David Berkley is the author of “The Free Brontosaurus”. AlliesOpinions reviewed it back in January. We thought the story was creative and emotional. It’s still stuck in our minds. Check it out for yourself!
Dubbed “a musical poet” by the San Francisco Chronicle and a “double fantasy of Nick Drake and Donovan” by Rolling Stone, David Berkeley has recorded six albums and penned a memoir. He was a standout guest on This American Life, and has shared stages with Mumford and Sons, Dido, Adele, Ray LaMontagne, Nickel Creek, Billy Bragg, Ben Folds, Don McLean, and many more. According to The New York Times, “Berkeley sings in a lustrous melancholy voice with shades of Tim Buckley and Nick Drake . . . as his melodies ascend to become benedictions and consolations, the music shimmers and peals.” Berkeley lives in Santa Fe, NM, with his wife and two young boys.
Q: “The Free Brontosaurus” is definitely unique. What gave you the idea to begin writing it?
This is actually my second book/record combination. My first was more of a memoir called 140 Goats and a Guitar. It told the stories from my life that led to the writing of my fourth studio album Some Kind of Cure. After working on that and touring that project, I became increasingly excited about conceiving of a fictional story cycle that had songs. My first book is very personal, and I wanted to take on a set of characters who were very different from me, had strange obsessions and tastes, weren’t very socially adjusted. I always loved the idea of weaving stories and shifting the frame, so that a small character in one tale becomes the focus of another. Initially I thought about setting the whole book in a diner and having each story take place at one booth or another. But that seemed too forced and too constraining. So instead I set all the tales in the same fictional city and had the characters bump into each other in their apartment building, in the library, on the streets. Many things move through these stories—the characters, an earthquake and even the free brontosaurus itself.
Q: Did you write the songs or the stories first?
I wrote the stories first and then gave the main characters songs. It was a real gift to finish a story and then be able to give something else to the character (and the reader/listener). What would that character want or need to express? What would he/she want to sing, if he/she was a singer? I believe that if you read these stories and then listen to the songs, you come to love the characters in a deeper way than would be possible without the music.
Q: Are the characters based off of any real people or experiences in your life?
They’re all loosely based on people I’ve bumped into in my travels or heard about through friends. Most are actually amalgams of several people, with a number of details totally made up.
Q: Your writing of each character is riddled with deep emotion and connection to each other. There are beautiful messages entrenched in each story. Was achieving this part of your original writing plan or something that developed as your wrote?
I think it was part of the initial hope. But once you develop feelings for these people and try to think honestly about what their daily lives and emotional worlds would look like, new messages and meanings emerge.
Q: Do you have any writing quirks?
I don’t think so. I was told that William Butler Yeats wrote with a sword over his desk. I have a picture of Willie Nelson.
Q: What kind of music do you listen to when looking for inspiration?
Well, in this case, it was my music. I wrote the stories first, as I mentioned. But once I wrote the songs, I returned to the stories and did additional edits, often weaving some of the lyrics back into the stories.
Q: Other than writing, what other hobbies do you enjoy?
I have two kids. So I do all sorts of things with them. Right now, it’s tennis, rock climbing, skiing, hiking. We live in Santa Fe, so the lifestyle hobby options are pretty vast.
Just For Fun Questions
Q: If you could time travel, where would you go and what would you do?
Tough. For a couple days, what age wouldn’t I like to check out? I just read the prequel to Lonesome Dove. Who wouldn’t want to experience the open country? But I wouldn’t want to stay long. Paris in the 20s would be pretty great. I’m also about to read The Once and Future King. Might be nice to hang with Guinevere for a night or three. But those were some dark times, generally speaking.
Q: Imagine you are stranded on an island. What three things would you most want with you? (other than people, food, shelter and necessities for life)
A guitar (and a lot of spare strings)
A vast library of books
Reams of paper and pens
Q: If you could shape-shift into anything, what would you pick?
A whale or maybe an eagle
Q: If you could change the world in any way you wish, how would you change it and why?
There’s so much I’d like to change. It sends me into a bit of a tailspin. That’s why I end up writing music. It seems to me like my best chance of influencing people is by opening up their hearts when I sing.
About The Book
The Free Brontosaurus is a novella comprising ten interweaving stories, complete with an accompanying album of ten songs. All set in the same fictional city, at the same moment in time, minor characters in one story are major characters in another. It is a bit like Olive Kitteridge, if reimagined by Miranda July. These are gently written narratives of isolation, describing characters disconnected from home and community. The book is full of dark humor, sadness and glimmers of joy. Ultimately, the characters’ abilities to find beauty in the bizarre connect and redeem them, offering the characters (and us) hope.
The book is only half of this project, though, for it also comes with a soundtrack, one song per story, written loosely from the perspective of the main character from each tale. Both the book and the album can stand alone. However, when the two are appreciated together, an unusually moving and multi-layered world is born, likely to break and heal the heart.