Bouncing Between Book and Song
December 29, 1995
by Jim McGuinness
Over the course of six albums, Bill Morrissey has carved a
reputation as one of America's premier singing storytellers. So it
should come as a surprise to no one that the craggy-voiced New Englander
has written a novel.
No one, that is, but Morrissey.
"Nobody ever accused me of being a prodigy," said Morrissey. "But
I've always identified with fiction writers more than other
Titled "Edson," the novel will be published by Alfred A. Knopf in
March. It will coincide with the release of Morrissey's seventh album,
"You'll Never Get to Heaven," by Philo, a Rounder affiliate. The
publisher and record company plan to promote the two projects jointly,
starting with a three- to five-month tour that will begin in April.
Morrissey will supplement his concert dates with book signings and
"It wasn't planned for the two to coincide," said Morrissey.
"That's just how it worked out. It makes sense for Rounder to get
involved in the book project."
"Edson" is the first of three novels Morrissey is to write for
Knopf. Known as a songwriter with a keen eye for human behavior,
Morrissey's compositions often invite comparisons to Faulkner or
Hemingway. Morrissey has a strong following in literary circles: Editor
Gary Fisketjon distributed Morrissey cassettes to his writers, including
Richard Ford and Robert Olmstead. The latter even wrote Morrissey into
one of his novels. The songwriter's only previous forays into fiction
writing are a series of unpublished short stories.
"The biggest difference is the pacing," Morrissey said. "I found I
had a lot more time to say what I wanted to say. In songwriting, I rely
more on my instincts because I've been doing it for so long."
The book took Morrissey a year and a half to write. Like many of
his songs, it's set in a fictitious New Hampshire milltown. Morrissey
was able to delve into the project after recording three albums in two
"I knew I didn't have to do anything musically for two years," he
Morrissey had no trouble starting the project. The problem was
trying to wind it up.
"The hardest part was the last few months," he said. "It got more
difficult later because I didn't know what was going to become of the
characters. Then I'd be writing songs for the album when I'd get a piece
of the novel that had been edited. So I'd have to stop writing songs for
"You'll Never Get to Heaven" represents a departure in Morrissey's
recording career. Recorded in New Orleans, it features top-flight
Crescent City session men and a horn section. Some of the material
showcases Morrissey's natural affinity for the blues.
"We've got the cream of New Orleans' musicians," said Morrissey. "I
wanted to get some of that sound. But it's still a song-based album."
Raised in Hartford, Conn., and later Acton, Mass., Morrissey began
his musical odyssey as a teenager in the mid-Sixties, when he bought a
Silvertone guitar with the names of the four Beatles etched on the
front. He was drawn to the folk scene as a student at Plymouth State
College in New Hampshire. After dropping out of school, he picked up
many of the ideas for his songs by working in factories, fishing boats,
and gas stations. His debut album was released in 1984, but his big
break came a year later, when he played the Newport Folk Festival.
Shortly afterward, he was picked up by Philo.
Despite bouncing between song and fiction, Morrissey is unfazed at
the possibility of burnout.
"I don't tire," said Morrissey. "The frustrating thing is that I
want to write now and the well is dry. But it always fills up again."
Illustrations/Photos: PHOTO - "Nobody ever accused me of being a prodigy," says
Keywords: MUSIC. BOOK. WRITER
Copyright 1995 Bergen Record Corp. All rights reserved.