DL Anderson

A lot went into writing your favorite song--but how much do you really know about it? This week John Darnielle, singer and frontman


Tell Me About That Song: John Darnielle, Frontman of the Mountain Goats

DL Anderson

A lot went into writing your favorite song--but how much do you really know about it? This week John Darnielle, singer and frontman of the indie-folk band the Mountain Goats, delves into melodrama, writing in Manitoba, and heartbreak.

Song: "Tyler Lambert's Grave"

From album: Given away online in December 2010.

Release date: Unreleased.

When it was written: May 19, 2010.

Where it was written: Two rooms in my house: the upstairs room adjacent to the bedroom, which is the room I head for when I wake up in the middle of the night, which is often. Later, setting the lyrics to music, downstairs in the living room at the piano.

Favorite line in the song: "Shoplift when you have to, keep your visor low/And if your hunger shames you, never let them know."

Which part was the hardest to come up with? The description in the final verse of the photograph that inspired the song. When I'm writing a song about something that's moved me deeply, I always feel like the single most important thing is to be honest--to avoid melodrama, to not go for cheap sentiment, but let the people in the songs be who they are, whether that's a desperate person or an ugly one or somebody who got lost early on and never found his way back from the woods.

Melodrama and hyperbole have their places too, don't get me wrong, everything's got a time and place. But when I'm talking about a real person, I always want to be as direct and honest as I can be, and I think it's in passages of straight description where you really get a chance to put yourself outside of things and focus on the subject of the song, who it's your duty as songwriter to serve faithfully.

If you could go back and change anything, what would it be? I almost never go back and rerecord things, but I feel Leanne Zacharias' cello parts are so gorgeous and that there's room for the song to be more spacious--my piano and vocals were recorded directly into the laptop. So taking it into an actual studio and letting Leanne loose on it, maybe having Yuval Semo play piano instead of me, I might do that if I did it over.

Odd fact about song: Half of it was recorded in Manitoba and the other half in North Carolina. I do not know of any other song that can say the same.

What was your inspiration for writing the song? In 1993 or '94, I wrote a song about Dana Plato, who was then a former child star on a downward slide; her story seemed so sad to me. She died young, a few years later, leaving a son behind. His name was Tyler Lambert, and he took his life last year, and the news stories I read ran a picture of this young man looking like young men often look: full of hope and promise, at the beginning of life. My heart broke for all the pain in that family, and I wrote the song.

What is the meaning behind the song? The song is about how sometimes we're walking around with scars that seem so deep that it feels like they'll never heal, and how hard it can be to believe that they'll ever stop bleeding, and how sometimes we see somebody who doesn't make it and we feel a kinship with that person, a shared grief. That feeling of horror and sadness when somebody doesn't

make it, that sadness over wishing someone could have helped. The way

you sometimes see your own face in the image of somebody who never quite got free of his demons.

The Mountain Goats will be performing at Showbox at the Market on June 16.

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