“Let the truth spring free
Like a jack-in-the-box
Like a hundred thousand cuckoo clocks
From the Oregon corners to the Iowa corn
To the rooms with heat lamps
Where the snakes get born” – “Birth of Serpents”
My first exposure to paranoia came as a child. I only saw my uncle at birthday parties and holidays, but he always took the time to talk to me in his typical measured speech. To me, he seemed the smartest man in the world.
I only recognized his problem when I proudly repeated a factoid of his in conversation with my parents. My mom said dismissively that I sounded just like him. As years passed, I saw him less. For family events someone had to go find him and clean him up–which usually involved buying him a new suit and taking him to the barber for a haircut and shave.
I mention this not because I think that John Darnielle, who is The Mountain Goats (http://www.mountain-goats.com), is paranoid. Nor do I necessarily think that his relatives need to find him and make him presentable for family occasions–for all I know he is well-adjusted and happily married to the woman that he followed to Iowa as she finished her schooling and he began his career in music.
As I listen to The Mountain Goats new album All Eternals Deck (Merge Records, out March 29) I’m reminded of the same vague sense of dread and the desire to expose conspiracy once shared with me as a child. Nestled in alternately bright lush strings and rushed edgy acoustic folk arrangements that any fan of Iron and Wine or The Smiths would appreciate are thickly-veiled references to situations we can only guess about. Enchanted by Darnielle’s passionate delivery, I catch myself singing along with passages like the one above and “Look west and look away from familiar faces / You don’t want to see these guys without their masks on… or their gloves…” and “Ghosts of my childhood: stay with me if you will / Find a place where there’s water, hold you under til you’re still.”
However, in singing along I can’t help but wonder if I sound just like him.