Monday, July 16, 2007


i bow without grace. my heart isn't in this any longer. it's not that i don't care about the mountain goats, but, well, it turns out that about thirty or forty posts is all i needed to feel like i'd exorcised some of the feelings i had locked up. i don't have any reservations about this. i'd rather disband than have this get worse than it's been for the past handful of posts.

i'll have a new blog soon. people who know who i am will probably be able to find me.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"resonant bell world," from beautiful rat sunset

(just so you know, my new job makes provides an 11-hour workday, so EK will likely become a nighttime affair.)

the last week or so has been an obsession with the 1974 czech film sweet movie, whose crucial line comes when a woman and man are frozen by a cramp in mid-sexthrust and have to have their muscles loosened by injection, to which an onlooker says "happens to dogs, too."

darnielle rarely touches on animism or animalism or even anthropomorphism, but we get them all here. "you put on your special coat and made your special lunge for my throat--and between you and me, it was really exciting."


and yeah, lately, i've actually been on the outs with darnielle--could you tell?--because people have seemed more and more like kites or dogs, and hanging out with the horses last weekend was better than any human drama i could possibly enmesh myself in right now. i soldier on.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"the alphonse mambo," from the coroner's gambit

q: mike, who are you?

a: i am a guy who works in an office. this is a new thing.

q: do you have a bad heat rash?

a: terrible heat rash.

q: "the alphonse mambo"?

a: when things are sweet and easy, i get obsessed with darnielle's songs about being fucked-up and down and out. when things feel crushing and difficult and transitional, i need the spirit-lifters.

q: is this really spirit-lifting?

a: no.

q: huh.

a: not a question, but that's okay. you know, it's like, i could be playing "the alphonse mambo" in my office, grooving out to the melodica, popping benadryl, or i could just get the hell out with some minor savings, one lonely ked, six yellow socks, and a bundle of nervous excitement. he does that. i couldn't care about the future not one salt lick.

Monday, July 9, 2007

"going to georgia," from zopilote machine

dunno why davey wondered, this morning, why this was the "mg's 'hit,'" because, well, it's so obvious, what with the fist-pumping vocal (earns darnielle "reedy"), site-specificity and situation obscurity--is a murder about to take place? has it already?--the simple hammer of love (in the face! worse!): "the most remarkable thing about you standing in the doorway is that it's you--and that you're standing in the doorway," and on and on and on.

well, wait.

well, because what could be simpler?

got a call in the middle of the night from EK's unnamed co-star (i am the predictable animal!), and i realized why i like this one above all: we're just going to hurt each other, but it's going to feel so rich and singular.

Monday, July 2, 2007


for one week, i am going where the horses run. believe it or not, there are places without the internet. don't forget me. see you soon.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"orange ball of peace," from ghana

one of the reasons why EK has been a little erratic in the past week is that, well, i'm starting a new job. good for me! my new job may or may not be fun.

for a while i really liked this song because it was another darnielle miniature about a classic loser--"they wanted me to work in a machine shop, but i came out on top--i'm a fireman." and yeah, it sorta made me chuckle more than once. but i realized that while the song can be that, it can also be a lot more: "orange ball of peace"; he may be a fireman, but finding solace and wonder in whatever you do is success by a much more important rule.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"the torch song," from the hound chronicles










Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"blues in dallas," from all hail west texas

this post is dedicated to james, whose toilet overflowed today.

i was about to take on "source decay," which is about distance and having your heart ripped out of your chest and the unbearable weight of nostalgia and all that stuff, but james called.

lately, some things have been occurring to me. cosmic things. i can't share them all here, but i'm pretty sure they have a lot to do with the fact that last summer i had a girlfriend with an air conditioner, and this summer i have neither, so i get to enjoy the conciliatory solace of asceticism (read: sexlessness) and am probably dehydrated to the point of shamanic visions.

there's been a lot of endgame thinking, too, which is what "blues in dallas" is about. waiting at the gates of heaven for someone to show up. i was pretty sure i knew who i'd be waiting for, but in the past few months, my list has changed. (my financial investment service of choice had to verify my identity and asked "where did you meet your spouse?", which was one of my secret questions even though i don't have a spouse. for a second i forgot who he might've been referring to. or, maybe, i was ashamed for being so dumb as to think of that person that way.)

james, your toilet overflown, i think i would reasonably kill some time for you at the gates of heaven. i mean, these things change, don't they? i remember when you went through your white-shoe all-time-vacation phase--that was annoying, james. since then, denim shirt, belly out, there's been nothing but good feeling. if i were a praying man, i might for you.

Monday, June 25, 2007

DOUBLE FEATURE: "international small arms traffic blues," from tallahassee / "golden boy," from ghana

today: like picking my teeth with a sword!

i got a call from someone who i didn't think who would call. someone made me think of this song, which is just, you know, a standard folk-blues with lots of overwrought metaphors about how unbearably dangerous and explosive their love is. weird thing was, though, we had a normal conversation. time passes, i guess, but the myth kinda hung in my mind. a photograph of a bomb. is this how these conversations go? i'm not sure. you tell me you're thinking about buying a house, i tell you i exercise more, you tell me you're going to a drawing class tomorrow, we shoehorn in a hushed 'i miss you,' i tell you dad's cat died, you tell me your mom falls down the stairs every day, we careen into something shadowed, something neither of us really want to put our hands on. both of us have learned something, and i can finally return to the line, in my mind, 'the way i feel about you baby can't explain it, you got the best of my love,' because darnielle says it in the past tense. it dawns on me that "ISATB" is a quiet song. one of the quietest. in the future, i will tell my grandkids, "i once knew a girl who wore yellow and had an extra muscle in her leg," and they'll bring me some more mashed carrots. nobody will get dashed against the rocks.



a mountain goats song for every season. i need a banner to fall under. i need a lot of phantom power. "golden boy" is...well, i have a lot of deep theories about how the song is a cynical portrait of consumerism and how we have replaced it with true spiritual enlightenment in our everyday lives, but hell, i'm wearing mesh shorts and drinking tea and writing and staring at birds. fuck all that, seriously, for a minute. "golden boy" is a song we can live under. one man, a monolith. darnielle never plays it live, i don't think, because he doesn't want to blow the whistle for the rapture too early. that's just a hunch though. so we can enjoy it here, on earth, as some sort of sign of strength. a hilarious sign of strength. a hilarious, strong song; a testament that human love has the capacity to RAIN LIKE ROCKS for something as simple as a peanut, that a guy would do more than one take of it just to channel the spirit. screw feelings, i'm going swimming.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"tallahassee," from tallahassee

(warm-up listen yields a scary, possibly personal-record-breaking 74 seconds of goosebumps)

"tallahassee" comes at the beginning of the album of the same name. whenever i hear a song from that album, i almost immediately have an itch to hear the whole thing, start to finish. it's not neuroses; these are just how stories work. at the onset, peace. no broken bottles! no marital trauma! no personal obliteration! can't hardly believe.

but then you come to know it as an album; you put on "tallahassee" and know the trouble ahead; it's poignant, almost, to hear how green and naive and unsuspecting the narrator sounds. i want to shake him. things are going to be ugly like on COPS, and you are going to come to know life as a totally different routine.

then, what with my nostalgia queasiness over the last couple days, i drift into replaying my own stories. the first song is cool! really. good beat. things get hairy after that. not bad, just hairy. but when i see the first few shots, i can't help but use history as a wax or a salve. nostalgia is a thing for the weak, but i sorta love weakness. doesn't everyone?

anyway, this pavlovian narrative thing is one of the reasons why tallahassee is sorta "the one" for me. even if i feel like i don't love every single song on it, i love feeling like i'm in a well-worn place with a beginning, middle, and end. and, the better i know it, the more i love anticipating those feelings i'm going to have--and the more i come to appreciate the feelings i don't expect.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"old college try," from tallahassee


darnielle on darnielle:

"We imagine that our hardest experiences are the ones that help us
grow: that help us get closer to being who we want to be. Whether this
is a good or healthy way of thinking about things is another question,
but I think that people are pretty convinced that in our deepest
wallows is where we locate our core. Also, there's always humor in
extreme situations, more of it in extremely dire situations like
finding yourself alone when you really, really didn't want to be alone
any more."


so, i finally watched annie hall last night, for the first time, after years of really concentratedly not watching it, for reasons i won't get into. anyway, it made me feel sorta like i expected it to; annie hall isn't a movie about a relationship so much as it is about the burden of nostalgia for one. and holy fuck--or some approximation of holy fuck--does that burden asymptotically approach unsupportable.

i probably coulda put the above quote for pretty much any of these entries. in fact, i could proably just quote that whenever i feel like saying anything about the mountain goats. darnielle has an analytical mind.

but what stuck after annie hall--i had so many feelings out on the lawn in bryant park!--is that sense of nostalgia's poison: more and more, i look back on bad situations from my past, and rather than making them seem rosier, i just learn to praise them for all their trauma. "old college try" is undoubtedly about a relationship gone wrong, and maybe trying to set it right, or at least remembering that sick mixture of a sad past and a tender present. well, the other day, i told karl that i thought a certain girl had been "my dream girl;" he pointed out, helpfully, that "nightmare girl" was more appropriate, and while i couldn't argue, arguing wouldn't've done any good to begin with--if you believe what darnielle says above, they're one and the same.

addendum, five minutes later: this is what i mean by "redemption."

