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Driving as Catharsis: ‘This Year’ by The Mountain Goats

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Noun: The process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.

Time and time again, music reflects the emotions we all feel behind the wheel. One of my favorite examples, ‘This Year’ by The Mountain Goats, takes on a deep story and gives the main character catharsis behind the wheel.

We all tend to drive for different reasons — and I don’t just mean out of necessity.  Sure, the reality of everyday life in some areas demands that we get behind the wheel, whether to get to work, visit friends, or to achieve any other number of goals. However, sometimes driving means more than that in an intangible way. Sometimes, it’s a way to achieve catharsis, to either escape from your reality or to use the act of traveling as a way to process your current situation.

This Year — The Mountain Goats

This is yet another song that addresses the folly of drunk driving, but it does so in a way that feels insightful and deeply personal. The character portrayed by the singer is clearly unhappy with his lot in life, as many 17-year-olds are. He leaves his family home — presumably in an act of teenage rebellion — and drives to a friend’s house to drink and play video games with his girlfriend.

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The implication is that the singer is experiencing the ennui that many of us go through in our lives, especially during our formative years. He isn’t thinking about anything other than the moment at hand and making it through “this year,” even if it kills him. The irony of that lyric is twofold. First, that’s a remarkably shortsighted perspective, since surviving the current year only to die seems rather futile and depressing. Second, drinking and driving is a surefire way to stop yourself from making it to next year, and probably taking somebody else with you.

“This Year” isn’t exactly the most uplifting song in the world, but it does encourage some self-reflection. No matter what your age is, we can all relate to the feeling of needing an escape and wanting to “put the pedal to the floor,” feel the excitement of “six cylinders underneath the hood thrashing and kicking,” and “listen to the engine roar.” In this sense, the simple act of driving provides a direction and offers a relief from whatever it is that’s bothering you.

Hitting the road to use driving as a form of catharsis can be a useful tool to process any number of things. If you do, though, just skip the drinking part.

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