Preacher's Daughter: The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle and that Goddamn Rush of Adrenaline and Blood

John Darnielle The Mountain Goats HOH Fest 2010

So, Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle, songwriter and poet laureate of the existentially anguished, identifies as a feminist and has even said that his feminist ideals conflict with his Catholic faith. When I first heard this, I was quite surprised. Why? Well, listen to one reason, a song called "Bad Priestess" (lyrics).

I heard that song played live just this year. Darnielle introduced it as a song that might, on its surface, seem anti-feminist. In fact, feminists have contacted him to express their qualms with the lyrics' apparent slut-shaming. But Darnielle wasn't really interested in their perspective. He just laughed it off and noted that the narrator of the song is a fictional character and not necessarily a reflection of his actual views about women.

I've always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Darnielle's music. This is partly because his obsessive fan base makes me nervous, but largely because so many of his songs make me wonder if he has some unresolved issues with women. He tends to deflect this allegation by insisting that these are all fictional narrators. That's fair enough, but it's also a copout. And surely it doesn't mean that feminists shouldn't be interrogating his work anyway.

Themes of redemption and salvation run thickly throughout Darnielle's literally hundreds of songs. In many of these, the allegedly fictional narrator is desperate for salvation at the hands of a woman. Sometimes, the narrator finds it—or imagines finding it—with an idealized woman.

And sometimes, as in "Bad Priestess," the narrator's redemptive journey is threatened by a bad woman. The bad woman of the Darnielle catalogue takes on a number of personifications and roles. Sometimes she's cast as a slut and a temptress. Elsewhere, she's a cruel abuser. Her biggest sin usually involves stirring up dangerous, ribald feelings in the narrator himself, whether lust or hatred. Often these feelings give rise to a destructive impulse in the fragile narrator, who needed someone to save him but found a cruel stopgap measure instead.

My favorite Mountain Goats album is The Sunset Tree, released in 2005. It's one of the few albums that Darnielle has ever said was autobiographical. It's a powerful story, too, all about a youth spent fighting for survival at the mercy of an abusive stepfather. Check out the music video for one of its best tracks, "This Year" (lyrics): 

In the video—even in Darnielle's facial expressions—you may sense the frenetic desperation that I've felt in so much of his other music. I resonate with that frenetic sense because I often experienced it in my own childhood and even into young adulthood. I had a visceral response to that song when I first heard it. Something about it connected me to an emotion I hadn't felt for a long time. That rebellious look in his eyes? The one you see coupled with a forced, manic grin? Oh, man, has that angry, adrenaline-fueled expression flashed across my eyes too. That's why I recognize it so well.

So, I've never been able to write off Darnielle's work completely, in part because, damnit, it makes me feel things. Music doesn't always do that, and frankly, I don't think it always should. I like The Decemberists, for an example, because their music can be so disconnected. The fanciful stories and historical allusions don't often get too close. And in my everyday music-listening life, I like that.

So, for better or worse, The Mountain Goats give me an uncomfortable, hard to contain, and very addictive rush of adrenaline and blood. Have you ever felt an immediate, visceral connection to someone whose darkness looks like yours? That pulsing intensity that you know can only lead to disaster but it pulls you anyway? And you indulge it—it suddenly feels like need—and just wind up feeling hollowed out and hungry all the time? Darnielle's music makes me feel that.

Religious imagery has always been prominent in Darnielle's work, but it plays a more central role in his two most recent Mountain Goats releases, The Life of the World to Come and All Eternals Deck. Both of these seem to veer away from the adrenaline-pulsing love reflections that pervade much of his earlier work. To be honest, I'm not quite as sure what to make of these.