Monday, June 18, 2007

"dinu lipatti's bones," from the sunset tree

under a blanket of a head cold, after a weekend where people are reminding me of things i don't remember saying, i didn't think i could pull this off. and i never, never think about "dinu lipatti's bones," one of those meek, unremarkable tracks that weighed the sunset tree down (and that appeared even more on get lonely). but today i feel like i've finally gotten something out of it. not that i didn't understand the narrative before--two people locking themselves away from the world--but now, it sounds prescient; the chorus on the bass sounds like the way glass sliding across milk looks, and while an all-falsetto darnielle song is a lot to ask from even a superfan, it's a tremulous, weird, and newly essential moment: stow me away, get me out, let me take a breath away from the world, even if "breath away from the world" means huffing glue.

Friday, June 15, 2007

"anti music song," from ghana

funny, i forgot to post yesterday. because i was actually busy playing music, not just thinking about it. completely forgot about EK. and now, faced with my promise to myself, i can only manage to digest "anti music song," the most luddite track in darnielle's catalog. and it's true that i have a wildly deep emotional and cerebral resevoir available to spill on his writing and performances, but right now, i just want someone to hit me in the head with a rock: "i saw you on tv, doing an imitation of an imitation of jimi hendrix--that's really pathetic," ba ba ba, la la la. sometimes, shockingly, i can pass on an opportunity for deep reflection. for a second, i can understand why people find him impossible to listen to.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"the best ever death metal band in denton," from all hail west texas


my sense of romanticism is way too deep seated to be challenged with something as flaccid as common sense

or even something as elegant as logic

point is, when we get married, everyone is going to have an honest cry rather than a perfunctory one

Thomas: that made me laugh.

me: it's true and you know it

Thomas: no. it's very true, but what if they're crying because they realize we have committed ourself to a lifetime of messy relationships with the same person because we aren't capable of having it any other way.

me: i hadn't thought about them crying in that way

that's not it

Thomas: i don't think it is either, but the prospect scares me.

me: i mean isn't this why we listen to the mountain goats?


i remember, it was march 2002, the first day i heard the mountain goats, on thomas's couch; all hail west texas, fresh off the racks. a song comes on about two guys, who are friends, who are definitely existing in harmony to the exclusion of the world around them. the world, of course, knowing no grace, intrudes. the world says they are fucked up. thomas became one of my best friends because we knew how to shut things out in the same way. we taught others, and spent a hellish year in a massive house, and a lot of us still talk about it like it was the worst time of our lives, but we play the long game, so history has turned it into the best. i've never learned more.

last night i played music on a stage for the first time in a couple of years. thomas and i still play together sometimes. jeff and cyrus, in the song, know that bond. there's no name for it. and there's nothing in it but love, blind love; stupid, blind, bank-account draining, futureless, masochistic, glorious love.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"elijah," from the coroner's gambit

on a very busy day, three minutes and seven seconds to have as many goosebumps as i want.

addendum, 6/15:

i can almost barely stomach this song. i have a tendency to want to cry or throw up when i hear it. i don't know whether elijah is metaphorical or not; i don't know about the baby either. this past passover, i actually set out a cup for someone who i've been wanting to come home, next to elijah's. it didn't work. but the prick of anticipation was there; my hair stood up not because i had a reckoning, but because i imagined a reckoning to be possible. and i think a lot of darnielle's songs--i've said it a million times--are about this: not the climax per se (though he has moments of revelation), but about the way a moment can raise like a blister, the way a focused second, no matter to what end, can mean everything.

Monday, June 11, 2007

"standard bitter love song #11," from the hound chronicles

james called yesterday morning, and what would've ordinarily been a minute-long exchange about whether or not i was going to come get a cup of tea from him turned into a long conversation about meanness, specifically, why we are mean to people, what does meanness achieve, etc.

the thing i like most about early mountain goats is how abstract the voice is. a lot of people get hung up about what they perceive as the confessional and specific in his music, when really, it couldn't be farther from the truth: in early mountain goats songs, everything is standardized, transferable, universal--it's microcosmic: "well i see you left me a photograph of a leopard tearing an antelope in half / what have you done, what have you done, what have you done with our love?" he throws in two more blues-standard verses, but he could've had a 45-second imagist heartbreak; i usually cut it off after the first verse, because asking me to handle more is asking a lot.

