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The Antonym goes to Richmond; How I Learned to Love the Mountain Goats

August 09, 2019581Views


David Berman of the Silver Jews died the day before yesterday. My heart is sorry and sad.

Ah.. Just.


. . .

Conversation with an ex before the show:

Hey.. What was the name of that emo band you used to listen to back when we lived in that trailer?

She sounds vaguely annoyed with me. But I'm used to that. "I listened to a lot of emo bands back then. You're going to have to be more specific."

Ah.. It was after that really bad breakup you had. You listened to this one song over and over. I can't remember the name of the band though.

"I don't know, man. There were a lot of breakups, too. Hard to say."

It was.. Ah.. The one where the guitars were slightly out of tune. Acoustic. And the singer sounded like he'd been tortured?"

"Bright Eyes.”

Oh yeah.. That was it! This band I'm shooting tonight reminds me of them. The Mountain Goats. Check em out.

Fifteen minutes later:

"Yeah. Okay. Good call. I really like 'This Year.'"

. . .

Why is it that when we hear someone died, the first thing we ask is how? Why does it matter so much to us? Big death or small. By their own hand or murdered or cancer? They're just as dead. Just as gone. Nothing changes because of the specific circumstances. Do we just need to know so we can try and avoid that thing that did them in? Do we walk around with an extensive catalog in our heads of ways we don't want to die?

Let's be real. We know what killed David: The broken world.

And there's no fucking way to avoid the broken world.

. . .

"Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive. Do every stupid thing to try to drive the dark away. Let people call you crazy for the choices that you make. Climb limits past the limits, jump in front of trains all day. And stay alive. Just stay alive." -- Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1

This is probably the closest thing to an anthem The Mountain Goats have. And it resonates tonight.

For whatever odd reason I wasn't that familiar with this band. And I should be, the group's primary raison d'être -- singer-songwriter John Darnielle, started playing around my first year of college. He's of the generation just before mine, part of a wave of lo-fi pioneers that mostly got tagged in the mainstream with the emo movement of the early nineties. Of course, The Mountain Goats aren't really an emo band, but that's where the crossover happened. At the time he first stared chucking out cassettes I was paying more attention to Punk and New Wave, which is likely why they never landed anywhere but in my peripheral vision. And that's a shame, because this is damn fine music.

. . .

I remark to the guy standing next to me.

"I wonder how long he's had someone to tune his guitars? It's got to feel kind of weird to go from recording songs with your boombox to having a dude that sets all your gear up before the show and makes sure it's all working. That's gotta be strange as hell, no?"

The guy just stares at me nervously, wondering why I'm talking to him.

. . .

I bought a ticket for my friend because she's a huge fan of this group and it's her 26th birthday. I hear her chatting up other fans.

"We've been fans of his since we were fifteen!"

"Me too!" she says.

Oh. Yeah.. But we're older. So it's been longer for us!

"I mean.." she replies, "What's it matter? Fifteen is fifteen. It doesn't make it mean less for me?"

. . .

She's got a point.

. . .

Daughter of Swords is the solo project of Mountain Man's Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. These songs open up your heart to make a serendipitous journey through the whole of you. Brushing against your nervous system. Lingering, before they ultimately make a quiet home in between the very fibers of whatever we call a soul. Personality-wise, her live show reminds me a bit of Natalie Merchant, who showed up from wherever she's been hiding on Jimmy Fallon last night. Not in sound, just in vibe. Like a librarian has invited you over for tea. This music feels like an old friend you didn't know you have. The kind of thing you curl up in your favorite blanket to bleed for a bit while listening.

. . .

Ultimately, John Darnielle's discography is about surviving. That and cherishing the bits and pieces of beautiful things you were lucky enough to come across along the way. He tells stories about himself that are hauntingly familiar because we've lived those stories too. It makes me love him even though I've only recently discover this art.

Some will tell you that art is pointless in an age of struggle. But we have such a tiny window to touch the universe through. Our ability to perceive being so limited by meat and our poorly designed brains. And if a piece of art can expand our empathy and strengthen connections with each other, how does that do anything other than serve the cause of strengthening our bonds? And through strengthening our bonds, strengthening all of humanity. Making us better?

There has to be something to live for. It can’t be all the struggle all the time. And some of us have to make things or we'll die. And some of us desperately need the company of others who make things. We recognize each other on the paths. Kindred.

In just a few days, I've become a fan of the Mountain Goats. I can't stop listening to these records.

And I need them to make more.

. . .

David Berman will never make another song. And that's awful.

But others will. And just maybe David Berman is the reason that others will.

Wheel keeps on turning.

And stay alive. Just stay alive.

-- end transmission --

The Mountain Goats.

Durham. Indie Folk Rock .

Daughter of Swords

Vermont. Indie Folk.

Words and pictures by Jeff Hewitt