A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

"Rid of Me: A Story" reviewed

This weekend's Los Angeles Times Book Review includes the following piece on Kate Schatz's PJ Harvey-inspired volume in the series:


'Rid of Me' by Kate Schatz
Two women fleeing oppression find they can't escape.
By Karrie Higgins

July 29, 2007

Kate Schatz wrote "Rid of Me" for Continuum Press' "33 1/3 " series, short books that explore revered albums of the last 40 years. But this collection of stories is neither interpretation nor explanation of PJ Harvey's seminal album of the same name. Nor are Schatz's 14 chapters "covers" of the tracks, although each is based on a song from the album.

Rather, Schatz's "Rid of Me" (124 pp., $10.95 paper) is a collaboration. Between music and the writing process. Kidnapper and captive. Schatz let the album take her away, "sometimes playing just one song on repeat for hours." And then -- as the lyric goes -- she rubbed the music " 'til it bled."

"Rid of Me" is both romance and psychological horror, its chapters shifting perspective between Mary and Kathleen. Both are escapees from oppressive men and a small town. At the opening, Mary kidnaps a willing and complicit Kathleen -- blindfolding her, binding her wrists and leading her to their new home in the woods -- woods that women are told never to enter.

Mary had fallen in love with Kathleen from afar. She watched from the window of the hospital where she lived after a suicide attempt as Kathleen walked to market "every Tuesday morning at 10 a.m." After Mary returned home, she fled her family and ran into the woods, hoping Kathleen would feel drawn there as well. Kathleen, meanwhile, destroyed her house and abandoned her ailing father, packing his heart pills in her purse.

"Tie yourself to me," Kathleen whispers in the book's first line. This conflation of violence and tenderness, complicity and victimhood, recalls the title track of Harvey's album. Instead of explaining the song, Schatz reveals how it infected her process: She let the music lead her, blindfolded, into those forbidden woods. And her complicity -- her choice to be kidnapped -- meant she was also free. She did not let genre restrict her. As Kathleen said: "I've always wanted to be kidnapped. It's like being rescued."

In this book, there is no distinction between music, fiction, books and albums. The ambiguity and lyricism -- with threads and fragments from Harvey's lyrics scattered throughout -- compel you to read chapters over and over. They take you like a song repeat, rubbing you until you bleed.

Karrie Higgins is a writer based in Portland, Ore.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A SuperRockumentary

I was interviewed yesterday evening by Geoffray Barbier of Cold Cuts Productions, who's making a documentary film about the Fleshtones. It was a little odd, being asked to explain just why I wanted to publish our forthcoming Fleshtones book so much, but with any luck I managed to convey my enthusiasm for the project without sounding like a total knob.

We have some great advance quotes on the book itself, which will be in stores and available for your reading pleasure by the end of September...


Joe Bonomo has written a fine book; a book not only about a band or times passed, but also about the rare virtue of endurance. - Nick Tosches

Rock and roll is a pretty egalitarian affair. On any given night any band can be the best band in the world, if only for ten minutes. The amazing thing about the Fleshtones is that every night for the last thirty years they have consistently been the best live band on earth. Year in, year out -- high, low and in between -- the Fleshtones have embodied the very essence of rock and roll. This great book by Joe Bonomo really gets to the heart of who the Fleshtones are, and the price they paid. Now it's up to you to check out the Fleshtones when they hit your town. And in my own defense, that fire that Keith and I started in France was really a very small fire. Not worth mentioning at all. Please. - Peter Buck, R.E.M.

More than an account of a particular band, sound, or specific era in rock history, Joe Bonomo's compelling, well-researched, and thoroughly riveting account of the Fleshtones is an homage to a way of living your life -- one that revolves around raucous music, what Jack Kerouac once called the "quest for kicks," and most of all a whole lot of sweat and passion. - Jim DeRogatis

In Sweat, Joe Bonomo confronts the realities of life in one of America's great unsung bands of heroes: the Fleshtones. Rocking the house down night after night, holding on to their unique vision forever, whether laughing in the face of failure, caught in the rip tides of American culture, battling on the New York streets, or crowded in the back of a van on its way to the furthest reaches of the solar system…It's a 'Blue Whale' of a story: hilarious, harrowing, and ultimately inspiring. - Peter Case

