The song “I Know You Rider” has a long history and can be traced back into the early 20th century as a traditional blues and folk song. It's been recorded by a lot of artists, but is probably best known as the second half of a two-song duo by the Grateful Dead. Most non-Grateful Dead fans usually write the band off as a bunch of druggies with some spaced out music from the psychedelic sixties. While some of that is true, the band mined the annals of traditional, folk, blues and country music and made them masterpieces to a new generation. “I Know You Rider” is one such gem. Its lead in song is China Cat Sunflower and the music that sews the two songs together, in my opinion, is an orchestral piece of genius by Bob Weir, the Dead’s survivor.
“I Know You Rider” begins with that phrase, and goes on to state, “you are going to miss me when I’m gone.” This chorus repeats throughout the song. The first stanza talks about laying down, trying to get some rest, but a wandering mind prevents that, and the verse uses the image of an unfocused mind as “wandering wild geese in the west.” I often think of those words as I drive around the circle at Riis Park with its gaggle of Canadian geese feeding on the grass. You don’t have to be out west to appreciate this image.
The second verse is my favorite for several reasons, mostly because of its optimism. It repeats the same line twice, as does each verse, and notes that the “sun will shine in my back door some day.” I love this line because it connotes hopefulness, especially in today’s world. It’s an affirmation of better days, and the belief that there are more to come. We need this more than ever in a world of craziness. But it’s the closing line in this verse that means everything to me, “The March winds will blow all my troubles away.” Now I love this line because March is the spring equinox, and spring emerges from winter, and March rushes in like a lion, but leaves like a lamb. Those images are religious and again hopeful. And, my birthday is in March, which means I made it again, and those March winds will blow all my troubles away. It makes me smile.
The last verse, as traditionally sang by the band, relates to the image of a train and its headlight, and the misty rain/fog associated with the mountains of the west. Typically Jerry Garcia sings this verse in the shakiest of voices imaginable. Some would say, that guy can’t sing at all, but to me his shaky voice is an opening up of his vulnerability as a singer and a person. It is a declaration that his soul can shine through the thickest of fogs because he “wishes he was a headlight on a northbound train.” How beautiful to be the light shining forth through the darkness.
I know you are probably thinking the Lazer has lost his mind, but as March hits us full on and the sun warms our faces, and we march proudly wearing our green, and later eat our St. Joseph’s pastries with April right in front of us, flowers emerging hopefully again, we know we are alive, and we get to experience another summer. How lucky we really are. Yes, I know you rider, you’re going to miss me when I’m gone, gone, gone. But for now we are still here, bring on spring and summer!