Monday, January 23, 2012

Holding on to hope of better days coming

SEASIDE — We arrived at the square in the setting sun and lowering fog of a Sunday evening.

John Darnielle, singer/songwriter and founder of The Mountain Goats, walked past us into Sundog Books. I browsed there, too, while my wife and daughter sat outside, eating ice cream from the gelato shop and waiting for my son to meet us. Later, I would ask Mr. Darnielle what children’s books he had set aside for purchase later, but he couldn’t recall the titles.

Upstairs in Central Square Records, a crowd was beginning to gather. Darnielle browsed the stacks as I purchased two of his albums on vinyl (free digital downloads included). I picked up the new one, “All Eternals Deck,” which includes the songs “Damn These Vampires” and “Birth of Serpents,” which I had heard recently on public radio. My son got “Tallahassee,” which for us is the iconic Mountain Goats album.

I said, “Excuse me, Mr. Darnielle,” and introduced myself to the man. We shook hands. I told him I didn’t want to take up his time, but I felt compelled to tell him that I was introduced to his music through my son and his best friend, Marisa.

Nathan walked up then, and I introduced them. They shook hands, and I told Nathan what I had been saying.

“Mountain Goats was one of her favorite bands,” I said. “We lost her a few years ago, and your music became sort of fused together with that time in our hearts.”

The look on his face was touching. He was stunned and perhaps embarrassed a little, curious and I think maybe honored. He asked if it was all right to ask how she passed.

I told him it was. It happened in 2008. She was killed in a car accident. He said he was sorry for our loss and I’m not sure what he said after that. My emotions were clouding my senses.

“I just wanted you to know that your music was part of what got us through that,” someone said. And I don’t know as I write this if it was me speaking or Nathan. For a moment, I was outside myself.

“When we heard you were playing here, there was no way we would miss it,” I said. “We’re so honored to be here and hear you perform.”

He shook his head and smiled. “I hope no one’s disappointed. I’m only playing a few songs. This is just an in-store, not a full concert.”

“It will be remarkable,” I said.

He thanked us again and said he would like to browse some more before the show. We thanked him for his time and stepped away.

He played to a packed house and invited everyone to sit down on the floor if they wanted; no one did. People of all ages stood and swayed, tapped their feet, mouthed the lyrics along with him.

He told us stories between songs:

... Of how he had looked at a map when he lived in the Northwest and thought about how Florida was on the other side of the country; how it was somewhere people ran away to; how disappointed someone would be when the pavement ran out.

... And of his stepfather, whom he described as abusive to the whole family, and how he grieved bitterly when the man died, and he sat on a floor somewhere in France and wrote songs about how weird it was to grieve.

... He joked about his lyrics being about the squalor of people treating each other terribly, and that it seemed odd to be singing them in this place of beauty.

He played “Cotton” and “Dance Music,” “See America Right” and “You Were Cool” ("We held on to hope of better days coming/and when we did we were right"), and he sang “Matthew 25:21,” which is when the tears welled up. He played more. He had no set list, just pulling songs out of his head as they felt right.

He did, near the end, ask if anyone had a request. I wanted to hear “Old College Try,” but didn’t shout the title because what I really wanted to hear was whatever he wanted to play.

After the set, he signed albums. Nathan’s he embellished with the boy’s name in Hebrew. Mine, he decorated with a star and the words “all love.”

And we all left in the dark and the fog, carrying something bright inside us.


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