Friday, June 8, 2007

"young caesar 2000," from zopilote machine

i described this song to a friend once--"it's about caesar, or someone like caesar, and he's just coming to power, but he's having growing pains, and what people don't realize is that he's going to become this incredible force and tear the shit out of the universe. people are always too stupid to realize shit-tearing forces in the universe until it's too late."

he said, "yeah, that's sort of cute, isn't it?" and i said hell no it's not cute, it's amazing and scary and wild. darnielle's doing a breughel and icarus thing; what we aren't noticing right at this very moment is going to reveal itself as the most important detail in the entire world. and, of course, we're gonna pay for our inattention by the bucket.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

"the young thousands," from we shall all be healed

i first started talking about horror back here, when the threat was, well, a little less threatening.

i almost loath to write about "the young thousands"--my face is scrunching up! grotesque! that's how much i love it!--but last night i was paralyzed watching schlesinger's the day of the locust, the film adaptation of nathanael west's novel, which i've read about six or seven times since high school, and i realized that, no, there is no escaping writing about "the young thousands," that, either way, "the young thousands" is going to continue to run on a track in my mind for years to come because "the young thousands" is about a feeling that does not resolve.

granted, in locust, we need a resolution, and we get one, but the movie's climax is also its most overly long scene (how long do we need to see william atherton's screaming face? longer yet). this is a drug feeling, or a mental illness--a deep paranoia, the feeling that, though things are bad, they are invariably going to get worse and worse, and you're waiting for the shoe to drop, but the shoe doesn't, it just sorta hangs above you and it might not even be a shoe, you can't even tell.

i don't know exactly what darnielle's talking about, but there are 30 overdubbed versions of him to warn me. in locust, schlesinger didn't want it to be a shock so much as a protracted sickness, the knowledge that this, well, this isn't even really a climactic moment so much as a shift in tone, that if you were hoping for ecstasy and release you can quite well forget about it. like hackett's visions in locust, the young thousands are faceless, ghostly things. they just keep moving and moving and moving and never quite arrive. onus to feel the world's mind-shredding powers is on you, buddy, and though i have pity in abundance, i also have a mite of jealousy--who's to say that agony isn't richer than the pleasantry of release?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

"maize stalk drinking blood," from full force galesburg

it's actually not that often that anyone has true control in a mountain goats song, and when they do, they usually fumble it like it was fire or a scary penis or a baby or worse. ("young caesar 2000," i'll get to you later.)

down in the mouth and dumb to say anything as weak as "this is an empty country, i am the king, and i should not be allowed to touch anything."

yesterday an important person told me that they got frustrated watching me throw my time away being miserable, which is sort of a long-standing hobby. anyway, i floated to "maize stalk drinking blood," because, well, sometimes having everything settled in its right place is not the same thing as being happy, sometimes balance is a trap, which i guess "wild sage" is about too.

of course i know better and of course knowing better is never the point, of course.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

"quetzalcoatl comes through," from protein source for the future... now!

i think i speak for humanity at large when i say that for all gods in the god pantheon, quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of aztec mythology, is the fiercest. i stand in awe of quetzalcoatl. because there's something inscrutable and romantic about him. i remember being in mexico staring bug-eyed at huge stone bowls made for bloodletting, bone tools for piercing enemy hearts. like the mountain goats, it was all horrific and over the top, but there was a logic i couldn't parse. or a non-logic you follow. a conviction? the sound of nahuatl helps. i spent a week whispering the gods' names in nahuatl to my then-girlfriend, who liked me because i was a creep, i think.

Monday, June 4, 2007

"wild sage," from get lonely

from a pitchfork interview with john darnielle last year:

"Pitchfork: You write about Business 15-501, a road that runs through a pretty odd part of Durham, on "Wild Sage", the opening track of Get Lonely. Is that notion-- being close to home, but maybe lost and not what some people consider safe-- playing into the song?

JD: Yes."

first of all 15-501 might run through an odd part of durham, but it's a business road--in chapel hill, there's a wal-mart on it. pretty sure the trailer diner is there too, but thankfully, my memory isn't all that clear.

i'm this close to getting on the phone with eliot spitzer this morning: "eliot, throw me amongst your confused, lost, and mentally ill. i want to see if they don't know something we don't." i periodically just have to leave new york, and i sleep for 11 hours and wake up confused. i hate listening to john squeal through the opening lines, because the needling tenor gift wasn't well suited to falsetto, but he strains it anyway, and it makes him sound a little more out of place. which, this morning, i basically understand. katie once told me that there are actually more suicides in spring and summer because people realize it wasn't just winter getting them down. don't get me wrong, i'm sticking around, but i think the metaphor is desperately illustrative: sometimes, the worst thing is feeling unsafe when you know everything is ostensibly okay.

