With almost 20 years’ experience in the rap game, Sage Francis has seen his share of highs and lows, experiences that continue to shape him, as both man and artist. A founder of the Strange Famous label, based in Rhode Island, Francis properly made his name, in the UK at least, as a part of the Anticon roster, with his ‘Personal Journals’ LP of 2002 greedily drinking in critical acclaim. And plenty more has followed.
June 2nd sees the release of Francis’s fifth studio album, ‘Copper Gone’, via Speech Development – the British label operated by Scroobius Pip. (Strange Famous handles stateside matters.) The album follows his 2013 mixtape, ‘Sick To D(eat)h’, from which ‘Blue’ (below) is taken.
Here, Sage takes us through some of his favourite reads as part of Clash’s regular Their Library series.
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Sage Francis, 'Blue'
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What is your favourite book, and why?
I don't really have a favourite book. However, the first novel I read as an adult, outside of a school setting, was It by Stephen King. I was a very slow reader at the time so I think it took me the whole year to read. The television series made me want to read the book, and I'm really glad that I did. Especially since the TV version conveniently skipped over the part where all the kids have an orgy inside the cave – that shit actually made me cry. I'm not sure if that's a normal reaction, but that part was so deeply symbolic and powerful. It was also important for me to realise how certain tools and techniques are specific to books, just as certain styles and techniques work best for a rap song or for scriptwriting. I had to learn how to switch the gears in my head to experience books after all the years of school assignments made me feel like reading was just a task.
What other authors do you like?
Kurt Vonnegut, of course. I own a lot of Hunter S Thompson and Charles Bukowski books. My current favourite is Tom Robbins. Thankfully, a fan of mine threw Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates at me while I was performing on stage in Santa Ana, CA last year. It sent me down a Tom Robbins rabbit hole. I've read four of his books now and I have a few more sitting on deck. It depresses me that there's a finite number of books from the authors I love, so I try to pace myself.
What draws you to certain books?
When a book isn't literally being thrown at me, I'm mostly drawn to books that get me invested in the journey and development of several characters. I like feeling invested in the idea of who they are and what they represent. I think my favourite type of book is one that explains a truth, philosophy or ideology to me in the form of fictional story. It allows more room for deeper truths to be told. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien explains this type of thing really well. I've noticed that some people think that fictitious stories are a waste of time because, like, who wants to read something that's completely made up? As if the ‘truths’ they read in non-fiction books aren't clouded by non-truths or bold-faced lies. To those people I say, “Oh. Who's being naive, ‘kay?”
Have you ever discovered a real lost classic?
I recently read Alexandre Dumas’ The Count Of Monte Cristo and devoured the hell out of it. It took some dedication to get through the slower parts, but the pay off is sweet.
Do your literary influences have a direct impact on your songwriting?
I don't think so. A lot of things inspire my songwriting, but not many things influence it. However, if I started writing books I definitely think I would be influenced by the authors I've been reading. I'll just need to make sure I read a lot more books from different types of writers so I can figure out my own voice and/or style. I'd like to give it a shot at some point.
What are you reading at the moment?
I'm currently reading Bad Science by Ben Goldacre.
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‘Vonnegut Busy’, taken from ‘Copper Gone’
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What is the first book you remember reading as a child?
The first book I remember reading is probably Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. I distinctly remember getting caught up in the illustrations. But when I learned how to read, the first book I remember loving is Judy Blume's Superfudge. The first big book I read was Communion by Whitley Strieber. It was dry in a lot of sections and very difficult to get through, but my fascination with aliens kept me going. I remember handing in a book report for it and my fifth grade teacher was less than thrilled.
Did you make good use of your library card as a child?
I can't say that I did. In fact, the only time I used the library in school was when I needed to do research for papers. In college I used the library to get internet access. I love being inside of libraries, though. At this point, I love them even more when there are no computers around.
Have you ever found a book that you simply couldn't finish?
Haha, well... yeah. I'm not a great reader. There are several books on my shelf that are half finished. One book that annoyed me so much that I threw it away is Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk. I had heard so much about Choke and Fight Club, both of which I still intend on reading, but while I was in an airport I saw Pygmy was a new release. I tried my best to enjoy it, but the narration style…
Do you read book reviews?
I don't check out book reviews before reading anything. However, sometimes I will check out the reviews once I'm finished a book to see if other people feel the same way I do or if they have different perspectives. Reviews are fun to read in general. I book a lot of hotels and I always love reading one-star hotel reviews online. That's a goldmine of material.
Would you ever re-read the same book?
I definitely plan on it. I keep my favourite ones sitting on the bookshelf so that I can always go back to them when I feel like it's time.
Have you ever identified with a character in a book?
I identify with almost every character in every book I read. That's probably common. What good is a book if you can't identify with the character on some level? Maybe I take it too far, though. I read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged so I could get a better understanding of the ideology that Republicans masturbate to. In the process, I found myself identifying with almost all of the characters. It's silly though. Rand paints the liberals as do-nothing leeches of the system while the billionaires are hard-working engineers. I suppose that book and (James Redfield’s) The Celestine Prophecy are the two books I went into with a general understanding of why people love/hate them.
Do you read one book at a time, or more than one?
I have a few books going at once, but there's always the main book that I plough through while the others get picked up from time to time. There's typically one or two books that I keep in my bathroom. Just for shits and giggles.
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Sage Francis online. ‘Copper Gone’ is released on June 2nd. Sage tours in October – find confirmed dates at his website.
Related: more Their Library features