Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Mountain Goats' Fault Lines 2 (of 3)

There are four matching refrains in The Mountain Goats' Fault Lines in which he describes first himself, then his lover. In the first and the third of these each is compared to a damaged car. In the second, each is a damaged house. In the fourth, each has no spine. The damage in the relationship, their isolation from each other, is well communicated by locating the problem in each of them, separately.

There are two sentences in which prolonged length reflects subject matter. “Down here where the heat’s so fine, I’ll drink to your health and you drink to mine,” could be a complete sentence, a toast (this kind of thing is presumably why they are “drunk all the time”); Darnielle’s voice extends the line with four additions separated by pauses: “as we try,” “to make the money,” “we scored out in Vegas,” “hold out for a while.” These pauses and the multiple phrases, as well as the repetition of the same note on so many of the words in the sentence, emphasize the fact that he is trying to make the line, like the money, “hold out for a while.” Until this final phrase, each fragment fails to complete the “as” clause, and begs more information: “as we try” (as you try to do what?) “to make the money” (slight pause; what money? as you try to earn money?) “we scored out in Vegas” (where is the verb?) “hold out for a while.”

The second long sentence follows this same pattern: “It’s gone on like this for three years I guess,” which could be a complete sentence, is followed by “and we’re drunk all the time" -- the sentence could also end here -- "and our lives are a mess,” giving us a conjunction, and a longer complete sentence. This, however, is a song that is about a love that should die but will not; like the love, the sentence will continue long after it should have ended, as that initial conjunction is followed by two more to form a run-on sentence twice over: “and the deathless love we swore to protect with our bodies is stumbling across its bleak ending,” is certainly long enough on its own, lengthened in the same style as the earlier long sentence. Rather than stopping there, however, it is followed, without a pause, by “but none of the rage in our eyes seems to finish it off where it lies.” Like the money, like the relationship, these sentences are designed to “hold out for a while.”

The references to Vegas, Russia, Belgium, and England -- even the “Italian race car” -- are a Mountain Goats' trademark, examples of Darnielle’s peculiar fascination with far away places, exotic but abstract locations that are anywhere but here. He has a whole series of songs, a few on every album, whose titles begin “Going to...”: Going to Bangor, Bogota, Bolivia, Bristol, Cleveland, Georgia (his most famous song), Hungary, Jamaica, Kansas, Kirby Sigston, Lebanon, Maine, Malibu, Maryland, Monaco, Port Washington, Queens, Reykjavik, Santiago, Scotland, Tennessee, Utrecht. Wallace Stevens writes "The motive for metaphor shrinking from / The weight of primary noon ... // The vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X." Darnielle's motive for metaphor, for songwriting, is to be elsewhere, away from the fatal, dominant X of wherever he is -- the Texas of All Hail West Texas, or the Tallahassee of Tallahassee (like All Hail West Texas, one of his best).

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indigo gadget go said...

Nicely put. All Hail West Texas is very powerful for me, for reasons I have a hard time putting into words.