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Truckin'

by

Grateful Dead



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

The '60s was a time for traveling and discovering your place in the world. Sometimes what you found was an empty existence that just keeps repeating itself day to day. Having to deal with everyday life when you were always waiting for some kind of revelation to expand your consciousness was often depressing. The Grateful Dead sang of acceptance of banality and the drive to continue their search for epiphany.
One verse in particular: "What in the world ever became of sweet Jane, she lost her sparkle. Well you know she isn't the same. Living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine? All a friend can say is ain't it a shame." seems to refer to the endless desperation that overtakes some people. They turn to drugs to provide meaning in their lives. This of course fails and spirals their lives into deeper depression. Drugs are for enhancing a good time spent with good friends. They cannot provide answers to the meaning of life. The previous verse speaks to commonplace usage and the consequences of accepting illegal activities as a normal part of your life. You often get "busted" by the police. (thanks, James - Rochester, NY)
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Comments (41):

Back in '70 I bought the album when I was a grad student at University of Kansas. A controversial album at the time. However. I loved most of The Dead's music. It was a time of the hippy & druggie cultures spreading across the U.S. Yes, I was caught up in it all. I'm lucky to have survived. Back when I first heard this song was when I visited a friend in his dorm room, thru clouds of heavy incense. And I mean Clouds of it! To mask the odor of weed. The album was playing. Two of his pals were hidden under piles of clothes & they had passed out. I was fascinated by the song so I had to buy my own copy of the album. What strange times they were.
- Rotunda, Tulsa, OK
Pass that joint me mate. Lol. Not sure Garcia even sang lead on this. It doesn't sound like him. Oh well. Still a rather rippingly good tune. Of course this would have been banned by the BBC. The dear old BBC. Guess they objected to drug references. Not that I partake of the smoking of pot but I do feel it should be legalized. Oh wait didn't Bill Clinton smoke at Oxford? I guess since he did not inhale it doesn't count. Lulz.
- Hugh McPhee, Wick, United Kingdom
Yes, lots of loose references in the dead lyrics. My thoughts have always been along these lines. By 1970, the Haight-Ashbury scene had changed for the worst. Everybody and his sister had moved to the area bringing no money, of course. Many people were selfish assholes, crime was getting out of hand. Stronger drugs were in use. It was a drag. Sweet Jane was no longer enough. Reds are certainly Seconal vitamin C is acid. It was a bad scene. Cassidy 1967, Garland 1969, and Hendrix 1970, amongst others died from reds. "A friend" refers to a friend of weed.
- Gregmon, Intelbuquerque, NM
R from Seattle asked about the lyrics Dallas, got a soft machine, in the line Dallas, got a soft machine, Houston (not Dallas as mentioned by Johnny from LA) too close to New Orleans...
As a Texas resident I recongized the description of the city's business/political operations immediately. Dallas was known for trying to project an image that was very efficient and businesslike [machine] but also deliberate about showing itself as relatively classy and gracious [soft], at least in contrast to other cities of the region. Hence a soft machine. Houston was too close to New Orleans (which was disliked by the Dead due to the bust) geographically at least but possibly also in the well-known problems with the actions of the police of both cities exhibiting disdain for the civil rights of persons for whom they had a dislike, such as hippies, including planting drugs and guns on persons that they arrested and/or shot.
- Robert, Elgin, TX
Getting back to "Sweet Jane"

In 1982, they changed the lyrics. I beleive it was April 6, 1982 in Philadelphia (Because on April 2, 1982, in Durham NC they sang the regular lyrics)

ANyway, on 4/6/82 (and any time in 1982 after that, when they sang Truckin') they changed it to:

"What in the world ever became of Sweet Jane / She lost her sparkle, you know she isn' the same / Ever since she went and had a Sex change / All her friends can say is Ain't it a Shame"


So, what was THAT all about?
- Jake, Los Angeles, CA
This song sounds like the song School Days by Chuck Berry. Any thoughts on this? Lol. And lololol at that last comment James, from New York. xDDD

