TIMBERS OF FENNARIO: STORIES INSPIRED BY THE MUSIC OF GRATEFUL DEAD

Released: April, 2013 | Published by: Post Mortem Press



GRATEFUL DEAD is one of the most iconic American bands of the past century. Through thirty years of relentless touring and dozens of albums, the group earned a reputation for their unique live shows and the eclectic, improvisational nature of their music. They have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement, played in front of the Pyramids of Giza, and were listed as one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Recently, their performance from May 8th, 1977 was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry for being culturally relevant to the history of the United States. The band has sold more than 35 million albums worldwide.

In TIMBERS OF FENNARIO, author Joseph Williams adapts eighteen beloved GRATEFUL DEAD songs into short stories in a variety of genres. Fans of the band and newcomers alike will enjoy Williams’ interpretations of these songs and their connection to the mysterious land of Fennario, a place as enchanting as it is heartbreaking. Stories include Terrapin Station, Weather Report Suite, Hell in a Bucket, Dark Star, and more.


SPECIAL FEATURES

COMMENTARY

Grateful Dead is one of the most iconic American bands of the last fifty years with perhaps the most devout and well-established fanbase, which made this project equal parts exciting and terrifying.

As with all of the lyric-inspired collections, there’s a peculiar balancing act involved in conceptualizing these stories. On the one hand, I want to stay true to the lyrics and respect the artistic message of the song as it already exists, but it also doesn’t make sense to create a story that follows the lyrics verbatim. Some stories invariably stick closer to the original lyrics than others, but I always try to either add something to the yarn, deliberately re-interpret the words away from their intended meaning for an interesting new perspective, or subvert the tone completely.

One of my favorite parts of SFS (the previous song-inspired collection) was the continuation of one character’s story over two different shorts. The protagonists in the Tea Leaf Green songs “My Bastard Brother” and “Jackson Hole” seemed to fit together to me, since they were both suffering the same indignity at the hands of their lover and a cuckold. Both songs also had sort of an Old West feel to them, at least in my head. In SFS, I tied those stories together back-to-back to form a longer narrative, even though the point of view switches from one story to the next. Separately, I knew before I started working on the Grateful Dead collection that I wanted the entire book to read as one interconnected tale to some extent, the way that Ray Bradbury connects short stories in The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles, though not as interwoven (or amazing) as Bradbury’s work. To that end, I pinned down mythical Fennario, the Terrapin Station, and a cosmic rebirth as the centerpieces through which all stories would flow, and then set to work selecting a song from each album and songwriter to provide as broad a representation of the band’s musical catalogue as possible. For the Fennario and Terrapin stories, I tried to write them as folktales mixed with fantasy, whereas stories like “Dark Star”, “Space”, and “Standing on the Moon” use more of an experimental sci-fi narrative structure.

To me, the end of the book is a satisfying conclusion to all of the threads laid out in the body, especially the “Terrapin Station” segments that focus on a writer creating the world of Grateful Dead mythology. The writer, of course, represents the essence of all the songwriters that have worked with the band over the years. Hunter, Barlow, Garcia, Weir, Lesh, Kreutzmann, Hart, Pigpen, etc. Side note, it was a huge thrill to get Robert Hunter’s seal of approval for the project through Ice Nine, although Grateful Dead is such a massive business entity now that I doubt any of the actual band members are aware of the book’s existence.

Although these song-inspired collections are the most difficult projects to assemble out of anything I’ve worked on, I have a hell of a lot of fun with them and am ridiculously grateful that I’ve been given the opportunity to do so. On a personal level, it’s pretty cool to be a part of the Grateful Dead expanded universe, so to speak, even if my contribution is small compared to the countless bios, songbooks, films, etc. that have been produced over the years by supremely talented artists and historians.

The individual stories are best read within the context of the larger whole, but my favorites from the collection are “Rosemary”, “Cream Puff War”, “Cumberland Blues”, and “Hell in a Bucket”.

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