Though I am a dinosaur, I do still need to flex the hard, bony plates of my skeletal system now and then, so I listen to the Grateful Dead, prime dinosaur music. The Dead’s repertoire runs through rock, blues, psychedelia, folk, space noodlings and even some jazz stylings. But the notion that Garcia might make a good short story writer comes from the sense that the Dead often do ballad-type songs, where there are characters—canny gamblers, seedy alcoholics, heady prophets, even the devil—who romp or stumble through the songs, coming to a good or bad end. Rumrunners and grifters are chewy elements for many a tale, written or sung.
Of course, Robert Hunter wrote many of the actual lyrics of those tunes, with Garcia as a foil, so it isn’t quite accurate to dub Garcia as the storyteller—more the sense of a writer lending the devil his deck of cards to deal a few hands. However, music is sonic storytelling, where a guitar riff or a piano trill can add storytelling elements of conflict, anger, and yearning that are beyond straight lyrics.
It’s interesting to think of artists stepping a bit out of their genre boundaries. Or perhaps step seven leagues from their profession, as Wallace Stevens from his insurance executive’s office and William Carlos Williams from his physician’s perch, both to the platforms of richly expressive poetry.
Garcia might have made a good candidate to produce a Vook: he could have included his paintings, music and lyrical scribblings. I read Bob Dylan’s autobiography, Chronicles a little while back, and was quite taken with the interesting phrasings and compositional structures of the work, done by an absolute artist, but not one encapsulated as a writer. Of course as a songwriter, few can touch him. Dylan’s book reminds me of the whimsy of the writing (and the artwork) of John Lennon, in his “John Lennon, In His Own Write” book. (I’ll probably draw the line at seeking out Lady Gaga coloring books.)
I do have a few Garcia ties; I wish they came with some embedded tunes and a USB port because the expressive shapes and colors undoubtedly tell a tuneful tale…