Friday, June 1, 2007

"snow crush killing song," from sweden

"things" do not come between people, per se. what comes between people is space, and what ghosts the space is what you watch for. but it's a weary watch because you can't see ghosts (this is not ghost dad or casper, this is much less marketable or hi-five-y than that).

it's why "snow crush killing song" is practically narcotized; it's why "i know you're changing, god damn you for that," is delivered with the downcast eyes of a resignation. and where's the horror? some day that ghost will make itself manifest. and you kick quietly, because it's in your nature to kick when circumstance and time wrests something good from you, but you're sorta kicking against warm air, and the kicks get slower, and eventually, you just rest on this premonition, and eventually it comes true, and you'd been plopped on your ass quivering for the day.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

"new star song," from beautiful rat sunset

when loved ones leave, the first thing i think about is their new weather. does it feel heavier where you are? how do you move through that air? tell me, because, you know, these lightning storms suck and i would like a distraction from myself.

a friend was once at a lecture given by a photographer who took these massive shots of the sky, can't remember his name. anyway, the photographer was talking about how he loved seeing the different sky in all these different places.

a kid raised his hand.


"but it's the same sky everywhere."

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"fall of the high school running back," from all hail west texas


all of them, total losers. william standeforth donahue, even you, star, will fall, in with with the losers, "threatening nothing. threatening, finally, not even themselves."

stayed up late reading padgett powell's aliens of affection, a sterling, grisly, humanistic book if there ever was one, and i woke up with william in my head.

and, y'know, john darnielle doesn't even fuss too much, because william's like a million other kids who made a wrong turn--when darnielle sings, you can just hear him shaking his head, a gesture only fully executable by things with hearts.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"alpha desperation march," from bitter melon farm

i can't think of a better way to commemorate my 17th post--the glow of first love dulling into domesticity, etc.--with a boring mountain goats song.

not boring, exactly. but one of the great things about the mountain goats catalog is that it feels like there's a near-infinite reservoir of songs that are almost really good, songs that he wrote later and wrote better. or songs he'd already written. i guess bands do this all the time.

so we have all the signposts here: slightly--very slightly--funky folk guitar, simple melody, guy singing about lending someone $8000 while drinking and now wanting it back. a minute before the end he just starts fake laughing because he doesn't know what the hell else to do. then there's a sample from a movie about native americans. why? i am not sure.

but there's something great and workmanlike about these "failures"; like, he almost better displays his fetishes in weaker moments. domestic dispute, losers. besides "$8000 is a lot of money and i could use it," this song is pretty forgettable. and still, in this context, in the context of the whole MG catalog, it's essential.

Monday, May 28, 2007

"pigs that ran straightaway into the water, triumph of," from we shall all be healed

it's this morning, as a busted and sniffling man celebrating dead civil war soldiers, that i realize "pigs" is something like a positive force "jaipur." or an inverse variation. there may be some CHUMPS who are going to try to keep you DOWN, but that's irrelevant because you were born with concrete teeth, and even though they're dragging you off to jail and you're imagining shit falling out of the sky just to save you from your uncool fate, you could basically not give half a fuck, bouncing along to this hard, hard, hard folk-rock with a heart beating out your hometown's name and all its family trees and impossible lingo and tough streets like morse code, telling your brain something like "it's all just fine."

addendum, 5/28 (sober):

of course, it is not "all just fine" but sometimes your brain is dumb enough to buy it.

Friday, May 25, 2007

"cold milk bottle," from sweden

the thing i realized about "cold milk bottle" is that it's not just another spurned lover song (though it might be). but i really have no idea who the narrator is bracing for when he yelps "another goddamn message from you." it could be a friend or a parent or i don't even know what.

but it's another danielle song where someone sounds EMPOWERED in the face of something terrible, which i always find funny and touching and, this morning, confrontational: for the first time, i'm hearing this song as directed at me (usually, i give myself the privilege of role-playing the oppressed narrator). maybe the jazz standard line he nicks--"you're mean to me, why must you be mean to me? you shouldn't forget, you see, what you mean to me"--is landing a little too close to home. saving grace is that he makes it into a sweet vocal hook, which--here he goes cuddling up to pain again--makes it all pink and touchable. freed again!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"poltergeist," unreleased

you can listen to "poltergeist" here.

it never surprises me that "poltergeist" didn't make it on an album. for all of darneille's songs about passionately unhappy couples, a song where the bad feeling is triangulated by a child--on the sunset tree, the kid becomes the narrator--leaves pretty much no room for melodrama. we need melodrama to stay afloat.

but what draws me, occasionally, terribly, to "poltergeist" is a fear of having children that i probably share with heap-millions of kids my age. my friend kate recently had a baby, and i was astonished to see how sublimely happy she was with it and with its father; how well adjusted she seemed as an actual mother. i'd grown up with divorced parents; my girlfriends had pregnancy scares that really honest-to-god scared me; i used to watch eraserhead like it was medicine for the condition of the world (nothing is more scared of having children than eraserhead).

so i remember hearing "poltergeist" for the first time and being reminded of the fear that i could come to hate the thing that bore what i might love: "i can't stand it when he smiles up at you just because you're his mother / i can't stand the bitter thing that i've become"; the realization that all problems as a couple are immeasurably complicated by the tiny animal that slides between them, blinking, unable to fend for itself.

