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Will Stenberg was discovered as an infant, hanging on to the bleeding roots of a mandrake pulled up by an unblemished virgin on a chill October morn. She took him home, washed off the mud, blood and insects, and nursed him at the swollen teats of a pregnant sow. When first he cried, there was a total eclipse of the sun, and it is said that the earth quaked as if trying to shake him off its back. In time, he grew into a cadaverous young man with questionable intentions and a penchant for writing strange, sad songs, sung in a scratchy voice still caked, perhaps, with that ancient mud. Sometimes, when the world seems to be spinning too fast, and the sky appears too huge and hungry, he will walk out to his apple orchard and bury himself in a shallow hole to let the cold mud surround him like a loving womb. Or so the legends tell.
Other sources, less prone to wild speculation, report that he grew up in a small town in northern California, the son of a military father and an environmentalist mother. His early years saw him playing in various punk rock bands, but when a Hindu from Stockton introduced him to Hank Williams, everything changed. His early twenties, they say, were a time of travel, with stints in Vermont, New York City, Memphis, and a Trappist monastery in Kentucky, writing songs all the while. These songs were written under the shadow of ghostly giants like Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt and Kris Kristofferson, as well as contemporary writers like John Darnielle and Nick Cave. Eventually he is reported to have landed in Chicago, where he struggled in minimum-wage jobs while trying to find his voice as a songwriter. After two years, he returned to the wilds of northern California, where he began his work in earnest, crafting what has become an already considerable body of finely-etched songs of pain, wit, sex, spirituality and struggle.