John Darnielle is an acclaimed singer/songwriter, a columnist for rock magazine Decibel and a former US-based psychiatric nurse who dedicates his first book to “all the children to whom I have ever provided care”. Each book in the ongoing 33 1/3 series considers a solitary album – previous contributions have ranged from Radiohead’s OK Computer to Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love.
Here, Darnielle explores Black Sabbath’s iconic third album Master of Reality, in the voice of Roger, a 15-year-old boy being held in an adolescent psychiatric ward in southern California. Roger’s music cassettes have been taken away from him due to the belief that their content is part of his problem. His subsequent journal entries are, in part, an attempt to convince his “captors” to return his Walkman and cherished tapes to him, in particular this blunt album that sounds as if it’s “made by four guys who have never once danced at a party in their lives”.
Darnielle writes with necessary directness – Roger’s first journal entry reads simply “Fuck you all. Go to hell” – and in doing so manages to articulate more about Ozzy Osbourne et al than a more traditional recording history or biography as well as providing a vivid description of what it might be like to be incarcerated on an adolescent psychiatric ward.
Darnielle’s novella is not only a touchstone in the series, it is a powerful and potent book in its own right. Utterly compelling.
Review by David Hemingway, mental health worker and a contributor to XLR8R and Record Collector magazines