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(Published in the Seattle Times online and
in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on May 17, 2020)
Lyrics to ‘Fire on the Mountain’ shake Rob Smith – and Portland
By Clay Eals and Jean Sherrard
Rob Smith’s love for Mount St. Helens drew him closer to death than most of us want to get.
Yet deep beneath his restrained exterior, the Grateful Dead fan cannot deny a personal tremor whenever he hears lyrics of the band’s 1978 song “Fire on the Mountain.”
“It just hits me like a rock,” Rob says.
Fittingly, the Grateful Dead played Portland’s Memorial Coliseum on the evening of June 12, 1980, the night of the third eruption of Mount St. Helens, which coated the Rose City with ash.
The band performed “Fire on the Mountain” in the middle of its set, about the same time the mountain blew.
Here is the eerie second verse of the song:
Almost ablaze still you don’t feel the heat
It takes all you got just to stay on the beat
You say it’s a living, we all gotta eat
But you’re here alone, there’s no one to compete
If mercy’s a business, I wish it for you
More than just ashes when your dreams come true
— lyrics by Mickey Hart and Robert Hunter
Jean Sherrard had loaned his boombox to a roommate for the drive south to Portland. The former roommate, now a doctor in New York, returned it to Jean covered in ash.