For the last decade I’ve sailed on blissfully unaware of The Mountain Goats.
The scarey thing is if it weren’t for the clatter & spin of chance, I could have gone the rest of my life completely unaware of the existence of them or of John Darnielle;
“A tragedy, is certain, that would be” as Master Yoda (object-subject-verb) might say if he was ghost-writing this blog; don’t discount it, some days I look at my grammar and wonder.
There were a couple of choices for Week 50 when I jotted down the C.D’s to take me home. Kind Hearted Woman by Michelle Shocked was one. Which morphed into anything by Lucinda Williams. Which in turn became the newish Seeker, Lover, Keeper Album but then my stalwart cohort, Chance took her seat at the table.
I was floating around the web trying to figure out what to do for my wife’s Birthday (this would be what’s called a spoiler if you’re reading, Sharon) so I went and had another look at The Clarendon Guesthouses’s web-site.
Michael probably knows the place as he spent a couple of long cold winters in The Blue Mountains but despite being a regular visitor to Katoomba I couldn’t picture it.
The Clarendon Guesthouse is one of the numerous old Hotels that were built in the early part of the 1900’s to cater for Sydney tourists. Whilst a lot of them have faded into history, The Clarendon has not only managed to hang on but actually thrive. I think their point of difference is the regular roster of performers who trek up the Mountain to grace their small stage. I don’t know how they do it? I have a vague recollection of Paul Grabowsky owning the license, so maybe it is his contacts that bring them in (I am very probably wrong on this point) but nonetheless it is a quality list they attract.
Anyway, I was browsing through the ‘whats on’ page and realised to my chagrin, that out of the dozen names coming to The Clarendon, I recognised maybe two of them. So opening up YouTube in another browser I started at the top and worked my way down the list. Holly Throsby caught my eye as did The Widowmakers but then half way down the page I came across The Mountain Goats, Yes we had a winner!
The Mountain Goats are really John Darnielle and a revolving line-up of guests. He is nothing if not prolific. He’s put out 14 Albums over the last 8 years, plus plenty of collaborations. A book, with another on the way. His name keeps popping up all over the internet. In book, film and music reviews but also in odd places such as here where he has written an article about his beloved Raleigh Ice Caps. The man is everywhere and all at once.
One of the good thing about coming to someones music late is that you have the person’s entire back-catalogue at your fingertips. No waiting around impatiently for a new release. No dodgily recorded bootlegs shot from under someones smelly armpit at a gig in Durham, N.C. No, you can just dive in; an orgy of Albums to get down and dirty with and that’s exactly what I plan to do over the next few weeks. Wallow in the mud with J.D & the Mountain Goats.
So that’s how I found this Album but whats tit sound like?
Well the man himself sums it up pretty succinctly: “… what can I tell you: doom, disaster and a sunny disposition is what I do …”
I think he’s funny and quirky and pretty darn clever. He has a wandering mind that is equally at home trawling popular culture as plundering the classics for ideas. For instance his 12th Album The Life of the World to Come derives its inspiration from Biblical themes (and not as some vague wishy-washy reference either but quite literally; every song is named after a verse and starts from there!) – Which well and truly trumps that other great re-interpreter of the Old Testament, Mr Nicholas Cave :-).
Typically I’ve gone for an older release, 2005’s The Sunset Tree. Apparently it was a bit of a departure from earlier work as it is wholly bio-graphical. It flooded out in response to his step-fathers death who as we find out was his families tormentor and Johns childhood abuser. It’s quite a feat he’s pulled off chronicling what must surely be the most harrowing experience you can live through. Yet he’s come out the other side without losing himself in rage or despair or crippling hatred. In the process he gives us (well himself too because that is your first audience, and the only one that matters – unless your forte happens to be Sea-shanties!) songs like Pale Green Things which is just so eloquent, as much for what it doesn’t say as what it does. Then there is This Year which is just a great tub-thumping road trip of a song. All the cleverer as it masks a bitter theme. And as a bonus it has a really funny Film Clip. My favorite moment is around 1:40 when the guy in the balaclava goes to hand John a drink:
Go get him, Give him a go.
You won’t be disappointed.
Nearly there now, Bye.