I got a message for you

“I got a message for you, if I could only remember.  I got a message for you, but you’re gonna have to come and get it.”  Kardyhm Kelly gave me a tape of Zopilote Machine in 1995 and I played nothing but for a month.  “Sinaloan Milk Snake Song” especially.  Nobody but the Mountain Goats ever made do-it-yourself music like this, nobody else ever made it seem so believable that the things it occurred to you to say or sing while you were playing your guitar in your bedroom at home might actually be pop songs.   The breakdown at the end of this!

“I’ve got a heavy coat, it’s filled with rocks and sand, and if I lose it I’ll be coming back one day (I got a message for you).”  I spent a lot of 1993 thinking about the chord progression in the verse of this song.  How does it sound so straight-ahead but also so weird?  Also the “la la la”s (“Sinaloan Milk Snake Song” has these too.)

“Roll me in the greenery, point me at the scenery.  Exploit me in the deanery.  I got a message for you.”

The first of these I ever heard.  Douglas Wolk used to send mixtapes to Elizabeth Wilmer at Math Olympiad training.  This was on one of them.  1987 probably. I hadn’t even started listening to WHFS yet, I had no idea who Robyn Hitchcock was.  It was on those tapes I first heard the Ramones, Marshall Crenshaw, the Mentors (OK, we were in high school, cut us some slack.)

(Update:  Douglas denies ever putting the Mentors on a mixtape, and now that I really think about it, I believe Eric Wepsic was to blame for bringing the Mentors into my life.)

Why is this line so potent?  Why is the message never explicitly presented?  It’s enough — it’s better — that the message only be alluded to, never spoken, never delivered.

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3 thoughts on “I got a message for you

  1. TG says:

    If I was a hairless spinster,
    Covered in festering boils,
    Would you still make love to me,
    Or would you recoil?

  2. dfan says:

    You probably already figured this all out on your own, but those verses are G-D-Eb-G instead of the 100% standard G-D-C-G (which you get in the chorus). That Eb shares the note G in common with the expected C chord, and this G is what the vocals are singing over it, enhancing the feeling that the Eb chord kind of functions as a really weird C chord.

    Eb is really closely related to the preceding D chord in that all you do is move your left hand one fret over, and really far away in that the Eb and Bb notes in it (the ones beside the G that made it a substitute for a C chord) are not in the G major scale at all. Sort of how the number 13 is really similar to the number 12 but also really dissimilar. This is what I love about music.

  3. Bruce Reznick says:

    What I thought about what this Bee Gees song that was in the Top 10 in my senior year of high school: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CA4CInDnTk8

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