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Master of Reality (33⅓ #56)

4.07  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,023 Ratings  ·  172 Reviews
John Darnielle hears [Black Sabbath's Master of Reality] 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.
Paperback, 101 pages
Published April 15th 2008 by Continuum (first published January 1st 2008)
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22nd out of 114 books — 47 voters
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John's fave Music Books
5th out of 24 books — 1 voter

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Feb 22, 2011 Mariel rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: realizing masterful realism realistically
Recommended to Mariel by: master(bater) of reality
Master of Reality by John Darnielle (of The Mountain Goats, whom happen to be one of my favorites but that's neither here nor there) is part of the 33 1/3 music series which highlight seminal music works, written by connected people (or just big names. The Sonic Youth chick doubtfully had part in making David Bowie's Low). This is a story so it is much more enlightening musical experience like going to a concert and feeling good vibes (good meaning anything that matters, not necessarily happy or ...more
Jonathan Ashleigh
Dec 12, 2015 Jonathan Ashleigh rated it really liked it
For what this was, it was a great read. I can't imagine any other 33 1/3 book came close to this as a narrative as the goal was describing an album. But, if you want to read a journal of a young troubled teen, I encourage you to check out The Sorrows of Young Mike. It may not involve a medical ward, but it goes to dark places just the same.
mayfly wake
Apr 22, 2008 mayfly wake rated it it was amazing
This book absolutely devastated me. I was sobbing pretty much the entire time, and a book hasn't done that to me since the end of Where The Red Fern Grows when I was 9 years old. I don't want to give any plot details away in case you read it. But I have to tell you something, so you do buy it and read it and so John gets the money he deserves for this, and so I can get these feelings out somewhere. Even though it's a book about an album by a band I barely know any songs by, it is far more than t ...more
Apr 13, 2008 Melanie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music, 2008
A few things to know:

1. In the 33 1/3 series, published by Continuum, assorted writers, critics, rockers, and others write about various "classic" albums--older classics like The Velvet Underground and Nico, newer classics like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. Sometimes these small books are works of fiction inspired by the albums, or track-by-track examinations of the music or lyrics, or obsessive explorations of the mythology behind the band and/or the nature of musical fandom.

2. John Darnielle
Apr 22, 2008 Drew rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Black Sabbath fans, Mountain Goats fans, anyone who didn't fit in as a teenager
Recommended to Drew by:
I've read a bunch of the 33 1/3 series over the last couple of years, and I've enjoyed all of them to varying degrees, though some more than others. This book, though, may be better than all of the ones I've read before. It's only about 100 pages long, so really more of a novella than a proper book, but it manages to combine the more character driven fiction/memoir elements of some books in the series with the straight up detailed reviewing of others, and in so doing, become superior to both app ...more
Aug 10, 2011 Jessica rated it really liked it
I think the strongest testimony I can give for this book is that I've never had any interest in listening to Black Sabbath before, but this book made me desperate to listen to Master of Reality immediately.

An unusual entry in the 33 1/3 series, which are usually nonfiction essays about specific albums, John Darnielle's book is a young-adult novel told via letters from a teenage patient in a psychiatric hospital to one of the staff members there. He's been instructed to keep a journal, but the st
Nora Dillonovich
May 03, 2008 Nora Dillonovich rated it really liked it
Recommended to Nora by: Jonathan Neal
I have an impulse disorder. And there is a strong possibility my "average joe" OCD is not so average, but more like the bizarre and skittish neighbor who riffles through your trash at night. Anyway. Once I heard more about this book- I had to have it. I slept a fitful night, awoke sore and impossibly crooked, and knew that before Saturday was over I would have this book in my possession. I succeeded- if you call continuing to indulge my disordered habits success. Now, I read.

Lesson learned: Let
Constance Squires
Oct 23, 2012 Constance Squires rated it it was amazing
I read this in one sitting. This book nails it--the great, ineffable quality of music that is so hard to write about without abstraction or sentimentality. This book gets it down. From the opening sentence: "Fuck You All Go to Hell," Roger Painter's voice in this epistolary novel is immediately alive, raw, real, and reaching. Roger talks about his own sad life around the edges of trying to explain the genius of Black Sabbath's Master of Reality to his counselor in an adolsescent psych ward, and ...more
Apr 30, 2008 Andrew rated it it was amazing
John Darnielle's 33 1/3 entry is the greatest YA epistolary novel I've ever read - it's head and shoulders above classics of the subgenre like "Dear Mr. Henshaw" and even "I am the cheese." It's a shame that the vast majority of readers and purveyors of YA won't even hear about it or give it a shot, as it's presented as a 33 1/3 entry (bite-sized books dedicated to covering classic albums) rather than a mere novel or even YA-marketed effort. But that doesn't change how ridiculously immersive, af ...more
Apr 14, 2011 Samuel rated it it was amazing
I have to say, it's quite an odd experience to see John Darnielle describing someone else's music the way I would describe his.