"I love you." "you're so beautiful." xD
I've seen chicks and guys do s--t like that. Lololol. I must've seen acid trippers!
- Pepper, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Don't recall how I found this, but felt compelled to comment. Yes, I'm an old and aging Deadhead - first concert in March 1967 at Winterland, the last (for the full band) 1995 at Soldier's Field. (In between, every concert I could manage to get to, across America and Europe.) Psychedelics and other substances were sometimes part of it, sometimes not. Anyway, the Dead's music has been analyzed, ripped apart, put back together, examined under a microscope, and then re-examined, all in the search for some deep philosophical "meaning" to it. Ponderous tomes have been published, giving this or that opinion as the real meaning. The true meaning of any song is known only to the artists that created and performed it.For the rest of us, the 'meaning' of the song is what we make of it, how we perceive it, what we believe it to be. That is found only in our minds and souls. What I believe "Truckin' " or "Box of Rain" means is mine, and mine alone, and it is the "real" meaning. Others will have different meanings and interpretations that are just as valid. The Dead had moments of transcendence, yes. But sometimes (ok, more than sometimes), they were out of tune, with unclean harmonies and thythms out of synch. The energy, the vibes tho were intense. It started well before the actual concert, in the parking lot, and built and built, then exploding and washing over everyone as the first chords were struck, transporting those that would accept it into another space and time. Even now, as I listen to the New Orleans concert of Jan 1970, I can still feel and know the energy, the transport, the sheer joy of the Dead. Indeed, it has been a long strange trip. Peace.

PS. James, yes old Deadheads have tried X - after all, its been around a good 25 years or so, if not more.
- Pat, Houston, TX
I don't believe James knows what he's talking about or ever really went to a Dead concert. First off, Skeletons from the Closet didn't come out until '74 - the band only tripped as a unit in the '60's according to the 3 Biographies I have read. They still took drugs and drank but the days of LSD Experimentation were over. Second - the line about the smooth harmonies live definately does not sound like the Dead unless you were on some sort of Halucinegetic. Bob Weir is horrible at harmonizing (I've listened to hundreds of shows and attended 20 in my life). The Dead were not very good at harmonizing live but we forgave them for that because their hearts were there & Jerry's voice was so sincere I always believed him. Three - all of the Deads "Deep Meaning" tunes? What songs is he talking about? "Mason's Children" is not deep meaning and thats the only one I can think of not available at the time - some songs were not released on Studio albums but they were released on live ones. Fourth - Sound levels off, Out of tune instruments? I have never heard this - true, they did not always play well, but their instruments were tuned. This guy is probably a Born Again Christian as they are well known to lie and make up stories to support their particular point of view (all for some greater good in their head) - nothing personal & not directed at all Cristians, I just see this behavior a lot on the Internet. lastly, Truckin is about the band touring period. There used to be a Annotated Site for the Grateful Dead's lyrics that was based on research and insight to the band and Lyricist Robert Hunter - maybe it still exists - I would go there for further insite.
- Russell, Corona, CA
Nobody mentioned that "Sweet Jane" was Janis Joplin
- Bill, Rensselaer, NY
James from NY... there is absolutely no way you can even remotely comprehend what "tripping" is like without actually doing it. In the 70s I did EVERYTHING! blotter, microdot, orange sunshine, window pane, pure LSD(L-25), mescaline (the best!) peyote, mushrooms. I could talk until I was blue in the face trying to descibe in as much detail as possible and I can assure you that you STILL would not be able to grasp the mindset. Trust me!!! Am I right people or am I right? LOL
- R.H., Pauls Valley, OK
Trying to figure out the meaning of this song, or any song, from a single line or phrase completely obscures the obvious. Simply, this song is about life on the road. In this case, a rock band. Beneath that come the thrills, weird people, bad situations, longing for home, maturing, burnout and, once home, the longing to "get back Truckin on." Hunter is huge on metaphors. The line about Sweet Jane probably reflects a broader view of the folks the Dead would see time and time again as they toured the country. Just replace "Sweet Jane" with "young people" and Hunter sounds like a disappointed parent getting down on "these kids today." The Dead saw early and clear the dark side of the hippie movement, and it wasn't pretty. By 1970 it was a complete charade to them. Look how the Dead all but abandoned their attempt at psychedelic music and returned to their roots of bluegrass, country and Americana music. Out of many of the Dead songs, this one is pretty straight forward. The road at top, then the toll, the excitement, disappointment and a view into the world of a touring rock band - the Grateful Dead no-less!
- Guy, Boulder, CO
Grateful Dead songs are known by their family to be full of abstract musical imagery and visual lyricism, to be interpreted individually and correctly by anyone that listens to them. Another words, there is no absolutely correct interpretation of any Grateful Dead lyric, their beauty and meaning is truly and correctly in the eye, and ear, of the individual beholder. It amazes me how many postings here are conceived by ignorant and uninformed "critics". How can one possibly interpret lyrics when they are completely uneducated and ignorant about the artist in the spotlight? I might as well give my insight to Einstein about his theories...I would probably be more correct than most of the folks here attempting to analyze this song. I miss Jerry Garcia, his song was of love, brotherhood, and beauty... unlike today, where the "hit" pop songs are of greed, lust, and intolerance. WAKE UP AMERICA
- paul, staten island , NY
I'm now 70 years old and saw the Dead two times in the early 1970's and loved their music. I'm a Christian, never have done drugs or gotten high. I just enjoy the music without reading ANYTHING into it, just the raw energy. Still have a large collection of their music and still listen to it.
- Elbert, Ocala, FL
In the stanza about "sweet Jane", i believe that they are referring to the song by the Velvet Underground, Sweet Jane, and Lou Reed. they say "what in the world ever became of sweet Jane," which means what ever happened to Lou Reed after he was using red, cocaine and vitamin c, they wanted the old Lou back. They also say that sweet Jane lost her sparkle, meaning Lou was never the same after we used and kept using.

