An alternate examination of the Mountain Goats' Get Lonely

by Nick Smith in

This is going to be the closest thing to music journalism I have ever done.  Kinda weird.  I have discussed the Mountain Goats' Get Lonely here before, but I had a moment while listening to it today that made me view the album in a whole new light.  I never really saw an overarching connection between the songs other than loneliness, but today's experience opened up a much deeper story line to me that I had not noticed before. I shall set the scene for you.  I was driving from my grandmother's house to my parents' house (5-hour trip) with my grandmother.  My grandmother lives alone.  My grandfather passed away about 10 years ago.  So I started off our trip with All Hail West Texas because I figured it was something I liked that would be fairly agreeable and unobtrusive (luckily she didn't catch the whole "Hail Satan" refrain in "The Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Denton").  She liked it and I was telling her a little bit about the Mountain Goats.  So I decided after it I would play something newer, as I was talking about the changeover from the boombox to the studio.  I put on Get Lonely because I like it and figured it was similarly unobtrusive and agreeable.

When the chorus of "Half Dead" rolled around, I realized that it would be a very sad song for someone in my grandmother's situation.  For those of you who don't know it the chorus goes, "Can't get you/Out of my head/Lost without you/Half dead."  Not that I was particularly concerned for my grandmother breaking down because I'm sure she wasn't listening too terribly closely and that she is stable enough to not be severely shaken by something like that.

But that chorus planted a seed in my mind, and listening to each successive song nurtured that plant until by the time "Woke Up New" rolled around, I had discovered a new interpretation of the entire album.  In "Get Lonely" the narrator sends "your name up from my lips like a signal flare" and sees the face of his beloved in windows.  "Maybe Sprout Wings" is about waking up in the middle of the night and struggling with bad thoughts.   In "In the Hidden Places," the narrator sees his beloved again, on the bus.  This could easily be a mental projection of the face onto a stranger.  "Woke Up New" is about the first morning alone after the end of a long relationship, and does not necessarily mention how it ended or why.

All of this points to the possibility that the narrator is mourning the death of his lover, and is struggling to come to terms with it, even to the point of having visions of her.  The most gripping example is in the final verse of "Moon Over Goldsboro."

You were almost asleep Halfway undressed I lay right down next to you held your head against my chest

And a guy with any kind of courage would maybe stop to think the matter through Maybe hold you still and raise the question Instead of blindly holding onto you

But we crank up the heat And you giggle and moan Spend all night in the company of ghosts Always wake up alone

These verses show the narrator walking into the house he had formerly shared with his late lover, and envisioning her being there with him as he lay in his bed.  The second stanza of the excerpt shows that even he doubts what he is seeing, but refuses the impulse to question his dead lovers' presence and instead embraces this hallucination to ease his pain.  Spending all night in the company of ghosts is a clear indicator that this night supposedly spent with his lover is just his visions of her ghost.  There are some songs that I cannot quite connect to this storyline, but that is probably due to my poor analytical skills and less to the actual connection in the lyrics.

The album ends with the simultaneously tragic and peaceful "In Corrolla" which describes the narrator's suicide by drowning.  He walks into a swamp, says a little prayer for everyone, and dies (with the final line of the album being, "All that water rushing in").  A very sad, yet very fitting end to this album.  It's just kinda how it goes.  Forget it, Jake.  It's the Mountain Goats.

This alternate meaning will be in my mind on future listenings, but I will probably continue to enjoy the songs by analyzing them from my perspective, rather than someone else's.  There's still a lot of meat on those bones for a guy in my situation, and I plan to continue tearing it off until I hit the bone.

Toodle-oo, go with God, and don't take any wooden nickels, Nick

And you smile as you ease the gun from my hand and I'm frozen with joy right where I stand.