“Cats’s Cradle is basically nothing more than a kind of whimsical but dark vision of Pandora’s box and technology run amok,” said Grateful Dead Archivist Nicholas G. Meriwether at UC Santa Cruz. “[It] gave [the Grateful Dead] the metaphor for what they wanted to do with their ideas.”
Not the string game, of course but the Kurt Vonnegut novel Cat’s Cradle. As it turns out, Vonnegut was one of Jerry Garcia’s favorite authors. A lot of Dead Heads probably wonder how the band’s publishing house, Ice Nice, came to have this name.
The substance referenced in the novel, Ice Nine, is a new structure of water than becomes a solid state at room temperature, essentially freezing water without the freeze.
From wikipedia: “As the novel progresses, John learns of a substance called ice-nine, created by the late Hoenikker and now secretly in the possession of his children. Ice-nine is an alternative structure of water that is solid at room temperature. When a crystal of ice-nine contacts liquid water, it becomes a seed crystal that makes the molecules of liquid water arrange themselves into the solid form, ice-nine. Felix Hoenikker’s reason to create this substance was to aid in the military’s plight of wading through mud and swamp areas while fighting. That is, if ice-nine could reduce the wetness of the areas to a solid form, soldiers could easily maneuver across without becoming entrapped or slowed.”
The way the Dead saw it though was a positive metaphor about how they could quickly spread their ideas through the ether.
“The whole idea is that once you discover how to freeze water at room temperature, touch it and you’re dead. Drop it in the ocean and the climate’s dead. That’s what Cat’s Cradle is about,” Meriwether continued. “They chose to see it as, there’s a negative side obviously, but the positive side is that this is the way our ideas can spread, kind of cool.”
The more well known Jerry Garcia-Kurt Vonnegut connection is that Garcia optioned the rights to the 1959 novel The Sirens of Titan.
“That was Garcia’s favorite Vonnegut book,” Meriweather added, “and he bought the rights and that’s the script that he worked up with Saturday Night Live writer Tom Davis. It’s a very difficult book to be able to condense into a script and he and Tom Davis did an amazing job, truly.”
They began working on the script in 1983, finished in 1985, and in 1987 Garcia was quoted as saying, “There’s really three basic characters that are having things happen to them. Three main characters. [Malachi,] Rumfoord, and Bee. It’s like a triangle, a complex, convoluted love story. And it’s really that simple….So our task has been to take the essential dramatic relationships, make it playable for actors, so that it’s free from the Big Picture emphasis of the book. There’s also some extremely lovely, touching moments in the book. It’s one of the few Vonnegut books that’s really sweet, in parts of it, and it has some really lovely stuff in it. It’s the range of it that gets me off.”
Since then the script has made its way through other hands, most recently in 2007, MTV reported that screenwriter James V. Hart had written an adaptation that was approved by Vonnegut before he died. The project has yet to be heard of since the announcement. However, according to IMDB there will be a documentary about Vonnegut coming out in December 2015 called “God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut (or the Friends of Kilgore Trout)” so maybe we’ll learn more soon.
Vonnegut is still influencing musicians today, as The Sirens of Titan was most recently referenced by the singer and cellist unwoman on the eponymous song, from the 2014 album Circling.