grateful Dead was the well-known reference in the Cowsills’ 1969 song, Hair: “It’s not for lack of bread, like the Grateful Dead.” But once I arrived on the Central California coast (Santa Cruz is just 75 miles south of San Francisco) the Grateful Dead could be heard seeping through the doors of dorm rooms all over campus, and providing the ambiance for every cafe in town.

But alas, opportunities to see and hear the band live during their hiatus in ’75 were as rare as a Dark Star in the set list between ’74 and ’84. Luckily, we had Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders and Kingfish featuring Bob Weir to provide the taste of the Dead we were craving. One of my fondest memories of that year was seeing Kingfish perform on March 7th in the Crown College Dining Hall, just a stone’s throw from my dorm!

Once the band was back in business the following year, I frequented every venue in the Bay Area – Winterland, Cow Palace, San Francisco Civic Auditorium, Oakland Auditorium/Kaiser Convention Center, Oakland Coliseum Arena and Stadium, Berkeley Community Theater, Warfield Theater, Greek Theater at UC Berkeley. I even saw the boys at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in Watsonville. But of all the venues in the Bay Area, none but Stanford University’s Frost Amphitheater my “true love e’er could be.”

The Dead played Frost 14 times between ’82 and ’89. I was at ten of those magical outdoor shows, and would have continued this annual rite of summer tradition if it hadn’t been discontinued in ’90. That year, I began holding a “Memories of Frost” gathering at my home in the Santa Cruz mountains during the first weekend of May, replete with admission tickets for my invited guests, and a personally prepared, cassette tape playlist. Memories of Frost lasted three years until I moved to Boulder in ’92. T.W.I.G.D.H. features my first ever Frost show on 8/21/83.

We are often our worst enemy and need to get out of our own way. Learning this lesson is essential to leading a successful life, and the earlier in life you can get your arms around this principle the better.

Among the many themes covered within the poetry of the Grateful Dead, perhaps none is more predominant than the subject of human relationships. Five songs deep into the first set of this week’s show is a tune that nails down the most challenging dynamics of the intimate connection between two individuals, portrayed by the narrator and the object of his affection: Althea.

There’s something fiercely fundamental within the human condition that causes us to throw caution to the wind and enter into a relationship, particularly an intimate one. This may be hard to do (especially for men), but set sexuality aside for the moment and think about what it is that you really want in a relationship. For most of us, at the top of the list is the understanding of another person who can help guide us through this confounding journey. This is revealed within the first verse of the song: 

I told Althea I was feeling lost and lacking in some direction.

This brings up the classic dilemma lying in wait for us when we’re confronted with the vulnerabilities of our beloved: Do I tell him what he wants to hear or do I tell the truth? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, which makes the proposition all the more challenging. Sometimes simply being supportive is the better approach (“No, those pants don’t make you look fat; you look great in them.”), while other times a good partner must have the courage to be confrontational:

Althea told me, upon scrutiny, that my back might need protection.

In choosing between these two approaches, the overriding principle should be to select a path that serves your partner’s needs as the highest priority. In this case, Althea believes the situation calls for some naked honesty, and this theme continues throughout the storyline when she adds that he’s “honest to the point of recklessness,” “self-centered to the extreme,” and “loose with the truth.”

Whether you are confrontational by nature or not, you do yourself and your partner a disservice if you withhold this type of input, especially when it’s sought, as is the case here. But it’s vitally important to temper the hard truths you’re telling with calming words of reassurance, such as, “cool down, boy,” and “settle back easy, Jim.” 

Ultimately, though, it’s clear that Althea feels Jim needs a bit of a slap in the face, and she delivers it with this confrontational piece of advise:

Ain’t nobody messin’ with you but you!

This is a slice of wisdom we can all benefit from. We are often our worst enemy and need to get out of our own way, rather than blaming external sources for our troubles. Mastering this lesson is essential to leading a successful life, and the earlier in life we get our arms around this principle the better.

After delivering the knockout punch, Althea carefully softens the blow by adding that even if Jim continues to “get burned” while he’s learning his life lessons, she’ll still be there with “a bed to lay your head, and a little sympathy.” I love that part of the story, as it reminds us of the beauty of maintaining our loyalty and commitment, despite our partner’s imperfections.

Finally, we come to the classic push/pull dynamic so common in relationships. Jim has a textbook case of male commitment phobia; He claims that he “was born to be a bachelor.” But our wise heroine Althea is secure enough to recognize that as long as she doesn’t smother him he’ll stick around, so she simply says, “Okay; that’s fine.” To which our hero responds: “Now I’m trying to catch her.”

The overarching lesson in yet another wonderful piece of work by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter is to offer a perfect balance of “tough love” and unwavering support in relationships, while being authentic and true to yourself. We all want an “Althea” in our life, but the only way to get one is to be one.


Concert of the week in Grateful Dead history: August 21, 1983 (Listen Now)

Subscribe and stay in touch.