tell me what u think, im only 15
thanks
-pete from buffalo
- pete, buffalo, NY
In the mid-60's, Jerry Garcia and Pigpen used to sit on the front stairs of their Ashbury Street flat in the afternoons. Their flat was about one block from the corner of Haight and Ashbury St. I went to High School three blocks from Haight Street from 1965 to 1968. On occasions, Haight Street would have so many people strolling around that the police closed the street to cars. The Dead and the Airplane, amongst a myriad of others, would play free concerts at Speedway meadows in the Park. My take on certain lines in this song is this: the group had the money to afford all the drugs they want on a daily basis. They also know that these drugs can be the end to their lifestyle, so they find a way to take them but also maintain their health with large amounts of vitamin C. Coke to take them up, reds to bring them down, and vitamin C to restore health.
- robert, san francisco, CA
First, let me say that while I happen to really like this song, particularly because of the line talked about, and also (and this is from memory, and I've never looked at the actual lyrics), "I like to get some sleep before I travel. But if you've got a warrant I guess you're gonna come in. Busted down on Bourbon Street... (while there may be numerous Bourbon Streets in the U.S., the most noted one IS in New Orleans, thus the comments about the group actually being busted rings true).

But here are some facts: Reds are without any doubt a reference to Seconal Sodium (C-II) (Secobarbital Sodium, Ranbaxy). But the reference is so old that not very many people are familiar with it. I am because I was always fascinated by such references when I was a kid. The drug used to be manufactured by Eli Lilly & Sons. Of course, the two companies have a good relationship, but that's a different story. The drug was off the market for around two (beginning around 2002), but is now commercially available again. The drug is primarily prescribed for insomnia, and used in hospitals for sedation. I should know!!!

Another pharmaceutical/chemical fact: Vitamin C POTENTIATES secobarbital. It was even used in some combination drugs (e.g., Curbetite L.A Tablets). If you've never heard of Curbetite L.A., don't worry, it's been off the market for decades. Vitamin C may have effects on illicit drugs, with which I'm unfamiliar, but the fact that it's mentioned in the lyrics immediately after the reference to secobarbital suggests, at least to me, the possibility that the songwriter may have used it, or known of its use in this capacity.

I don't know who Robert Hunter is. But the slang term "reds" did not come into existence until the 1960's. So, I don't know how it could be a parody of commercials from the 1940's. Anyway, he's quoting from another site. In life, sometimes if something is said enough it BECOMES the truth, even if it's not. The Internet is a great place for information, but if posted information isn't correct, misinformation could spread like wildfire. I do think sites like Winkipedia are very good, because they allow for addition to and correction of information.

As for secobarbital being a cure for a "bad trip"... well, I've never taken LSD. However, it is my understanding that Thorazine (chlorpromazine, Smith Kline Glaxo) was predominantly used for this purpose.

Like many lyrics, I think the lines are open to interpretation. Certainly Sweet Jane is a slang reference to marijuana. My personal interpretation is that the songwriter is saying that marijuana used to be just great, but after all the touring they've done, they're now using secobarbital, Vitamin C and cocaine (and ain't it a shame).

