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Q&A: Troubled crooner John Murry on his sensational debut album, his lost years as a heroin addict, and the terrible oppressiveness of a Deep South childhood

Hi John. You must be delighted your album is creating such a buzz.

I didn't think anyone would want to listen. That's why I'm so raw and honest, why I put so much of myself into it. To receive all this

attention and praise – it has been humbling but a bit terrifying.

The Graceless Age chronicles your years as a down-and-out heroin addict in San Francisco. Not exactly packed with chuckles, then.

It is a document of the worst years of my life. If I hadn't been writing these songs, honestly, I don't know if I would have made it through. I doubt I would still be alive. In some ways I finally feel accepted now. On the other hand, sometimes it crosses my mind that I'm being rewarded for all this horrible stuff I've written about. I hope people are drawn to the music – not just my bad story.

The story starts when you were a teenager in Oxford, Mississippi, and your parents packed you off to a fundamentalist Christian rehab centre.

I didn't get a 20s, I didn't even get a teens. After I smoked pot three or four times and had maybe been drunk four, five times, my

parents shipped me off to rehab. It makes me feel I missed out on the normalcy of growing into adulthood. I was forced to make a choice

about being an adult. The rehab was a fundamentalist Christian place. In Mississippi, there is no sort of Protestantism apart from fundamentalism. I know it probably sounds strange to an Irish person,

but, in the South, the Catholic church is perceived as more liberal. Remember, Catholics were hunted by the Clan, along with blacks and Jews.

It sounds like you are still quite angry with your parents.

What happened is that I got a guitar. They wanted me to be a history professor at Harvard. I wanted to do a rock 'n' roll thing. Instead of just grounding me, they sent me away to rehab. I'd been doing semi-well in school because I grew up in a hick town where a lot of idiots live. School wasn't that hard. I often wonder how my parents could justify to themselves sending me to that place. I watched kids get beaten by people who call themselves Christian. That's why I converted to Catholicism.

How did you graduate from the occasional joint and underage beer to scoring black tar heroin in the Mission District of San Francisco?

The truth is, I smoked pot a few times and it gave me panic attacks. I phoned my folks and they sent me to this fundamentalist Christian

quack who put me on benzodiazepine, on Xanax. I was 15 years-old. What 15-year-old, given a bottle of Xanax, wouldn't take too many? There are only two withdrawals in the world that can kill you, alcohol addiction and benzodiazepine. Benzos are more addictive than heroin. My parents put me on a drug that I became addicted to. It really is a bullshit game that has been played with my life. I tell myself they treated William Faulkner the same way.

Faulkner, who won the Nobel Prize for literature, was a distant cousin . . .

Yeah. My grandfather was a pallbearer at his funeral. I grew up across the street from where he used to live. When he was in Oxford, they treated him like he was an idiot. He was writing at the same time as James Joyce. Now Joyce had issues – but Faulkner didn't have any issues at all. In Mississippi, folks treated him as if he did. Let me ask you a question? How many people from Mississippi have you ever interviewed? None I bet. People don't do art in Mississippi. They get the hell out. That's why I live in California now.

Ed Power

The Graceless Age is out now. John Murry plays Kilkenny Roots Festival this weekend, the Workman's Club, Dublin, on Thursday, May 9, the Róisín Dubh in Galway on Friday, May 10, and Crane Lane, Cork, on Saturday, May 11

Irish Independent