the mountain goats

letter(s) from the editor(s): aly’s top ten albums of 2015

10. The Firewatcher’s Daughter, Brandi Carlile.

You lose so many things you love as you grow

9. Reflection, Fifth Harmony.

Where you from? Must be heaven / You’d be rich if lookin’ good was your profession / Think I’m in love ’cause you so sexy / Boy I ain’t talkin’ bout you I’m talkin’ to my own reflection

8. Another Eternity, Purity Ring.

I wanna know what’s your quietest feeling?

7. RevivalSelena Gomez.

I mean, I could, but why would I want to?

6. Beat the Champthe Mountain Goats.

I personally will stab you in the eye with a foreign object

5. Froot, Marina & the Diamonds.

Sometimes you have to learn to forget about it

4. E•MO•TION, Carly Rae Jepsen.

‘Cause I want what I want do you think that I want too much?

3. Purpose, Justin Bieber.

Is it too late now to say sorry?

2. Made in the A.M., One Direction.

You know I’m always comin’ back to this place / You know I’m always gonna look for your face

  1. Get Weird, Little Mix.

We’re gonna get (get) weird (weird) all night I said let’s get weird all night

Honorable mentions: Sounds Good Feels Good by 5SOS, American Beauty/American Psycho by Fall Out Boy, Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves, III by JoJo.

I apologize for linking to myself so much but I, uh, apparently talk a lot, and also didn’t really listen to anything that I didn’t scream about this year. Sorry that I have so little chill.

Also – I am writing a Purpose review, I am! It is taking a long time because its thesis is “Justin Bieber is lonely and uncertain” and so I have to take frequent crying breaks. So I am sorry for that as well although I would then have to link to myself more, so I guess maybe that equals out.

Happy solstice! Happy whatever holiday! Happy try not to kill your relatives, and remember that no matter what they think of your hair/gender/sexuality/music taste, we love you here. Thank you for sticking with us this far – it means more than you know. See you in 2016!

The Mountain Goats at One Week One Band

Hi everyone! I just wanted to let you know that my  amazing fellow witchsong writer Aly and I are going to be writing about one of our favorite bands, The Mountain Goats, over at One Week One Band this coming week!  OWOB is one of our favorite music blogs ever and we’ve both written there before, but we’re so excited to be talking about the Mountain Goats and super thrilled to be collaborating. We’ve written about the Mountain Goats before on witchsong, but this will really be a chance to dive into the depths of this discography and explore it. We would love it if you would read along, if that sounds like your cup of tea! Find all of our posts collected in chronological order here.

Again, Forever: The Legend of Chavo Guerrero

The video for “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” came out today, and I cried about it. Of course I did.

I wrote about this song when it was first released, and if you haven’t read that I would like you to do so, honestly, because this song means a lot to me and what I wrote about it means a lot to me and I’m not going to say much more about it in the context of this video, so.

The thing here, the thing that made me cry, the thing that is so incredible, is just – to borrow a phrase from Corbin – human victory. Human victory. Imagine! Imagine: your hero keeps you alive, keeps your head above water, keeps you whole in some intangible but excruciatingly real way. Imagine writing something about that, that sharp core of fire within you that has sustained you for so long, an ode to that hero. Even knowing that they’ll never know what they mean to you, what they’ve done for you, putting that out into the universe nonetheless. Thanking them nonetheless; singing their song.

Now imagine that hero receiving your message and loving it. Calling you, telling you how much it means. That’s literally what happened to JD and it is not not my dream as I write these pieces. So I cried when I watched this video, because, like – the progression! The utter triumph! That is what this song is about, isn’t it, about overcoming, about the things that give you hope, that hold you up. Not only has John Darnielle survived but now he stands with his arm around his hero; now he stands with his arm around his friend. I said it before and I’ll say it again: sometimes the only thing you can do is to survive, to outlive, but look where it brings you. Look at this joy; look at this victory. It is so unexpected but it is so deserved, and it is such an incredible balm for my ragged soul. I am so glad that this happened. It gives me such joy and it gives me such hope, such faith in the fact that surviving is rewarded. I could go on but I’m trying to stay brief – JD deserves this, and so much more, and I am just so happy. I can’t imagine a more perfect video for this song; I can’t imagine a more perfect victory.

III: The Empress

Congratulations! You’re pregnant. No, I’m kidding. Well – okay – I’m not kidding, but it may or may not be an actual baby. This is one of those times where you’ll have to look at the context of the card, or possibly just at the odds of you having a baby inside you right now. The Empress is the card of pregnancy, of being on the verge of creation, but it’s not necessarily literal. (Take a deep breath. Sorry I scared you.)

