Grateful Dead: Brokedown Palace

The lyric to Brokedown Palace was written by Robert Hunter as part of a suite of songs that arrived via his pen during a stay in London in 1970. He entitled it Broke-Down Palace, and now that it exists as a piece of writing, it seems to have always existed. It was composed on the same afternoon as Ripple and To Lay Me Down, with the aid of a half bottle of retsina.
The first performance was on August 18, 1970, at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, and became a staple of the live repertoire. After the 1974 hiatus, Brokedown Palace appeared almost exclusively as the closing song of the show, as an encore. It had the effect of sending us out of the show on a gentle pillow of sound, the band bidding us Fare you well, fare you well…
The story the song may be telling for any one of us is wide open. Hunter doesn’t give us much. The song can be a song to someone departed from life, or just from the relationship with the singer. Or maybe the singer is departing, and possibly departing this life, or possibly departing a relationship. Some have suggested it is a song about reincarnation, and the journey through existences (…many worlds I’ve come since I first left home). So, regardless, the song appeals to us repeatedly throughout changing life circumstances and, in different contexts, rings true over and over again. (I’ve harped on this idea of hearing a lyric differently at different points in our lives repeatedly over the course of my posts, but it’s kind of a major theme, I think. Let me know if I should stop pointing this out….)
Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, I quote from a note I received from a reader, recounting hearing Ken Kesey speak at the University of Virginia in 1998. I just spent a little time tracking down a transcript of that talk, and here’s the part about Brokedown Palace: I lost my son in a wrestling accident. On the way to a wrestling meet, the van went off a cliff. I remember the feeling….I’ll get back to that… ok I’ll tell it….You know, if anybody knows the song Broke Down Palace, (fair thee well, fair thee well, I love you more than words can tell), after Jed had been dead a few months we went to see the Dead. They were playing at our opera house. They did their usual stuff and got their big ovations and then, they started playing Broke Down Palace and they all turned toward me and all our family was sitting up there. They all turned toward us and the guys in the audience began to turn toward us. And that song was sent from the Grateful Dead to our bruised hearts. And it was like having somebody reach out and putting their hand on your shoulder and saying, Yeah we feel it. And when it was over there was no applause. Everybody knew it. We were all crying. And how many bands do you know that could do that? Like when Eric Clapton begins to sing Tears in Heaven, this is real. This isn’t rock and roll. This is the heart speaking out to other people whose hearts have been wounded. And there are a bunch of us.

Fare you well my honey
Fare you well my only true one
All the birds that were singing
Have flown except you alone
Goin to leave this Broke-down Palace
On my hands and my knees I will roll roll roll
Make myself a bed by the waterside
In my time - in my time - I will roll roll roll
In a bed, in a bed
by the waterside I will lay my head
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
to rock my soul
River gonna take me
Sing me sweet and sleepy
Sing me sweet and sleepy
all the way back back home
It's a far gone lullaby
sung many years ago
Mama, Mama, many worlds I've come
since I first left home
Goin home, goin home
by the waterside I will rest my bones
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
to rock my soul
Goin to plant a weeping willow
On the banks green edge it will grow grow grow
Sing a lullaby beside the water
Lovers come and go - the river roll roll roll
Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
to rock my soul
NobleDebaucher NobleDebaucher
46-50, M
4 Responses Apr 21, 2016

This was a wonderful post! I confess I've never been a fan of their music (I understand we can't be friends now lol), but I've always appreciated the connection many felt with their music. They've reached a lot of people. This was a beautiful and specific illustration of why. Thanks very much for sharing it. :)

Thank you Ms JustNik!
I glad you appreciate the post, even though you're not a fan. And come on, I'm not that superficial to hold back from a friendship due to taste of music;) lol

Ah just teasing. :) Music is more than the sound it makes. Even when we like different sounds, we share the love of what's underneath. I tend to see it as the only religion that actually accomplishes what it sets out to do.

You're right. Music is the only universal language. Beat and rhythm are understood in any culture, regardless of comprehension of the lyrics.
Styles and tastes may very, but the tempo of the melody generally have a similar effect upon us all.

Love it all!

And in 'your own words, Ms Althea'
"There are things you can replace
And others you cannot
The time has come to weigh those things
This space is gettin' hot
You know this space is gettin' hot"

This is from one of my favorite shows - Alpine Valley 07/19/89

How appropriate! Here's to irreplaceable friends! 🍻

Wow, excellent version!

Bravo my friend. Excellent post indeed!!!

I'm only the conduit for relaying their message that translates well for us, today:)

Thank you. Love this song but never had such a cogent summary explanation of it before. Great post!

Happy to shed light😀