Hello, Failure

Of all the enemies of literature, success is the most insidious

Friday, January 02, 2009

NON-Failure of the Day: Black Sabbath's Master of Reality by John Darnielle

I absolutely cop to being heavily biased in favor of Darnielle long before starting this book, and I further acknowledge that my opinions tend to the extreme and dramatic. However, even given all that, I have to say that to my eyes, this book marks the invention of a new kind of music journalism.

Instead of the studied music expert deconstructing the minutiae of the songsmithing and performance from a lofty and removed perspective, what Darnielle gives us is the idealized audience for the material at hand, expertly rendered with autobiographical precision. Who else but a 16-year-old kid thrown into a lockdown psych ward to explain the greatness of Black Sabbath? And who else but arguably the finest songwriter working in America today, not coincidentally also an RN who worked in a psychiatric lockdown facility for adolescent boys, to merge the story of the record with the story of the boy?

This new journalistic genre—criticism literature, let’s call it—provides not just an opinion of the music, but context, an experiential framework in which to hear it as it was intended by the audience it was intended for. It does what you want literature to do, that is, transport you into another person’s existence, and once you’re there, it plays the songs for you such that you hear them through the character’s ears, and through his or her lifetime of experience.

I don’t know; maybe other people are doing this and it is old news but this is the first I’ve seen of it, and I found it to be exhilarating and wrenching and ultimately transformative way of communicating in the single-dimensional world of words what it feels like to hear the multi-dimensional world of music. I’m awestruck by the achievement.


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