#143899  by Jon S.
 Sat Jan 10, 2015 11:58 am
The wheel is turning
and you can't slow down
You can't let go
and you can't hold on
You can't go back
and you can't stand still
If the thunder don't get you
then the lightning will

Won't you try just a little bit harder
Couldn't you try just a little bit more?
Won't you try just a little bit harder?
Couldn't you try just a little bit more?
"If the thunder don't get you
then the lightning will."

For decades, I've pondered this sentence. Isn't light faster than sound? Wouldn't you see the lightning first before hearing the thunder afterwards? And what exactly is "get you" supposed to mean? It sounds bad ... but is it?

This morning, at synagogue, I think I may have figured it out. Synagogue may seem to be a strange place to have a Grateful Dead epiphany but hey, "Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.

I was reading the Exodus story when, whoa, I'm staring at Chapter 20, Verse 15: '
"All the people saw the thunder and the lightning ..."
Two very interesting - and relevant - aspects of this Biblical verse.

First - parallel to The Wheel - the thunder precedes the lightning.

Second - the people did not "hear" the thunder" - they "saw" [Hebrew: ro-im] it.

So what we have here is a highly unusual parallel sentence structure between Exodus and the Wheel. One that can be explained both poetically and physically by understanding that we're not talking here of "hearing" the thunder but of "seeing" it via synesthesia (itself an experience all of us who have tripped can identify with).

Finally, consider that in Exodus, the people weren't in danger, or afraid, of being "hit" directly by the thunder or lightning, rather, when the thunder and lightning "got" them, they "fell back and stood at a distance" respectfully as Moses approached God. Moses then told the people (paraphrasing), "Don't be afraid, you're in no danger of being hit, it's just a test so you stay on a good path."

As we know, Hunter used many Biblical themes in his work. I believe this is one of those instances where his imagery and poetry were Biblically influenced. The thunder and the lightning are not meant to "get" us by harming us. They're meant to get us by reminding us "to try a little bit harder, to try a little bit more."
 #143906  by Jon S.
 Sat Jan 10, 2015 4:27 pm
Not quite my take but Hunter always did leave the ultimate interpretation of his lyrics to the individual.
 #143909  by WildEye
 Sat Jan 10, 2015 8:21 pm
I like to think all biblical references are just from all the bibles in hotel rooms. Before the internet and cable there wasn't much else to do after the party... Probably not true, but in response to the other post, we all get our own interpretation right?
 #143915  by Jon S.
 Sun Jan 11, 2015 6:35 am
This is, of course, the first place we all look for Dead song analyses, as did I before posting observation here. My observation did not appear in the Annotated Dead so I thought it perhaps original and worth sharing now.
 #143917  by hippieguy1954
 Sun Jan 11, 2015 7:29 am
Jon S. wrote:
This is, of course, the first place we all look for Dead song analyses, as did I before posting observation here. My observation did not appear in the Annotated Dead so I thought it perhaps original and worth sharing now.
I put that out there for reference. I concur and I also find your observation very interesting.
My take has always been, if the thunder don't scare you, make you jump, turn your head, make you cower, open your eyes etc, then the lightning will. Using "get you" to cover everything.
 #143918  by tatittle
 Sun Jan 11, 2015 8:01 am
Hunter was raised Catholic I believe, and Catholic education in the 40's and 50's was far deeper re: stuff like this than it became in the 1970's through today in general. So it wouldn't surprise me at all if there was some truth in the origin speculated. It is quite a leap based on a pretty generic topic of thunder and lightning though. I must say having studied the history of Western civilization (and thus Catholicism) over the years, I used to be surprised at all the references etc. in Dead stuff. Without a serious background in the field it is quite easy to miss the lineage of these things though, especially as so much has been co-opted by the larger culture while forgetting the roots/origins. When one studies history it becomes quite evident that truly new ideas are extremely rare indeed.
 #143925  by aiq
 Sun Jan 11, 2015 12:03 pm
I heard this often growing up in south GA in the late fifties, early sixties. Used to mean danger is always around or there is always something to threaten us.

Also taught to count the seconds between the flash and the clap to determine how many miles away the Tstorm cell was. I have no idea if that is meterologically sound.

