Book Of Rules

Lyrics: H Johnson, B Llewellyn
Music: H Johnson, B Llewellyn

Played by Bob Weir with Bobby & The Midnites, Kingfish and Ratdog. See below for background/history of this song.

Isn't it strange how princesses and kings
Can clown their capers in sawdust rings, just like
Poor people like you and me (note 1)
Will be builders for eternity
Each is given a bag of tools
Shapeless lives and a book of rules (note 2)

Each must make his life as flowing ink (note 3)
Tumbling black on a stepping stone, just like
Poor people like you and me
Will be builders for eternity
Each is given a bag of tools
Shapeless lives and a book of rules

Pow wa pow pow, pow wa pa pa pow pow
Wa pa pa pow pow, wa pow pa pow pow pow

And I say small people like you and me
Will be builders for eternity
Each is given a bag of tools
Shapeless lives and a book of rules

Look where the rain is falling from the sky (note 4)
I know the sun will be only missing for a while
And I say small people like you and me
Will be builders for eternity
Each is given a bag of tools
Shapeless lives and a book of rules

Pow wa pow pow, pow wa pa pa pow pow
Wa pa pa pow pow, wa pow pa pow pow pow

And I say small people like you and me
Will be builders for eternity
Each is given a bag of tools
Shapeless lives and a book of rules

Pow wa pow pow, pow wa pa pa pow pow
Wa pa pa pow pow, wa pow pa pow pow pow
Pow wa pow pow, pow wa pa pa pow pow
Wa pa pa pow pow, wa pow pa pow pow pow
Pow wa pow pow, pow wa pa pa pow pow
Wa pa pa pow pow, wa pow pa pow pow pow
Pow wa pow pow, pow wa pa pa pow pow
Wa pa pa pow pow, wa pow pa pow pow pow
Notes
(1) Bob Weir now sings "Common people ..." with Ratdog
(2) With Bobby & The Midnites, Bob Weir sang "Shapeless lives ..." throughout. But the lyrics with the album include "Shapeless masks ..." here, with the rather strange footnote "informed sources differ on the original lyrics of this song." The original was in fact "Shapeless mass", which is what Bob Weir now sings with Ratdog - see below.
(3) this was what Bob Weir sang with Bobby & The Midnites. It appears to have been based on a mis-hearing of the original lyrics, and he now sings "Each must make, 'ere life has flown, a stumbling block or a stepping stone" - see below.
(4) this verse was added by the Heptones to the original poem by R.L.Sharpe - see below.

Bob Weir Recordings
     Date Album
     Studio 1981 Bobby And The Midnites Bobby And The Midnites
     Jan/Feb 1983? Bobby And The Midnites Bobby And The Midnites (video only)

Ratdoglive CDs and downloads

Origins
The original recording was by the Jamaican band 'The Heptones.' They seem to have recorded a number of different versions - not all have the verse "Look where the rain is falling from the sky."

Bob Weir gave the following account of how he came to record this song in a 1981 interview with David Gans, reprinted in "Conversations With The Dead":
"That has been one of my favorite reggae cuts for the last few years. It was sort of a hit in England. I finally found the record and copped the tune, and recorded it, and then a few weeks ago--after the record had been pressed up and everything was happening--a friend of Barlow's found a compilation of verse, a collection of poems from the turn of the century to about 1930. There was in it a poem called "A Bag Of Tools" by R. L. Sharpe. The words to that went
Isn't it strange how princesses and kings
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings
And common people like you and me
Will be builders for eternity
Each is given a bag of tools
A shapeless mass and a book of rules
"The second verse is
Each must make, ere life has flown
A stumbling block or a stepping stone
"So I'm going to sing it like that from now on. That's an example of what happens when you send a lyric through the Caribbean and back: you get some transfiguration, shall we say. It came back this way a little different. I had no idea there was the original poem. I knew there was something I liked about that song beyond the lyrics that were there, though the lyrics I got off the record were kinda neat in their own right. But someone was singing a song, and these guys heard it and got the lyrics as best they could, and then I got the lyrics as best I could off the record. They wrote a third verse, that one about "Look where the rain is falling from the sky."
Thanks also to Beth Loring, who independently spotted the conncetion and alerted me. She found the poem in "Best Loved Poems of the American People" (selected by Hazel Felleman, Doubleday & Co., 1936). She lays it out:
A BAG OF TOOLS

Isn't it strange that princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common people
Like you and me
Are builders for eternity?

Each is given a bag of tools,
A shapless mass,
A book of rules;
And each must make -
Ere life is flown -
A stumbling block
Or a stepping stone.
Oasis included a part of Sharpe's poem in their song "Go Let It Out" on their album "Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants":
Is it any wonder why princes and kings
Are clowns that caper in their sawdust rings
And ordinary people that are like you and me
We're the keepers of their destiny

Futher Information
For more information on recordings see Matt Schofield's Grateful Dead Family Discography
For online chords and TAB see www.rukind.com

 


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