I mean, if we didn't already know that Darnielle seems to have a conflicted relationship with the things that compel him, "Psalm 40:2" might almost sound like it belongs in the Contemporary Christian genre. Well, I suppose those familiar frenetic vocals help save it as well:

Like much of his music, All Eternals Deck features that familiar battle for survival. But unlike some of the earlier music, the songs here are more, for lack of a better word, positive. "Damn these Vampires," for all of its darkness, evokes some kind of hope. "Goddamn these vampires/For what they've done to me," but "When the sun comes/Try not to hate the light." Listen for yourself:

I know I'm jumping into a veritable powder keg of very devoted fans when I go public with any Mountain Goats critique. I know that many will passionately disagree with my claim that at least some of his lyrics are anti-feminist. So, please feel free to opine here. Let me know what you think. I have a reasonably good grasp of the catalogue, but unlike everyone else who attended that same show that I attended, I don't know all the lyrics or all the songs. What do you think?

Update: I wanted to note that I just had a brief Twitter exchange with Darnielle, who was exceedingly gracious about this - and actually quite favorable about it. He said he knows that it's important for men who identify as feminists to listen to women who call them out. He did say that he doesn't remember saying the narrator in "Bad Priestess" was fictional, though I'm not so sure. I vaguely remember him saying something that made it clear that he shouldn't be identified with the narrator. In any case, it's nice when men are gracious about this sort of thing and really seem to get it about feminism.

Guess what? Subscriptions to Bitch—our award-winning, 80+ page print quarterly—are 20% off to help us reach our $25,000 funding goal by September 30. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

21 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Fair Points

First of all, I'd like to say that I had to calm down and wipe the foam from my mouth before responding to this post. I am one of the die-hard Darnielle fanatics of which you spoke, and I am quick to jump to his defense on any occasion.

That being said, you do make some good points about the perspectives that Darnielle takes about women in his song. Of course, Darnielle is very good at creating fictional narrators in his songs, but I do feel that the ways his narrators view women are influenced by his own perspective. In addition, in his most autobiographical album, Sunset Tree, he makes reference to negative female influences on his life. Specifically in Dance Music when he talks about how his girlfriend convinced him to start taking meth, to which he became addicted.

Does Darnielle have unresolved issues with women? Yes. Does he also have unresolved issues with parental figures? Obviously. Just listen to Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod. Does he have issues with trust and love when it comes to relationships? Just listen to any of the Alpha songs, in particular the concept album Tallahassee, to get a front row seat to all of them.

Darnielle, like many of my favorite songwriters, use their lyrics as a form of therapy, in addition to a way to express themselves artistically. But I do believe that Darnielle is able to effectively separate his own issues with women from his thoughts and beliefs about women as a whole. He is much better at this than, say, Eminem, who clearly has issues with both his mother and his wife and ends up taking out his anger and frustration on every woman he references in his songs. Darnielle is a complex man, and a brilliant writer, and I believe him when he says he is a feminist, both because of what he says and the words he puts in his narrators' mouths.

P.S. Psalms 40:2 as a Christian song? You know it's about two guys breaking into a church and huffing paint, right?

P.S. Psalms 40:2 as a

P.S. Psalms 40:2 as a Christian song? You know it's about two guys breaking into a church and huffing paint, right?


Goddamnit. I knew I'd say something not quite on about the newer stuff, which I haven't listened to as closely. But thank you for conceding that, on other occasions, I've made fair points. :) I'm glad you showed up. Keeps things interesting.

Regarding sex and gender in MGs songs.

I appreciated the spirit behind this article but I had a hard time with its assumption that all of the objects of desire in his work are female. One of the things I've always appreciated about his work is that in 99 percent of the non-autobiographical songs, the gender of the characters is left to the listener's guess and interpretation.

In other words, "Bad Priestess" obviously excepted, we all get to make our own assumptions about whether the characters are male or female and whether the relationships are heterosexual, homosexual, and in some cases filial or between siblings or friends or enemies or whatever it may be. There is occasional desperation in that whole spectrum of relationships for most of us.

I've always assumed there was some intention - maybe even some feminist intention - behind this on Darnielle's part. I think what is an interesting feminist critique to make, or at least question to raise, is whether or not this device actually works, or whether somehow the protagonists are all transparently male characters written by a male songwriter who has issues with his relationships with women. (I'm a huge MGs fan, and I tend to think it works, but that's one biased person's opinion.)

I'm curious whether this line of thinking came up while you were writing this piece, and what your thoughts are on the question.

