"Althea" as written by Jerome J. Garcia and Robert C. Hunter....
I told Althea I was feeling lost
Lacking in some direction
Althea told me upon scrutiny
That my back might need protection
I told Althea that treachery
Was tearing me limb from limb
Althea told me, now cool down boy
Settle back easy, Jim

You may be Saturday's child all grown
Moving with a pinch of grace
You may be a clown in the burying ground
Or just another pretty face
You may be the fate of Ophelia
Sleeping and perchance to dream
Honest to the point of recklessness
Self-centred to the extreme

Ain't nobody messin' with you but you
Your friends are getting most concerned
Loose with the truth, maybe its your fire
Baby I hope you don't get burned
When the smoke has cleared, she said
That's what she said to me
You're gonna want a bed to lay your head
And a little sympathy

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

I told Althea, I'm a roving sign
That I was born to be a bachelor
Althea told me, OK that's fine
So now I'm trying to catch her
Can't talk to you without talking to me
We're guilty of the same old things
Thinking a lot about less and less
And forgetting the love we bring


Lyrics submitted by itsmyownmind, edited by wdemoss1

"Althea" as written by Robert Hunter Jerry Garcia

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Althea song meanings
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  • +5
    General CommentThe story of Althea always struck me as being similar to other stories about missing an opportunity at the critical chance that it presents itself due to ignorance about the significance of the situation. It expresses the regret felt when one realizes too late that everything they wanted was right in front of them and the despair when one realizes that the opportunity can most likely never be regained. In this sense the meaning for "Alethea" (the unhidden truth - or the truth that was always there, but you couldn't see it due to psychic blindness) fits very well. I think the song also uses the image of the mystical woman as a symbol of the Anima, so that the missed opportunity is not just for love, but for joining with the spiritual feminine inside that provides inspiration, vision and passion for the work of our lives.
    trpnstn1on September 27, 2009   Link
  • +5
    Song MeaningThe song Althea, one of my favorites by the amazing Jerry G and Robert Hunter, is a profound meditation on death, on world weariness, on the inner anguish that life can put you through and that your own mind can lead you to. And on the process of having the divine speak to you and point out the path that can free you. And how so many times, we ultimately reject that path, we reject the guidance.

    Alethea in Greek Mythology is the daughter of Zeus and is the personifiation of TRUTH.
    My sense of this song is that the singer is having a dialogue with the GODDESS/the divine in it's manifestation as TRUTH.

    In the first three lines, the singer is describing his anguish to the divine:

    "I told Althea I was feeling lost, lacking in some direction.
    Althea told me upon scrutiny that my back might need protection.
    I told Althea that treachery was tearing me limb from limb."

    In the next number of lines, the divine is speaking to him about his predicament:

    "Althea told me better cool down boy, settle back, easy Jim."

    "You may be Saturday's child, all alone, moving with a tinge of grace.
    You may be a clown in the burying ground, or just another pretty face.
    You may meet the fate of Ophelia, sleeping and perchance to dream.
    Honest to the point of recklessness, self-centered in the extreme."

    Here Althea spells out the singers troubles. Ophelia is a character from Shakespears Hamlet who lost her mind. The "clown in the burying ground" suggests laughing in the face of death, perhaps even contemplating suicide. "Sleeping and perchance to dream" is from Hamlet's soliloquy in the same play where he is contemplating whether life is even worth living.
    But, then Althea (TRUTH) smacks the singer with a dose of reality. That his thoughts of death and suicide although "Honest to the point of recklessness" are also "self-centered in the extreme". Self-centered in the sense that he can't see beyond his own pain and is refusing to connect to the divine inspiration which ultimately could prove to be his salvation.

    Then Althea spells it out even clearer to him:

    "Ain't nobody messing with you, but you, your friends are getting most concerned.
    Loose with the TRUTH, baby, it's your fire, but baby don't get burned."

    It is your own mind, your disconnect that is fucking up your life she tells him. It's also your choice. But be careful, you might get burned.

    Then she goes on instructing him:
    "When the smoke has cleared, she said, that's what she said to me.
    Gonna want a bed to lay your head and a little sympathy."

    Once the passion of your madness has cooled, youre going to want some connection, with divine LOVE.

    Althea goes on illuminating his path:

    "There are things you can replace, and others you cannot. (like your life)
    The time has come to weigh those things.
    This space is getting hot, you know this space is getting hot."

    Again, she is spelling out that he has a choice. He has free will. He has decisions and commitments to make. And the time to make them is now.

    After digesting this massive dose of TRUTH, the singer speaks to her:

    "I told Althea I'm a roving son, and I was born to be a bachelor."

    I cant be married to THE TRUTH, he tells her. I'm not ready for it. I have to hold on to my own ego, my own separate identity.

    She answers:
    "Althea told me, okay, that's fine," (God is infinitely patient)

    And having missed the TRUTH, the singer goes back to the game of divine hide and seek, claiming to want to know the truth (and rejecting her when she shows up at his doorstep).
    "so now I'm trying to catch her".

    Having missed the TRUTH, having missed the connection to the divine, the singer then reflects:
    "Can't talk to you without talking to me, we're guilty of the same old thing."
    Cant talk to God without talking to ourselves... and yet...
    "Been talking alot about less and less and forgetting the love we bring."
    We're back in the soup again, talking about less and less and forgetting all about the divine, about LOVE, about TRUTH.