I looked for that gif for eighty years. If you haven’t seen Jupiter Ascending you should, but also, sorry. Appreciate me anyway.

download (2)

The Empress is a big hug. That’s how it feels to me. It’s this incredibly nurturing, safe, protective presence; it is literally Demeter. It is capable of so much destruction, but it only exercises that awesome, terrifying power in times of extremity. It is first and foremost a mother, and I mean that not in a gendered sense but in the sense simply of a caretaker, a protector, someone that would rear up on hind legs and bash in the head of anyone who dared challenge the safety of their loved ones. The things you create – whether they are people, or paintings, or songs, or words – all of these things are yours, part of you given to the world, and you are their fiercest defender. The Empress is therefore a card of beginning, but not quite like an Ace (although Aces in your readings will give you clues as to what the Empress is here about!). It is a card that symbolizes creation, in its myriad forms. Creativity, nurturing; planting something and watching it grow. The Empress is about potential, both realized and waiting to be realized.

No one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Unwritten“, Natasha Bedingfield

When the Empress demands creation, it is generally in the form of art – beauty is the hallmark of the Empress. But the thing here is that everything created is art, when it is done with an eye toward nourishing some part of you. When what you create fulfills you, pleases your soul, it is art, no matter what it is, and the Empress rejoices in it.

The Empress also demands a return to nature, a re-appreciation of the natural world and your place in it. Remember, Demeter: think grain, think flowering, think the turning of the world into seasons where everything is lush and green and living. The appearance of the Empress is a sign that you need to spend more time in nature, that you need to appreciate the natural world. I know it’s hard – trust me, I spend my days indoors, and not by choice – but it is necessary. The Empress is a card of balance, and when she appears it means that your life lacks balance. But in the same breath, she tells you how to fix it – create. Go outside. Inhabit the world, and give to it however you can.

I know this seems a little woobly-hands date-a-girl-who-travels lifestyle-blogging nonsense, but I promise, that’s not what I mean. I know you’re busy, and I know it’s hard to have hobbies, especially as a working person, especially when those hobbies are “create a beautiful thing out of your brain”. Like, where is the spark for that! We were talking about that last night, the witchsongs and I, and I said “a lot of times what I am doing is just slamming hands on keyboard, like,” which is self-deprecating but honestly not untrue. A lot of times I sit down to write and I’m like, I can’t possibly, I have nothing left to say. But I make myself type things, and even if those things are terrible they sort of open the door a little bit for better things to slip through. So what I’m saying here isn’t just, go paint a masterpiece today while sitting in a verdant field for eight hours and you will have attained peace. Like, get out.

What I’m saying here is that there is a lack in your life, an imbalance, and it’s coming from the place in your heart that nurtures things, that feels protective and fierce and warm. The place in your heart that loves the things you create and fights for them. It’s out of practice, is what I’m saying, and any practice is better than none. I know time is short – when you’re walking from your car to work, try and look at what’s around you. Appreciate the sad, small tree in its little sad tree-ring on the sidewalk. Smile at a pigeon, I guess. Let the world know that you see it, and that you see yourself in it. It can be such a small thing, I promise, but it will make such a difference – that is literally the point of the Empress. It shows up to say, “You could feel better than this, and this is how,” and it’s not putting any kind of pressure on you, it’s not an ultimatum, it’s just – it’s very cognizant of your worth, the Empress. It’s very aware of how much you have to give, even when you yourself aren’t. And giving can seem scary, losing parts of yourself, creating little things to go out into the world and be received in some way you can’t predict, but that’s part of it too, the part that flexes the mama-bear muscles of your heart and says no, that is mine, it came from me and I have worth and it does too. It’s hard, to create things, and it’s even harder to be proud of those things once they’ve slipped out of you. But it is so good for you, and I promise you it is worth it. The Empress is asking you to allow the universe to be present in your life, in you, to do good things for you. To ground you, and raise you up, and remind you that you are alive in the day.

and I will go downtown
Stand in the shadows of the buildings

and button up my coat
Trying to stay strong, spirit willing
and I will come back home
Maybe call some friends
Maybe paint some pictures
It all depends
Get Lonely“, the Mountain Goats

The Empress reversed is a warning, a signal that you are overextending yourself. There is a difference between nurturing something, someone, keeping it safe through the night, and micromanaging it to the point that you crush its flame out entirely. You can’t spell smother without mother, ha, ha ha ha, but there’s a small ridiculous grain of truth there. The Empress is about faith, and the reversed Empress means you’re doubting yourself, doubting the things you have made, doubting your place in the universe. It can mean you’re pushing down your own emotions to deal with someone else’s, or that you are experiencing some kind of creative block, or that you are overlooking your own beauty, your own radiant nature. You feel rootless, you know. The Empress reversed is reminding you that you are everything you need, deep down in the little acorn of your heart, tiny fibers ready to branch out and through you. Return to yourself, draw yourself inward. Stoke the flame inside you until it is ready to really burn. Feed it small scraps of paper, encouragement. Nurture yourself, the parts of you that you don’t think are worth anything, because they are. They are. Listen to your soul, and remember: balance, balance.