I didn't think much about it,

I didn't think much about it, but he mentioned it on Twitter. It's a fair point, I suppose, but for me the device doesn't work that well. For the reasons that you mention: The protagonists are often - if not all - transparently male characters written by a male songwriter who seems to have some issues with women. I feel like it's a bit of a copout to go, "WAIT, I didn't actually STATE the narrator's gender..." You know?

I don't dislike his music. Like I said, I have a complicated relationship with it. I don't think this particular device works, particularly not if it's meant as some kind of feminist statement.

Fair enough

Fair enough. I always sort of want the device to work, and so in general, for me it does.

There's one additional point I'd like to make and see your thoughts on it. I fear I won't be able to formulate it well, and I imagine that here I'm exposing myself as the sort of narcissist dude who will not allow you to critique something that Means So Much To Me. It is not my intention to be that person, so with that caveat, my thought is this:

As you've noted, for the most part he claims his characters to be non-autobiographical, and personally I see no reason to question that since, (1) he's open about when the story is actually about his life and (2) I would sincerely doubt he's gone to all those places.

So on that assumption, I guess he's writing about other people, and I think what's captivating about his music is that he's writing about a lot of other people in a lot of different geographical and emotional and temporal places. I have always assumed that he is a self-identifying feminist who writes songs about people who are generally not. Just like the majority of the people I know who I did not meet in college do not identify as feminists either. But just because he writes about non-feminist characters who plausibly make up our world, doesn't necessarily say to me that he's got a ton of unresolved demons with respect to women in his life. It just points to one reason why the people in the songs remind me of people I knew growing up, or people I know in my family, or people I meet out on the street. By the same token, I would be hard pressed to think of a character in any but a couple of his songs who is notably political, but clearly Darnielle is a very politicized individual out here in the world, if we are to go by interviews and tweets and such.

I'm curious on your thoughts, and I guess my question is whether you believe that a self-identified feminist writing about people who mostly are not is copping out or shirking responsibility.

 

Hmm... I see what you're

Hmm... I see what you're saying, and I wonder if I made an error in suggesting that Darnielle personally has issues with women. In all honesty, I cannot see into his psyche, right? I don't know what personal hangups he has. So I suppose what I said was not entirely precise, and I should have said rather that I think sexism emerges in a fair amount of the writing.

Yes, I'm sure it's possible to self-identify as a feminist and write many characters who are not feminists. However, that strikes me as a straw argument since that's much of what happens here at Bitch. That is, there's a lot of critique of fictionalized characters that appear in film, television, music and other forms of popular culture. So, in order to defend this sort of position, you'd need to be prepared to argue that feminist analysis is never appropriate or justified where fictionalized characters are concerned.

I mean, if this is your position, then that's fine. That's a fair point. But I think it needs to be clear that I have not made an argument here for or against Darnielle's music as such. I have not said that, since these characters are problematic, this music should never have been written. I do not believe that people should only create art that aligns with their politics.

But for me, it has always seemed that Darnielle identifies quite personally with his narrators. For example, contrast the songs I've mentioned here with the Decemberists' "We Both Go Down Together." It has never struck me, for example, that Colin Meloy is identifying personally with a character from the Tristan and Isolde myth. So, whether or not Darnielle actually identifies with these characters, I think it's fair to say that his visceral/emotive style of singing creates the impression that he does.

And if a person self-identifies as a feminist but still traffics in a lot of misogynistic themes, I think that person opens himself up to critique.

 

 

Another die-hard member of

Another die-hard member of the Goats herd here, so please do not suspect for a moment that I suspect for a moment that I can achieve anything like neutrality in talking about this.

With that caveat:

I buy your feminist criticisms completely. I am 100% behind the conclusion that many of John Darnielle's songs are about characters who have issues with women.

However, I don't think the "fictional characters" argument is a copout.

If the songs straightforwardly valorized these characters, I'd say, uh-huh, sure, that's troublesome. But for me, what John Darnielle does -- like Smog pre-River -- is empathize with characters (sometimes including himself, in costume and diorama) who are in deep shit, whether that means an abusive parent, or hysterical love, or hard drugs, or the dissolution of a relationship, or whatever.

