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Goths

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“Goths” by the Mountain Goats (2017) is about growing up goth. Specifically it’s about growing up goth in Southern California in the 1980s. Musically, the album is about as opposite from intense as you can get – just goofy, lighthearted soft rock, a la steely dan, that you can do your work to. It’s a very ironic contrast to the dark, echo-ing music that we once wore as a tribute to our risky lives. As the lyrics to “Stench of the Unburied” go

And outside it’s ninety-two degrees
And KROQ is playing Siouxsie and the Banshees

And in “Wear Black”, an homage to the fashion that gaves us goths such a sense of identity:

Wear black when it’s light outside
Wear black when there’s no light
Wear black following the left hand path
Wear black but I get right

This describes a feeling I know so well, the power and shock-value of simply wearing black clothes, back in 80s California when, when Esprit and Camp Beverly Hills reigned and everything was bright and pastel surfer-preppy, but you dreamed of being in England where everything was dark and grey and there were old castles.

But Darnielle doesn’t just get the fashion of being a goth youth (though he gets it SO well). He describes the feeling of listening to the music – the bands like Bauhaus, the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Mission, and of course the Sisters of Mercy. L.A. goth was not just fashion. We knew our music very well! In “Rain in Soho”, to a Sisters of Mercy beat:

The river goes where the water flows
But no one knows when the Batcave closed
The river goes where the water flows
But no one knows when the Batcave closed

and in true Darnielle fashion, travelling back into the 16 year old goth kid’s mind when he finally spies that black-haired soul mate who he can suffer through life’s torture with (though also sort of ironic, like a joking parent watching the teens at the mall):

There’s a club where you’d like to go
You could meet someone who’s lost like you
Revel in the darkness like a pair of open graves
Fumble through the fog for a season or two

Of course we all have to grow up, don’t we? And this eventually happened to all goth children. Because no matter how talented, or art-damaged, or alienated you are, even if you believe, like when John Cale in Half Past France, that “people always bored me anyway”, you will one day have to wake up to the alarm and go to work:

Crusty boots in the corner of the closet
By the tackle box
Once proud shining silver buckles
Safe behind the normalcy locks

Baubles and bangles
A lost age
Still all aglow with the radiance of the stage

That’s who I was (that’s who I was)
This is who I am (this is who I am)
Work to pay down the interest
On the mortgage
Used to get paid by the gram

And that’s how it is. You used to be on a collision course with death. You were surely going to end up a vampire living in the Paris Catacombs. But maybe instead, you just gradually outgrew the lifestyle and now you have a desk job, sitting in a cube with “Goths” playing on your earbuds. No one understands you. No one ever did, but now it doesn’t even matter.

Instead everyone goes about their own lives, like on the cover of this album. Everyone wears black. Everyone dies their hair funny colors for no reason. But you are still the only one who really feels the music of Sisters of Mercy, and Nick Cave, Bowie in his Berlin period, and you remember Gene Loves Jezebel.

A few more songs that deserve mention are “Unicorn Tolerance”. The lyrics aren’t my favorite. He kind of admits that it was all for show:

And when the clouds do clear away
Get a momentary chance to see
The thing I’ve been trying to beat to death
The soft creature that I used to be
The better animal I used to be

But that’s not how I feel! I still like bats better than unicorns. But the song is just so darn cute that you have to sing along (OK so maybe I’m not that goth either).

Shelved is great too. The last verse is what I really love because the music sounds like New Order but he’s singing about getting a job for a software company:

Maybe dad is right
I’m still young
And I can write C++ just as good as anyone
I know this guy at Lucasarts
He says they’re looking for hands
In fifteen years I’ll be throwing back beers
With my feet in the sand

So life starts out a wild ride, and ends up slowing down, like in Shelved:

The ride’s over
I know
But I’m not ready to go

But with albums like this to listen to, the aftermath does not have to be quite so boring.

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Written by nattie

July 21, 2017 at 1:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Great blog, H!
    This would make a great RecentListens post, btw…

    Brine

    July 22, 2017 at 3:16 am


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