“I am gonna make it through this year, even if it kills me.” John Darnielle sang this line in 2005, as part of the song This Year in the album Sunset Tree. It seems to fit 2020 like a glove.
During lockdown, most of what I did involved listening to The Mountain Goats almost religiously. There is something hopeful about their songs. It stings in a way that hurts a second after the sting. They’re hopeful almost violently; there’s a kind of resistance in that hope that is so fitting given the current circumstances.
On April 10, 2020, lead singer of The Mountain Goats, John Darnielle released their latest album Songs for Pierre Chuvin. He recorded this album entirely on the boombox by himself, as he did All Hail West Texas in 2012. Songs for Pierre Chuvin was released with a hope that it would make up for the concerts and shows they had to cancel due to Covid.
There is a song in that album called Exegetic Chains that makes me cry like a child every time I hear it. It is the embodiment of all the hope we sometimes try to deny ourselves. The theme of the song, the lines about making it through the year, of surviving are very similar to This Year and yet this song is softer, more gentler, while This Year raged. I suppose there are two ways to make it through difficult times: to rage through them or wade softly. Sometimes it’s necessary to do both.
Although my obsession with The Mountain Goats only grew during lockdown, I did make space for one very special dog: St. Bernard by Lincoln. That song might be my queer anthem. As a person who went to a Catholic school for most of their life, St. Bernard hit in a way I didn’t quite expect it to. There is a line in that song: It’s really just one thing that we have in common, neither of us will be missed, which takes me to Sappho’s quote, “Someone will remember us, I say, even in another time.” And isn’t that something? These two lines probably mean the opposite to each other and yet there is something about them that seems to be connected in my mind. There is something inherently familiar about wanting to be remembered, about not feeling seen, about thinking that your life doesn’t matter because you’re not seen, as a queer and trans person. And yet, St. Bernard never fails to make me feel as if I’m floating, as if I’m on the driveway with that damn dog. Despite it’s morose lyrics, this song, to me, is as close to bright light as a song can get.
That’s hardly the end of my songs I call my queer anthems though. I could never exclude John, my beloved, by Sufjan Stevens. His voice, like velvet, always makes me feel as if I’m on the edge of something, not unlike what Heloise felt in that scene in Portrait of a Lady on fire when she said, “do all lovers feel as if they’re inventing something?” Compare that with the lines from John, my beloved: so can we be friends/ sweetly before the mystery ends/ I love you more than the world can contain in its lonely and ramshackle head. You can feel the vulnerability in those few lines, as if splattering the inside of your heart on a pavement and waiting with open palms facing the sky. There is something beautiful in that, maybe lonely as well, or maybe it’s anticipation skirting the edges of hopefulness.
That takes me to Hozier, to Jackie and Wilson, from his self-titled album. It may not be the most hopeful song, but the juxtaposition of the music, lively and bright, and the line We tried the world/ good God/ it wasn’t for us, makes me think that the song fits our circumstances right now.
Of course, after all is said and done, I loop back to Exegetic Chains, to that little bit of hope, however melancholy: the places that we met/ to share our secrets now and then/ we will see them again/ change will come, and of course, the last line, make it through this year/ if it kills us outright. A gentle reminder perhaps, or just something to hold on to.