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Nine Black Poppies

Title: Nine Black Poppies 1
Released: 1995
Label: Emperor Jones

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Liner notes

(inside of booklet):

Our winter coats useless, it being June in California, tangibly June I mean, we let them fall. An hour later we came back to look at the same spot but we had been irremediably changed by then and our coats were gone. In six hours it would be dark again, and the evening heat would cause the air to swell, and songs would crackle along the radio signals which raced across the sky, and we'd be giving each other that look again: the one that almost means what it says. Almost.

The Mountain Goats are John and Rachel. We wrote these songs except #9 which is by Refrigerator. Four of them were recorded by Bob Durkee and they were all assembled by him during the first week of June, 1995. Peter HUGHES sings beautifully on #1 and Allan CALLACI 2 tells it like it is on #9, which was recorded live via telephone hook up in April on VPRO Radio Amsterdam. 3 Thanks to Craig for kindness in a difficult time. Thanks to Jason WARE for photography and to Kelly SPIOTTO for graphic design. Chris, Barbara, Willem: this one's for you. Wow, this is global. 4

(back of booklet):

You thought
You watched a quetzal 5 bird fly from the bursting tin
of gasoline
— Norman DUBIE. 1

Chanson du Bon Chose has an alternate version with the Mountain Goats covering themselves as the Yamaraja Racers.

Table of contents

  1. Cubs in Five
  2. Going to Utrecht
  3. Cheshire County
  4. Chanson du Bon Chose
  5. Pure Money
  6. I Know You've Come to Take My Toys Away
  7. Nine Black Poppies
  8. Stars Fell on Alabama
  9. Lonesome Surprise

Cubs in Five 6 7

They're gonna find intelligent life up there on the moon
And the Canterbury Tales 8 will shoot up to the top of the bestseller list
And stay there for twenty-seven weeks

And the Chicago Cubs 9 will beat every team in the league
And the Tampa Bay Bucs 10 will make it all the way through January 11
And I will love you again
I will love you like I used to 12
I will love you again
I will love you like I used to

The stars are gonna spell out the answers to tomorrow's crossword
And the Phillips Corporation 13 will admit that they've made an awful mistake
And Bill Gates 14 will single-handedly spearhead the Heaven 17 15 revival

And the Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league
And the Tampa Bay Bucs will take it all the way to the top
And I will love you again
I will love you like I used to
I will love you again
I will love you like I used to

Going to Utrecht 16 17

In the morning I looked down
Through the third story window overlooking town
Across the water somewhere
You were sleeping over there

I couldn't believe it
I couldn't believe it
Not if I saw it with my own eyes
With my own eyes
With my own eyes
With my own eyes
With my own eyes

In the morning I looked down
Through the third story window overlooking town
And I saw you
And I knew you saw me too

I couldn't believe it
I couldn't believe it
Not if I saw it with my own eyes
With my own eyes
With my own eyes
With my own eyes
With my own eyes

Cheshire County 18

When the sun came up
I got up
'Cause you were saying my name backwards in your sleep again

The field outside was wet and green
And the most gorgeous cow I'd ever seen
Was coming right at me, right at you

Her udder was fat with fresh milk
And her black and white coat was as smooth as silk
And in the waning of a long, long year
I felt the remnants of last night disappear
Disappear, disappear, disappear, disappear
Disappear, disappear, disappear

Chanson du Bon Chose 19 20 21

I saw the sycamore underneath the moon
I was waiting for something and you were sleeping out there in the living room
And it was 5:16 AM, the air was sharp and cool
And I wondered where you'd buried our dark little jewel

And the heat rising in the room
I am digging graves
I am digging graves
And the water boiling on the stove
I am digging graves
I am digging graves

So I held you close to me
I saw the shadows start to gather outside beneath the sycamore tree
And something was changing, there was something here entirely new
Bursting into blossom inside of us both, with the sun coming up and me holding onto you

And your body breathing on mine
I am digging graves
I am digging graves
And your hands running through my hair
I am digging graves
I am digging graves

Pure Money 22

"… lo-fi, we hebben het voortaan maar over, eh — bi-fi, dat lijkt me maar het beste." 23 3

The waves crashed all around and near your body
The waves came all over you
And I saw the sky reflected on the ocean
Deadly blue

Yeah, I used to know you
I used to know you
I used to know you
I used to know you

I Know You've Come to Take My Toys Away

Sun flashing red and then orange then opting for secession
On the day when you come to the door with your terrible confession
And I know you've come to take my toys away
And I know you've come to take my toys away

Skin flushing red and then glowing when you come inside
And the moonlight washing all over you, I have got my mouth open wide
And I know you've come to take my toys away
And I know you've come to take my toys away

Oh and when it drops you're gonna feel it 24
Oh, oh, yeah
Oh, oh, yeah

Nine Black Poppies 1

When I got home I meant to give you some sweet chrysanthemum 25
The wind chimes were ringing all wrong, and you were standing in the doorway singing along
And I tried to remember how nice it had been a long, long time ago
But I couldn't remember, I honestly could not remember

And a package came for you today from the Hunan Province 26
The postmark burning jet black in the summer sun
Someone was changing, someone was changing from the inside out
And I turned around to face you

Sweet peas in the garden were all in full bloom
And I thought I heard the traces of an old song murmuring in the room
Like a half-remembered conversation, but I let it fall away
And then I could not remember, and then I honestly could not remember

And a package came for you today from the Hunan Province
The postmark burning jet black in the summer sun
Someone was changing, someone was changing from the inside out
And I turned around to face you

Stars Fell on Alabama 27 28

You looked real calm as we made our way up the walk
There were lazy kisses and hands brushing and small talk
The moon was high, your smooth face was high
And the kudzu grew

And the stars fell on Alabama
And your eyes filled up with light
And the stars fell on Alabama

The warm earth underneath us gave way
Dry grass crinkled like paper as the breeze came across the bay
Cold clean water nearby glimmered in your eyes
And your pistol glistened

And the stars fell on Alabama
And your eyes filled up with light
And the stars fell on Alabama
But if you think I'll take a bullet for you, you're dreaming

Lonesome Surprise 29 3 30

"All right, hit it."