addendum, 5/24:

i don't usually post addenda quite this soon, but "poltergeist" is the first time in a couple weeks that a song i've picked to write on when i wake up has just dogged me throughout the day. and it's not that it hasn't happened before this blog, but one of the points of this project was to get some ABJECTION into my MG listening; to feel like i could write something on a song to avoid thinking about it for a while.

and what's getting me is this idea of the baby. all of darnielle's "love" songs hinge on the possibility of laughing at them on one listen and crying on another ("standard bitter love song #8," with its batshit, overstated mythical imagery, is a pretty prime example). i can't seem to find anything funny in "poltergeist," and as far as i know, it's the only song other than all hail west texas's "pink and blue" that has a baby in it. babies are clean and faultless things--what could they possibly do in a mountain goats song?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"the last day of jimi hendrix's life," from ghana

flipside to yesterday, which was one of the first of many entries about how darnielle can make even the most trivial, most unequivocal losers as powerful as the sun.

this song is about what it says it's about: jimi hendrix as a person who dies--jimi hendrix is just like us!--on an unremarkable day. "there is nothing like cold water, there is nothing"--could a final thought any more pure, any more trivial? where darnielle collapsed distance between losers and gods--steely dan did the same thing on "deacon blues"--he also managed to make the invincible seem as real as dirt.

addendum, 5/27:

it occurred to me this morning that--i guess this is really obvious, but--this song is also about simplicity. and that's another thing that constantly unravels me about his writing and his performances: in something like "standard bitter love song #8," it's quotidian bullshit raised to the level of gods clashing, but here, and in a lot of places, there's just this reservoir of COMFORT to be taken in stuff like water or friends forever or the radio or some peanuts or stealing candy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"jaipur," from the coroner's gambit

in darnielle, even the most down and out get mythologies, growling, over boom-box static, SWING LOW, SWEET CHARIOT, CHROME TAILPIPE SHINING BRIGHT AS SPUN GOLD. have you ever woken up as a badass? have you ever woken up as a nasty badass thing with a swollen eye and taken a drink and spilled out onto unfriendly streets? have you ever reached that end--the end when all of the sudden, the idea of you as a ragged and pathetic and nasty, badass thing makes you invincible? i recall nights as a mean dude--a close friend once said, "it's not that you're a drunk, it's that when you're a drunk, you're a self-glorifying one."

and that's what's at work in "jaipur": cruising into atlanta, something a little less than india, starting to imagine yourself as a holy being, looking like absolute shit, feeling a storm gathering on the horizon (the horizon being somewhere right behind your eyes with a brain full of angry mush). and it's one of the reasons i always come back to john darnielle: the self-mythologizing voice of the absolute mess.

Monday, May 21, 2007

"orange ball of love," from zopilote machine

the narrator in "orange ball of love" has done something, and the something is bad and even illegal, and it is a something that he will absolutely not get away with. someone is with him and that someone is preparing to turn them in. and even in the midst of that--knowing that his freedom is about to be compromised, even destroyed--he manages butterflies in his stomach. a crush-on-the-captor situation. i wish i could say it's willful ignorance. it's not. it's something dumber, huger, and more beautiful: knowing that, in desperate situations, taking what you can get is less a choice and more a delirious submission. tyranny of the moment! i always imagined the prisoner to love his last meal the best.

Friday, May 18, 2007

"waving at you," from nothing for juice

so a guy walks into a store and says, i will buy the one i love a gift on this, her birthday. only the girl's not in his life anymore; moreover, they're going through a sloppy divorce (only darnielle could start a song with the line "listen, you can tell your lawyer he can go to hell" and still keep it a lullaby). bad joke. non-joke?

the question is: are emotions habitual?

i guess my answer is yes, a year and change after likely driving someone to disappear from my life, who i actually sent a birthday gift to last year, but plan to--i keep planning, i swear, we're finally in developmental stages--to let the habit die hard, die kicking. darnielle beats it out of his guitar facing the shop window forgetting that passerby can see him in the reflection. lawyer line aside--and it's such an obvious bid at security anyhow; the going to hell tell-off--"waving at you" is probably the most irrefutably tender song he's ever written.

happy birthday to you, c.b., in nigeria or seoul or utah or washington, i'm not sure, you only stay mappable in my mind.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

DOUBLE FEATURE: "the window song," from protein source for the future... now! AND "going to ultrecht," from nine black poppies

some of darnielle's best songs are about moments of horror without revelation: "nine black poppies," "the young thousands"--songs that lurk behind corners, panting, pulsing; their climaxes are only to tell you that SOMETHING IS COMING, not that it's here. easier to stay on the edge of the seat that way.

