January 30, 2010

There is a Wizard and He is Going to Kill You

Filed under: Music — Chris @ 4:43 pm

I just finished reading John Darnielle’s great 33⅓ book on Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. This bit does a pretty good job of summing up the difference between metal I like and metal I can’t stand:

[Sabbath’s songs were] about witches and devils and wizards and corpses. But there were barely any stories. Not like in Rush songs where if there was a wizard, or whatever, there would be a whole story, like a Robert A. Heinlein book. […] Rush songs they all have big stories and lots of things happen and there is some big meaning. On the first Black Sabbath album, the whole story in the song will be like, “There is a wizard and he is going to kill you,” or “There is a devil and you are the sacrifice.”

It strikes me that this quality, implying a story rather than telling one, is exactly what I enjoy in Darnielle’s songs. Sometimes, you just get a sketch of one crucial moment, as in “Heights” from Nothing for Juice:

When the seashells crumbled in your hand,
You looked up at me.
And the sand shifting underneath your feet,
Softened for you and, incredibly,
The sun went through from the sky.
And I was certain I was going to cry.
But then you reached up and you reached out,
We’d been staring at the water all day.
And then you touched me.
You were golden.
You were giving the game away.

Sometimes you get an isolated scene, devoid of any real context, that speaks simply of powerful emotions, as in “Noche del Gaujolote”, collected on Bitter Melon Farm:

All the birds were sleeping in their perches,
The little wind, swaying birches.
And the North American wild turkey
That your father brought home
Woke up and came towards us.

And the moonlight and the turkey waking up.
And the night air and the moonlight on your skin.
And the moonlight and the turkey waking up.
And the quiet yard and the turkey and the moon.

Darnielle’s critical supporters probably prefer to associate him with Raymond Carver. But Ozzy’s probably just as good a place to start.


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