"Wharf Rat" as written by Jerome J. Garcia and Robert C. Hunter....
Old man down
Way down, down, down by the docks of the city
Blind and dirty
Asked me for a dime, a dime for a cup of coffee
I got no dime but I got some time to hear his story
My name is August West, and I love my Pearly Baker best more than my wine
More than my wine
More than my maker, though he's no friend of mine

Everyone said
I'd come to no good, I knew I would Pearly, believe them
Half of my life
I spent doin' time for some other fucker's crime
The other half found me stumbling 'round drunk on Burgundy wine

But I'll get back on my feet again someday
The good Lord willin'
If He says I may
I know that the life I'm livin's no good
I'll get a new start, live the life I should
I'll get up and fly away,
I'll get up and fly away, fly away

Pearly's been true
True to me, true to my dyin' day he said
I said to him
I said to him, "I'm sure she's been"
I said to him, "I'm sure she's been true to you"

I got up and wandered
Wandered downtown, nowhere to go but just hang around
I've got a girl
Named Bonnie Lee, I know that girl's been true to me
I know she's been, I'm sure she's been true to me


Lyrics submitted by itsmyownmind

"Wharf Rat" as written by Robert Hunter Jerry Garcia

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Wharf Rat song meanings
Add your thoughts

17 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +4
    General CommentI always thought it had something to do with a pearly baker being a crack pipe, and the wharf rat trying to quit and get back on his feet again. Thats why they called the sober deadheads "wharf rats" at concerts back in the day.
    greatdantonon September 14, 2011   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI think this is the one of the saddest stories ever told. Like the person above me said, purley baker is a double entendre, referring to both the woman in the song and her relation to the wharf rats alcoholism. I dont know why but I always assume the pleas at the end of the song are in vain. The last two lines are the story teller showing that he was quite shaken by his experience, and thus he is reassuring himself that his woman has been true to him. Anyhow this one of the most beautiful, epic tales ever told. REST IN PEACE JERRY.
    floppywoknoodleon May 28, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI think there is a strong correlation to On the Waterfront (Marlon Brando, dir. by Elia Kazan)

    Also the Rev. Purley Baker was the head of the Anti-Saloon League of America. This group lead the fight for prohibition in America.

    Could draw a strong correlation to alcoholism struggles
    Albuquerqueon April 01, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song made me love the dead. anyone know where wharf rat comes from though???
    BeYourOwnGirlon December 10, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWharf = dock/pier; Rat: as in someone always hanging around; referring to the old man mentioned. that's where the name comes from. my fav. dead song <3
    fallonmarie813on January 08, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentwhen the narrator says "I know she's been, I'm SURE she's been true to you..." you know he's telling the derelict a harmless lie. He doesn't really believe she's been, but this guy is so near the end, he's gonna throw him a beautiful dream as he checks out of his existence. and then he's wandrin' around, thinking, I don't even know that for my own self. I'm in as dire straits as this guy. We're all the same and we don't know how to find out what we think we need to believe in. Truly epic song.
    orphan_yachtson September 27, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is my favorite Dead tune.

    floppywoknoodle is right, Purley Baker is indeed a double entendre. Rev Purley Baker was head of the anti-saloon league in the days of prohibition.


    Jerry Garcia did a charcoal artwork entitled "August West:"
    arts.ucsc.edu/gdead/agdl/…

    The image is as haunting as the song itself.
    trich daddyon September 12, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt only took me a hundred times listening to this that I realized the narrator is in the same boat as the wharf rat. "I got no dime, but I got some time to hear his story", "wandered downtown, nowhere to go but just to hang around". He assures the wharf rat that his girl has been true to him because he has to believe that his own girl has been true to him.
    wharfterrapinon February 18, 2011   Link
  • +1
    Song MeaningRobert Hunter and Jerry lived homeless for a short while( very early) in an old 50's junker Caddy somewhere around san fran....possibly the tenderloin fisherman's wharf, where they undoubtably encountered many August West characters...in fact, Jerry's mother ran a saloon there......Jerry always had a thing for the bums, and always gave a handout or a hug to one he met on the street ....the "Purley Baker" was a fancy whiskey in the depression (Bakers whiskey is still around)...it was called "Purley" because the drunks were poking fun at the Rev. Purley Baker ( who hated booze and drinking). Kind of like calling a five - dollar bill a "stinkin lincoln".....Hunter, who wrote the words, grew up in this era: the post depression...he knew of the slang and habits of the drunk culture and portrays it so well in this tune.
    oreokookieon October 30, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe narrator is being kind and patient to a wharf-side derelict at the end of his earthly path, then is rewarded by realizing kinship of more than spirit. Jerry's guitar evokes a rending and tragic brotherhood with the poor blind and dirty old man who's greatest comfort is in fantasy of an idealized girlfriend. Garcia could break your heart with just a few notes on that magic guitar, and wring involuntary tears from the crowd in sympathetic unity, then go immediately into Sugar Magnolia, instantly transforming an audience into a ecstatic mob of cavorting humanity, in crazed joy and gleeful doubt of their own sanity.

    I must agree with nearly everyone and everything said in the comments. I grew to visit the Wharf Rats during each show, as they were pretty sane and conversant, being quite alike to those one might meet in an AA meeting. Talking with these folks was something that this 20+ year Bus Passenger came to appreciate, as the farther down the road I went the more I realized just how mind-altering this music was, quite by itself. The music and the lyrics of the Dead still pierce my soul, inducing uncontrolled shuddering tears in recognition of new, sometimes frightening truths and the unimaginable beauty of their aural alchemy. My heart finally opened (after going near-catatonic from early childhood experiences) under the "influence" of this band, in '78.. after many years of prior softening. For that and many other openings brought about by these people I will be always Grateful. These are the voices and instruments of the Angels, through which I was and still am reminded of my (our) place and purpose.

    Here was where I would go to talk to God, and these were the Revival Meetings of my generation. Those others who went to the shows know what I speak of.

    Ifthunder Dontgetya
    LightningWillon October 09, 2015   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain