I am far from where we live,
And I have not learned how to forgive
But I will wait
I will wait
I will wait
The subject of waiting comes up a lot in John Darnielle’s catalogue. Often, the characters in these songs are waiting for a moment of transformation, whether it’s the narrator of “Hast Thou Considered The Tetrapod” longing for the day he can escape his abusive step-father, or the profoundly damaged narrator of “White Cedar” and his zealous belief that he might someday be free of his own mental illness. Whether or not they ever receive the blessing they’re waiting for is usually beside the point – even though the kid in “Tetrapod” leaves his dysfunctional home and outlives his abuser, while the guy in “White Cedar” is almost certainly never going to get better, they’re both drawn with the same sympathy Darnielle affords all of his creations.
That same sympathy extends to characters who are waiting for something bad – the roomful of people anxiously awaiting a potential disaster in “In The Craters On The Moon” abide diligently to a strict code of behavior, even if it doesn’t seem to be doing them any good. The guilty man hiding from his neighbors in “If You See Light” might think of himself as a monster, but he gets in a few good shots at the nosey interlopers that dare to pass judgment on him. Even the person in “Black Pear Tree,” staring up at the sky waiting for a storm that never comes, still has some faith they will emerge unscathed from whatever ambiguous darkness has gathered over their heads.
Whether they’re stuck in a holding pattern of misery or white-knuckling the last bit of hope they have left, the characters in these songs are portrayed in a noble light. Waiting becomes an almost heroic act, not because the thing they’re waiting for is morally pure or righteous, but because the act itself requires a spectacular show of human strength and will.
… and then you have the narrator of “Blues In Dallas,” a guy holding a grudge so deep in his heart he expects it to endure past the seventh trumpet of the Apocalypse, a guy with some real violent thoughts in his head and an unhealthy fixation on the place where John F. Kennedy was shot. Sung by Darnielle in a sleepy, menacing drone over a buzzing keyboard and a unceasing, tinny drum-machine, this song has none of the painful longing that marks his other songs about waiting. This one is dingy, unglamorous, unromantic; a song about waiting for a day that will never come and wouldn’t make you happy even if it did.
But there’s that tiny lilt in Darnielle’s voice at the end of the last verse when he sings “I will wait.” And then there’s that little bit of ambiguity in the narrator’s final refrain of devotion – is there a chance that he’s pledging his soul not to revenge, but to the belief that he might still learn how to forgive the person who wronged him?
Or is he just… waiting?
(hey everyone! i’m going to be writing about a different mountain goats song every day this month. all the songs will be picked randomly by the ‘shuffle’ function on my itunes player – unless i get like five tracks in a row from ‘Taboo VI’, in which case i might have to take matters into my own hands. i don’t really need a theme/gimmick to spend all my time thinking about The Mountain Goats, but the ‘official’ name of this series is ‘march sadness’ because it’s march and i’m a funny guy, ha-ha ha-ha)