Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality has maintained remarkable historical status over several generations; it’s a touchstone for the directionless, and common coin for young men and women who’ve felt excluded from the broader cultural economy. John Darnielle hears it through the ears of Roger Painter, a young adult locked in a southern California adolescent psychiatric center in 1985; deprived of his Walkman and hungry for comfort, he explains Black Sabbath as one might describe air to a fish, or love to an android, hoping to convince his captors to give him back his tapes.
“Darnielle—who worked as a nurse in a mental hospital and presumably met quite a few smart, lost kids like Roger—speaks to the soul-damaging aspects of locking up problem teens and offers a piece of music criticism that illuminates the edifying qualities of heavy metal.” —Pitchfork feature “Our 60 Favorite Music Books”
“Forget the other 33 1/3s, this belongs next to The Catcher in the Rye.” —Decibel Magazine
“This is a masterly look at the corrosive emotion of youth, and the invaluable solace that music gives. Read it, even if you’d rather stick knitting needles in your ears than listen to the album in question. Because its about you.” —James Mann, The Big Takeover
“’Master of Reality’ is no straightforward critical assessment of Black Sabbath’s album, a sludgy doom-rock classic. It’s fiction that peels thrillingly off into music writing. The book is written from the point of view of a teenage boy in a mental hospital who explains why Black Sabbath and its lead singer, Ozzy Osbourne, meant so much to isolated kids like himself. It’s about how rock music can express not only liberating joy but, conversely and perhaps more importantly, also speak to bottomless misery and pain. The book is funny, too. Its narrator observes that you never feel that you might hang out with Robert Plant, the Led Zeppelin singer, at a video arcade. But Mr. Osbourne, “he sounds like the guy who changes your quarters”.” —The New York Times
112 page paperback