When the Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016, I got the most unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach.
This was the last bastion of impossibility. If this was possible, then what wasn’t? At the end of October 2016, we lived in a world perched precariously between comfortable certainties and impossible alternatives, and any reminder that we were just a light push from tumbling over the edge was too much to bear.
On first blush, “Cubs in Five” sounds like an anthem of hope, like John Darnielle is listing outcomes that, however unlikely, he will make damn sure come to pass: the Cubs will easily win the series, and he will be reunited with the nameless you. Mountains might stand in the way, but he will bulldoze them to get back to his love. That’s how it sounds at first.
When you really listen, though, the song—nothing but a litany of absurd outcomes punctuated periodically by “and I will love you again” — is revealed as a bitter laugh in the face of that nameless you. You think he’ll love you again? That’s about as likely as Bill Gates spearheading a revival of defunct New Wave band Heaven 17 (one of the great pleasures of the song, apparently written as a stream-of-consciousness improv, is how it reveals Darnielle’s personal fascinations, like his hatred of Phillips for inventing CD technology that put vinyl at risk).
The soaring, shout-along worthy chorus is a deft head fake around the darker message, just as the lo-fi production of these early Mountain Goats tracks can easily distract from the infectious ear candy of a Darnielle composition — it all calls to mind the interview subject in The Devil and Daniel Johnston who said of Johnston’s homegrown recordings, “You start off hearing this noise, and eventually…you hear the whole symphony.”
A few months after the Cubs won the Series, the Patriots overcame an unbelievable deficit to win the Super Bowl — an impossibility just one quarter earlier. In the span of a few short months of breathtaking games and horrifying politics, the idea of impossibility had been obliterated. Sometimes that means our world seems to have no recognizable rules anymore, but hey, it could be worse. At least someone out there finally has a chance at being loved again by John Darnielle.
(Song recommendation by Ethan Warren)