oddly, when the revelations come, there's almost always no tension at all. "the window song" and "going to ultrecht" are about waking up and seeing a face you hadn't seen in a while. in the former, they're at your window; in the latter, in a completely different country. in both cases, you crumble. i had a recurring dream that i would be writing at a desk, i would turn around, and that a she--usually one particular she--would be standing in the doorway. this dream came true on several occasions.

the dream was--like in these songs--almost always better than the reality: in "the window song," the trembling comes hard and fast: "i know you, you're the one i spent three seasons trying to pretend that i never knew," trying to, i dunno, make the line come true again by saying it over and over (i too have tried to beat people out of my own brain in mantric style, it made me feel dumb).

in "ultrecht" it's pure astonishment. i've been given to the idea of PEOPLE AS PLACES lately, what with all my notions about moving and how and why. if there's an inkling to terror in "ultrecht" it's a kind of metaphysical plate tectonics. worlds colliding, and what to do? "i saw you sleeping over there, and i couldn't believe it, i couldn't believe it, not if i saw it with my own eyes," which is basically all he's cursed to see it with. and in the morning, hardly a sugar or protein replaced in his body--what cruelty! so, of course, he did what i did: he stands there, spinning, hoping it's not happening, knowing it is, knowing that it's going to make a much better song than an experience (because songs don't often make you puke). in both cases, he vamps at the end, standing in uncertainty, strum after strum, dumb as wood.

working thesis: darnielle as master of light-headed emotional terror.

this post is dedicated to tomorrow, which, in terms of memory, will suck much harder than today, believe you me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"quito," from we shall all be healed

"quito" is a song about how you are fucked up and pledge to do good. (anyone who has been fucked up and has pledged to do good will understand--this is darnielle's idiosyncratic universality.) we shall all be healed is--it's in the title!--both a promise and a hope. and like vows, like marriage, like AA, it's prone to be absolutely full of its own overblown shit. to imagine a chorus of children dancing around you as you stagger from the tomb is, it strikes me, at once the most romantic, redemptive, and self-indulgent fantasy you could have--the kind of thing that only actually occurs to you while completely drunk. sober people don't dream of a god who rains like hail, who stops everything to reckon. of course, after that, the narrator talks about raising the dead--and the swirling mess of wet organs and violin actually does it, the raising, all way off in the corner. our frail cages!

addendum 5/16/07:

in what will probably be the absolute crowning irony of this entire project, i wrote this entry last night, quietly hammered and deeply in the mood to be JUSTIFIED by the big-U universe. darnielle almost always works me the hardest when i'm having "sensitive days," which i've realized, is just about all the time, which is part of the reason why his appeal is very difficult to explain to people.

it's like, the adult in me loves the rich poetic flourishes and christian imagery of "quito,"

but the kid in me just wants to puke up my heart as regularly as possible and gesture at redemption in the way that only irresponsible people can!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"ontario," from full force galesburg

imagine yourself standing in a square with four sides:





it's rare that you get characters in darnielle's songs who actually sound content; in "ontario," for once, the scenario is frank, simple. but contentment is an ambivalent thing, and the narrator's ultimately a depressive by trade: " i thought i knew what my weaknesses were anyway, and then the orange tree blossomed last saturday--there was nothing in it but pain for me."

looking out on my room, my favorite records, my favorite books, etc., i'm struck with a terrible feeling this morning--terrible! wonderful!--that this is basically as good as it gets. to want anything more is greedy, to buck the fact that orange trees and their ilk--in my case, my big black-flowered fuschia, hanging over my bed, sagging with bulbs--are pretty much always going to make me crumble for obtuse poetic reasons is, well, a spit in the face of something much larger, much more inert, and much wiser than me.

"ontario" is 2:30 long; i bent the rules this morning, and i apologize for that.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"idylls of the king," from tallahassee

in spring of 2003, i had nightmares, the worst nightmares, nightmares that would wake me from my sleep screaming, sweating. my friend sarah had died suddenly, and i was having eternal problems with the eternal girl. i only ate kidney beans and bourbon and chocolate and coffee; the volume of chocolate was good because i actually got to a point where i couldn't sleep anymore because of how much sugar i was eating. the less i slept, the fewer nightmares i had.

and despite all of that stuff, i felt relatively calm. i read and re-read the invisible man; i made As in all my classes; i was inscrutable but, as i remember, affable enough; i drank on weekend mornings and kind of purpled out for days, blank.

