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Unstrung: Rants and Stories of a Noise Guitarist


Iconoclastic guitar player Marc Ribot offers up essays and stories in this darkly funny and subversive debut collection.

*While supplies last, all copies of Unstrung ordered from our website will include a bookplate SIGNED by Marc Ribot!

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What people are saying…

“A slim yet powerful book in which Marc Ribot blends bits of memoir with strange little fictions, many of which are based on his own life and career.”
Wall Street Journal

Unstrung . . . delivers everything one could hope from a guitar hero/activist/cultural critic: that is, complex culture and musical theory broken down into tasteful riffs, absurdist tales of our times, and plenty of sparse, unpretentious prose as well-honed as any major American writer.”
BOMB Magazine

“In literature as in music, addressing topics directly isn’t Ribot’s way . . . As a sideman—with Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Marianne Faithfull, Yoko Ono, Arto Lindsay, James Carter, Susana Baca, the Jazz Passengers, and his musical soul mate John Zorn, among countless others—he’s always aimed to be direct and disruptive simultaneously, and the same goes for his writing.”
—Robert Christgau, And It Don’t Stop

Unstrung is proof that the iconoclast Marc Ribot has a way with words commensurate with his guitar virtuosity . . . Ribot’s is the voice of an outsider breaking through. It’s the voice of an original.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Ribot . . . produced a book that is much like his musical output: difficult to categorize but fascinating and engaging.”
Inside Hook

“Ribot is a keen observer of the irresolvable tension between creativity and commerce.”
The New York City Jazz Record

“This is [Ribot’s] first book and it’s a mix of music writing and short fiction. Marc has a wicked smart sense of humor and isn’t shy to talk about his strong political leanings. And you can bet that he’ll crank it up to 11!”
Book Musik

“[Ribot is] now the author of a memoir-manifesto, Unstrung.”
Shepherd Express

“With Unstrung: Rants and Stories of A Noise Guitarist, Marc Ribot is stepping into the spotlight with his literary debut. And it is one as fresh, fiercely focused, unpredictable and delightfully disorienting as his masterfully knotty guitar work.”
NYS Music

“Marc Ribot is . . . a heck of a writer, as evidenced by this anthology of essays and profiles. Ribot’s writing is intense and immediate . . . [His] varied approach leaves a reader off-kilter, subverting easy expectations, yet yielding rewards no matter the mode.”

“Ribot is an all-American original, and this collection provides plenty of insight into his fascinating mind.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Ribot is not only a gifted musician but also a talented wordsmith, and this quirky volume will appeal to music aficionados who appreciate strong writing with observational, intelligent, and provocative themes.”
Library Journal

“In Ribot’s fearless playing and equally acerbic prose, silence has a mighty fight on its hands.”
California Review of Books

“As a guitarist, Marc Ribot is remarkably incisive . . . It’s a happy but not altogether surprising discovery, then, that his laser-like perspective holds true for his writing as well.”
The Wire

“At its best, Ribot’s writing resembles his music: It’s challenging, unique, and very humane.”
Washington Examiner

“[Ribot] continuously straddles the line between memoir and fiction as he travels an eclectic road of loss, justice, tribute, and blunt humor.”
Full Stop

“Musician Ribot debuts with a collection of essays (and some stories) about music and life on the road.”
Publishers Weekly, included in Essays and Literary Criticism Adult Announcements for Fall 2021

Unstrung has all the honesty, original angles, beauty, and clangor found in Marc Ribot’s playing. His compassionate writing about Frantz Casseus gives a human face to his calls for artists’ rights. Like life itself, this book is bloody, funny, and bloody funny.”
—Elvis Costello, musician

“An insightful tour through the razor-sharp mind of one of the world’s most original and influential guitar masters. Ribot’s acerbic wit, self-deprecating humor, and profoundly vexing love-hate relationship with all things guitar make for a fun and stimulating read.”
—John Zorn, musician

“Ribot writes with great care for words, for sounds . . . A good writer, like a good musician, and Ribot is both, needs to know what they’re composing to be able to understand it, maybe even do it better the next time. His stories are moving and compassionate . . . revelatory, honest, and insightful . . .”
—Lynne Tillman, from the Introduction

