Grateful Dead – “Scarlet Begonias” Live
The Story Behind “Scarlet Begonias”
“Scarlet Begonias” was written by Robert Hunter and composed by Jerry Garcia. It was then released on June 27, 1974 and has been covered several times by other great music artists.
The song begins in Grosvenor Square in London and also references “Tea for Two” from No, No, Nanette by Irving Caesar and Vincent Youmans.
This bouncy track is filled with plenty of meaningful lines. Like most of Hunter’s other works, this is yet another story song.
Like most of Hunter’s story songs, it has an uncertain outcome, and the sequence of events is a bit up for grabs. Our narrator is in London, walking around in the neighborhood of the US Embassy, and sees a pretty girl—his gaze is drawn to her. They meet, she either is or is not impervious to his charms, they engage in a (likely metaphorical) game of cards, and he learns to let her pass by—but what is meant by learning the hard way? “Do they, or don’t they”, as I believe Blair Jackson summarized the central mystery of the song.
It often leaves the listeners wondering about what happened in the end especially since the narration also included some metaphors.
That last verse takes the entire story—sad or not—that has gone before: the story of the human condition of falling prey to desire and then moving beyond it again only to know that one will fall again, and blows it all out of the water.