Imagine the myth of Sisyphus recast as a garage band—and a good one—and you have the story of the Fleshtones. One of the latter-day CBGBs bands, championed by REM and critically adored for their explosive concerts, the 'Tones shoulda been contenders. But what happened? First-time author (and fan) Bonomo tells their cursed story with religious fervor and a near-lyrical quality to his prose. Bonomo expands on a history that would otherwise be summed up by a pithy entry in All Music Guide over a sprawling 400 pages, packed with new interviews and anecdotes. In cataloging a decadeslong litany of indignities and misfortunes that did little to deter the Fleshtones' passion, the book raises deeper questions about what making it in music means. Does the distinction of being the only CBGBs-era band to keep going without an inactive year count for anything? Consider this the mad-eyed older brother of James Greer's biography of the indie-rock band Guided by Voices or Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life. This is the secret history that even NYC punk histories like Please Kill Me couldn't handle. - Library Journal


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

David Letterman-ia

In an uncanny confluence of events, this Friday's "Late Show with David Letterman" will feature not one, but two Continuum-linked guests.

First, and most importantly for this blog, Bill Janovitz, who wrote our excellent Exile on Main St. book for the series, will be performing on the show with his band Buffalo Tom - their first ever appearance on the show, I believe, so hats off to Bill.

Secondly, the lovely Anne Hathaway will be on the show, to plug her about-to-be-released movie Becoming Jane, which is loosely based on our book of the same name, by Jon Spence. Perhaps Anne will talk about her favourite song, "Fuck the Pain Away", by Peaches. (I read it in Marie Claire, it must be true!)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday roundup!

Mike Fournier (Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime) and Zeth Lundy (Stevie Wonder's Songs In the Key of Life) were recently given the 5-questions treatment in the Boston Metro. Good stuff. Here's Zeth's interview, and here's Mike's.

Updating a previous post, you can stream Mike Fournier's interview on WPRB out of Princeton here.

Kate Schatz's 33 1/3 on PJ Harvey's Rid of Me got a nice write up on Erasing Clouds.
...as she offers her own interpretation of Rid of Me, she also gives us a new interpretation of what it means to write "a book about an album." The 33 1/3 Series has had a few different approaches to the project, besides the obvious music critical/biographical one: memoir, memoir-like fiction, a "field guide", a book-length interview. But with one quick, solid blow, Schatz has expanded the format anew, clearing the way for more, and more interesting, approaches in the future.
NPR's World Cafe program has chosen Kevin Courrier's 33 1/3 on Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica as one of 8 selections in their Summer Reading Series. An interview is in the works...more on that later!

"After 50 books in the series on pop, rock, R&B and more, it was high time to add metal to mix," says editorial director David Barker. "SLAYER and SABBATH seemed the perfect place to start, and the two approaches in these books will show the scope of the series."
From 93X out of Minneapolis. There is also a link to D.X. Ferris's MySpace page for the Slayer book. I'd never noticed that if you take half of 666, you get 333, and that's not a far cry from 33.3. So there you have it, something to think about over the weekend...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

33 1/3 authors doing other things, pt. 3

Phil Freeman's brand new edited collection Marooned: The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs is in stores now, from Da Capo. It's a follow-up to 1978's Greil Marcus compendium Stranded, and includes essays from a few 33 1/3 authors, past present and future, as well as many other fine folks.

Here's the copy from the publisher's website:

Featuring original contributions from today’s leading music critics, Marooned is a revealing snapshot of the current state of pop music criticism. A follow-up and homage to Greil Marcus’s rock-and-roll classic Stranded, Marooned asks the same question: What album would you bring to a desert island, and why?

WITH ESSAYS BY: Matt Ashare * Tom Breihan * Aaron Burgess * Jon Caramanica * Daphne Carr * Jeff Chang * Ian Christie * Kandia Crazy Horse * John Darnielle * Laina Dawes * Geeta Dayal * Rob Harvilla * Jess Harvell * Michaelangelo Matos * Anthony Miccio * Amy Phillips * Dave Queen * Ned Raggett * Simon Reynolds * Chris Ryan * Scott Seward * Greg Tate * Derek Taylor * Douglas Wolk

I'd bring Blue Lines, because you could probably make a small life-raft out of the insane cardboard packaging it had, back in the day.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

33 1/3 authors doing other things, pt. 2

Next up in our neverending procession of overachieving alumni is Douglas Wolk, author of the James Brown 33 1/3 book that came out in August 2004.

