Song 5 – Chased your memory all around the room

March 2nd, 2007

Korean Bird Paintings – the Mountain Goats

Just say you decide to embark on a project to write about some of your favourite songs of all time. It’s a given, right, that your favourite band of all time (hereafter referred to as FBOAT) would feature once or twice. What if, though, your FBOAT had a catalogue stretching back 15 full length albums and over 20 EPs? Let’s not even mention the songs from the compilation albums and side projects. How the hell do you pick?

Recent discussions with a far bigger music tragic than I am argued the merits of the desert island method of selection – i.e., which song could I not live without. If I had to listen to one song for the rest of my life, which one of these 1000, then 500, then 100, then 50, then 10, then 2 songs would it be. This can be an exhausting exercise. Funnily enough, when it came to picking and writing about a song by the Mountain Goats, my FBOAT, this method of selection didn’t really work. At least, not for the purpose of this project. That’s because my brain kept coming back to one particular song over and over and over again.

Korean Bird Paintings sits as Track 2 on the EP New Asian Cinema – a 12” released in 1998 that you can’t find anywhere now – there was a stupidly small amount of them pressed. For any Mountain Goats fans out there who may stumble across this little post, I implore you – locate a copy of New Asian Cinema online somewhere (yes I KNOW downloading is bad, but make this one little exception, okay?) and check this EP out. If you can’t find it, hit me up and I will make sure you GET a copy – it honestly has some of the most amazing and at times delicate Mountain Goats songs you’ll ever hear. He sings about fathers in the form of ghosts and lost loves and eating carrion and rows of cabbages and I love every single little word of it.

Anyway.

I’m not sure why Korean Bird Paintings hits me as hard as it does. I only have a recent history with the song – I was going through a whole bunch of mixed up CDs I have looking for something else and stumbled across it. I remember being in a rush to get somewhere, but having found the song I didn’t want to leave it behind. I picked up the CD and took it with me in the car and I must have listened to that song 40 times straight.

I was talking and thinking just last night about déjà vu, and how it’s happening to me increasingly often. Like, you’ll be talking to someone or sitting quietly somewhere when you’re all of a sudden swept by a wave of familiarity. There’s no tangible reason for it, and nothing you can put your finger on, but you know you’ve been there on some level before. When I first heard this song I got an aural sensation of déjà vu – and I’m not talking about familiar melody or similar lyrics here. I’m talking about common experience and a sense of empathy. I’ve previously written about this song giving me the same feeling I get when I look at the paintings of Brett Whiteley. Maybe that’s it?

Sometimes, when you’re in a relationship, the whole world has a habit of just falling away. You end up in this little rut of single-focusness and become oblivious to anything outside of you and him/her and the little world you’ve created for yourselves. Then, one day, it’s over, for whatever reason and you look up and realise that holy CRAP where the hell am I without this other person? You freak out. You might withdraw even further, or take it out on friends, or rebound with someone fairly, ah, questionable. Or, you go just a little bit crazy and you try to hang on for dear life to that person and everything they were to you and everything about the time you spent with them –

I put all the extras on the credit card
Mobiles of the galaxy and mylar balloons
Everything we’d saved up, in one room at the same time
Cartoon stars and crescent moons
Thank you notes and get well cards
Condolences, congratulations
Bright colors, cues and signals
Reminders and reverberations

I think most people go through an unhealthy stage of denial when they leave a particularly deep relationship – in this song the guy in question is smack in the middle of it.

Like a lot of Mountain Goats songs this one is deceptively upbeat to listen to. It rambles along with banjo and sweet acoustic guitar and harmonized vocals, but when you actually really dissect the beautifully constructed verses (because there is, again like many Mountain Goats songs, no chorus) you can almost palpably feel the impending sense of devastation. Like, man, this guy is a hairs breadth away from that realization. You know, the one where you know he/she isn’t coming back and your whole life has been torn away. Before you know it you’re in a foetal position on the carpet surrounded by bowls crusted up with dry cereal watching the TV with the sound down.

That doesn’t paint a very pretty picture, does it. Still, this song manages to so succinctly put you in a time and place and give you such a feeling of empathy toward the narrator. John Darnielle is a lyrical genius, and this sweet little song is the utmost of testaments to that. I could listen to it forever, and I guess that’s why it’s here.


2 Responses to “Song 5 – Chased your memory all around the room”

  1. wayne on March 3, 2007 7:54 pm

    I believe music only becomes tragic if it kills you while listening to too much….this mountain goats song must be amazing if its your favourite, considering their mountain of great work

  2. Karen on March 4, 2007 1:54 am

    Tragic in this context is a very good thing as far as I’m concerned :)

    And yeah, it’s pretty awesome. It’s hard to say favourite, but when it came to writing about one that had affected me big time this one wins, that’s for sure.

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