Saturday, November 19, 2005

Grateful Dead lyricist Hunter shares his philosophy

From Reuters:

Grateful Dead lyricist Hunter shares his philosophy
By Jim Bessman

NEW YORK (Billboard) - "Grateful Dead lyrics can contain the world," editor/expositor David Dodd writes in his introduction to the newly published "The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics." For the most part, this world was created by longtime Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.
The elusive collaborator further graces fans with the 480-page tome's erudite forward. It is a discourse on the philosophy of songwriting in which Hunter expounds upon his assertion that a song is a "series of tones enhanced by metaphor" that "coalesces into a visage in the act of performance."

Hunter offers such useful -- if unexpected -- songwriting tips as "deadlines are for dummies" and "remember, you're an artist and it's your proud tradition to be difficult."

Songwriting, he writes, is "above all else and beyond all else, a language of direct emotion"; hence he did not allow his lyrics to be printed with Dead recordings initially, preferring listeners to mistake the words to their own liking.

"I never foresaw the day when someone would jimmy those words apart and do an encyclopedic search of their meanings," he told Billboard in a rare interview. "Maybe it's my age, but a lot of those (annotations) seemed obvious to me -- but it occurs to me now that they might not be evident to succeeding generations."

Indeed, he pointed to a line in Dead classic "Truckin"': "She lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same/Living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine."

"What suggested that was a (1950s) Pepsodent commercial," Hunter said. "I thought a few people would pick up on it, but, of course, no one did."

Hunter's chief writing partner, of course, was Jerry Garcia. "I wish he'd hung around a bit more," Hunter said of his late friend, recalling one of their last collaborations, "Days Between."
"I wanted to write something completely different," he said, "so I wrote down random numbers to correspond with each line (such that) the first would have three syllables, the next five, then eight -- or whatever. Then I took that format and wrote the words, and then wrote another verse to match. So I chose to obey a different numerical law than the usual type of rock song structure, and it came out as one of the strongest songs I'd ever written."

Garcia's death in 1995 curtailed their collaborative experimentation, but Hunter has since worked with country artist Jim Lauderdale on his 2004 album, "Headed for the Hills." Now, however, his attention is on fiction.

"I enjoyed writing the intro to 'Lyrics' so much that I started a novel," he said.

"Doppelganger," about an autistic hero dispatched to save a parallel world, is now in the hands of publishers.


Blogger Justin Kreutzmann said...

Robert's such a cool guy.

Saturday, November 19, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love this quote:
"remember, you're an artist and it's your proud tradition to be difficult."
I also love how "she lost her sparkle/you know she isn't the same" came from a '50's comercial.
His songwriting style is awesome.
Hunter is just a cool guy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009  

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