Dire Wolf

Album: Workingman's Dead (1970)
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Songfacts®:

  • In "Dire Wolf," Dead frontman Jerry Garcia sings about waking up to find a dire wolf, "six hundred pounds of sin," at his window. He invites the wolf in and plays cards with him. When he cuts the deck at the Queen of Spades, he finds "the cards were all the same."

    The song never explains the significance of the Queen of Spades, but Dead lyricist Robert Hunter once stated that it is the "card of death," which means every card in the deck was a card of death. In short, the narrator is dead, as insinuated early in the song.

    I sat down to my supper, 'twas a bottle of red whisky
    I said my prayers and went to bed, that's the last they saw of me


    Hunter verified that interpretation, stating that the narrator "is the shadow of the man in the song who is dead at this point. It's a song by a ghost."

    All in good humor. "Dire Wolf" is a fun folk-country tune with heavy singalong vibes. The Dead's goal with the Workingman's Dead album was to create music that was more accessible to listeners, rather than the overly (in the estimation of Hunter and Jerry Garcia) complex and unusual songs found on previous Dead albums such as Aoxomoxoa and Anthem of the Sun.
  • In the timbers of Fennario, the wolves are running round

    Fennario is a fictional town mentioned in the song "Pretty Peggy-O," which evolved out an ancient Scottish ballad titled "The Bonnie Lass o' Fyvie." "Fyvie" transformed into "Fennario" after it got to the United States. Bob Dylan recorded "Pretty Peggy-O" on his 1962 self-titled debut album.
  • Dire wolves were a real species, but they went extinct about 9,500 years ago. They've become popular in the 2020s because they appear in Game Of Thrones as the mystical pets of the Stark family. Unlike their presentation in both the song and Thrones, dire wolves weren't gigantic; they were about the same size as wolves found today.
  • Hunter and Garcia wrote this song while living together in a house on Madrone Canyon Road in Larkspur, California.

    Hunter had been up late watching The Hound of the Baskervilles with Mountain Girl (Carolyn Garcia, wife of Jerry), who mentioned that the hound in the film was a dire wolf, inspiring Hunter's imagination as he went to bed.

    In a 1980 Hunter interview with Ken Hunt, he recalled waking up the next morning with the memory of a dire wolf dream. "I went off to bed and went to sleep and dreamed about it," Hunter said. "I woke up in the morning and wrote that song in, it must have been, five minutes. I just wrote the dream down, subsequently never changed it at all. It's right out of sleep."

    Hunter rushed the finished lyrics to Garcia, who set them aside as he watched television. The normally mellow Hunter lost his cool and said, "I don't live here because of your sweet temper, it's to write songs!" Garcia hopped up, and they got the tune done.
  • Hunter came up with the chorus line, "Please don't murder me," while living in the San Francisco Bay Area during the Zodiac Killer's rampage. The Zodiac was active in 1968-1969. He killed at least seven people and claimed (through letters written to the press and police) to have killed 37. He's never been captured or identified. While he was out and about, Hunter would repeat over and over his head, "Please don't murder me."
  • Hunter compared the song to a counterculture outlaw trying to coexist with the Establishment, with the dire wolf being the Establishment.

    Hunter also said that the dire wolf could be seen as "Behemoth; that monster, the Id; the subconscious - it's that, too. Out there in a barren setting, stripped; there's no setting really, just blank white, and these characters in the middle of it."

    The Behemoth is the beast that swallows Job in the Bible.

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