Books (mostly memoirs) about dysfunctional families—where abuse, neglect, alcoholism, abandonment or all of the above abound—are both plentiful and popular these days. The Liar’s Club (Mary Karr), Running with Scissors, A Wolf at the Table (Augusten Burroughs), The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls), to name just a few, have enjoyed commercial success and seem to strike a chord with the reading public.
Recently I’ve been listening to the work of front man for the band, Mountain Goats, songwriter-singer, John Darnielle, who is a master of the “themed CD.” In 2005, he recorded The Sunset Tree. Thirteen songs offer snapshots of his childhood which was dominated by an abusive step-father. Each song tells a story, and together the stories compose a wrenching portrait reminiscent of the memoirs cited above. To convey the horror and offer snippets of hope through song—so vividly, so convincingly, and so succinctly—should elevate this musician to the stature of famed memoirists who write rather than sing about this realm.
In 2006, Paste Magazine put John Darnielle on their best 100 living songwriters' list; makes sense to me.
The Sunset Tree