Gravedigger

October 03, 2006 By: erik Category: Music, Videos 1,202 views

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Gravedigger, over the past few years, become one of my favorite songs, to listen to, play, and think about.

Dave Matthews won the Best Male Rock Vocal Performance Grammy for this song in 2004.

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Lyrics

Cyrus Jones 1810 to 1913
Made his great grandchildren believe
You could live to a hundred and three
A hundred and three is forever when you’re just a little kid
So Cyrus Jones lived forever

Gravedigger
When you dig my grave
Could you make it shallow
So that I can feel the rain
Gravedigger

Muriel Stonewall
1903 to 1954
She lost both of her babies in the second great war
Now you should never have to watch
Your only children lowered in the ground
I mean you should never have to bury your own babies

Gravedigger
When you dig my grave
Could you make it shallow
So that I can feel the rain
Gravedigger

Ring around the rosey
Pocket full of posey
Ashes to ashes
We all fall down

Gravedigger
When you dig my grave
Could you make it shallow
So that I can feel the rain
Gravedigger

Little Mikey Carson ’67 to ’75
He rode his
Bike like the devil until the day he died
When he grows up he wants to be Mr. Vertigo on the flying trapeze
Ohhh, 1940 to 1992

Gravedigger
When you dig my grave
Could you make it shallow
So that I can feel the rain

Gravedigger
When you dig my grave
Could you make it shallow
So that I can feel the rain
Feel the rain
I can feel the rain
Gravedigger

Gravedigger

Meaning

Anyone who has ever walked through a graveyard looking at gravestones has had the sensation of wondering what the person below your feet was like. But all you really know about them is two dates: birth and death. Sometimes you can determine the birth and death dates of their family members by looking at nearby stones. And the rest you have to imagine.

Every living thing has these two dates marking the beginning and end of life. You only get one birth and one death. Some people have incredibly long lives, like Cyrus Jones, and others have short and tragic lives, like Little Mikey Carson. Life is like a ball thrown in the air. It’s not a question of whether or not it will hit the ground, but when and where. The short and long throws both hit the ground. Isn’t that the gist of “Ring around the rosey”?

This song is a celebration of mortality. It’s a celebration of the one common thing that we share with everything that has ever lived and ever will. The “so I can feel the rain” line expresses the desire to be close to nature and the pride of being part of its cycles.

I leave you with a quote that I recently found. When asked if he was afraid of dying, Mark Twain said:

I was dead for millions of years before I was born and it never inconvenienced me a bit.

 
  • Betsy

    What a poignant and melancholy song. I do like the chorus very much. You do a good job with this Erik. It felt like you were with me in the Store this morning. Mark Twain is eminently quotable. I think he had a pretty sad life . . .

  • Uncle Neil

    Your too negative. It’s no good going that way. I just got back from six days at my remote cabin and the dogs and I sure had good runs. We totaled more than sixty miles in the log but the real fun was the moose chased and the ruffed grouse ruffed and the fall colors of red maple and yellow birch chased just before dawn.

    You should look at death more in to a manner of how lucky we are to live more detached in my opinion.

    I go to the ground near me often enough and have helped with some of the history accounts. Most of the older grave ledgers here say ‘mule stomped’ ‘tree fall’ ‘team over’ ‘ horse step’ all are mostly teenage. A real life can be very tough = Neil Rasmussen Grand Maris, MN USA.

  • Oh, I agree. We are hugely lucky to live. I don’t think this is a melancholy song at all. No, let me rephrase that, I think there’s a positive message at the core of the melancholy-sounding song.

    The positive, joyous message is just that, how incredibly lucky we are to live and share the life experiences (like grouse ruffing?) the way our ancestors did and descendants will. Is there anything more beautiful?

    “We all fall down.” So what? That’s inevitable. The glory of it all is that we got up and danced, singing, in a circle with pockets full of flowers in the first place!

    Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the song was meant to be morbid. But I’ve heard a lot of Dave Matthews songs, and I don’t think it was.

  • Uncle Neil

    I re-read and I can see what you say. The shallow grave so can feel the rain and such. Feeling the rain is a good thing. I still don’t get the dead eight year old boy who loved to ride his bike and such. But then I have already far surpassed my ability to understand art. Thank you very much for sharing all the things that are interesting to you as they are way interesting for me. What is 1940 to 1992?

  • 1940 to 1992 are the birth and death dates of Mr. Vertigo. The fact that everyone in the song has their dates mentioned seems to imply the importance that we all have them.

    The dead kid is just another gravestone in the graveyard. Even though his life was short, he was truly alive when he was on his bike…and hence worth celebrating.

    And even Mikey’s hero, Mr. Vertigo, was mortal.

    • Andrew

      I’m not sure, but I’ve seen places that Mikey Carson was hit by Dave driving his car. Of course, it wasn’t intentional…

  • Katherine

    Children die, that’s why the 8 year old dying bothers people about that song. There is a huge silence about children dying, as I found out when my daughter died. It’s hugely isolating because nobody wants to acknowledge it. What I hear and find comfort in this song is that even later, someone might find your tombstone and remember. Keeping your name alive sort of thing.

  • Ember

    “Ring around the rosy” is a reference to a song that was originally about the bubonic plague. The “ring around the rosy” references the look of the lesions that the plague caused, and the “pocket full of posies” referenced the flowers given to the dead…
    “Ashes, ashes,” the burning of the bodies to slow the spread of infection…
    we all fall down.
    Death is a part of life. The last part. By no means the most significant part in most cases.

  • Alpha

    Nothing like living a life where you feel you already died….

  • hugh wakeland

    Wow what an easy song to interpret for me ……. it is much like the poem by Linda Ellis The Dash it starts like this

    I read of a man who stood to speak
    At the funeral of a friend
    He referred to the dates on her tombstone
    From the beginning to the end

    He noted that first came her date of her birth
    And spoke the following date with tears,
    But he said what mattered most of all
    Was the dash between those years

    I think this is merely a walk through the grave yard and wondering about these peoples lives. All we get from our walk is the beginning and the end but not what reallt matters the dash in the middle as is evidenced in the video with the scene of the lashing, the scene of the mother crying

    I feel that the chorus about a shallow grave is the writers uncertainty about death and not wanting the child hood fun of life to end when children would play in the rain because they could

    I find the song to be confusing at first because of the dark rhythm but after thinking about the lyrics it is refreshing to remember that life is about living and that is what happens between the years marked on the slab
    just my .02

    • Exactly, Hugh! It’s a very uplifting song to me.

      Thank you for your comment.