Breathe it out and breathe it in
Trust the light that shines within
Let it burn ’til you learn to love yourself
Breathe it out and breathe it in
Trust the light that shines within
Let it burn ’til you learn to love yourself
Learn to Love Yourself“, Olivia Newton-John


HI KITTENS. We’re quitting 8tracks. It takes eight million hours to make a playlist and it shuffles it if you try to listen to it more than once and QUITE FRANKLY we are all too pretty and busy to deal with it. So I have made a Spotify account which you are free to be friends with me on if that’s something you’re into, and I will be posting the playlists there and giving you a lil link to them! I will also be copying the last few months over to there as well. Hopefully this works for all of you! If you are at work/somewhere without desktop Spotify it should still work on the ONLINE WEB PLAYER but please let me know if this is an annoying solution to the problem!




Art for witchsong horoscopes is done by the beautiful and talented Briana Finegan of, and her work is available for purchase at Society6.

Taurus: “Pumpin’ Blood,” NONONO. This is your heart: it’s alive, it’s pumping blood.

Happy birthday, my earthiest of earth-signs darling. You are so alive, such a living breathing rooted thing, and this month I want you to think about what it means that the earth is alive even during the winter. Persephone is only underground, and she is whole and hungry in the land of the dead, and whether it’s now or in six months she’s going to find herself in a field surrounded by flowers. It’s tempting to pin yourself too strongly to the seasons – you are a child of the earth, after all, and you are turned and moved and warmed by it – but you are a force of your own. You are a green shoot growing and you are capable of that growth even when the earth is blanketed in snow, because you are part of it and yet apart from it, something stronger and so, so bright. It’s May and it’s your birthday and you are young and green, you are resilient, and you transcend what even the earth cannot. Remember that, this month, and celebrate it – your vitality.

Gemini: “Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1,” the Mountain Goats. Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive/Do every stupid thing to try to drive the dark away.

It’s time to get a little raw, a little wild. This is a month for remembering what an incredible creature you are, a thing of sharp teeth and sharper words, something that is beautiful and terrifying. Read The Secret History this month: “…what could be more terrifying and beautiful [than] to throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown back, throat to the stars, ‘more like deer than human being.'” You are a human but you are so much more, so much less, something elemental and primal and yet infinitely complex. Do what you need to do this month; play with matches if you think you need to. Let the wildness inside you drive you where it wants. Reconnect with yourself, and then let yourself loose on the world. Don’t forget how powerful you are. Do what you need to do to remind yourself of that.

Cancer: “Cosmic Love,” Florence + the Machine. So I stayed in the darkness with you. 

There is a lot of power in loving as much as you do; as often, as deeply. There is a lot of strength, and I want you to remember that this month when you are feeling less-than. You are soft and tender but like a peach; there is a stone in the center of you. You can close your fist on a peach and send its flesh dripping through your fingers but you’ll hurt yourself once you’ve squeezed tight enough, and I want you to remember that. Love doesn’t make you weak, the right kind of love. It makes you strong and guards you and leaves the core of you protected. You have that strength in spades but you shouldn’t need it, is what I’m saying, and I want you to remember that this month. Don’t let anyone squeeze you too tight. Don’t let anyone bruise you.

Leo: “Hallelujah,” Panic! at the Disco. You’ll never know if you don’t ever try again so let’s try, let’s try, let’s try.

Yoda said there is no try and, like, he’s right about a lot of things but he’s not right about that. Sometimes there is only try, and try, and try and try and try beyond the limits of what you think you’re capable of. Sometimes – more often than sometimes, honestly – sometimes trying is more important than actually succeeding, because trying is the part where all you have is belief in yourself. Trying is the part before you ever see a result, the part where all you’re going on is the faith that what you’re doing will mean something. And that is what makes it mean something. Am I making sense? You are always becoming, you are always growing and changing, but when you let go of the rudder – even if all you’ve been doing is clutching it in the midst of a hurricane – you let go of some fundamental part of yourself. Don’t stop trying, this month. Try to try. Keep trying.

Virgo: “Long Highway,” the Jezabels. Long highway, mesmerizing / Long highway, paralyzing.

You’re waiting for a train that will take you far away. You don’t know where this train will take you, but it doesn’t matter. Why? Listen, Virgo, now. In this quiet moment in the rushing blood of your heart. Why doesn’t it matter where the train is going? Why are you here, now, in the middle of the tracks? You don’t have to tell me. You don’t have to tell anyone. But you need to know it, for yourself, in your bones. Take this month and think about where you are, and what you hope for, and what sits heavy in your belly like a lead weight. Take this month and figure out what it really is that you want to leave behind. Escaping is fine but if you take the wrong things with you by accident you’ll never get free. It’s not the house that’s haunted.

Libra: “Young Blood,” Bea Miller. We make our own luck in this world.

