In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re picking our favorite songs with “fall” in the title.
The Mountains Goats leader John Darnielle is a master of compact tragedy, fitting the full arcs of numerous failures into the confines of three minutes, a few hastily strummed chords, and enough lyrics to fill a fairly wordy novella. On “Fall Of The Star High School Running Back,” Darnielle’s words struggle mightily against the tyranny of rhyme and meter, spilling out of his mouth at a rapid clip and finding an idiosyncratic flow midstream that’s worthy of The Notorious B.I.G. lift in the final verse. The protagonist of the second track on 2001’s All Hail West Texas loved it when people called him big poppa—but he’s made mighty small by the end of the song.
But Darnielle is a benevolent creator, and he leaves it to the listener to imagine (or not imagine) the majority of William Stanaforth Donahue’s sins. “Fall Of The Star High School Running Back” is a litmus test in that regard: Depending on your personal experiences with guys who fit William’s description, you might just read the words “Star High School Running Back” and figure that the title deserves a “Fall Of,” too. (I feel like this changes with age as well: Closer to my own high-school graduation, I read the song as geek-revenge fantasy; today, the details of his arrest sound more like allegory from the pen of David Simon.) It’s a nifty trick with a catchy little guitar lick: William is nothing but statistics at the top of the song, and it’s only after he’s given a splash of biography and a touch of humanity (the friends who get his ends are people he “used to look down on”) that the fall occurs. And not because he was a jock previously destined for greatness, but because of choices he’s made. That the fall happens so quickly, and can be summarized so neatly, makes it all the more tragic. As on the field where William once excelled, this defeat comes down to facts and figures. Fortunately, Darnielle has a home-field advantage in this area.