This book is great, and perfectly captures being an angry, messed up teenager. The first part of the book is surprisingly quite funny, and the second part is devastatingly real. John Darnielle's brilliant way with words definitely comes across in his writing as well as his music, and the whole thing is very poignant, despite being very short. Don't be put off by the tack
John Lee
Aug 22, 2014 John Lee rated it it was amazing
Very different from the other books I've read in the series. John Darnielle chooses to approach this album (probably my favorite Black Sabbath album) from the point of view of a teenager in a psychiatric hospital, who is pleading with hospital staff to let him listen to his music. The writing is often very touching, even when the narrator is rather immature, and the points he made really added to my understanding and enjoyment of the music. A phenomal piece of music writing, with a lot of heart ...more
Bud Smith
Jul 23, 2011 Bud Smith rated it really liked it
This sums up the isolation and young awe of exactly what it was like when you were a teenager and music was personal (even though it was released on a major label and a million other people had the tape)
adrian anderson
Oct 09, 2014 adrian anderson rated it liked it
Quick one day read before I start Wolf in White Van. Written from the perspective of a teenager in a psych ward, it was not what I expected at all but I enjoyed it (although I'm not a huge Black Sabbath fan so some sections might have been lost on me). However, the overall message, and emotional impact is not. Reminded me a lot of the Meat is Murderr and Let it Be (which I both HIGHLY recommend) 33 1/3 books.
Jan 10, 2009 Dan rated it it was amazing
For those who are not familiar with it, 33 1/3 is a series of short books published by Continuum. Each book focuses on a different rock album. The subject of this book is, you guessed it, Black Sabbath's classic "Master of Reality."

I haven't read any of the other 33 1/3 books but, from what I've read about them, most take the form of either critical essays or rock journalism on the making of the record in question. John Darnielle, who is himself a musician being the singer, songwriter and princi
May 19, 2008 lauren rated it really liked it
Recommended to lauren by: sabbath fans, mountain goats fans, fans of life in general
Shelves: fiction, non-fiction
"...Black Sabbath is not just Ozzy, it is also Bill Ward and Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, anybody who says Sabbath without Ozzy can't rock needs to listen to Born Again and quit being a dick! Some of the guitar solos on it are awesome."

John Darnielle's extended essay on Black Sabbath's "Master of Reality," exhibited as the fictionalized diary of a kid named Roger unwittingly and unwillingly admitted to a mental facility, reads a bit like Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," and
Jun 07, 2009 Tim rated it it was amazing
I'm not a big Black Sabbath fan, and I'd never really listened to Master of Reality all the way through before reading this. But you do not need to be a Black Sabbath fanatic to enjoy this book. John Darnielle (from the Mountain Goats) writes about his profound love for this record through the character of a 15 year old american boy in a mental institution in the 1980's. In some ways that may seem lame (band stickers on mathbook covers perhaps? delusions of Ozzy Osbourne rapping at my chamber do ...more
Aug 25, 2008 R. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008


Below is another manic ramble that I wrote and forgot some several months earlier.

Note that the singular. There are no masters. There is only one Master...of Reality. And His name is Jesus. And just like water becomes wine, the loaves multiply and the blind men see: reality is mutable!

Okay, as for Black Sabbath: all of my cassettes came courtesy of Columbia House

[...annoying rant removed...]

Am sure that the lady on Black Sabbath and the old man on Led Zeppelin's ZoSo were from the sa
Jul 23, 2008 Chris rated it it was amazing
Perhaps above all this is a book about what it means to take a record deep into your soul and make it a part of you. When I was in middle school, I did some forgotten dumb thing and got myself grounded. My mom shut me up in my room for a week with my Yorx clock radio/cassette player and all my tapes and we both pretended like it was punishment. During that week, I ingested Metallica's Master of Puppets, which I had just scored through the Columbia House eleven-for-a-penny deal. It became so much ...more
Kevin Fanning
Nov 04, 2008 Kevin Fanning rated it it was amazing
I don't even know what to say about this besides Please John Darnielle, write more books.

It was really very emotional, all the way through, thinking about all the kids I used to hang out with in high school who went through this, or would have, if they'd lived long enough, or would have, if their (or my) parents had had just a little less ability to cope with their teenage sons, or a few less parental tools within their reach.

It's a very good book.

I finished reading it while I was eating break
Oct 09, 2009 Gaelen rated it it was amazing
This book was my introduction to the 33 1/3 series, a line of small-format books about seminal rock albums. The first book was published in the '60s, and there are about 60 of them now. I will be reading as many of them as I can!

This book is about "Master of Reality", Black Sabbath's third album, released in 1971. The author is John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Darnielle takes an unconventional approach to the album review, taking on the fictional persona of a teenager recently checked in to
Nov 09, 2010 Emily rated it really liked it
Sweet without being cloying; honest; believable. While I haven't listened to much Sabbath and am not particularly inspired to even after reading this, anyone who has had a fierce attachment to a record or band, particularly during times of severe alienation, will appreciate what John Darnielle has done here. Setting a story in a psych ward can be hard to pull off; when poorly done, the results are excruciating. Darnielle is well qualified to take this task on, having worked on a psych ward for s ...more
Jan 09, 2009 David rated it it was amazing
I read this book solely because I am a huge Mountain Goats fan and I heard that John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats had written a book. I had no expectations going in and John Darnielle totally blew me away. Though he is an amazing lyricist I did not really expect much from his first time out as a novelist. However, I found that he did a great job of mixing information and his own interpretations of Black Sabbath and "Master of Reality" with the emotional development of the narrator, creating a ...more
Oct 11, 2015 Ash rated it it was amazing
I don't listen to sabbath and this book didn't make me want to listen to sabbath. I want to crawl inside this book and die. I want to get stoned as shit and listen to all the stupid records that have made me feel less alone for even like 12 seconds. I want to write something like this about something I love because I feel like it's the only way I can actually connect with other people, through layers of outside context, and this review is maudlin as shit but I don't care. reading john darnielle ...more
Jun 07, 2016 J rated it it was amazing
Part of the ongoing series of pocket-sized album appreciations known collectively as 33 1/3, John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats does something completely different with music criticism when he turns his pen to Black Sabbath's 1971 record, Master of Reality. The series features single album considerations often by names in the music business, record critiques by those who make records themselves instead of drooling fanboy loveletters or too cool for school sneerfests by the likes of the Pitchfo ...more
Apr 18, 2016 Holly rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2016
Dec 04, 2015 Mike rated it it was amazing
The "33 1/3" series are all books celebrating particular albums. Usually they provide some background on the recording sessions and songwriting, explain the significance of the album in the history of popular music, and/or provide some kind of criticism and interpretation of the songs. This one though takes a pretty different approach: instead of rock criticism, we get a novella, wherein a troubled teenager tries to explain why this album is important to him.
Darnielle is best known as the auteu
Feb 17, 2015 Stormcrow rated it it was amazing
There is so much to like about this book.

First, this combines two loves of my life: Black Sabbath and John Darnielle (of The Mountain Goats). Even though the two bands couldn't be more different, they link together in this book.

Two, I had no idea this book even existed until a few days ago when my girlfriend gave it to me as a gift. Great gift!

Three, It's a book with a soundtrack. I had to read it near my computer so I could listen to songs from the "Master of Reality" album while the narrator d
Al Kratz
Nov 03, 2014 Al Kratz rated it really liked it
I heard about this when reading the bio on all the national book award long list authors. It was an awesome discovery, the forty year old version of the 16 year old finding black sabbath master of reality in 1985 exactly like the protagonist of this book. Just like him other people didn't always understand sabbath. Unlike him I was still encouraged with this, I wasn't locked up. Regardless the book captures so many universals, the institution part becomes just part of the story. Just this summer ...more
Jeff Buddle
Sep 29, 2014 Jeff Buddle rated it really liked it
Oh cripes, Gary...give Roger his tapes back. He needs his music.

What a marvelous little book, just 100 pages and it's "The Catcher in the Rye" for those of us who grew up in the 80s.

If you don't know the 33 1/3 series, each one takes a close look at a "classic" LP. I would assume that most of them are rock crit, track-by-track listings and some pedantic analysis. Some of it very thoughtful, I'm sure. But I want to keep thinking my own thoughts about "Double Nickles on the Dime," so thanks for d
Carl Ingebretsen
May 07, 2014 Carl Ingebretsen rated it it was amazing
This was a hard one to read, for many reasons. It reminds me of my own life, my own writings, my own love for music. It showed me a possible future where I am deeply unhappy, where I fail in every aspect, where I become a shell of myself and, if I look back, I'll see a version of myself that I recognise, but who won't recognise me.

It has one of the most beautiful dedications I have ever read, and it's worth buying and reading just for that reason alone. Especially if you're a fan of the Mountain
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John Darnielle (/dɑrˈniːl/, born March 16, 1967) is an American musician, best known as the primary (and often solitary) member of the American band the Mountain Goats, for which he is the writer, composer, guitarist, pianist and vocalist.

Source: Wikipedia.
More about John Darnielle...

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“Good things never last, bad things never die.” 25 likes
“I wish they'd conduct a national poll to find out who feels out of place and who doesn't. Just to get the numbers, you know? To get a feel for how many of us there are.” 8 likes
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