There was a breakup a while ago, and the last straw was a Golden Smog song.
More specifically, the last straw was the inappropriate commentary related to me and the Golden Smog song that he felt it necessary to make in front of our friends. I remember thinking, For the umpteenth time he’s taking this thing I love on its own merits, for my own reasons, for what it means to me, and twisting it to try and make that meaning about him, and he’s embarrassing me in front of our friends in the process. And it’s the kind of thing I can’t explain because he’ll just brush me off yet again, and I don’t think I can take that from him any more.
For the next thirty-six hours, I stewed. And then I realized something: he wasn’t the only one who could use music as a weapon.
So I made a mix.
Unleashing my inner fifteen-year-old was the smartest, best decision I could have made. I combed my library and searched for all the tracks with lyrics that said exactly what I wanted to say to him. I dumped my usual criteria when making a mix — I repeated artists, didn’t bother worrying about genre, abandoned all concern about corniness and cliché. My only self-imposed constraint was to make it fit on a single CD.
The mix saved that Golden Smog song for me, and it helped me put my anger where it belonged. I still pull it out every so often — because it’s a good mix, rather than because I need it. He doesn’t know I made it, and he’ll never know what’s on it, because it doesn’t matter any more.
Around the time I started trying to forgive him for the last straw, and for all the straws that came before, I started listening to the Mountain Goats. And beyond the obvious appeal under the circumstances of, say, “No Children” — what I loved, and love, best in their work was the frenetic certainty that made me want to chairdance, cardance, living room dance, dance all the time, everywhere. The Mountain Goats are like taking a backscratcher to my id, and the process of scratching also pushes that button that makes me want to wiggle around like a nerd and not care at all who sees me. I can count on one hand the bands that give me that impulse.
Which explains why I acquired a tape of their recent Chicago show — they’re good, I like them, they make me happy, they’re taper-friendly, naturally I seek out a tape. But I nearly did a spittake the first time I heard John Darnielle’s introduction to “Family Happiness” on that tape:
This is a song about, as several of my songs are about, a couple of people in a car. They have a third sort of person in the car, but it’s more of a ghostly sort of energy force, right? So it’s not actually a person, but it’s a sort of person they have conspired to make who sits behind them at all times, and tells them that the only way either one will get out of this alive is to eat the other one. And the name of the ghostly energy force is BOB, and he rides in the back seat.
That, friends, is a Twin Peaks reference I can appreciate. And it got me thinking about Twin Peaks, and the Mountain Goats, and the two most blatant occasions in the series in which a girl stakes out her musical territory.
Twin Peaks has lots of things I like in my media, but there are two things in particular that relate: there’s what reducing teenaged girls to functional symbols does to them and the communities they live in, and there’s weird music used weirdly. There’s been some academic criticism done on Angelo Badalamenti’s soundtrack for Twin Peaks with a lot of jargon thrown around (diegetic and non-diegetic leitmotifs that evince the liminality of the narrative, and I could go on), but without getting into all of that, here’s the point I want to come to.
“How many times have I asked you,” Audrey Horne’s father Ben asks her immediately after he turns off the music, “not to disturb the guests with that racket?” And Audrey smiles — toward the camera, not toward Ben — and tells him, “About four thousand.”
Whether Audrey is actually disturbing the guests with her racket — because that’s the point: it’s her racket, not his, and not anything that any guest in her father’s hotel would like — is debatable. But her father doesn’t like it. She’s dancing by herself in his office, in a world of her own, to music that makes her want to move. He’s asked her to stop before, which she refuses to do. It’s her racket, and she likes it. It makes her want to move.
Audrey dances in public, too. She asks Donna Hayward a question in the Double R Diner that will later become relevant to the show’s MacGuffin, brushes off Donna’s followup, and says, listening to her music coming out of the diner’s jukebox, “God, I love this music. Isn’t it too dreamy?” And then she gets up from her stool at the counter.
The Haywards, parents and daughter, give Audrey funny looks, and Audrey looks right back and keeps moving.
Dancing, voluntary and involuntary, shows up a lot in Twin Peaks — but it’s Audrey Horne who sticks with me. They watch her, they tell her to turn off her racket, and she looks them in the eye and keeps dancing.
Audrey Horne is a teenager. There’s something to be said for unleashing your inner teenager. We don’t like to think that’s true — we like to be cool, and above it all — but sometimes it is. Sometimes it helps. It can help you get through the day to willingly make the decision to let go of worrying about how cool you look and how good your taste is and how attached you are to irony and just move. As John Darnielle put it the other day on Twitter: