#896: ‘Genesis 3:23’ – The Mountain Goats

Genesis 3:23: So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

For someone like myself, a massive fan of The Mountain Goats, their 2009 record The Life Of The World To Come escaped me for quite a while. When it was released, I’m not sure whether it received limited distribution in this country, or whether it just wasn’t available where I was unless I paid outrageous import costs. Of course, I was reduced to listening to a poor quality version of the record I downloaded until I was finally able to pick up a copy of the CD in America two years back.

Strangely, I had managed to get a copy of the rare DVD copy of the album, which featured frontman John Darnielle performing the album live in Pomona College, Claremont. The performance was quite beautiful, and featured a clearly emotional John Darnielle breaking down in tears during one of the more personal songs. What I felt to be one of the strongest things about the performance though, was how John went back to one of the towns he grew up in to perform the album. Considering how many of Darnielle’s more personal songs relate to his abusive childhood and many of the negative stories of that time in his life, the performance could almost be seen as a way of coming to terms with the events of the past.

‘Genesis 3:23’ is song about one’s past, specifically, going back to where you once came from as a way to deal with the abuse suffered there. In fact, this song was actually inspired by a real-life incident that occurred to John Darnielle in which he visited his step-father’s old house. With a history of abuse suffered there, the new owners of the home allowed Darnielle to come inside and see the house; something he had not done in many years. This song is essentially a lyrical representation of dealing with the feelings associated with this visit.

As anyone who has read the bible verse from which the song draws its name may notice, John references being cast out of Eden, a name typically associated with paradise. When asked about this in an interview, Darnielle once said “Well, everything’s Edenic. Everything is. I really don’t know what your past is like, but I’ve got to assume, like everyone else, you have plenty of pain in it, right? But when you go back to the places where the pain was at, you find that there was more stuff there, and that there’s stuff about it that you miss just because it’s you. Because that’s who you were, and you grow to accept that. When you do that kind of stuff, whether it’s Eden or not, it is. Every place that you left is Eden in some way.”

In all, this song can be viewed as a cathartic means of coping with abuse, or it can be viewed as a way of looking back at where you once came from. Regardless of the meaning chosen, I personally like to look at it through some sort of strange juxtaposition of the two. That, mixed with the strangely upbeat music of the song, which I personally feel sounds like that of an old ’80s sitcom, provides a stark contrast between two extremes, making this song either a wonderful song of survival, or an uneasy song about abuse. Either way, I can’t thank John Darnielle for writing this wonderful track.

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