“In the beginning, we may have thought Marc Ribot was a full-time Lower East Side tenants rights activist who moonlit as an ubiquitous downtown noise guitarist. Now we come to find out he’s a phenomenal essay writer who has the nerve to be one of our loudest and most beloved electric jazz improvisers . . . [Ribot] composes essays about music and life of sublime wit, probity, and severe self-reckoning . . .”
—Greg Tate, author of Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking from Black Culture

“Don’t let the fact that I am calling Marc Ribot a thinking musician distract from the raw and the righteous aspects of his playing and of this book. You have to love something completely to want to look for a way out. Here is more proof of Marc’s love and understanding of music, of those who make it and of all the imaginings that it might jar loose!”
—Arto Lindsay, musician

“Marc Ribot, the thinking person’s roving guitar wrangler, always has something on his mind. It’s great to drift around in the woods and fields (and airports) behind the forehead of this man one’s known before mostly by the music he’s made. Take a ramble with Marc.”
Richard Hell, author of I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp

Praise for Marc Ribot:

“Ribot is his own man. He does not have a persona; he has a guitar, and he knows its humble anatomy and eventful history as well as just about anyone . . . Don’t be fooled: like Monk, Marlon Brando, Bob Dylan, and other skilled practitioners of broken American poetry, Ribot is a deceptively articulate artist who uses inarticulateness as an expressive device.”
New York Times


*While supplies last, all copies of Unstrung ordered from our website will include a bookplate SIGNED by Marc Ribot!

This page is for the August 2021 hardcover edition of Unstrung. To preorder the November 2022 paperback edition, please click here.

Throughout his genre-defying career as one of the most innovative musicians of our time, iconoclastic guitar player Marc Ribot has consistently defied expectation at every turn. Here, in his first collection of writing, we see that same uncompromising sensibility at work as he playfully interrogates our assumptions about music, life, and death. Through essays, short stories, and the occasional unfilmable film “mistreatment” that showcase the sheer range of his voice, Unstrung captures an artist whose versatility on the page rivals his dexterity onstage.

In the first section of the book, “Lies and Distortion,” Ribot turns his attention to his instrument—“my relation to the guitar is one of struggle; I’m constantly forcing it to be something else”—and reflects on his influences (and friends) like Robert Quine (The Voidoids) and producer Hal Willner (Saturday Night Live), while delivering an impassioned plea on behalf of artists’ rights. Elsewhere, we glimpse fragments of Ribot’s life as a traveling musician—he captures both the monotony of touring as well as small moments of beauty and despair on the road. In the heart of the collection, “Sorry, We’re Experiencing Technical Difficulties,” Ribot offers wickedly humorous short stories that synthesize the best elements of the Russian absurdist tradition with the imaginative heft of George Saunders. Taken together, these stories and essays cement Ribot’s position as one of the most dynamic and creative voices of our time.

Read an excerpt at Literary Hub.

Read a preview at Brooklyn Vegan.

Listen to an interview with Marc Ribot at The Quarantine Tapes (Literary Hub).

Listen to Marc Ribot’s interview at Martin Bandyke Under Covers (Ann Arbor District Library).

Read a guest post by Marc Ribot at Acoustic Guitar Magazine.

Watch an interview with Marc Ribot at Guitar Moderne

Book Details

  • Hardcover: 250 pages
  • Published: 8/3/21
  • IBSN: 9781617759307
  • e-IBSN: 9781617759482


MARC RIBOT has released twenty-five albums under his own name over a forty-year career, exploring everything from the pioneering jazz of Albert Ayler to the Cuban son of Arsenio Rodríguez. Rolling Stone points out that “Ribot helped Tom Waits refine a new, weird Americana on 1985’s Rain Dogs, and since then he’s become the go-to guitar guy for all kinds of roots-music adventurers: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp.” Additional recording credits include Neko Case, Diana Krall, Elton John/Leon Russell’s The Union, Solomon Burke, John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards, Marianne Faithfull, Joe Henry, Allen Toussaint, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Caetano Veloso, Allen Ginsberg, Madeleine Peyroux, Norah Jones, the Black Keys, and many others. Ribot works regularly with GRAMMY Award–winning producer T Bone Burnett and New York composer John Zorn. He has also performed on numerous film scores such as Walk the Line, The Kids Are All Right, and The Departed. He is the author of Unstrung: Rants and Stories of a Noise Guitarist.

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