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Music

The book that Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia bought the film rights for

@TomTaylorFO

In Kurt Vonnegut’s typically scattergun, endlessly wise and utterly entertaining memoir about life in George W. Bush’s America, Man Without a Country, he divulges a quote that speaks of the joy of music, a joy that we can all attest to:

“If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

THE ONLY PROOF HE NEEDED 

FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

WAS MUSIC.”

It was a point that he illuminated further, when he described music as being “so extraordinarily full of magic,” and explained on a personal level that “in tough times of my life I can listen to music and it makes such a difference.” What’s more, much like his literary works, it’s a point that actually has a scientific grounding

However, his memoir is not purely limited to the joys of music in a nebulous sense, he also enlists a few specific tales therein. One such tale consists of meeting a musical mega-fan in the form of The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Unsurprisingly, Vonnegut then makes reference to how the uber-friendly fuzzy frontman offered him a toke or two on his joint.

While The Grateful Dead might have been a cult paradigm of the counterculture movement, it was a zeitgeist swing the famous beat writer William S. Burroughs had forecast a few years earlier when he said, “Artists to my mind are the real architects of change, and not the political legislators who implement change after the fact.” 

Vonnegut’s anti-war novels would become central texts within the counterculture movement. He looked at the world in the most colourful way possible without losing sight of what was black and white, and as such, he made it clear to contemporaries that political discourse did not simply belong to those in ties.

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This paradoxically clear yet kaleidoscopic view of the world was propagated in simple prose, and as filmmaker Bob Weide puts it: “What high school kid isn’t gonna gobble [that] up!” Jerry Garcia was one such high school kid high on the idea that joking could be serious and the comically ironic underpinning that “everything about life is a joke. Don’t you know that?”

This was a tenet that Garcia carried into his own work which is sprinkled with meta-references to his literary hero. ‘The Dead’ famously named their publishing company Ice Nine in reference to the apocalyptic chemical in Vonnegut’s novel Cats Cradle. There are plenty of other references out there too, but on one occasion Garcia took his love even further and actually purchased the film adaptation rights to The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut’s magnificent novel, first published in 1959, comes with the synopsis: “When Winston Niles Rumfoord flies his spaceship into a chrono-synclastic infundibulum he is converted into pure energy and only materializes when his waveforms intercept Earth or some other planet. As a result, he only gets home to Newport, Rhode Island, once every fifty-nine days and then only for an hour.”

Adding: “But at least, as a consolation, he now knows everything that has ever happened and everything that ever will be. He knows, for instance, that his wife is going to Mars to mate with Malachi Constant, the richest man in the world. He also knows that on Titan – one of Saturn’s moons – is an alien from the planet Tralfamadore, who has been waiting 200,000 years for a spare part for his grounded spacecraft.”

The comical epic clearly ranked among Garcia’s favourite Vonnegut works. In 1983, he purchased the adaptation rights for the film and by 1985 he had drafted up a script for the feature. However, he later this was more of a personal passion project for him than anything too serious and that the main purpose of purchasing the rights was to stop a shoddy interpretation from ruining his beloved book.

While his own script may never have come to fruition, he managed to keep it from the mitts of any besmirches until his passing in 1995. There were rumours that Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon was set to take up the mantle, but as of yet, it is a story that remains confined to print.