IIf you are looking for happy people, John Murry is not your man. Murry is 41, barely known, and has never come close to making a dent in the charts. However, he has been compared to the great existential pop poets Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Scott Walker. And for good reason: he has a rich baritone, writes magnificent ballads, and is half in love with death. The titles of his first two albums, The Graceless Age and A Short History of Decay, reflect the melancholy at the heart of his work. The title of his third, The Stars Are the Bullet Holes of God, is equally bleak. However, it turns out that Murry has a surprise in store.
The singer-songwriter is related to the Nobel Prize-winning American novelist William Faulkner. Like Faulkner, he paddles along his stream of consciousness, sometimes fiercely. You have an idea of what their songs are about, but you rarely know for sure. For example, the new album opener, Oscar Wilde (came here to make fun of you). We get the references to terrorist attacks and the images of omens, but the meaning is left to us.
He shares many of Faulkner’s obsessions: dysfunctional families in the American South, slavery and its aftermath, fallen aristocracy, addiction, violence and, of course, death. Faulkner’s most famous novel is The Sound and the Fury, a family tragedy story told four times from different perspectives without a linear sense of time. Murry refers often to Faulkner’s work and, in particular, to this book. He says his parents tried to make him one of their characters, while he was closely related to another.
Murry was adopted by his parents even before he came into the world. He believes that an agreement was reached between his biological mother, a Cherokee schoolgirl, and his parents, who thought they could not have children. (It happened that his adoptive mother gave birth to his brother a year later.) He grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi. His relationship with his parents was troubled and he was raised by his grandmother, Faulkner’s first cousin, but more like a sister to him. His grandparents were related to the Faulkners on both sides. Mississippi is that kind of place, he says.
Despite having lived in Ireland for the past eight years, where he makes Zooms today, Murry still has a strong southern accent. The slurred words mingle with each other. If he’s ever stopped by a police officer, he says, they assume he’s drunk. Murry was fascinated by Faulkner, who died 15 years before he was born. Her grandmother and Faulkner had been inseparable, and her grandfather was a coffin bearer at her funeral. When Murry was growing up, his beloved grandmother told him that despite the lack of blood lineage, he was “disgusting” and “more like Bill than any of us.” Hate was the best compliment, he says, it meant he defied authority and screamed hypocrisy. Meanwhile, he’s convinced his parents wanted him to be like Quentin Compson, a character from The Sound and The Fury who went to Harvard University. According to Murry, they gave little thought to the fact that Quentin takes his own life.
The character he actually relates to is Quentin’s brother, Benjy, labeled an “idiot” in the novel, although today he could be diagnosed as autistic, as was Murry at the age of 32. Murry is phenomenally read: he rarely makes a point without citing an authority. Sometimes you are in control of everything that happens in your head; in others, paralyzed by it. Her stories often come in contact with conflicting thoughts: “I have an eidetic memory,” she tells me. “I can recall conversations verbatim. I can also listen to multiple conversations at once. “He doesn’t brag. Many of these memories torture him.” I don’t want to remember these things, “he says.
Murry says his childhood was violent, but he’s grateful for one thing: the shelf full of books his lawyer father gave him. “I was 10 years old and he takes out books for me to read, like The Communist Manifesto and the Autobiography of Malcolm X, books with which he did not agree.”
Although her parents were determined that she go to Harvard, she had other ideas. “I saw a Tom Petty concert when I had just turned 16 and bought a guitar. It was that simple. “That same year, his parents discovered that he had smoked joints and drank some alcohol. They sent him to a fundamentalist Christian rehab center in a different state (he grew up Protestant and converted to Catholicism). The center, which has since closed, used to place the children with “foster families,” the families of other children who attended the center. Not surprisingly, many were dysfunctional. Murry says he spent three weeks in a home where he was raped repeatedly by three older children He says they talked about killing Murry in front of him.
“It was pretended that it wasn’t happening, although I know the children’s mother could hear the screams. I fought them every night until I realized that fighting was not going to stop them from doing what they were doing. They would hold me down and rape me. “Later, the children were asked to apologize to Murry for what they told his family was” antics. “
It took Murry many years to get to the stage where he could even admit what happened to him, let alone begin to recover. “I want people to know that if something like this happens to you, that violence is not something that you provoke yourself, in the same way that I did not provoke it myself. I was a victim of that. “He stops.” It was my first sexual experience. “It’s not a sexual experience, I say.” No, “he says quietly.” Gang rape is not a great sexual experience. ” pause: “I’ve dealt with the experience. I think Nietzsche was right when he said that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. It has given me a lot of compassion, also for the people who did.”
After 18 months in the center, he met a girl and moved away from the center and her parents. He did a number of jobs – cook, janitor, window frame maker, antique scammer, and social worker for severely emotionally challenged children – played in bands, married, and had a daughter, Evie, who is now 17 and hopes to be. . the next Stevie Nicks. He adores her and can’t stop telling me stories about her. “When I was seven he insisted on calling me Ike and I only answered Tina. That is not comfortable when you are in a convenience store. So she would just yell, ‘What’s love got to do with it, Ike?’ That made everyone laugh out loud. “
He may not have an addiction when he was sent to rehab, but he developed one. In his twenties, after he and his wife separated, Murry discovered heroin. He lost the second half of his 20s and almost his life. His best-known song, The Wonderful Little Colored Balloons, is a nine-minute meditation on the moment he overdosed and nearly died. It’s as full of longing as it is heartbreak, capturing both the dizzy serenity of fading and your desperate struggle for life.
Ultimately, he attributes his addiction to the time he spent in rehab when he was young. “I think what led to heroin was having to repeat over and over again: ‘I am powerless over drugs and alcohol, and only Jesus Christ can save me from that.’ He says he met so many young people who came in clean, became addicted, and committed suicide. Did you think it would? “There was a time when I was sure I wouldn’t make it. I still feel that way sometimes. “
But, driven by music and his studies, he got ahead. He went to college and got a degree in continental philosophy and psychoanalytic theory. Then he did a master’s degree, with the intention of doing a doctorate. By now, he had released the 2006 killer ballad album World Without End with Bob Frank, the singer-songwriter who died in 2019. His teacher attended the album’s release program and then asked him, puzzled and a little frustrated, why what was still in school. Murry says he felt like he finally had permission to pursue music.
As is his way, Murry did everything in due time. Six years later, his first solo album was released, produced by American Music Club’s Tim Mooney. The Graceless Age recounted his struggle with drugs. In No Te Da Ganas de Reir, Señor Malverde ?, he sings: “What keeps me alive in the end is going to kill me.” Today Murry maintains that, without heroin, he would have committed suicide. The album was described in Uncut magazine as a masterpiece and was named one of the top 10 albums of 2012, while Michael Hann in The Guardian said he did not “expect to hear a better album this year.”
But Murry’s path was never going to be easy. Shortly after its release, his mentor Mooney died suddenly. It was another five years before his follow-up, A Short History of Decay, produced by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, was released. This album examined the breakdown of their marriage and again received rave reviews. No subject was too bleak for Murry.
Now he is picking up the pace. We’ve only had to wait four years for The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes, produced by John Parish, best known for his collaborations with PJ Harvey. In addition to an extraordinarily cute cover of Duran Duran’s Ordinary World, there are the familiar themes of decadence, literature, weapons, and death. But there is a change: this album, and its fuzzy guitar, really is great. There are even nods to ZZ Top on the main track. In its bleak way, this is Murry’s feel-good album.
In Ireland, he has felt as close to optimism as possible. His current home is in Longford County and he pulls his phone outside to show me a beautiful stretch of fields and mountains. “Look how beautiful the world is,” he says. Sure, it doesn’t always feel that way, but when it does, nothing can beat it.
Giving up drugs and leaving America changed everything for Murry. “Camus said that the first thing a person has to do in life is decide whether to kill himself or not, and once he has done so, he can choose to live. I don’t want to die, I know now. Little by little I realized that my perspective on things had changed. I have changed.”
All the bad things have made you appreciate what you have now. “Without those things, what would I have to be thankful for?” Last December, he met his girlfriend, Sarah Leahy, a project coordinator for a humanitarian medical organization in Afghanistan. Sarah, Evie and their music are cause for hope.
“There is one thing I really want you to do for me,” he says. “I want you to help me with a marriage proposal.” “In this article?” I ask, my voice screeching in surprise. He nods. Has he asked yourself? “I’ve basically done it, but I can do it right here. I just want to know if Sarah Leahy will marry me. His father’s name is Desmond. He used to be a boxer and still is quite a bit. I just want to say, ‘Can I marry your daughter? I love her and take care of her. ‘ His face and tone have not changed after the proposal, but he seems relieved. Almost happy.
Murry’s responses can be devious, but they can also be beautifully concise. I ask him if he thinks music has been his salvation and for once a single word is enough for him. “Yes!” he says ecstatically.
The stars are God’s bullet holes comes out June 25 on Submarine Cat Records. To celebrate the release, Murry will hold a concert at Whelans in Dublin, streaming for free at 8pm on June 25 on his YouTube and Facebook channels.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism