Re/Read is an occasional column by Fantagraphics Bookstore curator Larry Reid examining backlist books you may have missed or are worth another read. This time we’ll break with routine and discuss a more recent title, In the Pines: 5 Murder Ballads, by Erik Kriek.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these songs since the passing earlier this month of Billy Roberts, who penned the classic murder ballad “Hey Joe” in 1962. He later played with my friend Steve Lalor in the West Coast folk trio The Driftwood Singers. I saw Roberts perform only once, in 1968 at the legendary Sky River Rock Festival near Sultan, Washington, where he accompanied blues giants Big Mama Thornton, James Cotton, and others. The most memorable rendition of “Hey Joe” was recorded by Seattle’s Jimi Hendrix on his 1966 masterpiece, Are You Experienced. A fascinating account of Hendrix’s version can be found in Gillian Gaar’s new book, Hendrix: The Illustrated Story. (She’ll sign copies of this gorgeous volume at the bookstore on Friday, November 24, along with Sub Pop recording artists Shabazz Palaces, who will present their new graphic novel/album Quazarz Vs. The Jealous Machines with a signing and DJ set.) Billy Roberts, August 1936 – October 2017. Rest in Peace.
In the Pines is a reference to a traditional ballad popularized by Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly) and introduced to later generations by Seattle band Nirvana on MTV Unplugged. In his new book, Dutch cartoonist Erik Kriek graphically interprets five murder ballads made famous by musicians like Nick Cave, Steve Earle, Sandy Denny, The Byrds, Johnny Cash, Mick Jagger, Gillian Welch, and many others. Much like the songs themselves, Kriek’s details sometimes deviate. Such is the nature of these tragic tales. In the Pines is sure to inspire readers to further explore the rich tradition of this wonderful folk idiom.
In the Pines and other comix focusing on popular music can be found at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, located at 1201 S. Vale Street in Seattle’s historic Georgetown art community. Open daily 11:30 to 8:00 PM, Sundays until 5:00 PM. Phone 206-557-4910.