Sittin’ on Top of the World/Cream Puff War

Sittin’ on Top of the World/Cream Puff War

“Sittin’ on Top of the World,” originally written by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon, recorded in 1930 by their group the Mississippi Sheiks, is another standard in American music. Confidence and optimism is driven home in both lyrical content as well as in the Dead’s arrangement. Adapted easily for a rock ‘n roll tempo, punctuated at the end of every chorus, this rendition gives a good example of the tone and style of the Grateful Dead at this time. Garcia’s raw tone, while largely undeveloped in comparison to what would evolve, is nonetheless striking. This song is still another reflection of the idealism of arriving at a destination or resolution, but deservedly so, or in a character for which it is hard won. Optimism in the face of struggle is typically expressed in American folk and blues tradition, but is also becomes part of the Grateful Dead ethos.“Cream Puff War” is one of Garcia’s only lyrical and musical efforts, and he felt his songwriting abilities were not his area of strength. Despite his failing confidence as a lyricist, the song is a response to the protest movement so active in the Bay Area at the time.

Juxtaposed against the political climate of the time, the Grateful Dead neatly evade real association with the activism and the anti-war movement raging underfoot. The chasm between the so-called hip movement and the Berkeley radicals was deep and long. The Grateful Dead ethos bespoke of passionate disinterest in taking to the streets in contrast to the anti-war movement’s concern with swift action and demonstration. The opposition to the war, and to a greater extent to the construct of capitalism and a ‘Proctor and Gamble’ culture inspired a restless generation to become politically active. But on the Haight, and more specifically within the Grateful Dead family, the activism was perceived as unseemly. Ken Kesey exemplifies this attitude with his only appearance at a Berkeley rally where he mocked youthful protest and exclaimed that doing so was “playing their game.” Certainly the attitude toward the establishment was not in dispute philosophically, but activism and protest as a means to change began to be unpalatable to many. This is conveyed in “Cream Puff War:”

I find your constant battling as getting to be a bore.

Please go somewhere else and continue your Cream Puff War.

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