Douglas' brand new book is Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean, just published by Da Capo.

Largehearted Boy has a "Book Notes" feature on Reading Comics today, which includes Douglas' intriguing comparison of Fun Home with the Go-Betweens song "Cattle and Cane". You can read the whole piece here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

33 1/3 authors doing other things, pt. 1

Exciting news from Pernice-ville today, for those of you who enjoyed our Meat Is Murder book. Here's the official Press Release:


Joe Pernice has signed a book deal with Megan Lynch of Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Books USA, for world rights. Joe will write a novel for them, which is about one-third done, but if you ask him when he’ll finish his face turns all red, and he yells, "When I finish!" If we were betting people though, we’d bet that that the next U.S. President will be celebrating his or her first 100 days in office around the time it "streets," as they say in the music business. If you ask Joe what the book is about, he sticks his fingers in his ears and sings "la la la la la, etc." Primarily known as a recording artist, Joe wrote the novella Meat is Murder for Continuum Books’ 33 1/3 series in 2003. That book remains one of the bestselling pieces in that series, and Joe is working with Neal Huff, an actor who appears regularly on HBO’s The Wire, on the Meat is Murder screenplay. Again, he is not forthcoming on when that project might see the light of day. He also previously published a volume of poetry called Two Blind Pigeons, on his own Ashmont Books imprint. That remains the bestselling (only) piece on Ashmont Books.

Said Joe, "I am really excited to join the Penguin family, where I get to be label mates with writers like Homer."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

PJ Harveys's Rid of Me: A Story

In stores now, with its fetchingly monotone cover, is Kate Schatz's story inspired by Rid of Me.

We got some nice blurbs for this one, including one from Erin Cressida Wilson, who wrote the screenplay for the movie Secretary, from Mary Gaitskill's story:

"I'd like to slip this between a few books that I read over and over again...This is a journey, a song, a symphony, a love poem, a cry, a whisper, a nightmare, and, in such an unexpected and joyous way - a sustained arousal. It is at once about torture and love, bondage and caresses, empowerment and submission, femininity and tomboys, entrapment and escape, kidnapping and running away, death and ecstasy. With cruel and luscious women who are teachers, nurses, children, campers, and lovers, we are stripped of our senses and then filled up again with a new way of seeing, reading, sexing, feeling, tasting and loving."

Here's an extract from Chapter 1 of the book:


On the day of my release he came and picked me up in his long black car and took me to the house. I spent several days there, back in that room, yet another cell. When the coast was finally clear I made my escape - I took his truck and drove it to a body of water on the edge of the city, near the highway's entrance. It rolled in without much splash and went down fast beneath the inky water. I crept backward from the water through some brush and scruffy trees. When I reached the road I paused at the green metal sign with the white arrow pointing toward the highway that juts out like a long and broken arm. I glared at the gun-colored city. The big fat moon lit the house on the hill that I had just left. I closed my eyes and pictured her sleeping: cheeks flushed, black braids tangled. I tried one last time to enter her dreams. You're going to follow, I whispered. You're going to leave too. Please. As the words left my lips I imagined them dropping to the ground, forming sweet ripe apples, a trail of golden breadcrumbs. I turned my back and headed out.

Between there and here is a wide swath of nothing: something like a desert, a dead midway, a blank buffer between a town and a forest, just a dried-earth no-man's-land. The trucks used to run steady on this road, like salmon on a rich current, but now it's just a dry, cracked riverbed. No one comes in, and no one really goes out - and when they do, no one knows where to. I kept looking over my shoulder; nothing behind me but what I just passed. I walked and I walked and I ran at some points and I stumbled over rocks, cans, abandoned mufflers and the farther I got from the city the darker it became and the moon was my only light and I could just make out the white line running down the middle of the road and the silhouettes and shapes of trees and in the waving distance those woods.

I collapsed under a single ailing tree, among the asphalt and dust and the shit coming up through the cracks, the lonely things trying to live their own way. The mountains and trees were so black I couldn't tell whether they were at the tips of my fingers or the ends of the earth. And I told myself: I'm headed to the place where I'll find everything, the place where I'll be believed. Where I can live again, eyes wide to a far black sky, feet inches off the earth below.

