Monday, September 04, 2023

This Year: 2005

"This Year" is a series of weekly posts, each about one song from one year of my life. See the introduction for more.

Way back at the beginning of this series, I named it from a Mountain Goats song, and said that song wasn't part of the main sequence, but they would appear, eventually.

It's that time now. For 2005, the one song I want to remember is Up the Wolves.

I almost included several Mountain Goats songs; I kept moving songs and artists around like a puzzle, to see which ones fit best where. The other MG songs - the also-rans, the ones that didn't fit as well, however I should put it - were No Children and The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton (both from 2002!) and Autoclave and Psalms 40:2.

But I love complicated metaphors, and I love emotional honesty, and I love writers who can yoke those two things together - and Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle is great at all of those things. Up the Wolves is one of his best, most personal metaphors, a cry to his mother about his abusive stepfather that, like the most resonant songs, is also universal.

There'll always be a few things
Maybe several things
That you're gonna find really difficult to forgive

This is a song about revenge. The whole record, The Sunset Tree, is about powerlessness and abuse, about what the speaker wants revenge for and the complicated dreams of it. Throughout the record is that thread of wanting and seeking revenge, about needing it, about the wrongs that drive that desire and the sense that trying for it is counterproductive and not wanting to give up on something so central even if it's painful - because the pain of looking for revenge is so similar to the pain of being abused.

Our mother has been absent
Ever since we founded Rome
But there's gonna be a party
When the wolf comes home

That's the metaphor: Darnielle, and his sister, as Romulus and Remus. Their mother as if she were absent physically, as she was unable or unwilling to protect them from their stepfather.

I'm gonna bribe the officials
I'm gonna kill all the judges
It's gonna take you people years
To recover from all of the damage

That's the part that always gets me. So many songs make me tear up these days - it doesn't seem to be the kind of emotion, just the strength and power of the emotion.

This is a song steeped in the powerlessness of a child: that raw anger and unhappiness, the deep knowledge that things just happen to you, and you can't control them. And that abuse from a parent is the worst possible thing, and that the child it happens to can do nothing.

But wait. And hope. And dream. Because there's gonna be a party when the wolf comes home.

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