Death Don’t Have No Mercy: Pigpen, Ten Years Gone (Relix Revisited)
Jeff Tamarkin | March 08, 2018
Today in 1973, Ron McKernan, better known as Pigpen, the founding keyboardist and de facto original frontman for the Grateful Dead, passed away at the age of 27. In Pigpen's memory, we offer a remembrance from the February 1983 issue of Relix, where editor Jeff Tamarkin looks back on the musician's impact and unique timeline with the Grateful Dead a decade after his passing. Along with the piece, enjoy an audio compilation and photo slideshow of over four-and-a-half hours of Pigpen-led tunes (via YouTube user Phrostington), including "Mr. Charlie," "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," "In the Midnight Hour," "Good Lovin'" and "Turn On Your Lovelight," among others:
One day in February 1973, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan got out of bed in his apartment in Corte Madera, California, where he’d recently been spending most of his time, and walked over to his piano. He pushed the record button on his tape recorder and started playin a slow, bluesy dirge. His voice was shot, withered away like the rest of him. He sang:
“Look over yonder, tell me what do you see?
Ten thousand people lookin’ after me.
I may be famous or I may be no one,
But in the end all of our races are run.
Don’t make my race run in vain.”
He threw in a couple of fills on the keyboard and continued:
“Seems like there’s no tomorrow.
Seems like all my yesterdays were filled with pain.
There’s nothin’ but darkness tomorrow.”
It was the saddest song he had ever sung. Although Pigpen’s thing was the blues, his was never the blues of death and loneliness, but the blues of whisky and women. He loved them both too much for his own good. In the end, it was the whisky and women that did him in. He continued:
“Don’t make me live in this pain no longer.
You know I’m getting weaker, not stronger.”
It was actually a song for a girl that had walked out on him, but it was also Pig’s goodbye song to himself.
“I’ll get by somehow.
Maybe not tomorrow, but somehow…
I didn’t realize what was happenin’
To my life…
Goodbye, so long.”