A few weeks ago, a petition was making the rounds on the internet calling for John Darnielle, the leader (and, truthfully, only member) of the indie folksters The Mountain Goats, to be named Poet Laureate of the United States. It seems extremely doubtful that this petition is going to gain any traction whatsoever. However, listening to Darnielle’s latest release, Transcendental Youth, I’m thinking the petition may have a point.
It’s rare that a record has so many memorable lines. In nearly every song, there is at least one line that makes me think, something quotable that leads the brain to ponder something noteworthy about the human condition.
So, for fun, let’s go through Transcendental Youth and think about some of these lines.
Track one: “Amy (AKA Spent Gladiator I)”
“Do every stupid thing that makes you feel alive/Do every stupid thing to try to drive the dark away.”
Starting off the album, “Amy” opens by throwing caution to the wind. Today there are simply hundreds of things that we can’t do and very few that we feel comfortable doing. It’s scary sometimes. But as another noted philosopher (Homer….Simpson) exclaims, stupid risks are what make life interesting.
Track two: “Lakeside View Apartments Suite”
“Days like dominoes, all in a line/We cheer for the home team, every time.”
Sometimes life gets too monotonous. We need to spice things up or we start to go a little insane. Doing the same thing over and over again is going to get the same result, over and over again.
Track three: “Cry for Judas”
“Some people crash two or three times and then learn from their mistakes/We are the ones who don’t slow down at all/And there’s nobody there to catch us when we fall.”
Most people feel that they do a terrible job of learning from their mistakes, and everybody else is able to stop a problem when it starts. But, in truth, in most cases people make the same mistakes over and over again, and eventually there is no safety net. We are flawed beings.
Track four: “Harlem Roulette”
“The loneliest people in the whole wide world are the ones you’re never going to see again.”
I think there are two ways of looking at this. One, in a negative way, that we can’t save the lost. I tend to look at it in a more positive way. The people who have hurt us usually do it out of something lacking in their lives. They can’t solve their own issues, so they (intentionally or uninentionally) lash out at others. Reading this reminds me that the most terrible people I have ever come into contact with are, for the most part, out of my life forever, and I can resolve to meeting people who are not ready to strike at any given moment.
Track five: “White Cedar”
“I don’t have to be afraid/I don’t want to be afraid/And you can’t tell me what my spirit says isn’t true, can you?”
It’s easy to be afraid when you listen to what other people say more than your own intuition. Life is about trusting our instincts and knowing the paths to follow.
Track six: “Until I Am Whole”
“I think I’ll stay here until I feel whole again/I don’t know when”
Sometimes taking the first step is the hardest. But we always want to wait until everything is ready and we are perfect. But that will never happen. Something will always be amiss. It’s part of the human experience.
(Tracks 7-12 in part two)