Back of Black Pear Tree Cover of Black Pear Tree

Black Pear Tree

Title: Black Pear Tree 1
Released: 2008
Label: Cadmean Dawn

Liner notes

I dug a hole and filled it up with compost 2
thanks due to the Stockholm emergency room and EG without whom etc 3
someday I am going to walk out of here free

Table of contents

  1. Black Pear Tree
  2. Mosquito Repellent
  3. Bring Our Curses Home
  4. Supergenesis
  5. Roger Patterson Van
  6. Thank You Mario but Our Princess Is in Another Castle

Black Pear Tree 4

I dug a hole and filled it up with compost
Rested on the cool grass for a minute
I saw the future in a dream last night
There's nothing in it

I set the sapling in the hole
Started gently tamping down the dirt
I saw the future in a dream last night
Somebody's gonna get hurt, somebody's gonna get hurt
I hope it's not me
But I suspect it's going to have to be

I dug my heels in for the winter
And I waited for the snow
But something was stuck up in the clouds, something was stuck up there
I couldn't let go

And when its time came I could see it happen
Blossoms black and sweet as Texas crude
I saw the future flowering like a ruptured vessel
Somebody's gonna get screwed
It won't be me
Someday I am going to walk out of here free

Mosquito Repellent 5 6

All day, all day
Sweeping out the shards
Do what I have to do
Try to start anew, but I

Thought of you twice
Couldn't help myself
I don't know what I need
Clutching and fingering the rosary beads

But I try, try, try
But I know
I can't let go
But I know
I can't let go

TV upstairs
Leave it on all night
Do what I have to do
Add, subtract, and divide by two, but my

Eyes light up
At cops and robbers time
I hope the bad guys win
I hope the good guys get their skulls bashed in

And I try, try, try
But I know
I can't let go
I can't let go

Bring Our Curses Home 7 8 9

Stray shards of vinyl siding
Hit the windshield coming down
On the gridlocked freeway
Headed for Houston out of town 10

We were sad to see it sinking
Up on the Jumbotron 11
Balconies in higher places
Gone, gone, gone

Young Romans at the city walls
Scavenging for scraps
Riding out the amnesia
Filling in the gaps

Grab hold of my hammer
Try to bring down the Superdome 12
On that rainy day
When I bring my curses home

Water floods the pharmacy
People sliding down the aisles
Emerging into the moonlit night
All smiles, all smiles

Wished I was down there with them
Reaching for that third rail
Saw them on the TV though
As they herded them down to jail

That night someone brought some shoes in
From Los Angeles or Portland I forget
Mad scramble for the boxes
Everything got wet

Wingless broken insects
Trapped in honeycomb
On that wasteful day
When I bring my curses home

Supergenesis 13 14 15

In the twinkling of an eye
My sentence gets passed
And I drop to the ground and I go
Slithering through the grass

Carving out
Battle lines
As I crawl

Find a hollow branch to rest in
Slip inside
Wait for mice to poke their heads in
Jaw hinged open wide

Hang by
My tail
Listening for the call

'Cause someday, someday
The call will sound
We all, all
Are gonna get up from the ground

Feel the wet leaves pressed against me
Cling like drowning men
Try to hoist myself upright
Again, try again

Hold on
To the memories
All night

And where my arms and legs once sprouted
Skin is smooth and slick
Rub the smooth spots on some rough rocks
I feel cold and sick

Hold on
To the battle plan
Hold tight

'Cause someday, someday
The call will sound
And we all, we all
Are gonna get up from the ground

Roger Patterson Van 16

Kelly 17 said the van was streaked
With broken sides of you
Tapes and magazines
All your goodness beaming through
Sorting through your suitcase
By the highway in the sun
Somewhere in Louisiana 16
When you really need to run
Your legs will bend and buckle
There is nowhere to go
So you walk sideways

Two sad young men one February 16
Digging through a wreck
Cleaning out the tour van
Check and double check
Nothing left inside now
Nothing left to do
Empty out the empties
Half this stuff belongs to you
When you load down something heavy
You've gotta watch your back
So you walk sideways

Sideways
Sideways

Thank You Mario but Our Princess Is in Another Castle 18 19

I waited here all by myself
The room was dark and it smelled like sulfur
I heard the screams from way down in the darkness
Felt pretty sure my life was over

I kept my hat on just for luck
Sang simple tunes the whole night through
I wondered if I'd wake to find myself in flames
As I waited here for you

Yeah when you came in
I could breathe again

I saw some guys dressed up like sorcerers
Blue robes that float above the ground 20
They came and went and I was frightened for my life
I tried not to make a sound

Just when my solitude was closing in
I heard a howl like screeching tires
And I told you the one thing I know how to say
Through the bright ringing drone of eight-bit choirs

Yeah when you came in
I could breathe again

Credits

Thanks as always to the totally amazing Caliclimber, whose Flickr page provided the cover art at the top of this page.

Footnotes

  1. Black Pear Tree was written and recorded with Kaki King, a remarkably talented guitarist who toured with John in 2008, the tour in which this EP was released.

  2. This line, as well as the last line, are directly from the lyrics to Black Pear Tree.

  3. "Stockholm emergency room" refers directly to the story behind Black Pear Tree, see this footnote for more information.

  4. John has said that this song was written in an ER in Stockholm that he visited thinking he was going to die from a heart attack. For example, listen to the banter at Somerville Theater, Somerville, March 25, 2009.

    "We were in Sweden in the back of a very small tour car… and then I start wondering why my chest hurts… I went to the ER and I'm sitting there waiting to talk to the doctor, well, waiting for the doctor to tell me that I needed to get right with God and my friends and family because I only have seven days or something like that, and I wrote down some lyrics. And then I put them away, you know, because when I got finished he told me I had Lutheran syndrome, as he said… 'You think you have to pay for the things you did before.' And I would take issue, not that I'm a doctor, but it's 'I know I have to pay.' Anyway, the better part of a year passed, and I had forgotten about most of it, I'm flipping through a notebook looking for something to do, and I ran across the lyrics I had written when in my gut I was pretty certain that I was going to have to go home and tell my wife that I was sorry I smoked for so long, better go find somebody cute 'cause I'm going to rot in the grave."

    See also this banter: "I wrote this lyric in an Emergency Room in Sweden when I was having chest pains… I went through a period of a couple of years there where I would say that I don't know what was wrong with me, but I do… at the time I was in a pretty hard place, and I was landing in the hospital pretty regularly, and this is called Black Pear Tree." — Swedish-American Hall, San Francisco, June 27, 2012

  5. "When a young man begins to write indie rock songs, he often thinks there are few figures more romantic that he could cut than that of a lover who has been wronged and who is wearing his pain like a great mask with which to torment the woman who he once loved… One generally, with noteworthy exceptions, outgrows this writing tendency on account of it's juvenile. But every once in a while you want to go revisit that tortured lover whose torturedness is so massively tortured that no one could really comprehend the extent of the torture… This is the first song I've written in that voice in a long time." — Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, November 8, 2008

  6. John states on a number of occasions that this song was written unusually in that Kaki King wrote the music and then John wrote the lyrics to the music, as opposed to him writing a rough idea of the music along with lyrics and sending it to someone to arrange it. See for example the banter at Republic, New Orleans, November 3, 2008, and Theatre of the Living Arts, Philadelphia, November 11, 2008.

  7. "This takes place a little further west than that [referring to Atlanta], and it's called Bring Our Curses Home." — Bluebird Theater, Denver, October 17, 2008

  8. I can think of two potential origins of this name (which are probably just as likely as John making it up without knowing of either of these connections — I have no evidence that these inspired the song title):

    1. In J. R. R. Tolkien's superb novel *The Hobbit, the story opens with Bilbo Baggins involuntarily entertaining the wizard Gandalf and a company of thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield, who are attempting to convince the reluctant hobbit to join them on their quest to recover their kingdom and riches from the dragon Smaug. In explaining this to Bilbo, Thorin tells him:

      "But we have never forgotten our stolen treasure. And even now, when I will allow we have a good bit laid by and are not so badly off" — here Thorin stroked the gold chain round his neck — "we still mean to get it back, and to bring our curses home to Smaug — if we can."

      Tolkien, J. R. R. (1937). The Hobbit. Reprinted 2007. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0618968636

    2. As John is an avid metal fan, it may relate to the 1998 album Bring Our Curses Home, released on Sound Pollution Records by Ann Arbor metal band .Nema. Although this feels to me like something of a stretch, even given John's love of death metal, stranger references have happened in the Mountain Goats canon.

    However, as neither of these clearly connect to this particular song, the title is perhaps most likely unrelated.

  9. I have been unable to find any more descriptive banter or interviews than the above regarding this song. However, given his description of where this takes place and the content of the song (including the Jumbotron, Superdome, flooding, evacuation to Houston, and so on), I can't help but assume that this song describes the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

  10. Assuming my interpretation of this as a song about Hurricane Katrina is correct, this could easily refer to the evacuation of the New Orleans Superdome to the Astrodome in Houston, Texas.

  11. A genericized trademark referring to a large television, usually in a sports arena.

  12. The Superdome is an extremely large sports arena in New Orleans. During Hurricane Katrina, it was used to shelter New Orleans citizens that were unable to evacuate the city. Disastrous conditions, violence, lack of clean water, sanitation, supplies, medical staff, or other essentials contributed to the catastrophe. The Superdome was eventually evacuated when it flooded and those sheltered by it were moved to the Astrodome in Houston.

  13. "This song is a song sung from the point of view of the serpent [in the Garden of Eden] shortly after he gets his walking papers." — Republic, New Orleans, November 3, 2008. See also the banter at Park West, Chicago, October 13, 2008, and Theatre of the Living Arts, Philadelphia, November 7, 2008.

  14. Supergenesis is part of the informal series of Biblical references.

  15. A.K.M. Adam links this song together with other songs describing serpents and in one occasion alludes to it being religious in nature. This latter description happens to be correct (see the above banter), but I don't agree that the song necessarily refers to the same thing as snakes in other Mountain Goats songs. Adam, A.K.M. (2011). 'What these cryptic symbols mean': quotation, allusion, and John Darnielle's biblical interpretation. Biblical Interpretation 19: 109 – 128.

  16. Roger Patterson was an influential bass player for the death metal band Atheist. He was killed in a tour bus crash in Louisiana on February 12, 1991. 2 3

  17. Kelly Shaefer is the vocalist and frontman of Atheist.

  18. John's relationship to this song has been told many times. For example, see the banter at the Swedish-American Hall, San Francisco, June 27, 2012, which has a particularly brilliant version of this story.

    This song in some ways is related to Enoch 18:14, being the other Mountain Goats song known to be written from a video game line, and which also is told with great emotion despite its source.

  19. This title is a direct quote from Super Mario Bros. When Mario, the protagonist, defeats a decoy of Bowser, the antagonist, at the end of World 1–4, he believes that he has completed his mission of finding Princess Peach but instead discovers Toad, who tells him, "Thank you Mario! But our Princess is in another castle!" This occurs at the end of every castle in the game until Mario finally defeats the real Bowser at the end of World 8–4.

  20. This seems to best describe Magikoopas, a magic-wielding version of the turtle-like Koopas who are a major enemy in Super Mario Bros. However, these do not appear in a Super Mario game until Super Mario World, which was released in 1990.