The sleep came in waves. My eyes flipped open every so often, expecting to see the old peeling walls of my room, the leathery faces of men swimming above me. In one dream I sat high above him on a throne in a tree holding a golden crown to my head, legs tied to the trunk, swaying in the wind, laughing.

In the morning I woke up dusty, aching like hell, and bug-bitten. I'd made it far, though, and the trees clung tight together, green and brown and black, holding fast and strong, towering giants with thin spires so high up. They blanketed the mountain, they rose from every square foot of earth, they teemed with the life I knew was inside. I shivered. A hawk rose from deep within the forest and soared straight up, his wings thick sails, and he circled and circled and found what he needed - then shot back down, gone, into a heart I couldn't see.

I went in. To the woods. No path or trail or plan - I just went. Blind and thrashing through, pulled by some force that kept me going, and I was scared and thrilled and scratched and then - I found it.

I found it.

I stumbled into a clearing and there it was. The surrounding trees seemed to be leaning back, giving it space, letting the light in, allowing a thick mist to rise up around it. I went to it, touched it, rubbed the walls. Got slivers in my fingers, my palms. Home. It was real. Waiting for me.

I worked all day and night cleaning it up, getting it ready. Then I found my way back to the highway so that I'd be out in the open in case she came looking. About a mile out of the woods I stumbled into a dim roadside bar that I swear wasn't there before. I thought it was an apparition at first, but it was real. Had I missed it in the dark? I must've gone right by it, too focused on my trek to see it. I pulled my hat low and slid on in. It was empty: just dust-covered vinyl booths, ancient liquor bottles cobwebbed together. A man sat behind the bar, wearing a red satin jacket with the words BIG LONELY embroidered across the back. It seemed to me the perfect phrase.

I staked my claim in a corner booth where I ate popcorn and cheese fries, peanuts and ancient candy from the rusted dispenser. I drank glasses of gin but tasted nothing - just my nervous heart and bitter hunger. Sometimes I went outside and walked the highway up and down, pacing and pacing and searching. For some sign, some thing. The city sat far and sad in one distance, the mountains large and dark in the other. Here, it was just leafless trees, like sticks stuck in the ground, broken bottles and cardboard scraps and the dirty arm of a doll whose body was missing. I wanted to rip the trees from their earth, gnaw on the roots, suck in the dirt until I swallowed something molten. My feet hurt. I kept on. I had to believe that she'd show up.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mike Fournier on the west coast

Mike Fournier hits the west coast tomorrow night at Bird & Beckett in San Francisco, and will be headed back to the east coast next week. He'll also be interviewed on WPRB next Wednesday (7/18) at 7pm EST on Jon Solomon's show. For now you'll have to tune in live to hear it, but I'll update this post with an archive when it is available...


11th July -- Bird and Beckett

13th July -- Orca Books

14th July -- Third Place Books

23rd July -- Wah-Tut-Ca Scout Reservation

1st August -- Brookline Booksmith, Brookline MA

One through forty-nine

Ahh - the end of the financial year here at Continuum HQ, and the start of the next one. Always a time for much head-scratching, back-scratching, and other forms of scratching both celebratory and punitive.

It's a good time to take stock of how the 33 1/3 series is ticking along, so here is the bang-up-to-date league table. Some of these books have been knocking around for almost four years now, and some have only just seen the light of day, so comparisons are always tricky. But make of this what you will...


1. Neutral Milk Hotel
2. The Kinks
3. The Smiths
4. The Rolling Stones
5. The Velvet Underground
6. Pink Floyd
7. Joy Division
8. Radiohead
9. The Beatles
10. Love
11. The Beach Boys
12. DJ Shadow
13. Led Zeppelin
14. Neil Young
15. Beastie Boys
16. David Bowie
17. Dusty Springfield
18. Jimi Hendrix
19. The Replacements
20. Bob Dylan
21. Jeff Buckley
22. The Pixies
23. My Bloody Valentine
24. The Band
25. Prince
26. The Ramones
27. R.E.M.
28. Bruce Springsteen
29. The Byrds
30. James Brown
31. Elvis Costello
32. The Who
33. Jethro Tull
34. Abba
35. Sly and the Family Stone
36. Nirvana
37. Sonic Youth
38. Guided by Voices
39. Stone Roses
40. The MC5
41. Captain Beefheart
42. Stevie Wonder
43. The Minutemen
44. Magnetic Fields
45. Steely Dan
46. Guns N Roses
47. PJ Harvey
48. Joni Mitchell
49. A Tribe Called Quest


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Finally, some Filipino press!