And when you're in circumstances like that, you have ugly thoughts. There's kind of no way around it. Even if you soberly catch every ugly thought as it emerges from your psyche, and think, "where the hell did that come from" -- they still bubble up.

So if you're going to write narratives that try to honour the lives of people in the world, then one of the things you're probably going to have to do is include some of the horrible things they think. J.D. isn't a preacher or a social critic, he's a storyteller.

HOWEVER: I do agree with you in the sense that I think a lot of listeners read music for heroic narratives they can tap into in their own lives. And, well, if applied to a lot of Mountain Goats lyrics, that could be troublesome. But I'd hasten to point out that popular music is full of narratives which are, rather than potentially heroic, explicitly heroic, and a lot of them are more problematic than, say, "Bad Priestess."

Which, by the way, I think "Bad Priestess" is a wonderful song. It totally encapsulates, for me, how I felt when I was 15, awkward and barely-pubescent, and ashamed at how I felt about the girls around me who were more confident in their sexuality. What do you do in that situation, with all that shame? Well, if you're me, or the character of Bad Priestess, you try and turn that shame into pride. You mentally cast yourself as some sort of hero, standing tall against the benighted horrors of the brazen etc. etc. etc. I'm not proud of it, but that's how I felt.

I think these are all fair

I think these are all fair points.

Oh for God's sake. I just

Oh for God's sake.

I just really hope the author is embarrassed by the response she got from Darnielle.

Um... Why would I be

Um... Why would I be embarrassed? He said, "I love this!" I am not at all embarrassed. Very gracious about the whole thing.

And I still think there's

And I still think there's loads of feminist critique to be made of the songs. Actually, I still stand by all of this.

unreliable narrators

I've been a Bitch subscriber since the very first issue (and a Mountain Goats fan for almost 20 years), but this post just makes me shake my head in dismay. Darnielle is creating characters. His characters may have issues with women or drugs or insurance fraud or giant rabbits, but that does not necessarily mean he does.

I look forward to Bitch's analysis of all the murders Johnny Cash committed. Clearly he has issues with people in Reno.

Oh, for god's sake. This just

Oh, for god's sake. This just makes me laugh. I mean, WHY DO ANY FEMINIST ANALYSIS OF ANY FICTIONAL CHARACTER EVER?

Yeah, but are you analyzing

Yeah, but are you analyzing the fictional characters here or projecting those characters' actions onto Darnielle himself and deciding he has unresolved issues with women because the narrator of "Bad Priestess" might be a slut-shaming jerk? Sounds like the latter to me, and I don't think you have much of a case there. Read any interviews he's given about women's issues or follow his Twitter feed (in which he regularly talks about reproductive rights issues with links to actions). Dude's a feminist. He gets it.

Fine. As I say in the

Fine. As I say in the comments above, whether or not Darnielle personally has issues with women is not really the point since obviously I cannot see into his psyche. Misogynistic themes emerge frequently in his writing. So perhaps that statement was slightly imprecise.

And not to put too fine a

And not to put too fine a point on it, but this post says that the songs "make me wonder if Darnielle has some unresolved issues with women." Nowhere do I state unequivocally that he does.

But the point - which it

But the point - which it seems like you are kind of missing - is that "depicting misogynist characters" does not equal "misogynist impact". In fact, depicting misogynist characters can often be a critique or subversion of misogyny.

I also strongly disagree with your assertion that Darnielle's attempt to depict fictional worlds in his songs comes across a transparently male narrator talking about transparently female characters.

While it doesn't directly

While it doesn't directly contradict what Kristin saying here, I encourage people to go read this interview with Darnielle in Mother Jones, which talks some about his feminist politics: http://motherjones.com/media/2011/03/john-darnielle-mountain-goats-all-e...

It seems like important context for this conversation. As a passionate feminist and observant critic of misogyny in music and pop culture, my personal feeling is that John Darnielle might be a standard of feminist to which all other male musicians could strive for. (Or at least cis, straight male musicians.) Not that he's perfect - I agree that Bad Priestess toys with misogynist themes, although I don't buy it in any of the other songs you mention. But he owns up to his mistakes, is articulate and passionate about specific feminist issues, and perhaps most importantly of all, recognizes that he should follow the lead of people who are most directly impacted by misogny, not speak over them.

Zooming in a year later: You

Zooming in a year later:

You make really good points about the sexism that emerges in the narratives Darnielle puts forth, but I think you have a flawed understanding of (a) what quite a few songs are about and (b) the relationship between Darnielle’s narrators and Darnielle. I know you’ve, in the comments sections, edged away from the Darnielle-has-women-issues hypothesis, but I think it’s still important to stress just how many Mountain Goats songs are written from very distant perspectives. There are songs that are obviously from the perspectives of historical characters or which recount historical events (for example, Song for Cleomenes, Trick Mirror) and there are songs that question (a) the appearance of a monkey and (b) the appearance of a number of Portugese water dogs (those two are The Monkey Song and Pure Honey). So it’s going to rub the well-listened Mountain Goats fan the wrong way when you argue that (a) Darnielle isn’t interested in the perspective of people interrogating his work, which as you yourself found, is totally untrue, and (b) that he is copping out by “insisting these are all fictional narrators” because they are usually fictional narrators. He’s not deflecting anything; he wrote a song about being afraid of seals. It’s very, very obvious that most of his songs are from fictional perspectives. See: Golden Boy, Ox Baker Triumphant, Alibi, etc. This is not to say he doesn’t have songs that relate to personal experience, it’s just that the We Shall All Be Healed, with its allusions to Darnielle’s past, The Sunset Tree, being about Darnielle’s past, and the few songs on The Life of the World to Come that allude to things that he’s said in interviews happened to him, these things are atypical.

I don’t want to straight-up tell you that more exposure would be useful, because if it’s a band you don’t want to listen to because you don’t like the fans, okay, but, like, how did you not catch that Psalms 40:2 is about a bunch of teenagers desecrating a church and getting high on spray paint, exactly? You haven’t read the lyrics if you didn’t catch that. Related: Phillipians 3:20-1 is about grieving someone who committed suicide, that Romans 10:9 (often mistaken as a cheerful song) is about a severely depressed and insomniac Christian narrator who is days from snapping and has only their faith, Deutoronomy 2:10 is about extinct animals (and, I've heard this interpretation before, moral absolutes), and Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace is about a Mexican drug cartel. There is little religion in the album. There are religious characters, but given that Darnielle is no extinct animal, no dying person in a retirement home (Isiah 45:23), not in a coven (Hebrews 11:40), and, presumably, not big on desecrating churches, and this is why some tMG fans are going to have a lot of patience for the "JD might have issues with women as a whole" thing.

That is not to say tMG is invulnerable to criticism; everything should be examined in that sort of light. It’s just that the angle *I* would take is “how do these narratives demonstrate the implicit misogyny in the way men interact with women”. Here are some songs I would use to examine that, in addition to the ones you cite:

“Last Man on Earth” is straight-up and deliberately problematic, because the narrator is psychopathic and obsessed; “Standard Bitter Love Song #7” wherein if the narrator “could stand the sight of blood”, things “woulda been real different around here” – this is a hugely, hugely spiteful song, and although there’s nothing in the song that suggests the female character has betrayed the male character, if you want some fun, look at the SongMeanings top comment to try to puzzle out where that impression came from – I think one could get a lot of traction out of, and I believe someone is currently writing an essay on this, interpreting art that is either a “”realistic”” depiction of misogyny, i.e. a sexist narrator by an author who is not/makes attempts not to be, or non-sexist art, as misogynist, I’ll track down the link if you’re interested; “Standard Bitter Love Song #8”; “Song for Tura Satana”, possibly, although I don’t know about Tura Santana’s death to really tackle that one?; “Bride”, arguably, given the inspiration for the song, but then again it’s nominally written from or inspired by the perspective of Frankenstein or Frankenstein’s monster; “Standard Bitter Love Song #8” has another stalker-narrator – Darnielle has owned up to having had a lot of stalker-narrators in his older stuff.

