Thursday, December 03, 2009

Lyricist #2 - John Darnielle

For almost 20 years John Darnielle has crafted intense, uncompromising, original music. Whenever you hear the Mountain Goats you know it is them and not another. As far as vocals go I've never been his greatest fan, but I've come around the long way to that nasal deadpan delivery. And when it comes to lyrics there aren't many musicians out there that can even come close to John Darnielle. He is also staggeringly prolific. The first thing I ever heard from the Mountain Goats was "The Sunset Tree" in 2005, which by that time was already pretty far along in the discography. It marked a departure from his earlier material in that it was the most confessional collection of songs he'd ever released (and I am a true sucker for the honesty that accompanies that sort of thing). A large part of the album's subject matter deals autobiographically with Darnielle's relationship with his abusive stepfather. At one point he sings about a fantasized confrontation with the man, "I'm going to get myself in fighting trim, scope out every angle of unfair advantage. I'm going to bribe the officials. I'm going to kill all the judges. It's going to take you people years to recover from all of the damage." (!). By the album's end, however he seems to be coming to a sort of reconcilliation with the stepfather, and closes it out with this little beauty:

Pale Green Things (mp3)
The Mountain Goats - The Sunset Tree (2005)

Got up before dawn. Went down to the racetrack, riding with the windows down, shortly after your first heart attack. You parked behind the paddock. Cracking asphalt underfoot. Coming up through the cracks. Pale green things. Pale green things.

You watched the horses run their workouts. You held your stopwatch in your left hand, and a racing form beneath your arm. Casting your gaze way out to no man's land. Sometimes I'll meet you out there, lonely and frightened. Flicking my tongue out at the wet leaves. Pale green things. Pale green things.

My sister called at 3 AM, just last December. She told you how you'd died at last. At last, that morning at the racetrack was one thing that I remembered. I turned it over in my mind like a living Chinese finger trap. Seaweed in Indiana sawgrass. Pale green things. Pale green things.

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