Reuben And Cérise

Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Jerry Garcia

There are some variations on the spelling of the title. The Hunter book of lyrics has it as "Reuben and Cérise" (with an acute accent on the 'e' of Cérise). But the version on the Garcia album "Cats Under The Stars" is titled "Rubin And Cherise" (thanks to Todd for pointing this out). I've also seen some references to "Ruben," though I think that's just an error.

This is a song mainly associated with the Jerry Garcia Band and with Hunter's solo performances. But the Grateful Dead played it four times in 1991 (thanks to Brad Dilli for help with the Dead's version).

Cérise was brushing her long hair gently down
It was the afternoon of Carnival
As she brushes it gently down

Reuben was strumming his painted mandolin (note 1)
It was enlaid with a pretty face in jade
Played the Carnival Parade (note 2)

Cérise was dressing as Pirouette in white
When a fatal vision gripped her tight (note 12)
Cérise, beware tonight

Reuben, Reuben, tell me truly true
I feel afraid and I don't know why I do
Is there another girl for you

If you could see in my heart
You would know it's true
There is none, Cérise, except for you
Except for you
I swear to it on my very soul (note 3)
If I lie may I fall down cold

When Reuben played on his painted mandolin (note 4)
The breeze would stop and listen in (note 5)
Before going its way again

Masquerade began when nightfall finally woke
Like waves against the bandstand dancers broke
To the painted mandolin

Looking out on the crowd, who is standing there? (note 6)
Sweet Ruby Claire at Reuben stared
At Reuben stared
She was dressed as Pirouette in red
And her hair hung gently down

The crowd pressed round, Ruby stood as though alone
Reuben's song took on a different tone
And he played it just for her

The song that he played was the Carnival Parade
Each note cut a thread of Cérise's fate
It cut through like a blade

Reuben was playing his painted mandolin (note 7)
When Ruby froze and turned to stone
For the strings played all alone

If you could see in my heart (note 8)
You would know it's true
There is none, Cérise, except for you
Except for you

The voice of Cérise from the face of the mandolin
Singing Reuben, Reuben, tell me true
For I have no one but you

If you could see my heart
You would know it's true
There is none, Cérise, except for you
Except for you
I swear to it on my very soul (note 3)
If I lie, may I fall down cold

The truth of love an unsung song must tell (note 9)
The course of love must follow blind
Without a look behind (note 10)

Reuben walked the streets of New Orleans till dawn
Cérise so lightly in his arms (note 11)
And her hair hung gently down
(1) Hunter sings "... the painted mandolin"
(2) Garcia sang "From the Carnival Parade" on at least one occasion with the Dead
(3) these are Hunter's published lyrics, and what Garcia sang. But on the CD 'Box Of Rain' Hunter sings:
Well Reuben swear to it on your very soul
If you lie may you fall down cold
(4) Hunter sings "played the painted mandolin"
(5) Garcia sings "The breeze would pause to listen in" on 'Cats Under The Stars'
(6) Garcia sometimes sang "who was standing there"
(7) with the Dead, Garcia sang "Reuben was strumming his painted mandolin". On the version on 'Box Of Rain' Hunter sings "Reuben put down the painted mandolin" (and omits "When" from the start of the next line)
(8) Hunter omits this repeat of the bridge in his version
(9) Hunter adds in two extra verses here:
Ahoy, old ferryman, riverboat of Charon ride
Though alive, take Reuben to the other side
For his sweet Cérise has died

It's a long lonely walk from Hell to the burying ground
Cérise may return but don't you look around
For your glance would cut her down
(10) Hunter sings "But Reuben looked behind"
(11) Hunter sings "With the ghost of Cérise in his empty arms"
(12) in a 1978 interview, Hunter recites this line as "When a fatal vision crossed her sight"

Grateful Dead and Related Recordings
     Date Album Recorded By
     studio 1978 Cats Under The Stars Jerry Garcia (note a)
     studio 1980 Jack O'Roses Robert Hunter
      1990 Box Of Rain Robert Hunter
     17 Mar 1991 30 Days Of The Dead (2018)
      7 Apr 1991 View From The Vault II Grateful Dead DVD (note b)
      9 Jun 1991 (official YouTube video only) Grateful Dead (note d)
     23 Nov 1991 Garcia Live Volume 8 Jerry Garcia Band
(Plus live recordings by The Dead, Furthur, Dead & Company, Ratdog, Phil Lesh & Friends etc not listed here. See Grateful Dead Family Discography for a full list.)
Other Recordings
     Date Album Recorded By
     15 Sep 2002 Live At The Powerhouse David Gans (DVD only)
      2003 Grateful Guitar David Cullen
      2004 20 Degrees Of Solitude The Grass Is Dead
      2006 Keepers Of The Flame Melvin Seals and JGB
     31 Dec 2009 Jerry Jams for Rex Yonder Mountain String Band (note c)
     2015 Twangin' The Dead Matt Rae
     2016 Day Of The Dead Bonnie "Prince" Billy & Friends

(a) also on the compilation The Best Of Jerry Garcia
(b) this recording plays as background to the introductory page of the DVD. I've seen postings saying the date for this recording is 9 June 1991, but in an interview on "The Music Box", David Lemieux says it's 7 April 1991.
(c) The list above includes only one illustrative example of the series of live recordings by these artists. For a full list see the Grateful Dead Family Discography.
(d) I have seen at least one reference to this version being an Easter Egg on View From The Vault II, but I think this is probably a mistake for the version on 7 April 1991 (see note b above)

In a 1979 interview on WMMR in Philadelphia, Jerry Garcia gave some background to the writing of this song:
"It's the Orpheus story, and the Black Orpheus adaptation of the Orpheus story. Plus we transmogrified it and put it into New Orleans and Mardi Gras. And we changed the outcome somewhat. It was one of those songs that was very slow growing. It started off with a melody that I was fooling around with, while we were working on Blues for Allah, and I gave a copy of the melody to Hunter, and he took it home and fooled with it, fooled with it, fooled with it. He came up with a lot of different ideas. And then, independently of the original melody, he set a group of ... those lyrics. And I liked the lyrics better than I liked the original melody. So, I dumped the original melody, held onto the lyrics, and, after fooling with the lyrics, and look at em for a long, long time, and really liking them, and really wanting them to work, I came up with the new melody."

Further Information
For an online discussion of the lyrics to this song see the deadsongs.vue conference on The Well.
For more information on recordings see Matt Schofield's Grateful Dead Family Discography
For information on references in the lyrics see David Dodd's Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics
For online chords and TAB see
For sheet music, see:
          Jerry Garcia Songbook (vocal line and chords)
          Garcia/Hunter Songbook (vocal line and chords/TAB)


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