There’s probably room for a lot of rich, nuanced examinations of Darnielle’s treatment of the dynamics of a mutually destructive relationship throughout the entire Alpha sequence or “Going to Hungary” and such songs.

In conclusion, I…don’t think his lyrics are anti-feminist. I think some of them demonstrate misogyny in the same way that writing a story where a man is a jerk demonstrates misogyny. This applies more so to later songs; Darnielle himself has talked about his proclivity for stalker narratives in his earlier work. I appreciate your willingness to do this write-up.

I do kind of question your choice to make the article a blend of (a) a critique of the treatment of women in the lyrics and (b) your ambivalent feelings about having an emotional response to music. I found myself re-reading the article a few times trying to figure out what Psalm 40:2 had to do with anti-feminist lyrics. Or where we talked about Darnielle’s conflicted relationships with “the things that compel him”. I assume you’re talking about women there? Because myself & quite a few tMG fans I know still have that “visceral response” and still feel those emotions. And if you want to talk about the lyrics, and you’re talking about how the Decemberists are disconnected and then you talk about your emotional response to tMG, why are you talking about that? I’m probably being unfair. You’re entitled to your emotional reactions and explaining how it complicates things for you. But you talk about your emotional reactions and I want to talk about mine, maybe.

For what it’s worth, I’m female and very much a feminist. I admit my appreciation for the band might sway me towards a more generous reading of some lyrics.

(Ooh, I’d also contradict your reading of Autoclave – I think it’s less destructive than it is a reflection of complete apathy. I don’t think there’s an actual woman in the song, if that makes sense.)

Coming in much later - You

Coming in much later -

You make really good points about the sexism that emerges in the narratives Darnielle puts forth, but I think you have a flawed understanding of (a) what quite a few songs are about and (b) the relationship between Darnielle’s narrators and Darnielle. I know you’ve, in the comments sections, edged away from the Darnielle-has-women-issues hypothesis, but I think it’s still important to stress just how many Mountain Goats songs are written from very distant perspectives. There are songs that are obviously from the perspectives of historical characters or which recount historical events (for example, Song for Cleomenes, Trick Mirror) and there are songs that question (a) the appearance of a monkey and (b) the appearance of a number of Portugese water dogs (those two are The Monkey Song and Pure Honey). So it’s going to rub the well-listened Mountain Goats fan the wrong way when you argue that (a) Darnielle isn’t interested in the perspective of people interrogating his work, which as you yourself found, is totally untrue, and (b) that he is copping out by “insisting these are all fictional narrators” because they are usually fictional narrators. He’s not deflecting anything; he wrote a song about being afraid of seals. It’s very, very obvious that most of his songs are from fictional perspectives. See: Golden Boy, Ox Baker Triumphant, Alibi, etc. This is not to say he doesn’t have songs that relate to personal experience, it’s just that the We Shall All Be Healed, with its allusions to Darnielle’s past, The Sunset Tree, being about Darnielle’s past, and the few songs on The Life of the World to Come that allude to things that he’s said in interviews happened to him, these things are atypical.

I don’t want to straight-up tell you that more exposure would be useful, because if it’s a band you don’t want to listen to because you don’t like the fans, okay, but, like, how did you not catch that Psalms 40:2 is about a bunch of teenagers desecrating a church and getting high on spray paint, exactly? You haven’t read the lyrics if you didn’t catch that. Related: Phillipians 3:20-1 is about grieving someone who committed suicide, that Romans 10:9 (often mistaken as a cheerful song) is about a severely depressed and insomniac Christian narrator who is days from snapping and has only their faith, Deutoronomy 2:10 is about extinct animals (and, I've heard this interpretation before, moral absolutes), and Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace is about a Mexican drug cartel. There is little religion in the album. There are religious characters, but given that Darnielle is no extinct animal, no dying person in a retirement home (Isiah 45:23), not in a coven (Hebrews 11:40), and, presumably, not big on desecrating churches, and this is why some tMG fans are going to have a lot of patience for the "JD might have issues with women as a whole" thing.