“Do what you love” is a lie, and it’s killing you. You are so caught up in this idea that what you do isn’t “real” until you love it, until you are finally doing what you dream of. And that is a beautiful ideal, and I wish it for you and everyone, but I want you to realize this month that you don’t need it. Work is a means to an end in the society that we live in, and quite frankly those of us with jobs are lucky to be employed at all (Tina Belcher “In this economy?” dot gif). Take this month and think about what you do love – the end to which your work is a means. Don’t beat yourself up about working where you do, no matter where it is. It’s a stepping stone, whether it’s to a different job or just to buying brand-name soaps, but it is so important, and once you learn to view it as something that it’s okay for you not to love you may find you actually like it more.

Scorpio: “Breathe Me,” Sia. I am small and needy, warm me up and breathe me.

It is so hard, sometimes, to remember your joy. It is so easy to get swept away in this terrible river of obligations, of fear and worry and doubt, and I won’t lie to you – it’s a deep river, it is. But it’s narrow in places, and not always as swift as it feels. Don’t be afraid to reach out of it, this month – to whatever and whoever makes you feel safe, makes you feel less like drowning. Try and find your joy again, this month, however you can. There are so many terrible things but there are so many good ones, small ones, things to armor yourself with against the things that would break you, these jagged things in this dark river. Remember them, and find them, and cup them to you like the small blessings they are. You aren’t going to drown in here.

Sagittarius: “I Feel It All,” Feist. The wings are wide; wild card inside.

You are allowed to be happy and sad at the same time. You are allowed to rejoice in everything you love and still feel sorrow in the back of your mind, in the corners of your heart. This is normal. This is the human condition. The world is so large and cruel and wonderful. The ocean gives us life and it’s beautiful beyond anything you’ve ever seen but it drowns people and it holds monsters and we won’t stop filling it with trash. All of these things are true; so many seemingly impossible things are true. Neither can live while the other survives and yet both live. All of these things exist simultaneously, and it is not within me to ask you to focus solely on one thing, to stop feeling one emotion at the expense of another. There are so many sadnesses, small and large, personal and impersonal, and at least as many joys. They are all yours to let run through you like wind, and the course they take can’t be defined. Don’t cut yourself off from what you feel.

Capricorn: “Don’t Waste My Time,” Little Big Town. I felt so sure, I never questioned why.

You are so good at working, Capricorn. You are so dedicated, so impossibly thorough, so stubborn. Don’t get me wrong, you are very willing to walk away from things that don’t reward you. But – sometimes you don’t know what rewards you, or you’re mistaken about it. Sometimes you think something will reward you because you want it to, so badly, and you ignore a lot of signs that it’s not going to. But you deserve better than that. Take this month and think about why you are pursuing what you are, and whether it’s going to give you what you deserve. There is a difference between something being difficult and something being fruitless, and it’s easy for you to blur the lines between those two. Just because you want it to pay off doesn’t mean it will, and it’s worth it this month to make sure that your work isn’t going unrewarded.

Aquarius: “Landslide,” Fleetwood Mac. I’ve been afraid of changing ’cause I built my life around you, but time makes you bolder – even children get older. I’m getting older too.

You are so young, no matter how old you are. You are still growing, still not fully formed. Sometimes it feels like you are permanent, immutable, like you have finally ascended into the phoenix of yourself but then you shed another skin. This is normal; this is good. Don’t be afraid of change. Take this month and think about your past lives, all the people you have been. Think about how solid you felt, how real, how final. You were real – don’t get me wrong – but you are real in every iteration of yourself, every new layer. Evolving doesn’t make who you were any less real, and your past selves live within you like flames. You are you are you, and you are changing whether you realize it or not, and that means nothing, and it means everything. Let yourself be; let yourself grow.

Pisces: “Sun Daze,” Florida Georgia Line. Work on my lay back, ain’t nothing wrong with gettin’ my sun daze on.

You have reached the light at the end of the tunnel, or – let me find a less death metaphor. You have made it through the eye of the needle, for now, and you deserve a rest. Be gentle with yourself this month, be soft. Let yourself sit around, sleep in, read magazines. You have done things you thought you couldn’t possibly do; you have done them, and now you are here. There is still work to be done – there is always work to be done – but you have reached a kind of summit, a peak in the high unending mountains of your life. Everything is spread before you and below you, sparkling in the sun, and you are going to descend upon it like a falcon. There is always more to do, always more to climb, but rest, now, in the knowledge that you have climbed successfully before. You will again.

Aries: “Hero,” Regina Spektor. It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright. No one’s got it all. 

Everything is going to be okay, Aries. That is all I can give you, but it is so important, and I want you to really hear it. It’s going to be okay. You are strong, but that’s not all you are, and what’s more – there are so many people around you that are strong too. You don’t always have to be the hero. Sometimes it’s okay to let yourself be saved, to fall into someone’s arms. You can’t be everything for yourself, as much as you want to. Some things have to come from somewhere else; some things you have to let in. Take this month and think about what it means to you to be whole, and then think about what it means that you are whole. Even if you feel you’re missing crucial bits of yourself, even if you feel like you can’t be whole because you feel weak, small, empty, listen: you are whole. You are whole even when you aren’t enough for yourself, and you have to learn to acknowledge that. Let help find you; let yourself be weak. It’s alright.

