Home Again Garden Grove

1. Let’s just count our blessings here: this is a deep-cut from the middle of the tracklist on the band’s most slept on album, coming right after the emotional one-two punch of “Your Belgian Things” and “Mole,” and musically it sounds like a slightly cleaner version of the character sketches Darnielle would hammer out when he would write and record a song all in the same afternoon. And yet every one of this song’s four verses are razor-sharp and beautiful. There’s the first two verses, with their description of meth-score-as-suicide-mission, ending with the couplet, “Hands in your pockets and soot on your face/The warm love of God seeping through you.” And there’s the entire last verse, “now we are practical men of the world/we tether our dreams to the turf,” I mean I could go on but really, you should just listen to the song, or just pull up the lyrics and read them yourself. There’s no damn reason why a song that sounds this tossed-off should be this perfectly composed.

2. We Shall All Be Healed is Darnielle’s first foray into autobiographical songwriting, coming one year before The Sunset Tree. It’s a fictionalized series of snapshots based on his time spent as a self-described “speed freak” living in Portland, and while I am just as unqualified to write about methamphetamine as I was to write about domestic abuse, I don’t get the same feeling of intimate betrayal that I sometimes do from The Sunset Tree.  I don’t know exactly why that is, though I suspect that I find the mindframe of a self-destructive addict more relatable than that of an abuse survivor, but I can’t really explain that either, it’s probably a subject that requires a good deal of soul-searching and self-analysis to fully uncover and you probably don’t want to hear me talk about myself that much.

3. “So, anyway our dealer is going through one of his periodic I’m-not-going-to-sell-to-you moments, which I’m just assuming means he got enough money and doesn’t need anybody hanging around his house, right now, right, so Max drives into Orange County into the housing projects where he knows who can get it, but we don’t know what to do once we get there. It’s not a thing we know. And I say we — I wasn’t with him this day — thank God, because he went and scored, and he was very excited, it worked, so he pulled over on the side of the 57 freeway in Orange County to fix and nod off, instead of, I guess his idea was fix and then get back on the freeway? But he didn’t do that ’cause he nodded out, and that’s when the California Highway Patrol came up behind him, and asked him how he was feeling with the needle of heroin on the seat, and he went to jail, and so, well, then years later I think, ‘Oh man, remember that one time Max went to Garden Grove?'” — John Darnielle, Bowery Ballroom, New York City, March 29, 2011 (source: The Annotated Mountain Goats)

4. I once heard We Shall All Be Healed described as “drug-user horror movie.” I don’t know where I heard that–or, read that, if I’m being verbally precise. I have a lot of things like this bouncing around in my head, single phrases about works of art that I read somewhere during a long day of wasted hours in front of my computer, probably an Amazon.com review or a comment on Songmeanings.net. I think I read somewhere that the Ramones were essentially just “The Beach Boys with the distortion turned up,” but I have no idea who said that, if it’s meant to be a compliment or an insult, or if it’s even a remotely intelligent thought to have about the Ramones.

Whoever made this comparison — if that person exists outside of my head — was probably influenced by the appearance of Exorcist star Linda Blair’s name on the tracklist, and also by the fact that methamphetamine abuse is fucking scary and Darnielle writes about it in a very clear, real way, not “real” in that he obsesses over the gory details, but emotionally real, so that when he sings about “shoving our heads straight into the guts of the stove,” you know damn sure he’s been there and felt the heat on his face.

If this album is anything like a horror movie, it’s because death and doom lurk around every corner, and we only know for sure that one person will survive.

5. A couple of years ago Darnielle released a demo of a song that he wrote around the same time as the songs on We Shall All Be Healed. I had always thought of it as being lighter in tone than most of the stuff on this album, but listening to it now for the first time in a while, it paints a picture just as bleak, if not actually a little bit scarier. Most of the people on We Shall All Be Healed are either in a deep state of denial about their lives, or they’ve passed through denial to acceptance, which is frightening in its own way, but “You & Me & A High Balcony” details the moments before the awful truth of the situation finally settles over two people who have been running from it for God knows how long. I wouldn’t want to be in that hotel room the next morning.

6. “Jellyfish riding the surf.” We Shall All Be Healed is about as sympathetic a portrait of meth addiction as you’re going to find, but it doesn’t let anyone off the hook, either. The characters here all know that they’re destroying themselves in pursuit of a temporary high; they’re addicts, it’s what they do. And while we’re not subjected to a finger-wagging moral about how Drugs Are Bad For You, we also aren’t given any context for WHY these people want to escape so bad they’ll risk death on a daily basis. We don’t have any reason to sympathize with them — except for the fact that they’re human beings, dangerous to anyone they touch, yes, but also caught up in a series of events they couldn’t possibly have foreseen and couldn’t have planned for even if they did.,

7. Oh man, remember that one time Max went to Garden Grove?

 

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