One last comment. I am of the opinion that secobarbital is also alluded to in the song, "Casey Jones" ("trouble ahead the lady in RED, take my advice you'd be better off dead").

Simon
- Simon, Northeast, NY
It sounds like bob weir says sweet jane lost her "sparkle", not her "spot". it means weed wasnt as fun with lsd and cocaine and reds available.
- david, wilson, NY
well james, you've admitedly never dropped acid before, so why are you telling people what needs to be done in order to have a "safe" trip. Acid doesn't usually work in the way of moodswings, such as your example of a young girl. Without drugs there never would have been so much great music in the sixties, it was a new thing and many artists were just trying it out, it was inspirational.
- Tristan, Philadelphia, PA
Dwight Yoakam did a twangy cover of this song on the 1991 Grateful Dead tribute album called Deadicated.
- Barb, Virginia Beach, VA
Okay, as someone admittedly ignorant of most Dead music, I have the following question: is Garcia the singer of the verses? Whoever it is, his vocals seem like a direct imitation of Chuck Berry. I suspect it was intentional, for I just found out that this song was used as a B-side to their version of "Johnny B. Goode."
- N.I., Baltimore, MD
i think that part also refers to how pot lost a lot of its spiritual value, and became more of a fad in some cases.
- Rachel, Fort Smith, AR
Ok, the line as mentioned abover,

What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
She lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same
Livin' on reds, Vitamin C, and cocaine,
All a friend can say is, "Ain't it a shame?"

Its talking about how people, usually, use marijuana as one of the first drugs they try. they try it and like it but after a while it no longer does what it used to, ur body gets used to it and it isnt as much fun any more. "What in the world ever became of Sweet Jane (marijuana) she lost her sparkle you know she aint the same (not as good as it used to be).

therefore, people turn to other drugs such as acid (reds, seconal), mushrooms, (vitamin c is a catalyst for a mushroom trip), and cocain. (obviously stated).

all a friend can sa is "aint it a shame"
people never realize that pot will eventually turn them onto other drugs and as time goes by you slowly but surely realize that you had no intention of doing what you do now, but since pot no longer works for you, u choose something else. EVERYONE CHOOSES THEIR OWN POISON, some more dangerous than others.
- Max, New Brunswick, NJ
Dave is right- "Reds" are Seconal, the pharmaceutical cure for a bad acid trip.
- Don, Pownal, VT
I believe the term reds in this song is refering to what truck drivers call bennies to keep them awake for days at a time. I didn't know I would become a truck driver from listening to grateful dead when I first heard this.
- Honest Abe, raleigh, NC
At my old high school the Senior class that graduated before mine had shirts made up with the line "What a long strange trip it's been." I always thought someone was a Deadhead and contributed the phrase.
- Patrick, Tallapoosa, GA
This is an interesting page, "The Annotated 'Truckin'"
http://arts.ucsc.edu/gdead/AGDL/truckin.html

It explains some of the obscure references, but does not fully explain the one I have always wondered about, e.g. "Dallas, got a Soft Machine..."

Soft Machine is a novel by WS Burroughs and a British band named after the novel. What either has to do with Dallas, no one seems to know...
- R, Seattle, WA
The first guy was wrong...the dead were playing new orleans with fleetwood mack...after the show the dead were parting in the hotel when the cops came for noise and busted everyone in the band for weed...they all spent the night in jail and mickey harts father had to bail them out. They didnt go back to new orleans until ten years later. That is why the dead wrote truckin...the bust in new orleans.
- joe, buffalo, NY
James, you'd be a better person today if you had dropped a hit or two during a GD show. Has anyone seen Molly? The Dead rules and following them around attending their shows is a great way to spend a week, or two, or a few months. Sorry Mom, school was boring and the Dead were in town so I went for a few trips. Long Live Jerry. Wall of Sound tour was the best. Drugs don't provide answers - they provide questions. I love you!
- Mike, Warwick, RI
James of "Ragin' Rochester" whats going on with you man? You obviously don't know what you're talking about. The most spontaneous trips are invariably the best. Same thing with the music, you were too sober to appreciate the spontaneity and you mistook it for "The whining screech of bad guitar slide work" and "a dueling drums solo that didn't stay in time or even try to flow into any rhythm." And what's all this about drugs not solving our problems? As if you would know. If that's really what you believe, then you don't know what you're talking about.
- Michael, Idaho Falls, ID
Hal is right, this drug part of this song is the Grateful Dead drug bust in New Orleans. I think the line "Dallas, too close to New Orleans" has something to do with that. But this song is mainly about touring: "Sometimes the lights are shining on me, other times I can barley see, lately it occurs to me, what a long strange trip it's been." And truckin is goin' around on tours. Hope I provoked some thoguht
- Johnny, Los Angeles, CA
reds=seconals
- dave, baltimore, MA
reds = barbituates (how quickly we forget)
- scooter, san francisco, CA
reds = marlboro reds, not amphetamines
- Ali, East Lansing, MI
the songs central message is that yeah, life is hard sometimes but you just have to get through it.
- Amanda, New York City, NY
As another poster said, this song WAS about an actual bust.

