by carl wilson

John Darnielle, Master of Reality
and 33 1/3's Publishing-Heretics' Pride

I see that the 33 1/3 posse is following the same template for the upcoming book in the series by John Darnielle (Mr. Mountain Goats, of course) as they did for my book: offering a section as a PDF to anyone who emails, to whet potential readers' appetites. It doesn't seem as necessary - I don't think there's any remaining music-geek stigma against Black Sabbath, and there are surely thousands of fans, like me, who're going to read any book John puts out with a devouring hunger - but I'm happy to see that what I fear will come to be called "the Paulo Coelho strategy", and hope will instead be called "the Cory Doctorow technique" is becoming a 33 1/3 trademark. I won't bother arguing the long-tail, copyright-sceptic, etc., etc., reasons why, but I will mention that I felt a mite nervous when we were doing it and in retrospect feel it inarguably helped prepare the ground for the book's mostly good reception. Authors, be ye not faint of heart.

In the case of John D's Master of Reality, though, the offer should come with a doctor's warning that if you read a couple of chapters and can't keep going, the suspense may actually kill you. I got the chance to read it last week, and it's as marvellous as expected - a two-part novella basically about a teenager who's confined to a mental-health facility (the kind Darnielle worked in as a psychiatric nurse before becoming a full-time musician) and has all his music confiscated. The narrative consists partly of an extended, often profane, sometimes insightful, sometimes goofy-stupid argument the kid makes in letters to his psychiatric nurse, explaining how much more crucial his Black Sabbath tapes are to his sanity than any treatment the adults can offer. What sounds at first like merely a clever framework for a critic to indulge in extended ruminations on Black Sabbath becomes a meditation on the role of music in our lives, why "bad" (angry, crude, ridiculous, hateful) music can be good (healing, comforting, enlightening) for you, institutional disrespect of troubled youth, growing up, and survival. It could easily travel under the same banner as the latest Mountain Goats album, Heretic Pride, as Darnielle's admiration for his character's individualist defiance - even when it goes too far, even when said defiance actually may be very, very, very much not in his own long-term best interest - shines through the story. (Besides busyness, the reason I haven't written about Heretic Pride here yet is that I've reviewed it for Blender. I'll expand on those brief thoughts after they're published.)

My optimistic suspicion is that Master of Reality is going to become a cult young-adult novel for sensitively bad-ass high-school students, a new S.E. Hinton kinda phenom, if it can get the right kind of circulation. It's due out April 15.

Meanwhile, if you need some more 33 1/3-octaned fuel for your music-book-reading brain: I've just started the Throbbing Gristle book by Drew Daniel (of Matmos), which is as sparkly and spunky so far as anyone who's ever met or read Drew would guess. Further notes on it when I get further in, but so far: "industrial" culture, photos taken of dismembered horses as a form of teenage kicks, and the perverse allure of anti-pleasure.

General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, February 01 at 1:38 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)



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Posted by CodeRoutes on February 12, 2008 5:31 PM



Hi Carl, I bought your book for my wife Julie for Christmas. It was fun watching her 80 year old mother read parts of it while she recently visited from Quebec.

I am hoping to read it on my travels in March.

see you soon.

Posted by tim on February 3, 2008 8:59 PM



Black Sabbath was really a gateway band for me. I was never really into heavy music in high school. Shortly after moving out to go to school I borrowed some of my dad's Sabbath CDs as kind of a joke.

One day I was doing homework and fell asleep while listening to their first album. I fell into a deep sleep and only partially surfaced during Iommi's solo in "Warning". For the rest of the album, my brain could not sort out what was real and what was REM. When I finally came to, I FUCKING GOT IT, MAN. I suddenly and irrevocably "got" that taste world.

Posted by dylan on February 1, 2008 1:38 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson