The Mountain Goats: Golden Boy
here are so many hours in a single day of a single year in a single life in a world full of people. So much is happening. Despite the serious shit that goes down everyday, a lot of these little happenings are pretty pleasant.
“Aw, gee whiz,” smirks the jackal, “what tender-hearted sentiment. With a notion like that, maybe you’ll end up at Hallmark or as the screenwriter for Pay It Forward 2. Face up, boy: life is suffering. The best lives channel that suffering. The worst are lived by schmucks who think things are hunky-dory while they disintegrate slowly. Keep baring that Colgate grin and your teeth’ll rot one day.”
The jackal trots off. His tail wags like a middle finger, and his bitter cackle smears into midnight’s noxious tar.
Whatever. I’d rather be mawkish than cynical. Luckily we optimists can listen to John Darnielle. Sure, he’s written his share of gloomy break-up dirges and food meditations, but sometimes he shines with such pure joy that your reaction to his songs will go far beyond smiling and singing along. While listening to “Golden Boy” I’ve knocked a poorly built shelf off my wall. I’ve slipped and fallen, wondering if I lapsed into some sort of ecstatic seizure. I’ve played the song on repeat for trapped friends who looked distressed by my Cheshire grin.
And why? The song is about peanuts for Christ’s sake. Correction: Golden Boy peanuts. Oh, my friends—this makes all the difference. No other brand of peanuts features the “portrait of a young Chinese Farmer [with the] Eastern sun behind him.” This link between peanuts and secular divinity (a Communist utopia) prompts Darnielle to launch into an ecstatic meditation on the place of the Golden Boy peanut in the Judeo-Christian framework. The Golden Boy peanut becomes the incentive to lead a good life. The Golden Boy peanut becomes the main attraction on the flashy streets of heaven. It is the reason for life—that elusive thing everyone searches for and few find. Don’t squeeze life for meaning anymore. Take a jaunt to your local pan-Asian supermarket and it can be yours for a low, low price.
The peanut seems like a good choice for ultimate meaning. Unassuming, nutritive, delicious. Why not? I’m not sure that life is best captured by the moments of high drama and intrigue. A huge percentage of it is occupied by thinking about food, staring at walls, and laughing senselessly. Why not valorize these small experiences over the scarce moments of capital-letter life (Bravery, Courage, Love, and the like)? Maybe we wouldn’t be in such a stressful hurry to do something Meaningful if we valued peanuts (literally and metaphorically).
In “Golden Boy,” The Mountain Goats cordially invite us to remember these wonderful little details of a day, to exalt and worship them. Do so and your heart will fill with lovely minutia until it overflows and spills red confetti on the dirty back of a winter street. When I meet you in some afterlife (this is all hypothetical, folks—picture some gloomy Sartre-esque h(ell)otel or a gilded cloud bouncing on trumpet flourishes as is your wont), tell me about your dog-walking route or your favorite set of sheets. That can be as life-defining as a moral crisis.
Maybe not. Maybe I got carried away. Not surprising—I should turn off “Golden Boy” now.
By: Bryan Berge
Published on: 2005-02-16