Grateful Dead: Dire Wolf
I am a very strange example of a Grateful Dead fan. I never got to see them live. And, while I greatly admire the instrumental acrobatics of their live recordings, I often prefer the studio versions of their songs, because many of the live recordings feature the worst vocal performances you will ever hear from anyone. That said, give me a live recording of theirs with good vocals, and I’m in heaven.
Workingman’s Dead was my introduction to the music of the Grateful Dead. And Dire Wolf is my favorite song from the album. An original song by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, the song nevertheless has the quality of a folktale.
The lyrics are by Hunter, and I never tried to find out what he meant by them. I have always had my own interpretation. The song says, “the dire wolf... was grinning at my window. All I said was come on in.” Clearly, I thought, the wolf cannot enter a house without being invited in. That means the wolf represents the Devil. They sit down to game of cards. Presumably, if the narrator wins, his soul is safe from the Devil’s clutches forever. But, of course the Devil cheats. “I cut my deck to the queen of spades, but the cards were all the same.” Not what the narrator expected! And the last verse describes the Devil seeking out other souls.
In researching this post, I find no backing for this interpretation whatsoever. However, all Robert Hunter has ever said is that the song was inspired by The Hound of the Baskervilles. So I’m sticking to my story.