After much consideration over which two songs to use (thoughts of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Social Distortion, Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam, and many others floating around in my mind), I have chosen to do the song “Scarlet Begonias.” The song was originally written by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia and first performed by the Grateful Dead in 1974. It was later covered, lyrics changed a bit, and released on Sublime’s 40 Oz. to Freedom album in 1992. (Wiki)
The original song has a mellow, yet upbeat rhythm to it. I enjoy the sound of the Grateful Dead—strong yet sweet, lyrically beautiful, fun to dance to, and for the most part happy. This song in particular has a reggae-ish beat to it. (Maybe that is why Sublime decided to cover it!) The beautiful dual guitars, bouncy bass, melodic keys, double-the-drums, and Jerry’s notorious voice really make this song wonderful. It instantly makes me smile, reminding me of warm summer days. David Dodd (Grateful Dead enthusiast and Research Associate at the University of California at Santa Cruz) created a annotated lyrics website in which he and many others collaborated and deciphered practically every single Grateful Dead song. For those interested, the annotations to “Scarlet Begonias” is featured here.
I was once a big fan of Sublime (I still am, but I think I may have listened to too much of them in my younger years) and I absolutely LOVE their version of the Grateful Dead tune. They are a ska-punk band who put their drunken, fun-loving, punk-y twist onto a great song. The Sublime version definitely features a reggae and somewhat hip-hop sound to it with the off-beat drums, simple-sounding guitar, and funky bass.
From what I can gather, the Grateful Dead version is simply a song about a lovely young woman who draws the attention of the song writer. Possibly something to do with the Grateful Dead culture and following….. “Strangers stoppin’ strangers/just to shake their hand/Everybody’s playing in the heart of gold band.” I think their version features somewhat psychedelic lyrics “the sky was yellow and the sun was blue” and is for the most part a song of fascination. :o) The Sublime version is similar in the fascination aspect, but includes more of a drug aspect too. “A tight tie-dyed dress, she was a psychedelic mess/We toured to the north, south, east and west/We sold some mushroom tea,we sold some ecstasy, We sold nitrous, opium, acid, heroin and PCP/And now I hear the police coming after me…” (Maybe a reference to the turmoil of the latter Grateful Dead scene?) As for authenticity, the GD version seems to be more authentic in that it seems to be written from the heart, is actually performed by one of the original composers, and put together beautifully. On the other hand, the Sublime translation could very well be based on a girl that they just happened to come across one day.