I found these statements quickly on the 'net and found them interesting. But, indeed, am I recalling correctly that it was Hunter himself who once said something along the lines of, "I don't typically explain my lyrics because once an artist releases his art into the world, it is taken up and reinterpreted by the people who receive it?" [In this vein, see David Dowd's statement, (3) below.]
(1) This song, it seems to me, captures the plea of a fugitive American slave to
his covert wife that she not reveal their relationship ("forget my name") to
the slave master. The appeal, therefore, is not so much for the benefit of
the escaped, but rather, for the one who remains. The speaker seeks to spare
his wife punishment at the hands of the master once his absence is revealed.
Hunter's affinity for the dark side of American history is exemplified in
this simple verse which evokes profound imagery in the tradition of the
American folk song. Hunter uses the imagined dialect of the time with
language such as "poor body" and "my darlin." Reference to bringing the
"wagon round" connotes the common method of transporting slaves to market
where they would be bought or sold. She is being called out to go to market
by the "one last voice." The desperate tone is tempered by the hope that they
will see each other again after the "Jubilee" (emancipation), or "if that
Jubilee don't come" when they both escape and are "on the run."
(2) From Hunter's liner notes for the re-issue of "Garcia" in the box set
"All Good Things":
"Sugaree was written soon after I moved from the Garcia household to
China Camp. People assume the idea was cadged from Elizabeth Cotten's
Sugaree, but, in fact, the song was originally titled 'Stingaree,'
which is a poisonous South Sea manta. The phrase 'just don't tell them
that you know me' was prompted by something said by an associate in my
pre-Dead days when my destitute circumstances found me fraternizing
with a gang of minor criminals. What he said, when departing, was:
'Hold your mud and don't mention my name.'
"Why change the title to 'Sugaree'? Just thought it sounded better
that way, made the addressee seem more hard-bitten to bear a
sugar-coated name. The song, as I imagined it, is addressed to a pimp.
And yes, I knew Libba's song, and did indeed borrow the new name from
her, suggested by the 'Shake it' refrain."
(3) So there you have Hunter actually telling us how he imagined the song—a rare glimpse behind the curtain.
But the point, as always, is not about reality. It’s about the listener’s perception, about the variety of ways a song can be heard, and heard differently over time, or how it can be convincingly explained in many differing ways.
Each of the listeners who took time to lay out a theory of the song’s meaning had spent time with the words. As we all do, whether we are conscious lyric listeners or just let the words wash over us as part of the overall music. (Sometimes I wish I understood no English at all, so I could hear these songs as pure sound, because that’s a definite component of what Hunter does. The “sh” sound, repeated over and over in this song, for instance, is a hushing sound, or a windy sound, or a percussive, impossible to intonate sound made by the mouth, like brushes on a drumhead.)
And it’s that investment in the words, or in the sound, that leads us to want to hear a song over and over—because we can never get to the bottom of it. Its meanings are endless, and the musical variations are endless, too.
http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-s ... ld-sugaree