The Mountain Goats Wrote A LOT of Songs About Cars
A few months ago, I wrote about how “This Year” by The Mountain Goats highlighted the cathartic aspects of driving. What I didn’t realize at the time was just how many songs in the band’s discography are about — or at least reference — vehicles. Then, I stumbled across an article by Jalopnik’s Erin Marquis and Bradley Brownell wherein they listened to every single Mountain Goats song and listed every one with lyrics about cars or driving.
Ultimately, they found a whopping 53 songs, all released since 1995. Since Marquis and Brownell already did the hard work of profiling all of them, I figured I’d piggyback off their idea and spotlight a few of my favorites.
Listen in style: Behind the wheel of the 2021 Chevy Blazer
Unlike “This Year,” “Fault Lines” is more interested in using vehicles and their constituent parts as metaphors than direct participants in a narrative. In this case, while singing about how money can’t buy contentment, he breaks out the line, “But none of the money we spend seems to do us much good in the end. I got a cracked engine block, both of us do.”
In my opinion, that’s a pretty creative way to symbolize a broken heart by referencing a physical object.
Putting aside the fact that “Jenny” is just a solid tune in its own right, my favorite thing about it is how layered its lyrics are. On its surface, it’s a fairly straightforward song about a young couple hopping onto a motorcycle to escape to a better life, full of optimism rather than regret. If you decide to get a bit more interpretive, you might start to see the motorcycle itself is a symbol of escape. Brownell even went so far as to suggest that Jenny may actually be the bike rather than a real person. Gotta love a song that invites you to participate in the narrative.
New Chevrolet in Flames
I included this one explicitly because somehow The Mountain Goats writer John Darnielle somehow managed to make the lyrics “We went down to Pete Brown’s Chevrolet because Pete Brown can satisfy all your new car needs” actually flow.
“Source Decay” finds the sweet spot between the physical car in “This Year” and the purely metaphorical approach of “Fault Lines.” In the song, he conjures the image of a man who drives through the neighborhood where he once lived with a person he cared for deeply. There, he sees a bunch of old Chevy Impalas on cinderblocks in people’s front yards, meaning they were old and broken down. This is intended to represent the passage of time and the fact that his relationship mirrors the cars’ decay. That the picture is so evocative while remaining subtle is pretty remarkable.
While very few of The Mountain Goats’ songs are particularly uplifting, they do tell compelling stories. Besides, it’s interesting to see just how many ways vehicles can be used to trigger specific emotions.
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Aaron was born in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio and has managed to traverse most of the state between college and various shenanigans. Having majored in video game development and minored in film studies, he is a considerable fan of both forms of media. Additionally, he is available to explain why Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best feminist films of all time at the drop of a hat. His aspirations include — but are not limited to — not accidentally adopting any more cats and developing a responsible sleep schedule. See more articles by Aaron.