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April 26, 2005

Note Books: John Darnielle (or, Last Plane to Decatur, Alabama)

John Darnielle and John Vanderslice rock the roll
photo courtesy of Lalitree

A new feature for Largehearted Boy is Note Books, a weekly feature where musicians will stop by and write a short piece on their current reading, influential books, or literary leanings.

John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats was kind enough to kick off the series. The band's new album, The Sunset Tree, has its US release today. Here is John's essay:

I just finished reading Bootleg: the Secret History of the Other Recording
by Clinton Heylin, which I picked up while on tour; I'd been reading Jane Austen, or trying to, but the vagaries of English provincial life didn't really jibe well with driving 300 miles a day and playing rock songs about a drug-addled adolescence. "Bootleg" is the sort of book you always see music people reading - stories about people who're just like us - and it worked like comfort food for me: I didn't need anything explained to me while I was reading it, 'cause I was already familiar with the several subcultures under discussion. Fascinating stuff - to learn that ALL those bootlegs I used to see in the racks in the mid-eighties were, more or less, the work of three people - who were pirating each other's bootlegs, no less - and who obtained their source-tapes through cloak-and-dagger tactics - and who sometimes made bootlegs just to prove that they could make them, by having them pressed, for example, in a country where they hadn't yet been pressed - awesome, shadow-history stuff.

The book concludes on a rather off note, though, for several reasons. First, Mr. Heylin concludes that bootlegging should be legalized, as artists aren't the best judges of what's fit for release, and moreover the people who want bootlegs aren't "the general audience," and besides, if there is a market for something, then that market's needs should be met. Wha? I'm not unsympathetic to the first point ‹ I support bootlegs & wish that filesharing hadn't made them a thing of the past; they were a hell of lot cooler than strangers swapping data, there was real love involved ‹ but to legalize them would take much of the joy right out of them. Who still gets a transgressive thrill from pornography, say, now that the stuff is everywhere? The other main point appeals to the wisdom of the markets, with which I have no truck. Finally, the book misses the age of filesharing by a couple of years, which whole topic proves & disproves several of the author's assertions.

I am now gonna read either the new Joan Didion or an old Graham Greene novel. All love!