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.
- 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.
- This is not, strictly speaking, true.
- Or both. It’s usually both.