Mountain Goats in Bloomington


Went to see the Mountain Goats.  If you don’t know them, the Mountain Goats is John Darnielle, a literate Pitzer College grad, former emergency room nurse, who used to record very primitive songs on boom boxes but since 2002 or so has been producing more polished, “produced” (even orchestral) music.  He tends towards the ambitious and high-concept in his recordings.  For example, there are various “series” of songs, across different albums, that constitute coherent or at least linked narratives of one sort or another; e.g. (from Wikipedia) the “Alpha Series”:

Songs in this category concern the same fictional couple, described as a heterosexual lower-middle-class man and woman who originally loved each other genuinely, and held generally ordinary concerns for one another’s well-being, but whose relationship has degraded for a variety of reasons, most often a series of fights or drug and/or alcohol abuse, possibly both. Whatever the causes for their current situation, their love has not so much died as warped into the sincere, all-consuming desire of each of them to see the other drink themselves to death; thus, to facilitate this “walk down to the bottom”, as described in the liner notes, the couple keep whatever liquor they can afford on hand for each other and stay together….The album Tallahassee, being entirely about the Alpha couple, begins with the pair buying a run-down house in the eponymous capital of Florida, follows their degradation, and ends with a vision of the house and both of them being consumed in flames.

Darnielle has something in common with the Decembrists’ Colin Meloy (whose sister is a novelist, Maile Meloy) in the way he thinks about lyrics in an almost novelistic or at least literary kind of way.  Anyway, I saw the Mountain Goats/ Darnielle in Boston with Jane a year ago at the Museum of Fine Arts and didn’t entirely love it.  The crowd was devoted and rapt in a slightly precious indie-rock mode, and Darnielle seemed deeply awkward to me, almost so much as to suggest the possibility of a touch of Asberger’s.   I enjoyed the show this week more — he was still awkward and nerdy, but he seemed comfortable and upbeat and was actually amusing & charming in his extended between-song patter (about such topics as his childhood love for pro wrestling, his own depression, meth addiction).

Darnielle was born in Bloomington, I haven’t completely figured out why; I think he said something on stage about his step-father’s father having been an English professor here?  Or was his step-father a grad student?  They moved to California when he was a toddler.  He chatted a lot about this connection; he said something about Bloomington having always had magical associations for him, and claimed that the lyrics to “Love Love Love” were inspired by/based on these associations with the town, I’m not sure how or why:

King Saul fell on his sword when it all went wrong,
and Joseph’s brothers sold him down the river for a song,
and Sonny Liston rubbed some tiger balm into his glove.
some things you do for money and some you do for love love love.

Raskolnikov felt sick but he couldn’t say why
when he saw his face reflected in his victim’s twinkling eye.
some things you’ll do for money and some you’ll do for fun,
but the things you do for love are going to come back to you one by one.

Love love is going to lead you by the hand
into a white and soundless place.
now we see things as in a mirror dimly.
then we shall see each other face to face.

Is Bloomington the “white and soundless place” for Darnielle, maybe?  Darnielle also has an entertaining blog, Last Train to Jakarta, largely devoted to his scholarly love for heavy metal music, and he has also published a book about Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality that takes the form of a diary written by a teenager in a Southern California mental hospital.

So in other words, just another flash in the pan rock star, seen one, seen ’em all…

Anyway — really good show; he has a million great songs so there are a lot to choose from.