Going to Alaska
First of all, I’ve gotten a large influx of new followers lately, so welcome to newcomers. I’ve past 200, which is still frankly to me considering what a strange thing it feels like I’m doing. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing these.
Today we’re going all the way back to Taboo VI: The Homecoming, which is old and rough and different, like seeing the primordial seas of Earth when they were full of strange algae and lifeforms unrecognizable to you. Except that this is still full of tMG music, so it’s much better, and the atmosphere at Up The Goats remains oxygenated.
We know that the base theme of the “Going to…” songs is that they’re about people trying to move in the hope of escaping situations and discovering that changing geography is not the same as changing identity. At least this is something of the official line; for my money there are songs that don’t quite fit the theme, but then we need not demand a consistency. The real marker of a “Going to…” song is the focus on geography that so often permeates JD’s work. It’s always there, not just in these songs, to the extent that even the albums that are not telling one consistent story often seem to be set somewhere. If they aren’t then the geography often figures heavily in the particular songs on the album. (“Ezekiel” can’t happen properly anywhere else, for instance.) Still, in these albums we find an even more specific sense of place, often combined simultaneously with a sense of not-place, by which I just mean that the structure of “Going to…” implies a source and a destination. One place in that transaction must necessarily be absent, unless JD records “Going to Here” which would actually be pretty clever.
That sense of contrast underlies “Going to Alaska,” which spends equal time on Alaska and the narrator’s current location. Alaska is not portrayed as a particularly hospitable place. The air, the ground, and the animals are all portrayed as automatically hostile, even lethal. In contrast, the narrator’s current home is alive and vibrant, with trees growing and warmth and color and he absolutely hates it. He hates it so much. What are we to make of that? Does he hate life itself, is this a death-wish? I would argue no, because he doesn’t seem to object to his own personal experience, or imply personal unhappiness with his own state of being alive. His grievances seem far more specific. His current home is multiply referenced as being “meaningful” whether it’s in the shifting of sap or the buried bodies of the past, and it’s clearly abundant in its life support with the trees. Those trees, though, which he once recognized, now only show traces of what they were and are full of “alien electricity.” At the same time as all this biological change, he can’t escape the ghosts of buried relatives, puppeteering the world around him, everything flowing from past causes he can’t control.
The narrator is vexed by liveliness, and this liveliness has two costs: first, it inevitably estranges him from the world as he knew it, because as soon as he knows it the world changes, shifts, becomes something new and different and alien. It all means something and it all wants to grow, but in doing so it changes from a world he feels a part of to a world in which he can only find traces of the past. The second cost is that implies the presence of the dead. This is the one that makes his situation aggravating as it stops him from welcoming the passage of time. You might imagine that one upside to constant, alienating change would be at least the opportunity to yourself be constantly reinvented, but the problem is that the past weighs heavy on the present. He’s hemmed in by the entanglements of past relatives, by the traces of the old world that lives on in his memories. He cannot be a continuous creature of the present moment, because he is cursed by history and memory to live partly in the past even as that past becomes further and further separated from the real world around him. So he’s going to Alaska, a dead place, where language is pulled out of the air and cannot be used to generate a history; where a deadly animal attack doesn’t really matter because nobody sees it and it doesn’t reverberate in stories to the next generation. He’s seeking to escape the meaning evident in that sap, because that meaning traps him. A meaningless world is at least one where he would be free of what’s behind him.
Honestly I don’t really like reading people’s goddamn opinions or analysis of mountain goats songs and this is no exception but anyone talking about this song at all is enough to make me cry and feel really vulnerable and shit because no one ever does and it is the most important song to me … basically familiar youtube bear picture + block of text = instant reblog / probably instant sobbing too