Ship Of Fools

Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Jerry Garcia

Went to see the captain, strangest I could find
Laid my proposition down, laid it on the line (note 5)
I won't slave for beggar's pay, likewise gold and jewels
But I would slave to learn the way to sink your ship of fools

Ship of fools on a cruel sea
Ship of fools sail away from me
It was later than I thought when I first believed you (note 1)
But now I cannot share your laughter, ship of fools (note 4)

Saw your first ship sink and drown from rocking of the boat
And all that could not sink or swim were just left there to float
I won't leave you drifting down but whoa it makes me wild
With thirty years upon my head to have you call me child (note 2)


The bottles stand as empty now, as they were filled before
Time there was and plenty, but from that cup no more
Though I could not caution all, I still might warn a few (note 3)
Don't lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools

(1) On 28 March 1981 Jerry sang "... when I still believed you" in one of the choruses (thanks to David Gans for pointing this out)
(2) Jerry subsequently changed this line to "With forty years upon my head ..." and, I believe, occasionally to "fifty years" - though in the last performance, on 25 June 1995 he was back to "thirty years".
(3) Apparently, Jerry sometimes sang "Though I could not caution all it's still my point of view" - not confirmed, and I'd be grateful if anyone could point me to an instance of this.
(4) It certainly sounds as if Bob Weir in 2016 sang "I cannot bear your laughter".
(5) On 12 Jul 1989 (and perhaps other occasions), Jerry sang "Turned my proposition down".

Grateful Dead Recordings
     Date Album
     studio 1974 Mars Hotel
     22 Feb 1974 Dave's Picks Volume 42 (bonus disc)
     23 Feb 1974 Dave's Picks Volume 42
     24 Feb 1974 Dave's Picks Volume 13
     12 May 1974 30 Days Of The Dead (2014)
     17 May 1974 Pacific Northwest '73-'74
     19 May 1974 Pacific Northwest '73-'74
     21 May 1974 Pacific Northwest '73-'74
     23 Jun 1974 Dave's Picks Volume 34
     28 Jun 1974 Dick's Picks Vol 12
     25 Jul 1974 30 Days Of The Dead (2020)
     31 Jul 1974 Dave's Picks Volume 2
      4 Aug 1974 Dick's Picks Vol 31
     18 Sep 1974 30 Trips Around The Sun
     16 Oct 1974 Steal Your Face
      9 Jun 1976 Road Trips Volume 4, Number 5
     11 Jun 1976 June 1976 Box Set
     17 Jun 1976 Dave's Picks Volume 28
     25 Apr 1977 30 Trips Around The Sun
      9 May 1977 May 1977: Get Shown The Light Box
     15 May 1977 May 1977 Box Set
     22 Jan 1978 Dave's Picks Volume 23
     14 May 1978 30 Trips Around The Sun
      5 Jul 1978 July 1978: The Complete Recordings
      8 Jul 1978 July 1978: The Complete Recordings (note c)
      4 May 1979 Live At The Coliseum
     30 Nov 1980 Dave's Picks Volume 8
     9 Mar 1981 In And Out Of The Garden
      5 Apr 1982 Road Trips Volume 4, Number 4
      7 Aug 1982 Dick's Picks Vol 32
     31 Mar 1986 30 Days Of The Dead (2018)
      4 Jul 1989 Truckin' Up To Buffalo (DVD & CD soundtrack)
     12 Jul 1989 RFK Stadium 1989 Box
     16 Mar 1990 Spring 1990
      1 Apr 1990 Spring 1990 (The Other One)
     16 Jul 1990 (official YouTube video only)
     19 Sep 1990 Road Trips Number 2, Volume 1
     17 Jun 1991 Giants Stadium 1987, 1989, 1991 Boxed Set (CD and DVD)
     16 Dec 1992 Dick's Picks Vol 27
(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
     16 Apr 1987 Stolen Roses Elvis Costello
     1991 Deadicated Elvis Costello (note a)
     1996 Costello and Nieve Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve
     1999 Swingin' To The Grateful Dead Steve Marsh et al
     2000 Might As Well The Persuasions (note b)
     2001 Gratefully Yours Jim Hudak
     2002 Rocking Horse To Mars Kim Cheshire
     2003 Ukelele Summit 5 Various (Herb Ohta Jr.)
     2004 20 Degrees Of Solitude The Grass Is Dead
     2004 The Thief David Thom Band
     2005 Sight Keller Williams (DVD)
     2007 Twisted Love Songs David Gans
     2007 U Liners U Liners
     2013 Move Me Brightly Bob Weir et al (Blu-ray - bonus track)
     2015 The Promised Land: Acoustic Sessions Sagol 59 & Ami Yares
     2015 It's A Hand-Me-Down David Gans
     2016 Day Of The Dead Tallest Man On Earth & Friends
     2016 Dead Giveaway Be Gulls
     2018 Cut The Dead Some Slack Stephen Inglis
(a) Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil told me that they'd originally wanted to record "Ship Of Fools" for the Deadicated album project, but then found that Elvis Costello had already picked it. So they chose Wharf Rat instead.
(b) re-released in 2011 on "Persuasions of the Dead"
(c) also released on 30 Days Of The Dead (2015)

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 David Dodd's discussion of this song on see Greatest Stories Ever Told
For online chords and TAB see
For sheet music, see:
          Grateful Dead Anthology Volume 1 (piano arrangement)
          Grateful Dead Songbook Volume 2 (piano arrangement)
          Garcia/Hunter Songbook (vocal line and chords/TAB)


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