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Marty Stuart’s The Pilgrim: A Wall to Wall Odyssey

By Brian Rock

Marty Stuart’s pivotal, critically acclaimed album The Pilgrim celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2019. To commemorate the occasion and to shed light into the creative process behind it, Stuart has written a 180 page, copiously illustrated, coffee table book entitled, The Pilgrim: A Wall To Wall Odyssey. The book was originally available only at his live shows, but is now widely available from retailers.  Included with the book is a CD copy of the album featuring 10 bonus tracks.

First a few words about the album. In 1999 Marty Stuart was a Grammy winning Country superstar with nine albums under his belt. And as mentioned, The Pilgrim was much acclaimed upon release. However, it was an album out of time. In fact, it was as much a musical novel or a psychological profile as it was an album. In short, it was the Country equivalent of Pink Floyd’s, The Wall. Unfortunately for Stuart, the musical landscape had changed since the release of The Wall. No one was putting vinyl on turntables and listening to a whole side in one sitting. They were playing songs by various artists on iPod shuffles. And the songs they chose for their iPods were songs they heard on the radio. But with half of the songs on The Pilgrim under a minute and a half, and several songs over five minutes. Very few of these songs made it to the radio. And without the context of the rest of the album, the few radio songs lost their emotional resonance. In an era where people wanted to go to stadiums and hold up their beer while shouting the chorus to “Low Places,” or “Boot Scoot Boogie,” no one wanted to put in the effort to listen, soberly,  to 49 minutes of music (no matter how good) to understand the larger story. But the die was cast. The album was released. The sales under-performed. And his ungrateful and short-sighted record label dropped him. Faced with a choice between reviving his career by going into radio friendly Pop Country or continuing to create songs of substance and insight, Stuart chose the latter and never looked back. Twenty years later, Marty Stuart is considered the ambassador and the very conscience of Country music.

But what was the catalyst for this change?

That’s where the book comes in. Filling in the gaps of the album, The Pilgrim: A Wall To Wall Odyssey, tells the true story of the man behind the album. As Stuart recounts the chain of events that transpired in his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi, he explains in detail the tragedy that sent a star crossed lover on a 3,000 mile quest to drown himself in the Pacific Ocean because it was, “the only place he could think of that was vast enough to contain his heartache.”

Stuart’s decision to tell this man’s story was itself born out of tragedy – the death of his longtime friend and mentor, Bill Monroe. In the days after Monroe’s death, Stuart found himself contemplating mortality and the vanity of fame. He searched for a deeper meaning in his life. Like the pilgrim in his album, who finds peace in the figurative loving arms of his mother, Stuart finds his peace in the loving arms of his friends, mentors, and soon to be wife. Like his musical counterpart, Stuart comes to realize that the only real choice in life is between fear and love. Happily, both Stuart and his pilgrim choose love in the end; which brings their redemption.

Marty Stuart’s odyssey to tell the tale of another man’s odyssey is an inspiring story of self-discovery, of overcoming doubt and of choosing conviction over convenience. It has the added bonus of including many rare, personal photos of Stuart with friends like Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe, Tom Petty, Keith Richards, Dolly Parton, B.B. King and a host of other musical luminaries. It features photos of his hand written lyrics, recording sessions, as well as the truck stops, roadside attractions and unsung heroes from across this great nation who became part of his quest.

If you’ve ever listened to The Pilgrim, this book will give you an even deeper appreciation for it. And more than that, this book is a rare glimpse into the creative process of a true artistic genius.

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Brian Rock

Brian Rock

Brian was raised gypsy style, moving every other year until well after college. As friendships proved to be temporary, Brian found a constant companion in music, wearing the grooves off Beatles and Dylan albums before moving on to Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yokam. Living so often in flux, he has come to value music and lyrics of lasting quality. Not moved by trends or fashion, he is drawn to timeless lyrics and soulful rhythms. Although now settled down, Brian still expresses his gypsy spirit through his writing. He has co-written songs with musician friends he’s met along the way, including several contributions to the 2012 ICMA Album of the Year, Family Album. Brian also writes children’s books and poems, including the Children’s Book Council featured title, The Deductive Detective.
Brian Rock

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