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*10.32-CHINA CAT SUNFLOWER (Grateful Dead)

Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia

LISTEN

Look for a while at the China Cat Sunflower
proud-walking jingle in the midnight sun.
Copper-dome bodhi drip a silver
kimono like a crazy-quilt star gown
through a dream night wind.

Na-na-na (4x)

Krazy Kat peeking through a lace
bandana like a one-eyed Cheshire
like a diamond-eyed jack.
A leaf of all colors plays a golden
string fiddle to a double-e waterfall over my back.

Na-na-na (4x)

China Cat (8x)

[Break]

Comic book colors on a violin river
crying Leonardo words from out a silk trombone.
I rang a silent bell beneath a shower
of pearls in the eagle
winged palace of the queen Chinee.

China Cat (20x and fade)


China Cat Sunflower sounds like the rock the Grateful Dead would play the mid-1970s, with intricate electric guitar work and rollicking organ, but the lyrics are psychedelic to a degree rarely found in pop music. Judging from the title of the song, and the form of the lyrics (which repel the capitalization of every line), I believe the song derives at least some of its inspiration from the beatnik / hippie poet Allen Ginsberg’s Sunflower Sutra. Ginsberg used a literary technique called parataxis which propels the lyric forward by the use of juxtaposition rather than rhyme, and I find Hunter is doing much the same thing in an astounding tumble of unconnected images. It is fortuitous that paratactic syntax is an important part of Chinese and Japanese poetry. The sunflower in Ginsberg’s poem brought the poet a vision of Romantic poet William Blake, and a certainty of his own destiny as a voice for his generation. I think that Hunter may have been inspired by his (LSD) visions similarly, through the sight of a “China Cat” (most likely one of those little toy cats that wave to customers in various businesses of Chinatown, called Maneki Neko in Japanese, and believed to bring customers and wealth to a merchant's establishment). However, this inspiration brings with it a string of associations, among them the patronage of the Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat (who has appeared in such psychedelic songs as the Kinks' Phenomenal Cat), George Herriman's cartoon character Krazy Kat, and the “Double-E” (cited in Bob Dylan’s A Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry). The “Double-E” is a train reference which would be out of place in the direct text of the China Cat lyric; however, it ties in with the Ginsberg’s sunflower in his Sutra, which was found blooming among the railroad tracks. Rather than making sense of the “vision” in China Cat Sunflower, Hunter seems to be letting the listener in on the confusion of the vision itself, the random associations that make up his feeling that everything is interconnected.

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