In one of The Mountain Goats classic songs, ‘The Best Ever Death Metal Band In Denton‘, John Darnielle sings about two teenagers, Jeff and Cyrus, who form a death metal band and dream of fame and riches. Unfortunately, due to their obsession with pentagrams, and the various names they stenciled onto their instruments — Satan’s Fingers, The Killers, and The Hospital Bombers — the lads draw some negative attention, and they are split up and sent to different schools.
When asked, in a later interview, if he had based this song on any person in particular (Darnielle spent some time working in a Psych Hospital and Residential Treatment Homes), Darnielle responded by saying that it represented dozens of people he had met (hence his introdutory comments in the clip to which I have linked).
The poignant conclusion of the song runs as follows:
When you punish a person for dreaming his dream, don’t expect him to thank or forgive you. The best ever death metal band out of Denton will in time both outpace and outlive you. Hail Satan! Hail Satan, tonight! Hail, Hail!
This song reminds me of a lot of friends I have had, and kids I have known. Kids who, for the most insignificant reasons (or for no reason at all) have been abandoned by their families. A fellow kicked out because he was awkward with his mom’s live in boyfriend. Another fellow kicked out because his Christian parents wouldn’t accept his homosexuality (by the way, kids like this are a dime a dozen). A girl kicked out because of her interest in the occult. Hell, I myself was kicked out because I was forging my parents’ signatures on notes in order to skip school. All of these things — awkwardness, sexual orientation, provocative interests, forging notes — are tiny things. Tiny things that are then given devastating consequences. Consequences from which many people never recover. I mean, but for the grace of God, my life would have been destroyed simply because I forged notes in high school (even while maintaining an A average!).
It’s nuts. Why are people so hasty to fear or despise their kids, or the kids of others? I mean, these people are little more children. Children. How in the world have so many people completely lost any sort of perspective on these things?
John Darnielle sums it up well. in further reflections on the ‘Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton’, he states:
To take somebody’s adolescence away is to deny that person some of the closest looks at God’s face that we ever get on this planet; I try not to hate the parents who, as misguided [and] confused, take young men and women away from their friends and their lives and send them away. But it’s hard. I try not to excuse the destructive things adolescents sometimes do to express their pain, but in my gut, when I write a song in which a couple teenagers vow to take revenge on the grown-ups who are fucking up their lives, well, I cast my lot with the teenagers.
In the work I do with street-involved youth, I am responsible for overseeing the ‘Case Plans’ (gag) of about half a dozen young adults, at any given time. In my conversations with these young people I always try to remember to let them know how grateful I am that they let me into their lives. I mean, my God, these people are lovely, and I’m a lucky son of a bitch to be blessed by their company. So I tell them that.
Then, when The Mountain Goats come to town, I’ll go get drunk with a bunch of fucked up kids, throw my arm over the person next to me, raise my fist in the air, and sing: “Hail Satan! Tonight! Hail, Hail!”
Because, by singing along, nobody is actually worshipping Satan. Rather, we are rejecting the judgments of those who tell us we are damned. We are rejecting the judgments that we are immoral and unclean. We are rejecting the social and religious boundaries that exclude us. And we are rejecting the god who blesses those who would do such things to their children.