I’m not really sure how much John Darnielle might enjoy hearing it (though I suspect that he wouldn’t mind, since he’s another of those wonderful hi/low culture is bunk people that I adore), but it totally makes sense, in my head, anyway, that a direct line can be drawn from “A Long December” by the Counting Crows to The Mountain Goats’ “This Year.”
This isn’t just because of the “two syllable adjective/plural monosyllable animal” naming similarity, though I certainly have a giddy smile about that realization as well.
Here’s the thing: The first time I heard “A Long December” I was in college, a freshman, dating the first girl I ever seriously dated, who was, not coincidentally, the first girl I ever dated that felt music as deeply as i did(that sort of deep feeling about music marks most of my serious relationships, perhaps an entirely different post). Soon thereafter, I began when I judging the entirety of the year on whether or not the line “maybe this year will be better than the last” rang true. The first few years I definitely had enough angst that I kept hoping that, indeed, the new year would be better than the last. It felt like an accomplishment when, in fact, I eventually reached a year when I didn’t need to judge my years this way anymore.
“This Year” lays out a similar challenge–a line that can be used as a litmus test, a way to stack up the past year and compare it to the present (or perhaps, near future). “I am gonna make it, through this year, if it kills me,” Darnielle sings over and over, the chanted mantra-maniacal refrain that the abused, determined teenager in all of us relates to. As I’ve written elsewhere before, this song was a turning point for me–the centerpiece of an album that taught me I could still be crushed by music, coming during a time when I was reinventing myself, re-examining what it meant to be me, reconsidering any choices I had made, a quarterlife crisis “ready for the bad things to come,” a time in which I certainly understood “twin high maintenance machines.”
For this year, at least, I feel challenged, and full of growth, and just well, in general. There’s not enough angst that makes me spit in the near future’s eye to tell it that “I am gonna make it, through this year, if it kills me.” I recognize the fragility inherent in this statement, that I’m content and that I don’t need to look at this year that way–and perhaps that fragility is precisely what resonates so deeply to me about both Duritz’s words that note, “I cant remember all the times I tried to tell my myself/To hold on to these moments as they pass” and Darnielle recalling a scene that “ends badly as you might imagine/in a cavalcade of anger and fear.”
“It’s gonna take you people years to recover from all of the damage,” Darnielle’s voice raises to the heavens later on in The Sunset Tree, again taking a unit of time and giving it more meaning than perhaps the rotation around the sun deserves. This is a natural, universal marker, and I’m glad that he shares it with us.
Counting Crows, “A Long December (piano version)”[audio:LongDecemberpiano.mp3]
The Mountain Goats, “This Year”[audio:ThisYear.mp3]