I'm from Nashville, so I inevitably play a fretted instrument. I've played from the age of 11 on up. I've put out two records with my friend, the poet Wyn Cooper, who was writing for Sheryl Crow. Our first album, "Forty Words for Fear" came out in 2003 and "Postcards Out of the Blue" came out in 2008.

The records were produced by the drummer Jim Brock and Don Dixon, a great musician in his own right, though he's known primarily as the producer for R.E.M., among others. They took us to a whole new level musically.

We got amazing publicity. For our first record, I got a full-page interview in The New York Times. I couldn't get that kind of attention for one of my books if I tried.

But the records didn't really sell very well, and the little one-person record company that put out our first album died.

I'd like to do a third record. We certainly have enough songs. But, we'd need a label. We don't have enough money to put out a third one on our own.

Tell me about your Captain Beefheart obsession.

In the mid-1990s, I got obsessed with Captain Beefheart. I got enchanted with the music and began trying to learn the guitar parts only to realize that it was way way over my head. I couldn't do it. The tempos were too weird, and the chord progressions were too weird.

The music has a kind of controlled anarchy. For the first few listens, it's really abrasive. It takes patience to begin to hear the beauty of the songs. It's like going into a thicket of thorns. It's not easy to get inside, but once you're in it, you say, "OK, I like these thorns. I can sleep on these thorns."


About the book

"Zig Zag Wanderer" was released Friday by Concord Free Press. Free. 283 pages. Go to concordfreepress.com.

If you go

Madison Smartt Bell will read from "Zig Zag Wanderer" at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Ivy Bookshop, 6080 Falls Road. Call 410-377-2966 or go to theivybookshop.com.