I Don’t Wanna Die In Here: The Mountain Goats in Chicago

t-minus an hour til the mountain goats

Listen, I bought tickets off Craiglist for this show. This sounds like such a silly way to quantify it but I did, I bought tickets off Craigslist and met a sketchy guy and paid him forty-five American dollars in crumpled bills that smelled like cough-drops, at a bar a block away from the Vic. I just turned eighteen and now I can get into the venue, just barely, still seems like it’s a trick.  It felt like such a frivolous, self-indulgent way to spend a Saturday. Still does, really, when I can get any distance away from the fact that I don’t know what the shape of my life is without this show in it.  It felt like such a self-indulgent way to spend a Saturday and also, essential for my survival, two things which are not actually contradictory instincts. It was funny – the girl I went with, both of us fleeing campus, apologized for not having bought tickets before the show sold out. “I was doing fine a month ago,” she said. “I wasn’t falling apart. I didn’t think I’d need to see the Mountain Goats.” This is coy but it is the truth, I swear: it is possible that if you do not need to be told to survive that you will not start crying in the middle of “Heel Turn 2,” a refrain of I don’t wanna die in here!!! It is possible that if you are not deeply unhappy that it will not do as much for you, this show, this ugly unabashed complicated affirmation of how very much alive you are.

This is the theme, then, overwhelming in its exuberance, too much for me now more than 24 hours ago, sticking in my throat like when you need to get your tonsils taken out: I don’t want to die in here.

The Mountain Goats are touring to promote their new album Beat the Champ, which is both nominally and actually about professional wrestling. Functionally, because I know nothing about professional wrestling and refuse to apologize for it, this is an album about the extravagant, technicolor power of having heroes, an album about what it means to feel protected, an album about violence. “To survive is to leave a legacy of hope,” John Darnielle wrote on his blog one time, and God, what a silly thing to say in a live review of a band, but I can’t help it. I won’t talk about Beat the Champ too much because Aly has already said better things about it than I can but it is a revelation live: at turns devastatingly melancholy (“Southwestern Territory”) or deliciously ravenous (“Foreign Object”) or so much and so brave that my chest feels like its going to crack open, ooze with my insides (“The Legend of Chavo Guerrero”). It is filled with spite and hope and with heroes, larger than life, their knuckles covered in blood.

I am not going to say that watching John Darnielle makes him seem like the subjects of his new album, those larger-than-life wrestlers, but what I will say is this: this is the first time I’ve ever seen the Mountain Goats live, and I am shocked at the measure of devotion which they inspire, which John Darnielle inspires – in me, in the people standing around me, in all of us. I am religiously moved by this 48 year old with a guitar and a strange fashion sense. We sing along (fairly softly, fairly in tune) to the chorus of one of the new songs, adoring, transfixed: Some things you will remember. Some things stay sweet forever. He beams at us. “When you guys did that, that was the sweetest thing!” God, I mean – I didn’t think it was this important to me for John Darnielle to think we’re a good audience, but it is.

He tells a couple stories explaining the wrestling lingo on his album (bemusedly but only semi-apologetically) and makes a few snarky comments at the people yelling out for songs. Mostly he thanks us profusely and often. Every time there is this little cheer-giggle that goes through the crowd, ecstatic. Doesn’t he know that we’re so grateful he’s here? Almost every time he says anything its met by an ecstatic cheer. We want to be a good crowd.

Still. This is not entirely a show about raucous screaming, about happiness.

They play “Get Lonely” barely above a whisper, a song that goes

And I will go downtown
Stand in the shadows of the buildings
And button up my coat
Trying to stay strong, spirit willing

And I will come back home
Maybe call some friends
Maybe paint some pictures
It all depends

Chicago is cold and awful in the winter, I was cold and awful in the winter. Sometimes I still imagine the rot spiraling out from my ribcage, killing everything, Nothing ever grows. John Darnielle talks about “Get Lonely” and tells us all that those shadows are the shadows of Chicago downtown, says something about how finding yourself in the darkness underneath them sometimes takes away that last little degree of light that apparently was keeping you together. The crowd cheers, I cheer, we all scream at how purely true this is, what a gift we’ve been given. Sometimes I go downtown trying to escape from the sadness that coats the back of my throat when I’m on my college campus and it works but also, it doesn’t really work. I am a very small girl, skin and bones assembled out of paper-mache and Elmer’s glue, probably. “Get Lonely” is all I am when I am the worst of myself: “I will get lonely,” a very small voice, not loud enough to even break. I want you to know that during this song I started to cry very loudly and I couldn’t stop, was petrified someone was going to ask me I was alright. I will get lonely and gasp for air, and look up at high windows and see your face there. I know exactly whose face I was thinking of – that is the strange thing about the Mountain Goats, this ability to make it seem like liminal personal truth and universal truth are the same thing.

