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.