Robert Hunter said that the "Whatever happened..." line was a PARODY of coomecials from the 40s:

http://arts.ucsc.edu/gdead/agdl/truckin.html

And to me it seems the sense of the line is not anti-drug, but a lament about people movie from mild drugs (Sweet Jane being marijuana) to harder ones: reds=amphetmanines, vitamin C used to enhance LSD, and cocaine.
- Trebor, Seoul, Korea - South
The song made its live debut on August 17, 1970 at Fillmore West in San Francisco. This was as an acoustic version. However, Dead tape collectors do not have this version. The earliest version in circulation is from the next night (August 18, 1970).
- Barry, New York, NC
The song WAS about a Grateful Dead drug bust. Hence the line "I'd like to get some sleep before we travel/But if you got a warrent, I guess you're gonna come in".
- Ken, Louisville, KY
the bad guitar, and drum solos, and the instruments being out of tune and all of that... isn't that part of psychadelic music, in some ways. I've never been to a Dead concert, but I know that people like Jimi Hendricks would distort their instruments to create different sounds. They would also experiment with different rhythms. Don't you think they could have been doing that as a symbol to show what it's like experiencing an acid trip.
- Stefanie magura, Rock Hill, SC
"Busted down on Bourbon St" and "set up like a bowlin pin, knocked down gets to wearin thin" refers to the fact that dead actually were set up and raided where they were stayin in New Orleans and were busted on drug charges.
- Hal, Gaithersburg, MD
I went to a Dead concert back in the day, it was mostly young republicans in suites munching browings. Casey Jones should be up here. Theres a bold metaphor.
- Mike, Santa Cruz, CA
I always knew of and liked "The Dead", but the only albums(yes I mean vinyl)that I bought were 'skeletons from the closet' and 'workingman's dead'. Considered to be the "nice songs" that made popular radio air time.
After meeting a true Deadhead, I found out about the open recording policy for their concerts. And all the other deeper meaning tunes available on the streets not in stores. Fans were encouraged to bring recording equipment to concerts and so many bootleg tapes were being sold that you never knew what the actual industry sold and what was just a poor sound quality collection from ten rows back.
I was talked into going to one concert by my "old lady". I knew of her occasional acid trips and that there was no stopping her from taking some blotter to enhance her listening pleasure, but refused to take any myself for reasons I will explain some other time.
The crowd all arrived early and seemed to instinctively know just when to take the acid on cue. When they started playing, I was impressed with the smooth harmonies. Two drummers holding together a clean mellow sound.
Then a short intermission about 3 hours after the audience had taken their enhancements. When The Dead came back on stage, it was like a totally different group. The sound levels were off. The instruments were out of tune. The whining screech of bad guitar slide work did not help prepare for a dueling drums solo that didn't stay in time or even try to flow into any rhythm. But, Oh my God, the crowd went ape-googely. They were in seventh heaven listening to noise that didn't rate a biker bar dive.
For the record, I have witnessed many acid trips. This was the only time I had seen a cohesive group enjoying the trip. LSD taken by newbies needs to be supervised by a spiritual leader guiding and comforting along the way. Not a one hit trial at a Robin Trower concert. Ever see a young girl falling from person to person saying "Ilove you" "your so beautiful" one minute and later dropping to the middle of the road asking for someone to help them die because "nobody loves me" and "I'm a bad person, run over me with a car"
I wonder if The Deadheads would use ecstasy now that acid is an older drug? Any thoughts?
- James, Ragin' Rochester, NY
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