I am trying to explain what happened and I am falling very short. Other people have talked about this, this inexplicable honesty, something magic and alchemical constructed out of strange lyrics and quiet music and an instrumental bit of interior self-loathing on the listener’s part. Stir, add a room full of people and sweat dripping down my back and a need, a need to be told I am allowed to be a person sometimes. To say that’s all it takes would be an insult, to the musicianship at work here, to the work put into this album – it’s a very good album. I’m not, though, in the kind of place where I can pretend that I wasn’t shaking to pieces during this show, that I was paying objective attention, that I was thinking of things that this piece was going to talk about.

The band leaves and it’s just John Darnielle on the stage with a keyboard and a piano and everything is very very still. JD starts a song, pauses, says he doesn’t play it live much. Tells us he wants us to put our phone cameras away, because it’s kinda intimate, y’know? I love him, I love the Mountain Goats. I feel suddenly like I will tear out the throat of anyone who is rude and horrible at this show. He has very kind eyes and I have an immense amount of faith in him, would probably ride behind him into a strange kind of holy war, if he were the kind of man who wanted to fight a holy war with anybody. This is not a thing he seems to want to elicit and I’m not proud of it, not proud of the way that I can’t entirely untangle my fierce fibrous love for the music and for the person who writes it. I think some of that is implicit in trusting the Mountain Goats. You have to trust them and you have to trust John Darnielle. I don’t think anybody took video of that song and I hope nobody took video of that song, only half out of selfishness. I mean, he asked us not to.

If this solo portion at the center of the set is its quiet heart, the rest of the show goes about dismantling me from the inside out. All I do is scream along. I’m a compulsive overthinker; everything gets processed, everything is aesthetic. Sometimes I go to shows and I can’t stop thinking about whether or not I am dancing correctly long enough to dance at all, and then “Up the Wolves” happens and I am thinking about nothing but the spite inside of me, how I would like to spit it out at the whole world.

I’m going to get myself in fighting trim
Scope out every angle of unfair advantage
I’m going to bribe the officials, I’m going to kill all the judges

This is not a wholly sad show but it is all emotion, all catharsis, like coughing up blood in public, like freeing up the inside of your guts. “Foreign Object,” from the new Beat the Champ album, is an indescribable delight live – all brass and drums and a thousand people raucously screeching out “I PERSONALLY WILL STAB YOU IN THE EYE WITH A FOREIGN OBJECT”.  You’re allowed to be mean, you are. It feels totally fair. You are allowed to want to hurt the people who hurt you (From the song a lot of people were hoping to hear that he didn’t sing in Chicago: I hope the people who did you wrong have trouble sleeping at night). “Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1” forgives you for so many thing instantaneously:

Play with matches if you think you need to play with matches
Seek out the hidden places where the fire burns hot and bright
Find where the heat’s unbearable and stay there if you have to
Don’t hurt anybody on your way up to the light
And stay alive

God, what kind of permission that is, what a thing. Stay there if you have to. Don’t hurt anybody but stay there if you have to. Do whatever it is you need to do. There is something very self-indulgently cathartic about a Mountain Goats show. Song after song and you start to think (inevitably, if you’re like me) that your life cannot possibly be this important. You cannot possibly be told that you are alive, that you are supposed to stay alive, so many times in one night. I don’t deserve it. I am not supposed to have this.  I would say that I’ve never felt as powerful as when I was snarling out it’s gonna take you people years to recover from all of the damage with a thousand other people but that would be lying, would be wiping away a thousand other things this show gave to me, so many other songs: speed up to the precipice / then slam on the brakes (“Cry For Judas”, raucous, joyful); the dull pain that you live with isn’t getting any duller (“The Young Thousands”, matter-of-fact); I don’t wanna die in here (“Heel Turn 2”, ecstatic.) It should feel trite but instead it doesn’t, just feels instinctive. What a thing, right, to make wanting to live instinctive. There is this howling thing inside of my chest that wants to be happy and even then it only sometimes wants to live. But if you say something over and over long enough it is instinctive, sinks down into your bones like it got carved there, a talisman. I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me. Stay alive. Land mines on the battlefield, find one safe way and stay alive. I don’t wanna die in here. That, then, the key line of two separate songs: I don’t wanna die in here. I feel like I’m crawling out of some damp cocoon of foggy loneliness and it’s awful and it hurts and it would be so much easier to go back to sleeping but probably I would eventually suffocate.

They played all the famous stuff and I wanted that, I’ll admit it. I’m such a baby fan (barely allowed into the venue), I wanted to hear “No Children,” I wanted to hear “This Year,” I wanted to hear  “Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.”

I was right to want those things, and I think I did want them for the right reasons; a thousand people singing “I HOPE YOU DIE, I HOPE WE BOTH DIE,” a thousand people singing “I AM GONNA MAKE IT THROUGH THIS YEAR IF IT KILLS ME,” a thousand people singing “HAIL SATAN.” JD kinda laughed about it, said there were two songs everyone wanted to hear when they came to these shows and he was going to play both of them, because we deserved it. This is the best way I know how to explain: every single second of this show felt like a gift, an earned gift, a gift given to me because I deserve it. I don’t think I deserve to be told over and over again to claw my way past the sludge filling up my insides towards some sort of light but I guess I do, apparently I do. He kept saying ‘thank you’ and I still haven’t figured out how to parse it, how to synthesize my immense gratefulness with being thanked. I want to see them again. I want to see them every weekend for a million years, probably, in exactly this way: barely get into the venue, sneak a beer, cry my eyes out. This seems, now, like the way of things.

