Grady Hendrix has been a visitor to PseudoPod Towers for over a decade of decadence. Most of his visits have been to sign us into the guest rooms at The White Street Society but this week he’s here to do something a little different. You see, this week he has used his superpowers granted by Edgar Rice Burroughs to rescue us with “Mofongo Knows.” He also has a book coming out, and we used that as an excuse to ask him a few questions.
You've got a new book coming out September 18, 2018 -- We Sold Our Souls. We're not sure you could have a better title for this Faustian tale than one shared with the best Black Sabbath album. Which is your favorite track from that album?
I wasn’t a natural metal fan so I searched for a long time before I found a way into the music. I couldn’t find the band that really spoke to me for the longest time, that band I wanted to listen to over and over again, until I stumbled across Sabbath. But it makes total sense. As far as I’m concerned, everything begins with Sabbath. And, not a coincidence, but like hundreds of thousands of kids all over the world, the opening track from their first album, “Black Sabbath”, is the song that first hooked me. But I also love the pained anger of “Iron Man”, and “Children of the Grave” is so much fun. But for sheer muscial genius and songwriting mastery, I’m going with “War Pigs”. Sure it rhymes “masses” with “masses” but you really feel like the band are stretching with this one and actually experimenting with what it’s like to give a damn about something larger than their own lives. It’s also such a compelling song. The strain in Ozzy’s voice feels authentic and compelling and Tony Iommi’s guitar licks will get you where you live if you have a pulse.
We Sold Our Souls is a part of the tradition of rock road trip novels. For example, I found some nice resonance with GRR Martin's Armageddon Rag, but with the dial turned forward 20 years. Did the curse of Armageddon Rag intimidate you? What other rock road trip books influenced you?
I am a horrible person who has never read Armageddon Rag. I’ve always had it on my list but once I knew I was going to write this book I didn’t want to read any other rock road trip books because I didn’t want to unconsciously steal from them. But certainly the idea of that book had a huge influence on We Sold Our Souls. I like to think that all these band books exist in the same universe.
Both We Sold Our Souls and your previous novel, My Best Friend's Exorcism, use album and song titles for chapter headers. Which parts of your youth were most reflected in these music choices?
I was scared of serious metal when I was growing up. Slayer and Metallica intimidated me, and I was too unsophisticated to appreciate the fun of hair metal bands like Motley Crue and Twisted Sister, so I basically sucked. My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a far better reflection of what my actual musical tastes were back in the Eighties. But I got really deep into metal while writing We Sold Our Souls and kind of fell in love.
Some of the chapter title album selections introduced me to new material. Zeal and Ardor was powerful. Your affection for Twisted Sister and Manowar (and other surprises) showed itself throughout. One of the themes in this book is "There's only one way to play an album--forward!" This novel also interacts with the album as a unified theme and story--it is a monolithic tale as opposed to a collection of singles. If you were to recommend a single metal album to listen to from beginning to end to experience its story, which would it be?
That is tough. Some songs I listened to over and over while writing this book. Wolves in the Throne Room’s “Queen of Borrowed Light” was the wall of sound I used to shut out the world, Woods of Ypres “Lightning and Snow”, and Mastodon’s “Blood and Thunder” were tracks I used to get jacked up. And while I loved “Devil is Fine” and “Blood in the River” from Zeal & Ardor I never fell in love with the rest of that album. And Sleep’s Dopesmoker was one album I listened to practically on a loop.
But as much as people look down on prog metal, if you’re going to do one album for We Sold Our Souls it has to be the Devin Townsend Project’s Transcendence. I heard about it online and it was the first new metal album I fell in love with (not “nu metal” but “new metal” — important distinction). From the intricate collage of the deeply produced opening number, “Truth”, to the shoe-gazing emo of “Stormbending”, all the way to the soaring, anthemic final number, “From the Heart” this is just emotional, raw music-making that throws off memorable hooks like lightning and ends up taking off into outer space. It sounds so lame, but this album is so tied into the writing of We Sold Our Souls and that book was so raw for me that I can’t listen to it without feeling like someone’s cutting onions in the next room.
Considering the Lemon Brothers--the inspirational southern Baptist exorcists in My Best Friend's Exorcism--were you ever tempted to use a Stryper album title for a chapter of We Sold Our Souls?
I wanted to so badly, but no matter how hard I tried I could not get into Stryper. They’re both too silly to take seriously, and too serious about what they do to take with a sense of humor.
In Paperbacks From Hell, you showed your deep affection for the underappreciated and often forgotten cover artists. If you had the opportunity, would you undertake a similar archival effort for the amazing selection of metal album covers?
I feel like someone must have done that by now and if they haven’t, they should. Album art was my first exposure to anything that could possibly be considered “cool” as a kid, and I remember poring over the Frank Kelly Freas art on Queen’s News of the World, and the angry, bright orange Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables by the Dead Kennedys and feeling like there was a bigger world out there.
Thank you for chatting with us. We look forward to this book and where you go next.
Grady, pictured with Alex and Melissa, heads of EA's elite Atlantan bureau)
If you're intrigued about Grady's work and have never encountered it before, honestly we're pretty envious of the discovery you're about to make. Here's what you need to know.
Grady Hendrix writes fiction, also called “lies,” and he writes non-fiction, which people sometimes accidentally pay him for. He’s written three novels under the Quirk Books imprint, one of which included downloadable coloring book pages. He won a Stoker Award for his non-fiction chronicle of the boom in horror paperback publishing in the Seventies and Eighties that followed in the wake of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and Thomas Tryon’s The Other. It’s called Paperbacks from Hell and is one of the best reads of 2017. For bonus Paperbacks, make sure to sign up for his weekly newsletter.
Grady is regularly outshone by his supremely talented wife and her amazing restaurant Dirt Candy. If you are ever in New York City, this place will grace you with the best vegetarian meal you’ve ever eaten.