Sugar Maple is an eight-episode dramatic fiction podcast from Osiris Media. Each episode centers around one owner of a semi-mythical Fender Telecaster electric guitar (which attracted me to it in the first place). The story stretches across several decades and musical styles, over which the Telecaster, „Sugar Maple,“ is played by a series of musicians. To each, the guitar brings both (ephemereal) success and failure.

Sugar Maple is an example of how expectations are set up and managed in the course of the narrative. Key to the structure is the fourth episode that reveals the secret around Sugar Maple. The 4th episode sets up the expectations for a mythical cyclical structure. In this episode, it is revealed that the guitar’s wood was taken from the mythical Thread Tree, a tree of cosmic dimensions that was eventually cut down.

This revelation ties together the various threads of the narrative, first and foremost the Tree motif introduced at the very start of ep. 1, and changes the course of the whole narrative. Up to now, the story has been about the narrator’s quest to find his father’s guitar. (The narrator actually reflects on what he’s trying to tell in Episode 2.) Episode 4 puts this quest in a different perspective and it does so by setting up the mythical Ring.

Narrator Terrance now grows certain that Sugar Maple is used by Thread Tree to end the world, and that the seventh player will eventually bring about Armageddon. Players 5 and 6, coutry singer Belinda Rose and gospel musician Quentin Gladstone, only serve to reinforce the notion that Sugar Maple returns every seven years, grows another branch every time it is used by a new owner, propels them to brief fame, and ultimate shame.

It is Episode 7 that seems to complete the first ring, only to destroy the notion that was set up by the narrative. The seventh owner, London punk musician and heroin addict Fiona Blitzkrieg, plays Sugar Maple at her New Year’s Eve show. Terrance and his friend arrive too late to stop her, and the episode ends with a big cliffhanger.

Some more structural elements:

  • the number Seven: the story is ostensibly about the guitar’s seven owners
  • The first lick played on the guitar has seven notes
  • Narrator Terrance Woodridge makes a seven-step plan for his story in ep. 2
  • Thread Tree, Sugar Maple’s secret is revealed by the fourth episode, right in the middle of a seven-part narrative
  • Palindromes: song titles Circle Loop Pool Electric, Loop-O, Revolover
  • introduction of the Tree motiv at the very beginning
  • dreams of the tree in episodes 1 and 2
  • Song lines „Walking through the sacred land / here I stand, axe in hand“ from the lead song of ep. 1

However, the magical number seven fails to deliver. Instead, in Episode 8, all former Sugar Maple owners as well as Terrance are propelled to one moment in time (around 2020) to a big concert, at which Terrance is reunited with his mother and father. At the concert, Terrance himself becomes the last player. The power of the combined musicians and audence, instead of finally ending the world, rejuvenate it and make the story end on a final note of hope for the future that is now exorcised from the wrath of Thread Tree.

As it turns out (explicitly or just implicitly?), Terrance is not the eighth player but the ninth. His mother had actually picked up the repaired Sugar Maple and played a seven-note lick on it before returning it to Bobby Lindro. The ring is framed by another ring, the central loading remains intact; the Seven is replaced by the equally magical Number Nine.

And finally, the story of Death and Rebirth is THE eternal circle when Terrance’s eighth song Revolover – again a palindrome, and a pun on the revolving, cyclical nature of the narrative – breaks Thread Tree’s spell.

(c) Stephan Küpper