As we mentioned in our early rave of the Mountain Goats’ Heretic Pride, John Darnielle is a darn good lyricist, peopling his songs with folks that over time feel like flesh-and-blood neighbors. Of course, they probably feel closer — like family — to Darnielle, even when he isn’t talking about his stepfather or ex. Over at eMusic, there’s a feature where JD talks about five of his favorite characters. His list, in no order it seems, and some of his thoughts after the jump. (He should write a song about that wombat.)
“Going to Bolivia”
This is kind of an unlikely candidate for a character song, but that is kind of why it has always held a special place for me. You come into the story already lacking pretty much any information that might be helpful in understanding what’s going on, and a short while later you’ll leave the song in more or less the same condition. That’s because the speaker is either a little crazy or is so deeply into his own trip that he can’t imagine everybody else doesn’t already know the basics. And, actually, we run into people like this all the time, right?
We work with them, run into them at bus stops, they’re pretty much the gold standard for your online random encounter. Sometimes you’ll get a voicemail from a stranger who dialed the wrong number — that’s the speaker in this song. He comes correct with plenty of physical detail, which would be useful in figuring out why he’s getting bad chills from the stuff that’s going on around him; if he’d only explain what his position in the whole thing is. He won’t, though. As close as he gets is the “chrome/home” rhyme interrupted by the “sun” off-rhyme, and then we get the sense that he’s been isolated for a little while. Why am I partial to this dude? Because sometimes I get the feeling that I am this dude.
He also discusses “Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” (yes!), “Twin Human Highway Flares,” “Waving At You” (pretty heartbreaking), and from the new album, one of our personal favorites, “San Bernardino”:
this is a big jump ahead. All the preceding songs are old ones. I prefer the newer songs to the older ones by a wide margin, and I suspect that most eMusic listeners would, too. With my early stuff, it’s wise to take advantage of those thirty-second song clips, because my early recording technology was more primitive than anybody’s. (I repeat, anybody’s. Nobody could touch my boombox flow.) But it’s always harder, much harder, to talk about newer songs. I feel like I don’t really know anything about a song until it’s five or six years old.
Here, however, the story is pretty clear, or I hope it is, and the song gave me a pretty good punch in the face as soon as we were done recording it, because I just lost my mind for about five minutes. Gone. Slumped over a piano a few feet from the microphone I’d been singing into, Erik Friedlander sitting in his chair where he’d been playing. (I did my vocal live with one of the cello parts, sitting facing Erik as he played.) I was thinking again about people who others talk down to: young mothers and fathers who have no prospects, no money, nothing going on.
The two kids here give birth in a cheap motel somewhere in San Bernardino, probably right off the freeway, and the young man tries to express his love for the girl who’s about to give birth. Which she does, and they feel at home in the world, even though the world isn’t giving them its best yet. I feel hope for them, because they love each other. I know that that is a corny thing to say, so for people who have corn allergies I apologize. But these two, they’re going to be the future, so it’d be awesome if we could give them enough leeway to become who they’re gonna become, and encourage them when we can. I have a fondness for them though I barely know them. Their feeling for one another inspires me, is what it is.
Visit the article itself for the rest of his words. Have a favorite he left out? Like how about “Going To Georgia”? “Sax Rohmer #1? While you think it over, Largehearted Boy’s posted an interview between Darnielle and a Daily Show writer. Check it out, they discuss that wordy “Sax Rohmer #1″ video, the new album, and “San Bernadino”:
So, yeah, new album is technically not personal – it’s all just stories. On the other hand, “San Bernardino” kinda fucked me up for several days, just ’cause I got really involved in the story – ditto “So Desperate”and “Sept 15 1983.” Kinda the opposite of what you’d think – I think a lot of people assume that if a singer’s really yelling super loud, he must be putting more emotion into the material. I could be wrong about this though, being a hermit who avoids people whenever possible.
Except when doing all these awesome interviews.