It’s safe to say that we here at The A.V. Club are generally fans of John Darnielle’s work; outside his enjoyably macabre novels, Darnielle is best known as the frontman and creative soul of The Mountain Goats, prolifically banging out his sad-funny musical thoughts on heartache, healing, and the bittersweet pleasures of romantic misery on a near-yearly basis. Yesterday, though, Darnielle went on Twitter and finally wrote something that none of us can truck with: an explanation of the “proper” way to sing his 2002 classic “No Children” that flies in the face of all possible sense.
The question Darnielle raises is this: Where does the “In my life” at the end of the song’s first verse go? Is it “I never come back to this town again in my life,” or “In my life, I hope I lie?” One of those is apparently how the author intended it; the other is how the rest of us are happy to swear he’s been singing it for 16 fucking years.
Darnielle’s uncompromisingly incorrect assertion about his own work has brought up a lot of questions about songwriter intent and the death of the author, and also just a lot of general yelling on The A.V. Club’s Slack channel as people attempted to deal with this unwelcome revelation: “That is NUTS.” “We all thought it, John!” “John Darnielle, our greatest run-on sentence writer.” “Possible AVQ&A: What song has John Darnielle always sung incorrectly, apparently?” In other words, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Darnielle, at least, made use of the outrage he’d provoked with his very bad tweet to get people thinking about other topics, too: He followed his polarizing statement with a word of support for women’s rights and the reproductive justice movement (before reverting back to delighting in the sudden chaos that he’d spawned).