Tons of imagery from religious writngs and other mythology in Hunter's lyrics. St. Stephan, Blues for Allah, R and C. on and on.
 #143926  by CountryMile Cadillac
 Sun Jan 11, 2015 12:47 pm
aiq wrote:I heard this often growing up in south GA in the late fifties, early sixties
Same with farm lands of South Carolina.. if ya aren't scared by the threat of a dogs bark, then its bite will hurt ya. Heed your warnings!
 #143963  by TI4-1009
 Mon Jan 12, 2015 2:35 pm
Good stuff Jon. Like Hunter and Garcia I was raised Catholic (12 years of Catholic school...) and, while I left that behind a long time ago (at least on the surface- it's deeply imprinted and never really goes away), I enjoy and appreciate it when those references pop up from either of them. On the pizza tapes banter Jerry uses the term "vulgate" :-) I've also heard him talk about the Rosicrucions- so you know he got it (or it got him) early and deep :lol: Gomorrah is a wonderful song- Jerry telling us a Bible story?! Note how often Sampson and Delilah turned up on Sunday setlists.

But I'm not sure the thunder and lightning is a particularly religious Hunter reference. I think it's more just a common, human experience reference. Something we all can relate to on a visceral, almost internal, even pre-human level. Thunder and lightning are BIG things. Scary and dangerous and full of wonder. The references do their work at a deeper level- without even having to think too much about them.

And I never saw Hunter putting them in a "first then second" order- just one or the other. Or if he did he he swapped the order on purpose in his typical way of playing with words (more likely). Borrowing from Dylan as in "Memphis Blues Again". Or just because he liked the syllables falling in that order.

Or as Butch Cassidy put it "You can't swim? Ha! Why the fall's going to kill you!"
 #143966  by strumminsix
 Tue Jan 13, 2015 8:48 am
Good stuff, Jon! And I'm sure Hunter (Barlow too) pulled from classic archetypes like books from God, mythology, folklore etc!! You may be on to something.

I kinda took this line at more face value and more like what you might her from a parent or mentor type person: thunder = warning, lighting = consequence.
 #143987  by mgbills
 Wed Jan 14, 2015 10:34 am
I guess I'm in T's Butch Cassidy camp.

Presumably…nobody ever gets out of this thing alive. It's this or that. Blaze of glory, or slow/painful in a bed. In your sleep, or howling in pain?
Or it could just be fear. Something is bound to put fear into you.

But something is going to get you…and me.
 #143989  by flyingheelhook
 Wed Jan 14, 2015 1:53 pm
My take has always been, if the thunder don't scare you, make you jump, turn your head, make you cower, open your eyes etc, then the lightning will. Using "get you" to cover everything.
Same here (and what CMC said). I always took it for as a methaphor for 'heed the warning - else what you are being warned about will get you' or something like that. :-)
 #143998  by James-T
 Wed Jan 14, 2015 11:23 pm
If the thunder don't get you the lightning will.

Sort of an inverted simile if I recall my grade 12 english.

Kinda like
The sky was yellow and the sun was blue
- it must have been opposite day when he wrote that.

Hunter was a master of created images with words. I find some song lyrics really like bits of paintings.

If you go further on that verse:
The wind in the willow's playin' "Tea for Two;
The sky was yellow and the sun was blue,
Total randomness - reference to a children's book and play "Wind in the Willows" - which is also filled with storybook illustrations.

and how about:
Well, there ain't nothing wrong with the way she moves,
Scarlet begonias or a touch of the blues.
He juxtaposes two different colours - like a painting Scarlet and Blue - but relates them back to the girl that caught his eye in the story he's telling. Pretty cool that he wrote those lyrics while on tour with the band in 72 in London. :smile:

It's true about the time between a thunder clap and lightning. I have a 15 acre property up the coast. Last August we had a thunder clap that shook the house. The sound travelled across the inlet and the bounced back and shook the house again - it was so powerful. It appeared that the lightning struck a small Island off our property during the clap - this was the third clap and the first two had a 3 and 7 second delay between the lightning and the thunder - sound travels at 1,126 ft/s (had to look that up). Our bedroom is on the back but you could see white light though the walls, windows and everywhere.

In the morning we could smell smoke and I called the forest service. For two days in typical west coast drizzle we smelt smoke and figured it was from a distant forest fire, and then on a random walk up the property to find a cel signal as I was trying to contact a friend I walked right into open flames. The lightning had struck a tree, set two sets of roots and a buried log on fire which burnt underground for two days, and the current also jumped somehow and set a second underground fire 200' away. Both had just ignited above ground. Our lot is on an Island with no cars, but my neighbour out of sure luck happened to be home and was just another 200' away and had a back pack firefighting tank, and I borrowed his ATV and rounded up a dozen neighbours and in 2 hours the fire was out, just as the forest service arrived with a small crew by helicopter - and as the sun came out and was drying up any dampness left in the forest.

And while I was sure the lightning struck in front of the house - it hit behind the house about 300' away. So to me The Wheel took on a whole new meaning this summer - sort of a theme song for more events that unfolded this fall.