Lately I’ll wake in the middle of a conversation and realize I’m evangelizing. Odd thing is I’m always evangelizing the same man, John Darnielle, or rather the same band, The Mountain Goats, who are to its songwriter and primary vocalist as the primeval fauns, or in Darnielle’s case, fans, are to the spring-horned piper with the cloven hooves.
Odd, because Darnielle needs no help. From his start as a psychiatric nurse recording songs to cassette on a grinding Panasonic boombox, he’s now a favorite of Stephen Colbert’s, written up in The New Yorker, and interviewed by storyteller Tobias Wolff on stage. He’s the avatar of every college-age artist with a bad attitude and nervy vinyl archives.
But poets don’t quote him. Here’s someone releasing album upon album with alarming namechecks like Transmissions to Horace and Songs for Petronius, and the poetry machine figures he’s another guy with an acoustic guitar. “I play an acoustic guitar,” Darnielle advises. “But I am not one of those guys with an acoustic guitar.”
So he went electric. This was in 2002, the same year I interviewed him before a show at San Francisco’s Bottom of the Hill. Read More