The first time I heard John Darnielle
's voice, he ripped my heart out and made me cry cubicle tears. It was that voice – kinda nasally, totally passionate – that moved me. At the time, I streamed Seattle radio to my mouse-click of a job, an act of silent headphone rebellion that aided in my rapidly diminishing sanity. Perhaps it was my attempt at irony, the rainy-day radio station mocking the utter beige quality of my paper work-day. Perhaps it was even ironic that it was raining that day in Austin, where I was listening to the Mountain Goats
, Darnielle's band, which is really just him and a few rotating friends and musicians; this time he was appearing solo, an umbrella morning, and Darnielle plucking acoustic, rainy-day, not-quite-love songs in the KEXP
Toward the end of his live set, he unfolded a piece of paper (you could hear the crinkle if you craned your ear a bit) and cleared his throat to perform a song he had written a few nights before. It was unpracticed; you could tell he was still trying it on for size, stretching into the cozy corners of where the art really comes from. But it was simple and beautiful, perhaps ironic or prolific or dramatic enough to bring actual tears to my eyes. His lyrics were new to him, but spoken like his dreams must've had no other soundtrack for the past week. I remember, at that moment, thinking, wow, that John Darnielle; he really puts himself out there.
I told him so.