Now Here We Are Thirty Years Later: A Memoir in Mountain Goats Songs

By Richard O'Brien

An experimental music memoir inspired by cult band The Mountain Goats.

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How does a person become a fan of their favourite band? How does being a fan shape who they become as a person?

I was born in 1990 in Peterborough, England; John Darnielle started recording music as the Mountain Goats in 1991 in Norwalk, California. I grew up with the Mountain Goats, and NOW HERE WE ARE THIRTY YEARS LATER is an intertwined work of memoir and music criticism about my life with my favourite band. Through a simple narrative framework – each chapter is an account of a single year, centred on one photograph of myself taken and one Mountain Goats song recorded in that twelve-month period – it explores complex questions about art, identity, and how we discover one through the other.

Having a favourite artist isn’t like having a favourite colour: it’s closer to a relationship, except the person in question has been invited and incorporated into your life mostly without their direct consent or knowledge. To be a fan is to know more about a stranger than it is normal either to know or to want to know: his food allergies, his aesthetic preferences, the name of his high school girlfriend. My relationship with the Mountain Goats has been one of the longest and closest in my life – one constant lasting from the emo teens, through post-college precarity in a range of different cities, apartments, jobs and relationships, is the way that a love for these songs has underpinned, connected and guided my life.

At this point, I’m not sure whether I love the Mountain Goats because they’re interested in similar things to me – formal poetry, Christian apocrypha, the private lives of artists – or if I’m interested in those things because I’ve spent half my life loving the Mountain Goats.

Like most people’s musical icons growing up, John Darnielle is ten to fifteen years younger than my parents, and has come to represent to me a different way of being in the world than the cultural and political landscapes in which I was raised. Without being consciously aware of it, I’ve watched his 30s (and retrospectively, 20s) through my teens, his 40s through my 20s, and the start of his 50s through the start of my 30s. Along the way, his art and public persona, as much as, say, my father’s anger or my mother’s anxiety, has shaped my views on art itself, politics, the self and the world.

Like most people’s musical icons growing up, John Darnielle is ten to fifteen years younger than my parents, and as I grew up his work came to represent to me a different way of being in the world than the cultural and political landscapes in which I was raised. Without being consciously aware of it, I’ve watched his 30s (and retrospectively, 20s) through my teens, his 40s through my 20s, and the start of his 50s through the start of my 30s. Along the way, his art and public persona, as much as any formative influences closer to home, have shaped my views on art itself, politics, the self, and the whole wide world.

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