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Fire on the mountain

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
San Francisco Bay and "Fire on the Mountain" - is there a connection?
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Rousing myself out of my sleep state this morning, a catchy, rhythmic song was looping over and over in my brain. I was trying to place it – it was oh-so-familiar.

This on a day following one where a strange light rose into the clouds as I looked out from the 50th floor (the top) of Oklahoma City’s Devon (or Franklin’s?) Tower. Why did that light appear then? Was it a sign?

As I got my bearings in the early-morning darkness, I suddenly realized it was the Grateful Dead’s 1978 (there’s that year again!) song “Fire on the Mountain,” which originally appeared on their Shakedown Street album that year. It was composed by Dead drummer/percussionist Mickey Hart, with lyrics from longtime Dead songwriter Robert Hunter.

But why was “Fire on the Mountain” syncing with me as the dust devils swirled and danced in my subconscious? Could it be the song’s urgency? Particularly when one finds themselves in a world bedeviled by troubles and uncertainty?

I was thinking long and hard about the dream and how I found myself – once again – in a rundown community (a “broke-down palace”?) where the buildings had been built – Potemkin village-like – to impress but were falling apart with lots of plants (ivy, in particular, I noted) growing up through the shells of these buildings. Cars parked along the street (they looked like 1970’s model land yachts) were rusting and the tires were flat and the rubber decomposing as if they had been sitting parked for years.

There were other people with me in this “town,” which, according to a map that appeared in my mind’s eye was somewhere just east of Tulsa, Oklahoma , and we were trying to determine what had happened there. Who had spent money on this seemingly fake village that was now falling into ruin? Was this my subconscious trying to make sense of the actual “fake village” of America? Fake money and a fake society? Yes, these are issues that concern me and my dream self is trying to make sense of it. This theme of post-apocalyptic decay and shabbiness has been a very strong theme in my dust devil dreams of late.

And then there was “Fire on the Mountain” on a loop. That chorus – “Fire, fire on the mountain.” Like a chant. As I grabbed a cup of coffee, I pulled out the Grateful Dead’s 1981 live album Dead Set (featuring an image of San Francisco on the cover – a city that has been repeatedly showing up in my dust devil dreams as of late – note "Gates" or “Nostalgia for a clean wind’s kiss,” for instance) and cued up track 12 – “Fire on the Mountain” – and soaked it in. As I did this, I sipped on my coffee. Then the chorus – “Fire, fire on the mountain” comes up just as I’m putting the coffee cup to my lips – I suddenly realize the image on my coffee cup – fiery lava coming down a mountain, is right there in front of my face! I had grabbed my faded “Kona Mountain” coffee cup I had picked up in Hawaii a few years ago. The image on the cup is a simple artistic rendering of a volcano with lava coming down the sides – fire on the mountain!

There is a legend – turns out to be true – that as the Dead were playing “Fire on the Mountain” during a June 1980 show in Portland, Oregon, Mount St. Helen’s released an ash cloud (a month after the BIG May 18, 1980 eruption we wrote about here) and it settled over Portland as they played “Fire on the Mountain”! Fire and ash. Been syncing with “ashes” a lot lately, as it turns out. Note my analysis of The Mosquito Coast, featuring River Phoenix. Fat Man blows from ice to fire.

Taking the lead vocal, Jerry Garcia, with his wah-wah guitar, starts out, singing: “Long distance runner, what you standin’ there for? / Get up, get out, get out of the door / You’re playing cold music on the barroom floor / Drowned in your laughter and dead to the core / There’s a dragon with matches that’s loose on the town / Takes a whole pail of water just to cool him down.”

The band seems to be trying to “light a fire” under the listener, knowing that they have what it takes to address the “fire-breathing dragon” that is coming to destroy the town. Why won't we react when we could if we wanted to? Why aren't we protesting conditions that are getting worse by the day? Why are we accepting our lot? Indeed, there are a lot of interpretations of "Fire on the Mountain," including links to William Golding's cautionary novel Lord of the Flies.

As noted by Dead historian David Dodd at Dead.net, there is a more esoteric interpretation of “Fire on the Mountain” which syncs with me, I think.

“The I Ching contains a hexagram, #56 , titled variously ‘The Traveler,’ ‘Travel,’ ‘The Stranger,’ and so on. It is represented by the two trigrams of fire and mountain, with fire resting on mountain.”

At deoxy.org, #56 is interpreted thusly: 
“The mountain, Kên, stands still; above it fire, Li, flames up and does not tarry. 

Therefore the two trigrams do not stay together. Strange lands and separation

are the wanderer's lot. When a man is a wanderer and stranger, he should

not be gruff nor overbearing. He has no large circle of acquaintances,

therefore he should not give himself airs. He must be cautious and reserved;

in this way he protects himself from evil. If he is obliging toward others, he wins success.”

It also notes: 
“When grass on a mountain takes fire, there is bright light. However, the fire does not linger in one place, but travels on to new fuel. 
It is a phenomenon of short duration. This is what penalties and lawsuits should be like. 
They should be a quickly passing matter, and must not be dragged out indefinitely. 
Prisons ought to be places where people are lodged only temporarily, as guests are. They must not become dwelling places.”

“Fire on the Mountain,” adds Dodd, is definitely a “cautionary tale” and asks why “we’re doing the same old same old when disaster is at hand?”

Indeed. Is it, because in Oklahoma I am told things are done a certain way because that is the way they are always done? When I am given new facts, I tend to change my mind, as a wise sage once said. If we are doing something that destroys Mother Earth, why do we continue doing it, particularly when the planet reacts to our negative, greedy actions? Is it because we stubbornly hold on to the past, and let the karmic wheel continue onward as our cycle of births and deaths continues, until God frees us from this seemingly-endless cycle?

Another Grateful Dead song comes to mind at this point - that we are sailing on a "ship of fools" and only have ourselves to blame.

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About the Author

Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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