That is not to say tMG is invulnerable to criticism; everything should be examined in that sort of light. It’s just that the angle *I* would take is “how do these narratives demonstrate the implicit misogyny in the way men interact with women”. Here are some songs I would use to examine that, in addition to the ones you cite:

“Last Man on Earth” is straight-up and deliberately problematic, because the narrator is psychopathic and obsessed; “Standard Bitter Love Song #7” wherein if the narrator “could stand the sight of blood”, things “woulda been real different around here” – this is a hugely, hugely spiteful song, and although there’s nothing in the song that suggests the female character has betrayed the male character, if you want some fun, look at the SongMeanings top comment to try to puzzle out where that impression came from – I think one could get a lot of traction out of, and I believe someone is currently writing an essay on this, interpreting art that is either a “”realistic”” depiction of misogyny, i.e. a sexist narrator by an author who is not/makes attempts not to be, or non-sexist art, as misogynist, I’ll track down the link if you’re interested; “Standard Bitter Love Song #8”; “Song for Tura Satana”, possibly, although I don’t know about Tura Santana’s death to really tackle that one?; “Bride”, arguably, given the inspiration for the song, but then again it’s nominally written from or inspired by the perspective of Frankenstein or Frankenstein’s monster; “Standard Bitter Love Song #8” has another stalker-narrator – Darnielle has owned up to having had a lot of stalker-narrators in his older stuff.

There’s probably room for a lot of rich, nuanced examinations of Darnielle’s treatment of the dynamics of a mutually destructive relationship throughout the entire Alpha sequence or “Going to Hungary” and such songs.

In conclusion, I…don’t think his lyrics are anti-feminist. I think some of them demonstrate misogyny in the same way that writing a story where a man is a jerk demonstrates misogyny. This applies more so to later songs; Darnielle himself has talked about his proclivity for stalker narratives in his earlier work. I appreciate your willingness to do this write-up.

I do kind of question your choice to make the article a blend of (a) a critique of the treatment of women in the lyrics and (b) your ambivalent feelings about having an emotional response to music. I found myself re-reading the article a few times trying to figure out what Psalm 40:2 had to do with anti-feminist lyrics. Or where we talked about Darnielle’s conflicted relationships with “the things that compel him”. I assume you’re talking about women there? Because myself & quite a few tMG fans I know still have that “visceral response” and still feel those emotions. And if you want to talk about the lyrics, and you’re talking about how the Decemberists are disconnected and then you talk about your emotional response to tMG, why are you talking about that? I’m probably being unfair. You’re entitled to your emotional reactions and explaining how it complicates things for you. But you talk about your emotional reactions and I want to talk about mine, maybe.

For what it’s worth, I’m female and very much a feminist. I admit my appreciation for the band might sway me towards a more generous reading of some lyrics.

(Ooh, I’d also contradict your reading of Autoclave – I think it’s less destructive than it is a reflection of complete apathy. I don’t think there’s an actual woman in the song, if that makes sense.)

Nope

It doesn't matter if darnielle is creating fictional characters or not, or if those characters reflect any of his beliefs towards women. Some of the so called 'misogynist' characters probably reflect some of darnielle's experiences.... BECAUSE THEY'RE UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCES, AND THEYRE IN NO WAY EXPRESSIONS OF MISOGYNY.

You know how some women hate certain men because they treat them like ass holes and make them feel bad inside and really really sad?

Men experience the same thing! And men and women should be able to fully express themselves on the subject of hatred and pain! And just because you hate one, doesn't mean you hate all...in fact, talking about that pain brings those nice cathartic juices which may allow one to trust sooner.

You cite bad priestess as your main example for a feminist critique of darnielle... The character in that song expresses dislike for that one woman because he thinks she is a shitty person... A fraud and a tease, and someone who seemingly wants to inflict pain on him by luring him in for a mere thrill, not because she has any real interest in him. He expresses pain but finds the strength to overcome.

And there are people like that in the world, people who lure people in for fun, and it's a shitty thing to do, and they should be called out on it. Just because the character is a dude and he hates one woman for being that way, doesn't mean he hates all women. And just because darnielle created said character, sure as fuck doesn't mean darnielle is a misogynist!!