I want to tell you about John Darnielle, and The Mountain goats and what he/the band means to me! I first heard The Mountain Goats (heretofore referred to as TMG), in 2001. I had recently been released from a Federal Prison on the side of a mountain in Ohio. After a brief stay in my home state of North Carolina I fled to Atlanta, GA. While there I began listening to the local college radio station. As a teenager growing up in the 1990s this was the best way to get acclimated to current and local music. It was as we said then “the hip thing to do”. Not really but it’s what I did. It was listening to one of my “favorite” shows at the time that I heard “The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton”. The song was in a style I was not so much a fan of at the time, having grown up deeply entrenched in hardcore punk rock. But over time I had become more excepting of softer more melodic music. I was a little high on marijuana, I’ll admit. Yet the lyrics spoke to me. It wasn’t just the rousing “Hail Satan” chant at the end, but the sentiment in the song. I missed the DJ announcing the artist so for weeks I would listen hoping they would play the song again so I could find out who sang the song that I could not forget. After a few weeks they played it again and finally I had my new favorite group.
There was a lot of upheaval in my life which is sort of the norm. I moved to New York City almost immediately after I discovered the name of the group. Once in New York and settled into a position where I could afford to buy music, which is something people in my generation used to do. I searched all over (well I went to one record store in the East Village) for this Mountain Goats band. These very unfriendly record store employees (that’s who can thank for shitty album sales artist) directed me to two possible bands one called Mountain Goats and one called The Mountain Goats. A few years later I would learn they were in fact the same band. Neither at the time had the song I was looking for the song that could not escape my head. After just over a year in NYC I returned to Atlanta. This time I was bound and determined to find this band and own that song. I was greeted with much more friendly record store employees who not only knew the band but were fans themselves and proceeded to turn me on to an immense back catalog that would only swell in time.
This was 2003, over the next two years I would collect every scrap of music created by this band that I could; Including live recordings, and one off appearances on various compilations. I would over the next ten years see them live at the very least twice a year. After 2005 I began recording each live show that I went to posting them on Internetarchive.com to share with other fans. On a few occasions I had the privilege of talking to my hero and shaking his hand. I even was able to pass off a Heaven 17 record I had found in honor of one of his most iconic songs. In 2010 I was able to see him in three different states and in 2011 traveled all the way from San Francisco to Portland on a whim with no tickets and had one of the most miraculous and spiritual journeys of my life. No matter where I have lived (and I’ve lived a lot of places) and no matter what has happened to me (a lot) I have kept this man and his music with me.
Why? Why has he meant so much to me, why has his music stayed with me longer than nearly any other band or style of music? Is it the wanderlust spirit evoked in the “Going To” songs? Is it the desperation and hopeless drunkenness displayed by the Alpha series? Is it the fact that his roots lie in both California and North Carolina and that we have both criss-crossed this country looking for a sense of belonging? John often says that much of his work is fictional. It wasn’t until the album Sunset Tree that he began to write autobiographical material. Although that can be debated and he even admits that some of the prior work had vague elements of his life added in. All of that is irrelevant really. Whether he lived it or made it up, it spoke to me profoundly. It touched on so many elements of my life. Every album that came out seemed to be speaking directly to the situation I was in at the time. Some more strongly than other, but the connection was always there. I could relate on multiple levels. On the song Two Thousand Seasons, John sings; “How have we come to be mere mirrors to inhalation?” At the time I heard that I was at the tail end of long and winding relationship, I was working and drinking myself to death in order to destroy me and everything around me. Years later when he sang “I’m gonna make through this year if it kills me!” I was pulling myself from the wreckage of that time. As I moved across this country, falling in and out of love, having countless adventures TMG always seemed to be right there with me. I made a point to see them everywhere I went. Between 2008 an 2011 I saw them in five different states.
As time went on and we all grew older, I watched the band go from just John (I was there in Atlanta when he got his first guitar strap), to John and Peter, to when they picked up the drummer from Super-chunk, to now when there are five people on stage (with the occasional string or horn section). There are some bands that grow and change and loose something along the way. Rarely do bands that start out as basically a singer/song writer outfit, become a full band, and retain the same pull that they originally had. The strength of course lies not just in the powerful lyrics that stay with you long after the music fades. Last year John published his first full fiction novel called Wolf in a White Van. When reading it at times you can hear gentle melodies. It reads quickly like a concept album almost. But it’s not the same as TMG. John is a powerful writer, probably the best of our generation, but the combination of the music and the words is what changes lives. It changed mine and continues to right to this day. The new album that just arrived in the mail a few days ago is called Beat the Champ. It involves perhaps my favorite thing (next to TMG) in the world: Wrestling! Professional Wrestling, of course, the squared circle, something that has been in my life since I was eight years old.
Anyone who knows me, has worked with me, or met me for 10 seconds can attest to my undying love of pro-wrestling. I’m watching it right now as I write this. I spend every Monday night plopped down in front of the television absorbing every kinetic motion, cataloging it in my brain. I can talk for hours on end about it, and often do whenever I get the chance. This was not the first time I had known about John’s childhood love of wrestling. He’s written songs about it before (Ox Baker Triumphant a particular favorite of mine); he’s told the stories in between songs on stage for years. Yet to do an entire album where the theme is wrestling was like a dream come true for me. Especially since these days it’s pretty much all I have left in my life. I don’t go out much anymore; my adventure days are pretty much done. I work two jobs at grueling schedules. I have very little time for anything other than obsessing over wrestling. The WWE started their own network last year which allows me to take it anywhere with me on my phone (which is also a dream come true for me). The combination of two of my greatest loves only drove home how much this band has meant to me over the last 12 years. Almost nothing has ever lasted this long with me.
I was into punk rock for what five/six years? I still listen to it but I stopped wearing the uniform a long time ago. I couldn’t name a single new punk band. I don’t know the last time I picked up zine or even went to a show that wasn’t for a band that I like as a teenager! Favorite TV shows come and go and most I look back on now and they aren’t as good as I remember them. Even in life people, friends, lovers, come and go. I hear from my family once or twice a year usually around the holidays. Yet TMG stays, endures the test of time and continues to not only speak to me but for me, with me. It’s hard to explain, to truly put into words. So I’ll just end this with what is (so far), my favorite track off the new record. It’s called Heel Turn #2!