John Wesley Harding knows when he gets an email, phone message or a piece of postal junk addressing him as “John,” it’s coming from someone who’s never met him. He’s known to friends as “Wes,” since his real name (the one he uses in his second career as an award-winning author) is Wesley Stace. Harding’s 15th album, Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead, depicts an artist well aware of what he does best: marvelously witty lyrics delivered in an emotion-wracked singing voice. Harding will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our Q&A with him.
John Wesley Harding: I reviewed two books for The Times Literary Supplement recently. One was very bad; the other was very good. I’d like to re-recommend the latter of the two. Despite its wincingly awful punning title and its occasionally dreary academic attitude (“In the last chapter, we … ; in the next, we intend to … “), Dark Side Of The Tune is a marvelous book, based on the premise that of all the arts, only music can actually hurt you: Paintings depict violence, literature describes it, but sound can fuck you up. Those stories of torture at Guantanamo Bay and the aural bombardment of Manuel Noriega are only the iceberg’s tip in this acute dissection of the negative impact of music. Popular Music Studies, as it is called in the U.K., is a relatively recent field of academic endeavor, one that has generally emphasized the positive qualities of popular music. Dark Side Of The Tune does quite the opposite—and becomes a fascinating almanac of anecdote and theory; from a clear-headed view of the Woodstock ’99 disaster to the story of the murder of a mother by her son in 1987. (She asked him to turn Bob Dylan‘s album Desire down; he trampled her to death and sprinkled instant coffee over the corpse.) It’s all here: Scandinavian death metal, music at old people’s homes and the enervating hiss of iPods on the subway.