Last weekend saw an article on the series by Scott R. Garceau, on the Philstar website, a portal for the global Filipino community. Thanks to Steve Matteo for spotting this one!


Third helpings

THE X-PAT FILES By Scott R. Garceau

Sunday, July 01 2007 (www.philstar.com)

Maybe we all live life at too high a pitch, those of us who absorb emotional things all day. —Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

We are a strange breed, we who take music seriously. We have love-hate relationships with our precious CD collections, with our iPod Playlists, even with our album artwork, and sometimes we just want to rip out the earbuds and do away with all the music inside our heads — until we are forced to confront the music being peddled outside our sealed cocoon… then it’s back to the earbuds.

For people who can’t get enough of the music that permeates their MP3s players and fills their TV screens and comes pouring off the pages of their favorite music magazines, there is 33 1/3 books. Published by Continuum Books, this series of over 60 [not strictly true - yet] slim titles tackles the minutiae of studio recording — all the trials and tribulations that went into making classic and seminal albums, from Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung” to Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures.”

“33 1/3” of course refers to the old desired playing speed for “long-playing” vinyl records. It’s in this spirit of nostalgia — even if the albums were recorded as recently as Magnetic Field’s “69 Love Songs” (1999) — that the books work. Each edition is written by a different author — some British, some American — and quality does vary, depending on what kind of fan you are. If you are fond of personal reminiscences by the author about how such-and-such an album changed he/she forever, usually during a late-night drive from Providence, Rhode Island to NYC, then you will enjoy the volume on Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” written by Daphne Brooks. Buckley’s story is told much more effectively in David Browne’s Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Tim and Jeff Buckley. But for some more buried nuggets, Brooks’ book does show us how Led Zeppelin was such a big early musical influence on the scion of ’60s folkie Tim Buckley. And it draws connections between Plant’s middle-eastern-style wails and Buckley’s other musical obsession, Qawwali singing. You can close the book thinking that maybe “Grace,” Buckley’s eponymous 1994 debut, should have been heard side-by-side with “Live at Sin-é” — a posthumous double-CD of his live solo performances at a small East Village club in the early ’90s — to give the public a more rounded view of the performer’s talents. There, he mixes live cover versions of Dylan, Van Morrison, Edith Piaf, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and, yes, even Zeppelin. If people had known his true range, the world might have been spared limp, limey rip-offs of Buckley’s “Grace” sound by Coldplay, for instance.

Another volume from 33 1/3 I read goes into obsessive detail on the recording of the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” While generally regarded as the Beatles’ nadir, studio-wise, author Steve Matteo shows that some great music was being tested out even during the death march that was being recorded by cameras as the Beatles self-destructed. We learn lots of nice trivia — like the fact that the piano used by Paul to record Hey Jude was the same one used by Queen on their epic track Bohemian Rhapsody half a decade later. I guess you can’t improve on a solid Bechstein Concert Grand.

As familiar as we are with the stories, and back-stories, that make up the painful album “Let It Be” and the accompanying film, there’s still lots to dig into here: the bickering between George and Paul; Ringo’s isolation from the band (after quitting in disgust, he arrived back to the studio a few days later to find his Ludwig drum kit bedecked with flowers); and John’s increasing cocooning with Yoko Ono, which must have put an extra strain on recording. We’ve heard the album, seen the movie, even purchased the “Naked…” version of “Let It Be” — yet Matteo shows there’s still a lot to learn about the fragile dynamics within this amazingly seminal band.

