Time, Labor Day Gun Show and Flea Market, Hillsville, VA
John Darnielle (Mountain Goats) interviewed about his upcoming album, The Life of the World To Come. Every song on the album references a particular Bible verse. We've been reading Flannery O'Connor in my American Lit. class, and much of what Darnielle has to say dovetails nicely with O'Connor's stories of spiritual affliction.
Pitchfork: How does the sentiment of the chorus relate to the story of the verses?
JD: There's a number of different ways of feeling holy and connected with God. One way you can get really close to God is to sin as hard as you can. Because there's only one person, in theory, who can save you from that. His whole job, in a sense, is to absolve you of sin, to forgive you of sin. You're not supposed to, but you can test God by doing a lot of terrible things. If you directly intend to offend him, though, it would probably be the most direct, in a sense-- this is kind of Hare Krishna stuff, where they talk about the different ways you can stand with God. One is as a lover, but another is as His enemy. Because when you are engaging with someone in a position of enmity, that is also a very intimate relationship.
So these people are doing some bad things and one of them, the one who sins, is sort of experiencing a connection to God in the depths of his degradation-- which I think is almost a universal experience. When do you cry out to the God you don't believe in? When you hit bottom. That's the moment at which you are going to sort of know Him best. I don't even know, when I say Him, if I should put it in quotes or not, because I don't want to sound like I'm actually saying that. But I'm also saying that your ideas of God will come to rest upon you in your moment of profoundest degradation, which is kind of what that song is about.
Pitchfork: In the Bible, Genesis 3:23 is a verse about being cast out of the Garden of Eden. What you just described does not sound very much like a Garden of Eden.
JD: Well, everything's Edenic. Everything is. I really don't know what your past is like, but I've got to assume, like everyone else, you have plenty of pain in it, right? But when you go back to the places where the pain was at, you find that there was more stuff there, and that there's stuff about it that you miss just because it's you. Because that's who you were, and you grow to accept that. When you do that kind of stuff, whether it's Eden or not, it is. Every place that you left is Eden in some way.
I've been in fear of sounding portentous when talking about this record, but when you're starting with Biblical concepts, that can be a delicate balancing act. If you're trying to do heavy stuff, it' s hard not to come off portentous, but that might be how it comes out.
Here's Darnielle performing "Jeff Davis County Blues" at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia