"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

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Wharf Rat song meanings
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16 Comments

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  • +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 CommentCould this be the greatest story ever told?
    compasson May 26, 2004   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
    General CommentThe Wharf Rats are still going strong... they meet at intermission of every Furthur show.
    Great tune...I always thought the fellow gets sober in the song but after reading the previous comments I now think that like most addicted people, they say they will get clean but never do.
    kingfishon April 14, 2012   Link

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