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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    Richard O'Brien

    Richard O’Brien is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Northumbria University, and served as Birmingham Poet Laureate 2018-2020. He is the author of multiple poetry pamphlets including The Dolphin House from Broken Sleep in 2021, and in 2017 won an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. He has a PhD in Shakespeare Studies and has also published widely as an academic in early modern literature.

  • ‘Are you going to Jack In The Box?’, the Lyft driver asked me as we pulled into the otherwise unremarkable stretch of businesses lining a section of Holt Boulevard in Pomona, California. I didn’t know what else to tell him, so I said yes and got out of the car, reflecting as I did that this must have seemed an odd destination for a fifteen-minute drive. The fast-food chain would have had locations closer to where the trip had started, north of here in suburban Claremont, and as a vegetarian, I soon realised once I’d stepped inside (it would have felt even more suspicious not to) there was almost nothing on the menu I could actually eat. As I stood there, in a parking lot at the intersection with Garey Avenue, eating my sad bag of stuffed jalapeños and squinting at the few darkened blocks to the west before Holt met White, I thought about the real reason for my journey which I’d withheld from the driver, primarily out of fear that he might ask me the same question I now had no choice but to ask myself: what the fuck are you doing here?

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    7th May 2022 New Onions Growing in the Ground

    'Springtime's coming - that means you'll be coming back around'

    - Onions

    I'm writing this morning to say a big, wholehearted thank you to the 39 of you who have already put your faith in this project, getting it to the first milestone of 5% funded. The start of any new project is always tentative, like the cows in the second verse of 'Onions' stepping 'gingerly out of the barn / when they see…

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