If you do not like laudatory discourse look up Axl Rose on the blog and go far away from this post. I have spoken many times of John Darnielle and his Mountain Goats on the Music Court. They found their way at the top of my list for best album of the decade (however steep that ranking may have seemed to many). I have never said one bad thing about the band. Why? There is nothing bad. Some people may not enjoy Darnielle’s goat-like croon, but, because I enjoy it, I have nothing bad to say about them. Their beats are catchy and Darnielle’s lyrics are so good that he will not be written about on the top lyricists section for a long time (we are descending from 100 in case you did not know). Darnielle is a master. His band is good. The songs are wonderful, and often biographical. I can’t get enough and you must all check him out. If you enjoy lyrics (and you all know I do) and you have not checked out Darnielle, you will be arrested by the song poetry police if you do not listen now!
Anyway, all kidding aside, if you haven’t caught my drift, I really enjoy The Mountain Goats’ music. They are an extremely underrated band and Darnielle’s seemingly endless collection of songs is just unprecedented. He is the Mary Faulkner (Kathleen Lindsay) of the music industry. And, like Mary Faulkner he remains unfortunately unknown by many. I would like to profile one specific song today that I think is just a beautiful piece of music and story. Some fantastic lyricists would make excellent fiction writers. Darnielle is certainly one of them.
The song I will profile is off of his 13th release with the Mountain Goats, The Sunset Tree, which is heavily rooted in Darnielle’s memories of his abusive step-father. “Pale Green Things” tells of his step-father and a time they shared together at a racetrack. It is an interesting end to an album that tells so many negative stories of beatings and drunkenness. The song is oddly hopeful. It is soft, somewhat evanescent, and Darnielle’s fleeting, pensive voice set in front of a light cello marks a strong end to the album; a tender moment with a tint of forgiveness that only fantastic lyricists like Darnielle can master.
My favorite lyrics from the song:
“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”
It would seem in this verse that “lonely and frightened” is left rather ambiguous. He could be stating this his father was, in all reality, a scared man stricken with loneliness, or he could be referring to himself. I would support the former. I really enjoy the wonderful imagery of the separated father and son gazing out into “no man’s land.” I believe the motif of pale green things represents Darnielle’s mixed feelings of the death of his step-father. He juxtaposes negative and positive ideas. Pale, the negative, and green things (lively) the positive. This works quite well.
Listen to the song: