No, I Can’t

I originally wrote this one off as another goofy lo-fi song, not nearly as irritating as “Solomon Revisited” but still lacking the emotional impact of everything post-Coroner’s Gambit. But then I said to myself, I said, “Jason, you are fully two-thirds of the way through this month-long project, shouldn’t you have learned by now to give the early stuff a fair shake?”1 And I don’t usually talk to myself2, but I said, “You know, you’ve got a point, let’s give this one another shot.”

Two things jumped out at me right away. For one, this song is damn near a genuine ear-worm, particularly when you compare it to some of the other early stuff. The melody of the chorus is simple, but it contrasts nicely with the repetitive, barely-sung verses, and it dips into a dark groove that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on an alternative rock station.

Second, as much as I prefer the emotionally-destructive Mountain Goats songs to the “joke songs”, this one is actually pretty funny  — for the first two verses, anyway, when the narrator is matter-of-factly thanking his friend for bringing him gifts, which range from “candy” and “some flowers” to a very practical and useful filing cabinet, to the enormous responsibility of caring for a puppy – a responsibility that, quite frankly, I’m not sure the recipient is ready to handle.

The first time through this song, I overlooked the darker undercurrent of the seemingly-goofy verses, but it’s pretty obvious that this guy is not in a good way. The fact that the narrator can’t get these things on his own, that needs someone to come by and make deliveries, does not paint a pretty picture. In the third verse, his benefactor even brings him a coat, which he apparently did not own, despite the fact that the house he’s held up is freezing cold.

Yes, the narrator of “No, I Cant” belongs to the proud lineage of Mountain Goats characters who have barred themselves off from the outside world, whether physically or mentally3. Presumably, the ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’-esque declaration in the title is in response to the question of “Can you come outside for a bit,” or “Could you make a moment to see some of your old friends,” or “Is there any way you could organize your thoughts into a coherent form long enough to figure out just why you still haven’t left your house?”

… and there’s more! This song was actually re-recorded in a “high-fi” version for the Songs For Peter Hughes EP, with longtime JD collaborator Rachel Ware on bass and backing vocals. The later version alters some of the lyrics – adding a reference to the same brand of Panasonic boom box that Darnielle recorded most of his songs on – but most importantly, kicks up the energy of the song with a fuller sound and some classic Ware harmonies on the chorus, turning it into a full-on — I’ll say it — jam.

Alright, voice in my head. You win this time.

  1. Okay, I didn’t like literally say this to myself, but if my better nature was going to give me advice in that moment, it would have been something like this.
  2. This is not, strictly speaking, true.
  3. Or both. It’s usually both.
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