"idylls of the king" is currently my favorite song on tallahassee because it knows that feeling: the eye of the storm, or something quieter and even more terrible. on such a hysterical, dramatic album, a moment like "idylls" is the key, a reminder that most of the worst times in our lives are probably better marked by long stretches of pleasant indifference--"these days, full of promise and potential, more clay pigeons for you and me."

addendum, 5/24:

i realize that i spend precious little time talking about john darnielle's music, which, while pretty uniform, makes a huge impact on the more recent studio albums (tallahassee, we shall all be healed, the sunset tree, get lonely). "idylls of the king"'s samba shuffle is featherlight--a compliment to the destructive indifference of the lyrics in a fairly IRONIC--if we grant him that power, and i do--way. i wrote a total of one paper on poetry in college, about john ashbery's "daffy duck in hollywood"; if i wanted to write about poetry alone, i'd go back to college.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"hast thou considered the tetrapod," from the sunset tree

jason was a well-intentioned investment banker, but for some reason he had a tic where he just couldn't stop hitting my mother. being the oldest, i got my fair share of the tortured hand; i always felt worse for him than i did for me, because i, like john, could say "i am young and i am good," while i doubt he had anything to look forward to except dying.

it's an adolescent song, really, probably the most adolescent song darnielle's ever written: there's a big bad dude, i have headphones, i will evolve, yeah! making light of it would be dickish and irresponsible (and why would i? living in an abusive household sucks), but there's something to be said for the fact that darnielle's trope is EVOLUTION rather than war-like struggle. when i was 13 i was an avid huffer, grade-f student, and utter basketcase--what does it mean to be a martyr with no redeeming qualities? something like an embryo, i guess.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

"jenny," from all hail west texas

whenever i've felt the absurd need to explain exactly what love was to someone, i always arrive at a variant of, "for some portion of time, you and i are the only people who exist in the world."

"jenny" is about being in love with, and on, a motorcycle. my bad breakup coincided with shick fixing his bmw bike, and i remember that the rides were the first thing i could call a cure: "we were the one thing in the galaxy god didn't have his eyes on." if you've ever been on a motorcycle, you'll know what i mean. and if you haven't, you should go; nothing will make you feel dumber and more invincible and more carelessly homoerotic.

addendum, 5/30:

of course this song is not about a motorcycle. i was a bad liar three weeks ago and i'm a bad liar now. i've only had the feeling in "jenny" a few times. after thinking about all the melodrama and anguish and ambiguity in his music, i sorta only realize now how uncomplicated, how good, how rare that feeling is.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

"standard bitter love song #8," from ghana

i grew up scorpio and remain one; my astrology points me in some awesome directions:

creative, passionate, etc.

and not-so-awesome ones:

jealous, obsessive.

and i too believed in the hammers of justice, the white-hot blood of validation pouring from the ears of the nonbelievers, only to find that, like the narrator, i was, in the eye of everyone but my conspicuously absent god, Anonymous Dude standing on a street corner, or at the pizza place, watching a girl i liked walk away with someone else, my mind's eye searing with hilarious thoughts of the acrobatic sex they will certainly enjoy while i suffer another cold midnight of steely dan. of course, i'm the better for it--"i went mining for gold, i struck pure, fresh zinc"; each word punching out, deliberate--in mountain goats songs, Anonymous Dude always gets validation, because acrobatic sex is for mere mortals.

addendum, 5/10: listening again today, i forgot how funny it is. but that’s one of the greatest thing about his songs—the melodrama becomes a take it or leave it situation. some days you have a laugh at the hyperbolic teenage imagery, other days it seems like someone! is talking! right to you! with all the gravity and hellfire your romantic concerns deserve! finally!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

"home again garden grove," from we shall all be healed

it occurs to me, in a conversation with lex about my potential move to new orleans, while "home again garden grove" is playing, that there are good reasons to find john darnielle's songs a centering force: sometimes, everyone around you is an absolute fuck-up, but at least it's a contained universe (college, for me); the solipsism and narrow worldview in his songs--even if that world is always on the verge of collapse--is a source of comfort. so shouting "shoving our heads, right into the guts of the stove, home again garden grove" is a way of acknowledging that crucial narrowing, even if it means relishing in the way things fall apart, even if it means accepting that you're tying yourself to something sinking--as long as you can see all the way around the hull, there's peace.

addendum, 5/10: i had a friend who drank too much—to prove that this isn’t the start of a thinly veiled therapy/aa plea, i confess that we all drank too much that year. but this one friend in particular got into a bad habit of falling down the stairs in our house. that the thud of elbow on wood on head on wood on legs on ribs, all the way to the floor, became a source of comfort during a difficult year is the paradoxical grind at work in “home again garden grove.”


for a little while i've been threatening to start a blog where i talk about one mountain goats song per day, just writing for the duration of the song itself. though i decided, on 5/10, that this will include addenda. my perceptive organs are dynamic, and so are yours. reflection is a welcome exercise, especially with the mountain goats, who usually seize me so hard that i become blind to about six dimensions of experience.