Monday, September 11, 2006

The Mountain Goats' Fault Lines 1 (of 3)

What Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven is to the Western, what Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is to Batman comics, what The Sopranos is to the mob story, what Seinfeld is to the sitcom, what Punch Drunk Love is to the Romantic comedy, The Mountain Goats' All Hail West Texas is to the unrecognized genre of guy-in-front-of-the-college-dormitory-with-a-guitar songs.

The song I want to talk about over the next three posts is called Fault Lines, from All Hail West Texas. You can listen to half of the song on this Amazon page; just click on the "listen" link next to the song name. (Hearing half the song and reading all the lyrics, below, it will be easy enough to imagine the whole song). In the context of songs about West Texas the title turns on the word “fault” which associates a mistake with a landscape. The lyrics are as follows:
Down here where the heat’s so fine, I’ll drink to your health and you drink to mine, as we try to make the money we scored out in Vegas hold out for a while. We drink vodka from Russia, get our chocolate from Belgium. We have our strawberries flown in from England. But none of the money we spend seems to do us much good in the end. I’ve got a cracked engine block; both of us do. Yeah the house, the jewels, the Italian race car: They don’t make us feel better about who we are. I’ve got termites in the framework; so do you. Down here where the watermelon grows so sweet, where I worship the ground underneath of your feet, we are experts in the art of frivolous spending. It’s gone on like this for three years I guess, and we’re drunk all the time and our lives are a mess, and the deathless love we swore to protect with our bodies is stumbling across its bleak ending, but none of the rage in our eyes seems to finish it off where it lies. I’ve got sugar in the fuel lines both of us do. Yeah the fights and the lies that we both love to tell fail to send our love to its reward down in hell. I got pudding for a backbone but so do you.
The subject of the song is prosaic enough: a couple is frivolously spending the money they won in Vegas, but it cannot fix something that is fundamentally wrong with each of them; their love is dying, but still lingers, and neither has the strength to end it. But it has much to notice, as I will discuss next time.

For now The Mountain Goats have a new album out, Get Lonely, and will be playing at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City on 30 September and 1 October; if you are there on 1 October you will see me in person.


sara d. reiss said...

this has v.little to do with your actual post, but I feel it's worth mentioning that you have written out the song's lyrics in prose form, which I have rarely seen done before. I think this is important, in regards to you and how you are about the M.Goats, but I'm not sure I can give voice as to why yet.

Geoff Klock said...

Well, on the one hand, I think of many Mountain Goats' songs as little stories rather than poems. But really, the reason I wrote it out as prose is that I don't want it to look line bad poetry. When people copy out lyrics they often put line breaks at the units of sense, at phrases or short sentences; this causes the lyrics to read like bad poetry because good poetry knows a thing or two about enjambment -- about an idea or thought or sentence crossing the line break in an interesting way. My college roomate wrote a poem that included the line "I go in search of God knows what" but he started a new line with the words "knows what"; it looked for a split-second like he was making a big claim and then you realized it was actually a very small one; it's a fun (Whedonesque) effect. Mountain Goats' songs are better than the line breaks I would pick for them would make them look, in short.