We've been asking musicians what they think of when they think "American music." Today we hear from Khalif Diouf, aka Le1f.
John Murry is a singer-songwriter who calls Oakland, Calif. home, but he’s all Mississippi.
Murry’s debut solo album, “The Graceless Age,” chronicles his upbringing in Mississippi and his downward spiral into addiction and breakdown in California. Critics are hailing the effort.
Mississippi Born And Raised
Born and raised in Elvis’ birthplace — Tupelo — Murry says being from Mississippi is similar to being from Ireland.
“People from Mississippi are Mississippians first, and Americans second,” Murry said. “And that has nothing to do with disrespect for the federal government or anything like that. It’s an identity thing. Mississippi has such a strong hold on a person born there that it is who I am, a part of who I am.”
Murry says that while this regionalism still clearly exists in the deep south, Mississippi has changed since his childhood.
“Walker Percy talked about the Los Angeles-zation of the south, or I’ve heard the phrase ‘the Wal-Martization.’ There’s just that generic sort of influx, I think you could call it materialistic carpet-bagging, ya know, capitalism,” Murry said. “Maybe that’s what it was the first time. They still call it the war of Northern Aggression down there — not just the racists, everybody.”
A Family Tie To William Faulkner
“I’m proud to be related to William Faulkner because I believe he was a genius,” Murry said. “Whether I were related to him or not, I would be obsessed with his work.”
Murry says he identifies with Faulkner’s role as the black sheep of the family.
“I am a musician, what am I supposed to do about that? Play music.”
“Yesterday, when my family found out I was on the cover of the Memphis Flyer after South By Southwest, they just asked me ‘Did you cuss in the interview?’ They’re very embarrassed that the thing they didn’t encourage is the thing that’s working for me. And that’s what was done to Faulkner as well,” Murry said. “He was given a number of opportunities to be a post master general, to be the owner of a barn that had horses and road people around in a town where cars were invented — which made no sense. And he failed at all of them because in his soul he was meant to be a writer. I am a musician, what am I supposed to do about that? Play music.”
On Drug Addiction
Like Faulkner, Murry also developed substance abuse problems.
“[Faulkner] died of a morphine overdose — they called it ‘the cure’ back then,” Murry said. “My great grandfather also died of ‘the cure.’ A lot of people in my family were either teetotalers or full on alcoholics — in fact almost all of them. So I’m not sure that’s not a bit of family tradition as well.”
Looking back, Murry says he thinks he was trying to kill himself — just like Faulkner.
“I don’t think you can use that amount of heroin and know that amount can send anyone into a state of overdose, and then double or quadruple that amount,” Murry said. “I probably used four times the amount that my body could handle and I knew that. So, I think about that a lot — I remember the dealer saying to me, ‘Don’t sit down, you’ll die if you sit down,’ and I said ‘I’m okay with it, let me sit down, let me down.’ ”
“I have no interest in taking part in romanticizing a drug like heroin, or leaving your wife and child because you hurt too much and are not dealing with it. So, if the record tells the truth, then it tells the truth about something that I wish was not true at all,” Murry said. “But what I am proud of is that people are able to emotionally connect to it and they are able to say to themselves, ‘If his life was that bad and he’s been forgiven because he’s told the truth, I can be too.’ ”
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