Here we are again. Another favorite song. And this is a special one.
Today is my mom’s 80th birthday. It’s also the 17th anniversary of my dad’s death. So, big day. To head off any concern, my mom’s health is fine. She’ll probably outlive all of us. My dad’s health, well, it had been on the downward spiral for some time, so when he passed it felt inevitable. We had time to plan for it. To prepare emotionally for it.
Not that you can ever fully emotionally prepare for the death of a loved one. Which leads us to this song.
If songs are meant to make you feel something, Matthew 25:21 delivers. I’ve seen videos of John Darnielle performing it live and it’s amazing he can hold himself together long enough to get through it.
Simply arranged, just a voice and accoustic guitar, the power is in the lyrics. It should surprise no one who is a fan of the Mountain Goats. Darnielle is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest living lyracists out there. He’s also written a couple of truly excellent books. Recounting a journey across country to visit a dying friend’s bedside and then news of the friend’s death days later, it paints an evocative picture full of precise details and harrowing metaphor.
A true masterclass in music as storytelling.
Case in point, from the first verse:
“Tried to brace myself
You can’t brace yourself
When the time comes
You just have to roll with the blast
And I’m an eighteen-wheeler headed down the interstate
And my breaks are going to give
And I won’t know till it’s too late
Tires screaming when I lose control
Try not to hurt too many people when I roll.”
As someone who has experienced loss, this song encapsulates the feeling better than I’ve ever been able to. Certain things are inevitable, and denying them does a great disservice to everyoneem helps no one. When this comes on shuffle on a playlist, I take that opportunity to reflect on how temporary all of this is. Because sometimes that’s all we can do–cherish those still with us and remember those who passed.
Anyway, love you all. And hope you enjoy the song.