Rubin & Cherise

The story of 'Rubin and Cherise' and the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice

This was written on Reddit by someone named Super_Jay - I wish I knew his real name to give him credit for this. First off, here's Rueben & Cherise:

And then here's Super_Jay's write up about Rubin & Cherise:

I wanted to share these musings because I love how Robert and Jerry's music is so deeply connected to Art throughout history - informed by it and engaging with it in turn. I think this feature of their music is a big part of why the Dead can feel so "timeless" to us today.

I've been listening to 'Rubin and Cherise' a lot lately, and the song's premise, characters, and a couple of specific lines got me thinking about how Robert Hunter could be referring to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in Greek mythology.
Some similarities that stood out:

  • Both Rubin and Orpheus are musicians who play handheld stringed instruments; a mandolin in Rubin's case, a lyre for Orpheus. They're both musicians of such skill that the natural elements themselves take notice: when Rubin strums "his painted mandolin / The breeze would pause to listen in / Before going on its way again." The image of a musician with an almost supernatural talent that can affect the natural world immediately invokes the myths of Orpheus, who was said to captivate birds and wild beasts, change the courses of rivers, even make stones and trees dance with joy. He charms the gods into giving his wife a second chance at life, he's just that good.
  • The love in both relationships is particularly dedicated; the relationships (Rubin with Cherise and Orpheus with Eurydice) are described as only having eyes for one another, and a love so deep and abiding that life is hardly worth living without the other. "There's none Cherise, except for you / I'd swear to it on my very soul / If I lie, may I fall down cold."
  • In making use of the concept of "fate" as a thread or weaving, the line "The song that he played was the carnival parade / Each note cut a thread of Cherise's fate / It cut through like a blade" is a roundabout reference to the Fates of Greek mythology: three weaving sisters responsible for spinning, measuring, and cutting the threads that comprise a mortal life. The Fates feature in the stories of Orpheus and Eurydice, go figure.
  • The following verse in 'Rubin and Cherise,' the final one in the released version:

    The truth of love an unsung song must tell
    The course of love must follow blind
    Without a look behind
    Rubin walked the streets of New Orleans 'til dawn
    Cherise so lightly in his arms
    And her hair hung gently down

  • The bolded line here directly references the most well-known story of Orpheus and Eurydice: after Eurydice's death, an empty and desperate Orpheus bargains with Hades to return Eurydice to life. Hades agrees, on the condition that Orpheus leads Eurydice through the caverns of the Underworld and back to the surface without ever looking back at her until they've arrived in the sunlight. Tragically, Orpheus is overcome with fear just as they emerge. He looks back at Eurydice just before she leaves the cave, voiding his bargain with Hades and condemning Eurydice to the Underworld forever.

The more I listen to this tune and think about these connections, the more curious I get. So the other day I looked it up. I'm obviously not going to be the first to notice the parallels, people have taught college courses on this stuff for decades now, and my Johnny-come-lately presence isn't discovering anything new. But, lo-and-behold, one of the first things I read is an article with Robert Hunter directly alluding to the Orpheus and Eurydice myth.

He actually mentions writing an extra verse that Jerry couldn't use (the tune was already recorded) and I think I found it, here:

Ahoy old Ferryman / Riverboat of Charron ride
Though alive, take Rubin to the other side / For his sweet Cherise has died
It’s a long lonely walk from Hell to the burying ground
Cherise may return but don’t you look around
for your glance would cut her down
The truth of love an unsung song must tell
The course of love must follow blind / but Rubin looked behind
Rubin walked the streets of New Orleans till dawn
with the ghost of Cherise in his empty arms
and her hair hung gently down

Direct, overt allusions to and recasting of the myth in modern terms. Just beautiful!

Garcia and Hunter connect to a vast tapestry of storytelling that spans human history, and they use narratives that circulate throughout cultures and time in creating their own stories, updating and retelling those legends and myths to modern audiences. Basically, the Dead are radical and timeless and their body of work will outlast each of them and every one of us, helping them to become myths and legends themselves.