John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats is a musician who has made carvings in my brain. I recently found this video of him singing a song from his 2009 album, The Life of the World to Come. Once a psychiatric nurse in California, here he looks like an assistant professor who’s found a piano in the English department basement.
Above all Darnielle must be a writer, because when people talk about Mountain Goats songs it’s often a vague exercise in numerology. There are so just so many. Too many to count (though 525 in this database). He strikes me as someone plucked out of a trajectory of everyday people of plain chins and T-shirts to write songs because he can’t not write them. Poems on legal pads poking out of dashboards. Poems scrambled onto receipts blown away by fans in convenience stores.
We’re not alike in any way. But when I listen to John Darnielle sing I feel like we’re the same, in the way of sitting next to someone on a train platform in the painful tenderness of waiting. He is rarely polished, and maybe I can relate to that because when I play guitar or piano or sing, I probably don’t look so good either.
So watch this video. I hope that in the world to come, drenched as it will be with oil on the coasts, people will find Mountain Goats songs and listen to them on vintage CD players or tape decks. It seems like a lot of songwriters are almost embarrassed about the virility of what they do. They censor themselves, tiptoeing around the cavernous efficacy of words plus music. John Darnielle isn’t embarrassed.