Tag Archives: the mountain goats

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.

Tagged , ,

Mountain Goats have sold out the High Noon

Nothing ever sells out here. I’m proud of Madison. And looking forward to the start of the show.

Update. Home from the show.  A few notes.

  • JD is an interesting guitar player but a boring piano player.
  • I don’t think I’ve seen him play with a full band since, I dunno, 2004?  I like the rocking-out full-band Mountain Goats better than the hushed one-guy-with-guitar Mountain Goats.  But best of all I like the rocking-out one-guy-with-guitar Mountain Goats.
  • So I have a theory that the correct way to listen to Mountain Goats music is not to play the record, or to see him perform, but to play the songs on guitar in your room by yourself.  Given this you’d think I’d approve of the many people singing along at this show, but I did not.  It was annoying.
  • John Darnielle and Persi Diaconis do the same oversized “I’ve won this crowd over” grin.
  • Opener was Final Fantasy, kind of like Andrew Bird if instead of one guy he was two guys.  Violin guy Owen Pallett backed up JD for a sort of great pizzicatified “Going to Bristol,” the only old number on the setlist.
  • Songs I thought I might hear and was sad not to hear:  “Palmcorder Yajna,” “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton.”  Songs I knew I wouldn’t hear:  “Sinaloan Milk Snake Song.”  “Deianara Crush.”  “The Monkey Song.” “Going to Marrakesh.”
  • Looking through the Wikipedia Mountain Goats pages I’m amused to find my own name, credited with translating the Swedish phrases in the liner notes to Sweden.  I didn’t translate them but I did get them translated, by the Swedish guy who ran the Calla Lily Cafe, where Cathy O’Neil and I used to study Milne’s article on abelian varieties every morning when we were in grad school.
  • I was going to link to a Mountain Goats track here, but something he played made me think of another song I really love: “Radio Silence,” the single from Soviet rock god Boris Grebenshikov’s unsuccessful 1989 attempt to break into the English-language alternative pop market.  He should have made it!
Tagged , ,

Letter from Belgium

One complains about the American political situation a lot, of course, and why not? But it’s good to keep in mind that other countries face structural dilemmas which are totally alien to us. In a long and brilliant post on Crooked Timber, Ingrid Robeyns explains the deadlock between the Flemings and the Walloons, and why Belgium has no government. Just to give a taste:

Governments in Belgium, both the federal and the regional ones, are always made up from coalitions. But these coalitions are not the same in all governments. In part this is due to the non-coinciding elections [Federal elections are held every 4 years, but elections for the regions and communities every 5 years, together with the European elections. Local elections are every 6 years.], in part this is also due to the fact that the parties do not have the same size at both sides of the language border. For example, the Flemish Christian democrats are the biggest party in Flanders, but are a rather small party within Francophone Belgium. Flanders also has a considerable extreme-right seperatist party, Vlaams Belang (which, ironically, is receiving some votes from Francophones in Brussels thanks to their security and anti-muslim agenda), whereas there is no such political factor in Wallonia. So these asymmetries create difficult situations. For examples, at the last regional elections the Christian Democratic Parties became part of the regional governments in Flanders and Wallonia, but they were part of the opposition in the Federal Government (which was made up from the (Flemish and French) Social Democratic Parties, and the (Flemish and French) Liberal Parties). This can lead to strange party-dynamics, which in the present crisis of the negotiations the federal level are also an explanatory factor why there is still no Belgian government. For example, the French Christian Democratic Party (CDH) is currently part of the government of the Walloon region, together with the French Social-Democratic Party (PS). But at the last federal elections, the PS (and its Flemish sisterparty SP) lost many seats, such that the current negotiations at the federal level are between the Christian Democratic parties and the liberal parties. This leads to the difficult situations for parties that are in different positions at the different levels. CDH is part of the center-left coalition at the Walloon regional level, but is negotiating to become part of a center-right government at the federal level. Since the voters are likely not to make a distinction between whether the acts of parties are made in their capacities as rulers at the federal versus the regional levels, it may be very difficult for any particular party to be in a center-right coalition at one level, and a center-left at another level.

There are some advantages to the calcified two-party system that Americans, to some extent, enjoy.

If you want to listen to the Mountain Goats song “Letter from Belgium” (and I really think you might!) you can listen to a live performance (19 Oct 2004, Mt. Pleasant, SC) here, via the remarkable Live Music Archive:

“That’s good, we can always use some more electrical equipment!”

Update:  If you listen to more of the linked concert, you hear John Darnielle getting the news of the Red Sox winning game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, right after “Going to Georgia.”

Tagged , ,
%d bloggers like this: