My Top 1000 Songs #109: This Year

After a quick shot of pure pop, we switch gears for a harrowing, emotional gut-punch of a song. Actually, the Mountain Goats bring a touch of pop here, a pleasant 3-chord piano & guitar hook that provides a bit of sugar to help the medicine go down. And some medicine it is: John Darnielle's brief yet shockingly detailed journal entry, a teenager breaking free from an abusive household for a morning of video games and purloined Scotch swigs with his teen crush, recriminations looming around the corner. Darnielle has written of his experiences with an abusive stepfather, a theme that dominates 2005's The Sunset Tree, and it's hard to discern how much of this is autobiographical and how much is novelization, but it feels deeply authentic and haunting throughout.  

"I played video games in a drunken haze, I was 17 years young. Hurt my knuckles punching the machines, the taste of Scotch rich on my tongue. And then Cathy showed up and we hung out, trading swigs from a bottle all bitter and clean. Locking eyes, holding hands, twin high maintenance machines."

Each heart-wrenching verse is followed by a refrain both resigned and defiant: "I am going to make it through this year if it kills me." It ends on--maybe?--a hopeful note, promises of dancing and feasting in Jerusalem next year. And maybe that's what makes me return to such an emotional roller coaster ride over and over, that hint of freedom amidst the wreckage.

Performing it with Stephen Colbert: