When the Grateful Dead's in-house publishing company, Ice Nine, decided that the band's fortieth anniversary was a good time to publish their entire lyric catalog, a wave of excitement swept across the world of Deadheads, or would have had they known. What was that unclear word in "Uncle John's Band"? Would "Revolutionary Hamstrung Blues" be included? Which Cassidy is John Barlow writing about? Would Robert Hunter reveal the meaning of anything at all? These questions are finally answered with the publication of this book, but in true Grateful Dead fashion you'll have to dig around to find the answers and have fun doing it.
The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics is an authoritative text, providing standard versions of all the original songs so that you can win an occasional bar bet. Or not. There are songs you've never heard and others you've never heard right and still others you didn't know existed, and some, indeed, that may not exist at all. To provide a context for this formidable body of work, of which his part is primary, Robert Hunter has written a foreword that goes to the heart of the matter.
These are some of the best-loved songs in the modern American songbook. You will hear them hummed and spoken among tens of thousands as counterculture code and recorded by musicians of all stripes for their inimitable singability, mysterious presence, and obscure accessibility. How do they do all this? The annotations on sources provide a gloss on the lyrics, which goes to the roots of Western culture as they are incorporated into them. Be it fairy tale or folksong that the lyricists have drawn on, ancient verse, biblical narrative, or T. S. Eliot, the references are here. This has never been done before. There are things here that would not have otherwise been known or imagined, which also goes for what was in the minds of the lyricists themselves. They would be the first to admit that the incursion of imagery into their creative memory banks was a chancy business.
Annotation is a venerable literary tradition. It's been done for the works of Dante and Shakespeare, and for Finnegans Wake annotations may be essential. Mother Goose and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland have been annotated. All genres of writing can be illuminated by it, and that fundamental revelation that comes from reading books-"Oh, I always wondered about that"-becomes especially meaningful. David Dodd is well suited to the task of annotation. An avid Grateful Dead concertgoer for two decades, he is a librarian who brings to the work a detective's love of following a clue as far as it will take him. He first began the annotation as a research project in 1995, in the early days of the Web, through the medium of a website. As in all things virtual, it grew, and with input from interested correspondents from around the world, the website evolved continually. With their publication in book form, the Grateful Dead's lyrics can be newly savored, couched in the cultural traditions that spawned them.
With the addition of artist Jim Carpenter's illustrations, whimsical elements in the lyrics, aspects cognitively unreferenceable, and imagery often repeated are brought to light. What he has seen to illustrate itself illustrates the American legend that is present in The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics. You won't think of the cultural icon that is the Grateful Dead the same way again.
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