William Gibson's playlist

From William Gibson, a playlist of ten musical tracks to get you in a Spook Country mood (sez Bill, "I have always regarded music with lyrics as a species of fiction.")
1) Country Blues, Dock Boggs. On finally learning to hear this music, you literally become some different, more primal manner of flesh. There is simply nothing else like it. It is an Ur-thing, sere and terrible, yet capable of profound and paradoxical rescue in the very darkest hour. Dock Boggs lived in Wise County, Virginia, not far from where I grew up. I am haunted by the possibility that someone could have listened to this recording in Paris, in 1927, the year it was released.

2) Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor, Lucinda Williams. A ravishingly young woman (1978) channels all the sexuality, injustice and spirituality of the American Gone World. For Smithsonian Folkways, no less.

3) Decoration Day, Drive-By Truckers. Like early Cormac McCarthy, but with three lead guitars. Hyper-literate narrative song-writing in the service of an act of stingingly efficient shamanistic cultural recall.

Living With Music: A Playlist by William Gibson (via Beyond the Beyond)


  1. Figures Gibson would be listening to Dock Boggs and the Smithsonian Folkaways stuff.

    I find this stuff amazing, and a lot of it is in it’s weird way punkrockish: Filled with criminals, coalminers, preachers, the Devil, God, angels and all sorts of acts both wondrous and violent. It’s “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” and that bush is the US in the early 20th century.

  2. I don’t really make the connect b/w punk and “criminals, coalminers, preachers, the Devil, God, angels and all sorts of acts both wondrous and violent”…

  3. No 3…get ahold of the big Smithsonian Folkways box and work your way through that. The world through the eyes of those singers is magical, intense, dangerous, religious, violent and extremely difficult.

    For me the stuff by John Cale, Patti Smith, Lou Reed and many of other progenitors of early punk isn’t hugely different. And in both cases, having an educated and trained musical background is not a prerequisite to putting out what the singer is seeing and experiencing in a raw and uncooked/unprocessed way.

  4. Another great track in the Old Weird America tradition is Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground.” Turn it up a bit, and it’s a guaranteed spine-chiller.

  5. yeah, it all looks a little country. better than par country but to be this is saying “Wow this is an AMAZING McDonalds burger!”. There’s only so good it can get. And I didn’t hear counrty at any time in my internalmp3 player while reading the book.

  6. Baldhead that’s very amusing. I too am a big country music hater.

    But I swear if you spend time with the early stuff (1920s/30s) from the Folkaways collection you’ll come away scratching your head wondering what planet that music comes from. Yes, you might still recognize it as vaguely country (even the shape singing), but it’s so damned authentic and primitive that it really transports you in a way that McCountry really can’t.

    In that context, Dock Boggs sounds very different, and I totally understand why William Gibson would be fascinated by him. Him likening it to early Cormac McCarthy books frames it perfectly.

  7. if ($comment{$guy} =~ “I am a $type_o_music} hater”)
    { unless ($type_o_music =~ “bad”)
    { $bozocity{$guy}++; }

  8. By the way, the Drive-By Truckers are probably the greatest rock band in the world on at least one day out of twenty in the last decade.

  9. Interesting list that. I, too, abhor “new” country and while I don’t collect old country or blues, I like most of what I hear that was recorded before 1960. My historical preferences lean toward traditional Hawaiian music from the 20s to the 40s. BTW, country music heavily appropriated slide guitars from early Hawaiian music. Check out Sol Hoopii or Lena Machado for some gems.

    Back to the list…Neko Case is a goddess and is vastly underrated. Yeah, indy fans know of her, but she is basicallypositioned to take the folk/rock-god mantle from Springsteen someday. I love artists like her because you just know she’ll be doing amazing work for like the next 40 years. I can’t wait to hear it all!

    And what can I say about Bonnie Prince Billy. My wife got me into him and his work is a treasure. Definitely someone living on another plane from the rest of us. I’ve never heard someone sing so quietly, and so blisteringly that it’s like he’s dissecting you down to your soul. I have to hold back tears every time I hear “Joy & Jubilee” because it reminds me of the birth of my wonderful son.

  10. I’m not the biggest country music fan, especially not modern country. However Bonnie Prince Billy is something different, with music coming straight from the soul. If you’re only familiar with the album version of “I Am A Cinematographer”, I encourage you to check out this live version on YouTube:

    Not the greatest quality, and out of synce, but it doesn’t matter. This version is slower, and his vocals do to me what all great music does, sends an orgamic shiver from the base of my spine exploding out the top of my head. It’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had, and I’m always searching it out.

  11. @4: Thanks for assuming I’m not familiar with Folkways/Harry Smith type stuff. How you extrapolated that from my comment is beyond me. What I questioned was that punk has a lot in common with the themes of ‘old weird america’ stuff. And now you’re going with the “progenitors of early punk,” which I can certainly see a stronger argument for. But I don’t think that VU alumni and Patti Smith are representative of punk rock as a genre, and your first comment seemed to be making an assertion about a genre, not a handful of musicians who aren’t really representative.

    Not that I actually want to get in an argument with you – it would seem that we like a lot of the same music. :)

  12. Rob @ 5- Heard Mississippi John Hurt’s version?
    By the way there’s some great footage of him on youtube

  13. Good stuff there, even if I don’t listen to it very often, myself. But I did want to mention “18 Wheels of Love” by Drive-By Truckers is a cool song.

    Seems like anytime that band chances to come up in conversation and somebody within earshot knows the name, that’s their response; to recite “eight-teen wheeeels of luv!” Hehe… well, maybe I just know some weird people.

    But yeah. I always liked the proto-country/blues stuff. It feels more human than the shiny plastic music we have today.

  14. Anthony @ 15 – No I haven’t. Didn’t even know that there were other versions of “Dark” (but frankly it’s hard to be surprised. I will definitely have to track it down soon.

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