Most recently, I checked out Mike McGonigal’s book about My Bloody Valentine’s recording of “Loveless” — an album that probably was this shoegazing band’s “Let It Be,” in terms of band-member and studio strain. Recorded over two years in a dozen studios with over 30(!!) engineers claiming participation, the final album — released in 1992 — has to suffer from all those built-up expectations. It does; it now sounds a bit bleary and dated. But the story behind it is still fascinating, as leader Kevin Shields sought to create a follow-up to the already-seminal “Isn’t Anything” (1998) and nearly cracked up in the process. Comparisons to Brian Wilson’s “Smile” experience are trotted out, but it’s the details about how adversity led to innovation that make this one a good read. MBV drummer Colm O’Coisig was sick and homeless during recording, and lost partial use of his legs — definitely a setback for a rock drummer. So Shields and others had to “sample” his basic bass drum kicks, and carefully reconstruct his percussion sound to complete the album. Either that or, as some evidence suggests, Shields simply played all the drums, guitars and bass in the studio himself.

We learn that Shields, mentally, is one fuzzy character, one for whom the quest for studio perfection led to Ahab-like disasters. He prefers to record after skipping sleep for several days. He claims My Bloody Valentine never actually broke up, though efforts at a follow-up to “Loveless” fell apart and the Irish band has not released an album in 15 years. That’s a long time since changing musical history.

Best, perhaps, is the opening of McGonigal’s book, in which the author tries to uncover what really happened during a “noise” section of one of the band’s live sets — the band is playing the song You Made Me Realise, then starts issuing waves of distortion and feedback that stun the audience: the crowd can’t think, can’t hear, can’t move for a period of minutes, until the writer’s ears eventually discern a field of beautiful, melodic overtones and harmonics dancing on top of the sludge. He has his epiphany; we have ours. But getting Shields to admit to any musical mischief is another thing: “There was no melody! Every melody everyone had was in their head!” It’s a scary moment, realizing that musicians are not only seeking to fill our ears on the conscious level, but are messing around with our heads in other ways as well.

The 33 1/3 book series is available at Powerbooks branches.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Monday Monday

A couple of things for the start of the week.

1. There's an excellent little interview with David Mitchell in the online edition of the The Hindu, in which Mitchell (yet again) transmits his secret, unspoken, one might even say unknown desire to write a volume for the 33 1/3 series:


David, what would you say is the significance of music in your work — structurally, thematically, inspirationally?

It’s a cloud rather than a question isn’t it? But an important and beautiful cloud. I couldn’t conceive of a life without music. Music is one of the major means by which I understand the human heart. Pop songs — they’re so good at human emotions. The best ones are. Of course 97 per cent is crap, but three per cent is imperishable human expression. The song reminds me of how articulate you can be if you master your art sufficiently. The song and the poem. It’s also a very studiable chunk of art. You can ask yourself about a song — why does that move me, why is that so clever, why is that phrase so retentive? And you can figure out the answers to these questions as well. They’re good places to study art in the abstract. Number 9 Dream was written under the musical spell of Kate Bush and John Lennon. Music is exactly like what St. Augustine said famously about Time, "I know exactly what it is until someone asks me to explain it." If you could explain it you wouldn’t actually need the music, which makes it a fascinating, inebriating bar conversation but a tricky interview question.


2. Today is the UK publication date of Michael Gray's new book, Hand Me My Travelin' Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell. Publication details:

HAND ME MY TRAVELIN' SHOES: In Search of Blind Willie McTell, by Michael Gray London: Bloomsbury, July 2nd, 2007. Hardback 1st edition. ISBN: 0 7475 6560 0; ISBN-13: 978-0747565604. 448 pages. £25.

You can buy the book from Amazon.co.uk here. And here's some copy about the book:

Blind Willie McTell, 1903-1959, was one of the most gifted musical artists of his generation, with an exquisite voice and a sublime talent for the twelve-string guitar. As Bob Dylan wrote, "nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell" - yet his repertoire was infinitely wider than that. Why, then, did he drift in and out of the public eye, being 'rediscovered' time and again through chance meetings; and why, until now, has so little been written about the life of this extraordinary man? Blind from birth, McTell never behaved as if he were handicapped by his lack of sight and he explodes every stereotype about blues musicians. Michael Gray has travelled the American South and beyond to unearth the fascinating story of McTell's life - uncovering the secrets of his ancestry, the hardships he suffered and the successes he enjoyed at a time when recording contracts didn't lift you out of singing on the street. In this personal and moving odyssey into a lost world of early blues music, a vulnerable black population and more, Gray peels back the many layers of a tragic, occasionally shocking but ultimately uplifting story.