They played all the famous stuff but what I remember best, I think, is still one of those new songs: “Animal Mask”. I am humming it now still but what’s darting around in my head is the muscle memory of singing along to it very softly, the way it felt like I was capable of anything, worth everything, glowing.

Some things you will remember. Some things stay sweet forever.


Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan
Cry for Judas
Animal Mask
Foreign Object
Get Lonely
The Young Thousands
Heel Turn 2
Song for My Stepfather (unreleased)
Heel Turn 1 (unreleased)
Never Quite Free
Southwest Territory
Slow West Vultures
Up the Wolves
Game Shows Touch Our Lives
Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1
The Legend of Chavo Guerrero
The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton
Encore 2
This Year
No Children
Spent Gladiator 2

I Will Be Saved: the Mountain Goats’ BEAT THE CHAMP

I try to talk to everybody all the time but I have a special word for all my fellow abuse survivors tonight ok. if you make it to midnight tonight do you understand what that means? TOTAL VICTORY YET AGAIN. AND AGAIN. AND AGAIN. so here’s to us & here’s to all of us because I bet this year had its brutal speed bumps for more people than just me but guess what. surviving is what we do, and yet again, we did. Thanks to everybody who saw me through this one. And understand this, too: even if you feel like you’re barely scraping by, your survival is meaningful to others. To me, for example.
John Darnielle via Twitter, Dec 31 2012

Beat the Champ opens in such a hopeful way. John Darnielle sounds so alone, as he sings, one voice in the darkness like a match flaring, and it should be bleak but it isn’t, somehow. It sounds like nostalgia and the future all at once, a dreamy recalling of what it will be like to die a legend. Beat the Champ is an album about legends, an album about pro wrestling, but it is also about a light against the darkness. It is also about survival.

I said this before when I reviewed “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero,” the first single off this album, but I’ll say it again: I know literally nothing about pro wrestling. I know that the Rock did it, once upon a time, and I also know that that fact being the one fact I know is probably infuriating to people who care about pro wrestling, but that is the entire scope of my knowledge. And despite that – despite my total unfamiliarity with the premise of this entire album – I love Beat the Champ, truly and deeply. It resonates with me, it makes me want to fight someone in the desert. That’s a good thing.

This album, for me, is about survival. Survival as a victory, and victory as survival. This album is about heroes, and how we make them, and how they are broken, and how they remain heroes nonetheless. This album is about saving and being saved. Listen to “The Ballad of Bull Ramos:” an old, retired wrestler, going blind, losing his leg, and the doctor asks him if he’s that wrestler. And he says yes, sir, that’s me, I’m him, and then the chorus goes never die, never die. Rise, rise, in the desert sand. Rise, rise, surrounded by friends. What does it mean, to have been someone? What does it mean to know that the person that you were is gone, but that you are also still that person? How do you look back and say not “That was me, I was him,” but that is. I am. You were a hero once and you still are, you still can be, if you simply claim it. Survival as victory. Listen to “Foreign Object:” One of these days my legs will both snap like twigs. If you can’t beat ’em make ’em bleed like pigs. Fighting through a mist of blood and rage, sharp thin something concealed in a fist. Nothing matters but winning and if you can’t win you will make them pay for it in flesh and you deserve that. Victory as survival. (An aside: this track also contains the delightfully well-enunciated line I personally will stab you in the eye with a foreign object, which I am probably going to embroider on a throw pillow. What a fucking beautiful, pointed, straightforward message. This victory is my survival. I digress.)

It is worth it to note that victory – that survival – is often ripped from the jaws of something still alive, and John Darnielle is no stranger to that idea. This album’s victory is earned and deserved and righteous, even when its muzzle is soaked in blood. Let him who thinks he knows no fear look well upon my face, he says, and I shudder as my soul snarls in agreement. It is perhaps not the honorable thing, to pray for the death of your hero’s enemies, but it is the truth and it is your heart and it is bitter and it is your survival.

Listen: even in the midst of carnage, of the blood-spattered faces of the audience, there is love. Even as your vision swims and you drop to one knee there is such joy, such exhilaration, a pure sweet fierce thing that leaps in your veins and reminds you why you fight. Even defeat is not defeat when you have fought well, because you continue to survive. You are a hero and you will remain a hero long after this is over, when the present is only memories. You will survive, that continued survival which is something sharp in the eye to those that would see you broken. You have this wolf inside you, this great and terrible thing which claws its way forward to the victory of life, this great unending fight that demands everything. You are constantly fighting, and because of that you are constantly victorious. Your existence is a triumph and a miracle and something you have bled for, and you are a hero. Rise, rise.

