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Master of Reality (33⅓ #56)

4.1  ·  Rating details ·  1,325 Ratings  ·  206 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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Oct 03, 2010 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
mayfly wake
Apr 22, 2008 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
Jonathan Ashleigh
Oct 07, 2014 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.
Feb 11, 2008 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 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 09, 2011 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
Apr 27, 2008 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
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this fictional spin on the 33 1/3 series. One of my pet peeves as a reader is fiction about music. I find more times than not it rings inauthentic. (yes, that has a ring). Clearly Darnielle (as a member of the band Mountain Goats) knows of what he speaks when it comes to music and being a fan of music, and this explains/recreates/captures what's its like to be a teenage fan and then a not-so-teenage fan of metal or dark music more than any other work of fiction I've read.
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm a huge fan of the album Master of Reality, so this book was a no-brainer. The fact that the author is also the mastermind behind The Mountain Goats made it a no-no-brainer. The fact that, unlike other books in the 33 1/3 series, this is a work of fiction where the main character is a disturbed youth in a mental facility who is obsessed with the album made it a no-no-NO-brainer for me. I found the book to be a completely original take on an already interesting series of books about specific a ...more
Constance Squires
Oct 22, 2012 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 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
Mar 23, 2011 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
Sep 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: english
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
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Leave it to John Darnielle to subvert a series of masturbatory works of music criticism by instead writing a novella from the point of view of a suicidal teenager obsessed with a Black Sabbath album. If you are a fan of Darnielle's writing in the Mountain Goats, you will like this. If you like this, you will probably like the Mountain Goats.
Bud Smith
Jul 23, 2011 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)
Matt Suder
Jul 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, fiction
JD does it again with a nice little novella re: mental illness, teen angst and how we can grow through self reflection. Great journey through the realities of Sabbath and the reasons music is a force for good.
Sep 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yeah, fuck you, Gary!
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Well, this is an odd book. If you're not familiar with 33, it's a series of books written by music critics about albums in the same way that literary critics write about literature. I've known of it for a while, and I've even known that John Darnielle wrote this one, but I didn't think anything of it because I figured I wasn't interested in reading what some dude thought about Black Sabbath, even if he wrote Wolf in White Van. What I didn't realize is this isn't a nonfictional piece.

Darnielle wr
Jan 10, 2009 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
Jun 07, 2008 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
Jason Funderburker
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Master of Reality" es un ensayo centrado enteramente alrededor del disco homónimo de Black Sabbath.

No he escuchado a Black Sabbath en mi vida.

También es un libro de John Darnielle, así que a diferencia del resto de entregas de esta colección, dedicada enteramente a reseñar discos icónicos, toma la forma del diario de un adolescente encerrado en un hospital psiquiátrico, tratando de hacerle entender a sus celadores personales lo que esa música significa para él, casi como describiendo los colore
Jun 07, 2009 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
May 07, 2008 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
Feb 05, 2008 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 09, 2009 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
Kevin Fanning
Apr 18, 2008 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
Austin Gullett
Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I'm a huge fan of all of John's work, but I went into this with no expectations--I had no idea what the style or approach would be like. I anticipated an extended album review. I was incorrect. This book is about Master of Reality, yes, and it certainly does it justice, but it's also about the feeling of having such a profound understanding of and connection to a work of art that it becomes impossible to communicate your thoughts to anyone else; it's about experiencing a work of art as deeply as ...more
Oct 29, 2010 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 07, 2009 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
adrian anderson
Oct 09, 2014 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.
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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.” 27 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.” 10 likes
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