“The Mountain Goats is just Christian Rock for Gay Millennials”
Welcome to Reasonable Things, an occasional newsletter about music, language, and meaning from Joel Heng Hartse.
“The Mountain Goats is just Christian Rock for Gay Millenials”
Thus said a student of mine, apparently quoting an internet meme, when I told her I was writing a piece about the band. I don’t remember becoming a fan of the Mountain Goats, exactly. I probably heard songs from the Sunset Tree on KEXP and bought it, along with a stack of other new CDs, at Sonic Boom Records in Seattle in 2004. Immediately it just felt like this music ought to be part of the soundtrack of my life. Demographically, this was probably inevitable. There are a lot of people who listen to and like the Mountain Goats who are like me. But there are a lot of people who aren’t, also. There’s something so warm and human and inviting about this music that it tends to attract what Anne of Green Gables called “kindred spirits.”
Yes, I just quoted Anne of Green Gables. I will if I want to.
Anyway; I have a piece about the new Mountain Goats album out today here, and here are a few things I came across while writing it, such as:
A Brief (Annotated)Twitter Conversation with John Darnielle from May 14
Joel: Has anyone talked about the frequent pro-drop(1) and copula deletion(2) in Mountain Goats lyrics? Because there is a sociolinguistics/stylistics paper to be written about this as a narrative grammatical choice. my unscientific analysis is that this allows the actual speaker to be ambiguous - whether first or third person - potentially allowing listeners to identify with either.
(1 - e.g., a sentence in which the pronoun is removed, such as “Going to the store.” (the “I’m” is deleted/implied.)
(2 - e.g., a phrase with no “to be verb,” such as “some big and some small,” where the “ares” are deleted/implied.)
John: “Two blinded in Detroit!”(3)
(3 - a reference to the song “Fire Editorial.”)
Joel: and also like 100 other ones!
John: I know! This was a very intentional poetic strategy I adopted early on, critics never notice things like this, they mainly just parse the plot lines, I appreciate this work
Joel: thanks man
Postscript: Dan Wilson, songwriter and frontman of 90’s band Semisonic, followed me on Twitter immediately after this exchange.
A J.D. Salinger Reference
John Darnielle introducing the cult favorite song “The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton” in April of 2011:
“The Satan I hail at the end of this song is Jesus Christ himself, buddy.”
Not only is this a Franny and Zooey reference, it’s a reminder that holiness pops up where you might least expect it.
A Good Piece of Music Journalism
One of my favorite pieces of music writing is this 2009 piece by Stephen Rodrick, which serves as a dual profile of John Darnielle and a fan of his, a young man at a Christian college in New York City: “God & Worshipper: A Rock-and-Roll Love Story, of Sorts”
I note that the author now apparently lives in Vancouver, and the subject of the piece is now the History Editor for Columbia University Press.
A Playlist I Made That Has Thematically Similar Mountain Goats and Rich Mullins Songs
John Darnielle is a big fan of Mullins, who died in a car accident in 1997, and I thought it would be cool to juxtapose their work. Themes include: Elijah, broken relationships, Rachel and Jacob, homelessness, and Jesus. Click below to go to Spotify.
July 20, 2021