Beat the Champ is available now from Merge Records.

The Legend of Chavo Guerrero

“A song about my childhood hero, Chavo Guerrero, may he live a thousand years and all his days be filled with joy.”

John Darnielle could honestly write an album about watching laundry spin in a dryer and I would listen to it and I would love it, and I would probably cry. The reason I say this is because I don’t care about pro wrestling, at all, despite the fact that my good friend Aria insists that my love of boy bands means I would love it. I’ve just never gotten into it. But – here is this. John Darnielle, the brains and the heart and the mouthpiece of the Mountain Goats, is writing an album about pro wrestling called Beat the Champ, which is coming out later this year and which I will be talking about extensively. And crying about. Extensively. I know this because he released the album’s first track this January, and despite the fact that is about a pro wrestler that I have never heard of I cried about it. So! Let’s chat.

Look high
It’s my last hope
Chavo Guerrero, coming off the top rope

I don’t know what kind of childhood you personally had, but I know you had a hero. I know there was a shining beacon of goodness and righteousness and safety in your life, no matter who it was, no matter if they were real or imagined or simply your parents. Children are so small, and so brave, and so much smarter than they ever get credit for. They are small people, and that is something I often forget, which sounds bad. What I mean is that they are often more perceptive than we realize; they contain everything that we contain in smaller, less developed doses. They are us as we were, we are them as they could be. (I have a lot of feelings about children.)

So. Young John Darnielle. JD has made no secret of the fact that his upbringing was a tormented one, and I love that, quite frankly. I used to be someone who thought that being cool about things was the way to be: never show that you are hurt, never acknowledge the wrong someone has done to you. I used to not like Taylor Swift, is what I’m saying. I used to think that there was anything other than righteous fury in publicly denouncing those who have wronged you, and I know better now. I love that JD is vengeful; I love that he never offers forgiveness. Some people don’t deserve it. Some people you survive and you keep surviving and your anger is a beautiful and perfect thing and it keeps you warm. I hope someday I write an entire album about everyone who ever hurt me and I hope that it buoys someone the way that the Mountain Goats’ music has done for me. John Darnielle has taught me so much about owning your feelings, particularly your hate. I’m getting sidetracked.

Chavo Guerrero is a pro wrestler who is, to my knowledge and based on the lyrics of this song, still alive. When JD was a kid he was famous, and he was JD’s hero, and so he was more than a wrestler. Darnielle talks a lot about pro wrestling, both as a fixture in his current life and as something incredibly important in his young years, and one thing that always sticks with me when he does is the idea of wrestling as a delivery of justice.

Defender of the downtrodden, king of the hill
Tag-team champion with Al Madril
Before a black and white TV in the middle of the night
I’m lying on the floor, I’m bathed in blue light
The telecast’s in Spanish, I can understand some
And I need justice in my life
Here it comes

Darnielle’s late stepfather abused him; I hope my use of the active voice conveys my disgust and my contempt and my condemnation. I don’t know the particulars and I never will, but the pieces of his childhood that JD chooses to share paint a picture that I don’t like. I don’t think anyone deserves forgiveness, but I think there is a special place in hell for those who hurt someone they’re supposed to protect. This song is about pro wrestling but what it’s really about is young John Darnielle, lying on the floor in front of a flickering TV screen in a dark room, imagining a world where evil is punished. Being given that world, in the form of pro wrestling; being given a defender. Watching vengeance “descending like fire on the people who deserved it most.” Chavo Guerrero defeats his enemies; so too shall I defeat mine, in time.

He was my hero back when I was a kid
You let me down but Chavo never once did
You called him names to try to get beneath my skin
Now your ashes are scattered on the wind

I heard his son got famous, he went nationwide
Coast-to-coast with his dad by his side
I don’t know if that’s true but I’ve been told
It’s real sweet to grow old

This verse kills me. It’s so triumphant, so beautifully, bitterly vengeful. Your ashes are scattered on the wind; it’s real sweet to grow old. You are dead and I am alive and I will grow old where you did not, because I am still alive, because I have survived you. It is a cruel and terrible thing that outliving someone is often the only victory you have over them, but it is no less real and no less important for its cruelty. I wonder how John Darnielle thinks of Chavo and his son, traveling the world. I wonder if he imagines a world where that could have been him, a world where he felt like someone’s son. I wonder how it feels to him to be his own son’s hero. I wonder how it feels to call himself a father, and to know that he has succeeded in some intangible but excruciatingly important way. I am projecting here, I’m sure, but still I don’t think I’m wrong.

This song might mean more to me if I knew anything about pro wrestling, but somehow I doubt that; somehow I don’t know if it could. This song is about vengeance; this song is about the pure cold spiteful fire of survival, and everything that holding that fire in your chest makes you feel. Pro wrestling is the lens for it, and like, maybe I should start watching, I guess, but I have the justice that I need in my life. I have the Mountain Goats.