Robert Hunter: “I think the germ of [the song] came in Mexico …. I had a cat sitting on my belly, and was in a rather hypersensitive state, and I followed this cat out to – I believe it was Neptune – and there were rainbows across Neptune, and cats marching across the rainbow. This cat took me in all these cat places; there’s some essence of that in the song.”
He also said that: “It was originally inspired by Dame Edith Sitwell, who had a way with words” (‘palace of the Queen Chinee’ is a direct quote from her poem, Trio for Two Cats and a Trombone). With its perky little tune and many half-references, it has the feel of an obscure poem for children whose complete meaning has been lost over time.
Paired with it is I Know You Rider, a song first documented in Alan Lomax’s book “American Ballads and Folk Songs” under the title ‘Woman Blue’, which he heard being sung by an eighteen-year old black girl, in prison for murder. She is, effectively, telling her man that he’ll miss her when she’s been executed. They segued China Cat into a number of songs in its first year of its life but, for whatever reason, only a song with a dark heart felt right. The joy of the first song is tempered by the sadness in the second. Which is how Garcia plays it: fun, elation, sweetness, struggle and sorrow.
This is just background. My reason for this post is simply to share yet another of the presents I’ve received from Casey this year: this exquisite performance from La Grande Salle du Grand Theatre in Luxembourg on 16th May 1972. The 13th rendition of the tour, it is so full of gorgeous tunes; not only the standard riffs and melodies but also all the variations and inventions that Garcia dreams up throughout its course. With its subtly changing rhythms, Weir’s chord-waves and tune-lets, Lesh’s immaculate bass and some pretty convincing 3-part harmonies, it’s fast becoming one of my favourite versions.
The performance was broadcast live on Radio Luxembourg, introduced by David ‘Kid’ Jensen, so there’s a very remote possibility that you or someone you know heard it. I didn’t.