    I have tremendous love and respect for Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter as some of the premier poets of our generation. This amazing songs spells out some of the struggles Jerry himself was going through. On the one hand, he identified with and studied the Christian mystics so he was obviously a deeply spiritual man. On the other hand, he struggled mightily with Heroin addiction, with obesity and undoubtedly with depression. The song Althea in a sense spells out that conflict within Jerry. Seeing God, being so close to God through the creative process of music but ultimately being unable to fully embrace God, falling again and again back into Heroin and self-destruction. Like the song Black Muddy River, and on so many others, Robert Hunter often wrote lyrics that reflected what he saw happening with the Dead. It's amazing that he wrote these lyrics for Jerry and that Jerry chose to sing them, sharing with us all his (and our) perennial struggle to know God.
    ShivaXon April 29, 2011   Link
  • +4
    General CommentI've always thought this song is about the wisdom of women and the ability for them to see the big picture.
    sandpitlakeon July 30, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General Commenthow does an amazing dead song like this only have 3 comments when 50 cent's candyshop has 480...
    gdawg31on January 06, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Commentalthea is about him going out with althea but he didnt want a girlfriend so they broke up and went seperate ways. then he wanted her back later on but she didnt want to go back out with him. well thats what I think
    Brookes5on September 19, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think Brookes is right as far as he goes above, but the song always meant more to me the more I heard it (thousands of times). I always thought of Althea as an alterego for Alethea, the Greek goddess of truth, incarnate. Not sure if anyone Althea really existed for the song to be written about, but I think the goddess Alethea makes for a great metaphor here: "Honest to the point of recklessness, self-centered to the extreme". The dialogue is that much better because she is here courted by the singer, as Brookes says. I just like the idea of personifying Truth as a beautiful but fickle woman. Not to say that my explaination is intentional (or not) but I did interpret it this way.
    agino101on September 28, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"Althea" is a playful but realistic scenario of two flawed and suspicious people looking for love. This song is told in narrator form and he's trying to tell her whats bothering him and she always has the perfect comeback. Commintment, free spirtedness, and staunch bacherlorhood are some of the themes delt with here, complemented with a warm score that gave the Dead room for volcanic instramental expression.
    The line " you may be a clown on the burying ground or just another pretty face/ you may meet the fate of Ophelia to sleep and perchance to dream" directly links with a scene from ~Hamlet, one of Shakespears darkest plays. After Ophelia has commited sucicide in this tragedy, two clowns dig her grave. They unearth the skull, which Hamlet holds during his "Alas, poor Yorick" solilouy. Earlier, before the suicide , Hamlet himself questioned, "To be or not to be" and mused about hereafter: " To die , to sleep-to sleep-perchance to dream" concluding that "dread of something after death" made people unwilling to flee the burdens of life.
    "You may be saterdays child all grown old" refers to the famous proverbial nursery rhyme regarding the atributes an individual acquires according to the day of the week on which they were born. Hunter may have also been influenced by "To Althea from Prison," by Richard Lovelace, a seventeenth-century poem which deals with unrequited love.
    When love with unconfined wings
    Hovers within my gates,
    And my divine Althea brings
    To whisper at the grates;
    When I lie tangled in her hair,
    And fettered to her eye,
    The birds that wanton in the air
    Know no such liberty.

    When flowing cups run swiftly round
    With no allaying Thames,
    Our careless heads with roses bound,
    Our hearts with loyal flames;
    When thirsty grief in wine we steep,
    When healths and draughts go free,
    Fishes that tipple in the deep
    Know no such liberty.

    When, like committed linnets, I
    With shriller throat shall sing
    The sweetness, mercy, majesty,
    And glories of my King;
    When I shall voice aloud how good

    He is, how great should be,
    Enlarged winds that curl the flood
    Know no such liberty.

    Stone walls do not a prison make,
    Nor iron bars a cage;
    Minds innocent and quiet take
    That for an hermitage;

    If I have freedom in my love,
    And in my soul am free,
    Angels alone, that soar above,
    Enjoy such liberty.


    ~and thats my meaning for ya! :)

    sugaree23on February 17, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General Commentsuch a great song. actually just got into this one after hearing a Phil and friends show from 12/17/04. its available at nugs.net a really kick ass set of shows really!!

    David Dodd has an interesting site called the annotated dead where he and many others disect many underlying themes of many of their songs definately worth looking into if you're a fan!
    tayzha26on January 24, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentalthea, what a good song. honest to the point of recklessness, self centered to the extreme...love that line. the grateful dead have so many great great songs. thanks so much jerry. and if yer a fan and you don't know about this david dodd site mentioned by tayzha26 then here's the link and you can thank me later.........arts.ucsc.edu/gdead/agdl/
    nanukrbsiton September 12, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentgdawg31... Thank You. Just to relate a little story...I named a wild kitten that I caught Althea. She was the most amazing Cat, love love love is all she knew other than she'd play fetch endlessly until she wore me out. about 4 years after meeting her I had to move into a house with other cats and spent many days after trying to catch her. Althea lived up to her name,
    bookmakeron February 22, 2008   Link

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