home is where the heart is: a... thing

part 2: home is where the heart is

Tallahassee is a 2002 concept album by the man we all agree to call the Mountain Goats. Like some of Darnielle’s previous works, it follows the self-destructive misadventures of the Alpha Couple. As a result, it is filled to the brim with explicit and implied narrative, artfully conveyed. Darnielle started the Mountain Goats to sing about the Alpha Couple, only because people wouldn’t read his poetry about them. In his words:

If you show up with your poems, people like, they’re busy. ... So I started setting them to music. And then they seemed less offensive then to people.

It certainly shows that he is a poet first and musician second. Like, the music slaps pretty hard, don’t get me wrong, but the lyrics are spectacular. There is not a day in my life that I do not think about “Like a trashcan fire in a prison cell / Like the searchlights in the parking lots of hell”. The narrator is describing how his lover’s eyes light up the room. That’s so potent! That’s so fucking powerful! How am I ever supposed to be the same after hearing that!

I’ll talk about recurring symbols as we go through (including descriptions of the Alpha Female), but first give me a minute to talk about each song on its own. I’ll explain the lore and talk about the language used in detail. It’ll be fun, I promise. If you like, you can take this section as a guided tour - pop it on, let it play, and read my annotations. Or just read it, the roundups, or skip to the debrief, I’m not a cop lol. Obviously, spoilers for an album in its sophomore year of college.

just another brick in the wall

HOLY FUCK, SUBHEADINGS??? We can start with the first song on the album, the titular


It describes the couple arriving at their house for the first time, with its “window facing an ill-kept front yard”. This is the first image in the album, and we’ll see the decaying house as a metaphor for their relationship pop up time and time again. When it sinks into disrepair, they do; when it burns down, they follow.

I'd also like to bring up the “prayers to summon the destroying angel”, which just sounds kickass. I like it. According to a very cool and intelligent person on Genius known as WilliamStanaforthDonahue (an All Hail West Texas reference):

In Judaism, the Pulsa diNura (lashes of fire) is a prayer to bring the destroying angels to block God’s forgiveness for a person, unleashing curses on the person and killing them for all of their sins. John studied Hebrew in college, so he could be referencing this.

The Alpha Couple doesn’t want to be forgiven. They don’t want to be happy. If they truly did, they’d separate. Either they’re so short-sighted they can’t understand that, or they’re so stubborn and selfish they won’t.

This is intentional, by the way. Judeo-Christian (mostly Christian) imagery, usually as something ominous, is SUPER SUPER common in Mountain Goats music. It’s not as overt in this album, but the Tallahassee webbed site talks about the “Seven Deadly Grains and Four Heavenly Vines”, there are several assorted songs that are just named after Bible citations, and their most recent tour is called Cave Angel Ascendancy. Our destroying angel will come back later, and so will all that fire.

Finally, let’s talk about “the moon stuttering in the sky, like film stuck in a projector”. Their world has stopped here. “There is no deadline / There is no schedule / There is no plan [they] can fall back on”. This is their last resort, and it will fail. As the song concludes, the narrator questions why he’s come to this awful place, with its “terrible silence” and his “loose ends by the score”. The answer? “You” - his wife. Those who don’t know will think “Oh no, these two are going through some tough times! Hope it gets better!” And those who know. The cinnamontopography. Someone get my fainting chair.