"One, two, three, four."

Doctor, Doctor, can you help me please?
All these pills and problems keep piling down on me 31

Here's your lonesome surprise
Here's your lonesome surprise
Here's your lonesome surprise

"Go, Allen."

I had a name, had a place, like the clothes I wear
The holes grow everywhere, 'til it's like having nothing at all

Here's your lonesome surprise
Here's your lonesome surprise
Here's your lonesome surprise

Here's your lonesome surprise
Here's your lonesome surprise
Here's your lonesome surprise

I walked out of my shower, feeling more wet than baptized

Here's your lonesome surprise
Here's your lonesome surprise
Here's your lonesome surprise

Here's your lonesome surprise
Here's your lonesome surprise
Here's your lonesome surprise

<cheers> "Woo, this is global!" "We love you, Holland!" "Allen Callaci rules!" "Allen Callaci, thank you very much."

Credits

As usual, thanks to the amazing Caliclimber, whose excellent Flickr page provided the album art. Even more, he provided the liner notes annotated above, helped me decipher the title, and answered endless pedantic questions, because he's amazing. Thanks also to Zenta for correcting my hearing of John's banter in Cubs in Five to "creatine".

  1. Nine Black Poppies, Nall, retrieved June 27, 2013.

Footnotes

  1. Nine Black Poppies is taken from the title of a Norman Dubie poem, "Nine Black Poppies for Chac", which is also quoted on the back of the booklet:

    The junta was jubilant around the mortised fountain.
    A solemn procession of century plants going to the bridge.
    A dead chauffeur in the ditch.
    You thought
    you watched a quetzal bird fly from the bursting tin
    of gasoline. Nine enemies of the junta
    are sprawling in the back of an open wet Mercedes.
    You threw your last two paintings into the sea. Looked
    for snow on the mountain.
    You washed your legs and breasts in a jagged fragment
    of mirrorglass. And wrote, except for the genitals
    my body is seamless. I've changed my mind about God again.
    I'm tired of the new dress. I'm ashamed
    my work hangs in Princeton and New Haven.

    Near the shack your Winchester kicks once —
    in your line of vision the lifting hawk did not drop
    for it had eclipsed a crow, your lead passed
    through its dark stomach:
    the hawk banks to the left,
    free falls, tucked
    for one complete revolution, then wielding suddenly
    onto the immaculate screw of a rising thermal,
    it rose a degree or two on the horizon and made
    its quick diagonal hit at the neck of the crow.
    It only took a moment! You fed the chickens corn, and
    threw the Winchester in the ocean.
    The dead colonel in the Mercedes wore his winter coat
    like a cape, arms absent from the sleeve. For this
    you dislike him instinctually. The newspaper talked
    about the contents of his mistress' stomach. The colonel
    had made a sauteed abalone while issuing camphor and vinegar
    to the city's poor to check the typhus. Abalone, like inkfish,
    needs prodigious pounding with a pine mallet scented
    in garlic. The red foot of this shellfish is butchered
    like a steak. When the fat reaches the point of fragrance,
    cook two minutes to each side.
    Oh, yes, parsley
    to clean the palate first!

    You hoped you had watched a quetzal bird flit
    in and out, along side the limousine,
    below the green stand of cane…
    a cavity
    was cut deep into the colonel's loins,
    it was
    irrigating pink in the eternal spring rains…

    The American Poetry Review (1980). Nine Black Poppies for Chac. Retrieved June 27, 2013. 2 3

  2. This is a misspelling of his actual name, Allen Callaci. I don't know why this wasn't caught; perhaps it was left in to preserve the authenticity of the original liner notes. Other misspellings abound in Mountain Goats material.

  3. John and Rachel performed several times as the Mountain Goats on VPRO, a radio organization in the Netherlands. During the first of these sessions, which was on April 19, 1995, Allen Callaci called in from his work at the Upland Library to perform Lonesome Surprise with the Mountain Goats. This recording was used here in lieu of a studio collaboration.

    Later in the record, part of the announcement made by the interviewer preceding Lonesome Surprise was inserted before Pure Money. 2 3

  4. "Wow, this is global" is a direct quote of Allen's enthusiastic exclamation at the end of Lonesome Surprise.

  5. Quetzals are brightly multicolored birds found in Mexican and Guatemalan forests. Their name comes from the Nahuatl quetzalli, which refers to the tail feather of a specific bird. Being in Nahuatl, there is potentially a relationship between this reference and the informal series of Aztec songs. Oxford English Dictionary, Third Edition, December 2007, accessed July 9, 2013.

  6. John rarely plays this song anymore. As stated at the Bottom of the Hill on October 23, 2002, "No, it's not Cubs in Five, because the Cubs have broken my heart. Sammy Sosa looks like a guy with stock in the creatine people and I'm not saying this just 'cause I'm here, but I'm for the Giants, which I'm arguing with my friend Peter about 'cause we're from Southern California and you're supposed to be real territorial, but I just can't support an American League team in the World Series. And also for a while there the Giants had Benito Santiago as catcher, who, you know, he's an ex-Cub. And that's how you know they're doomed to lose! You know about the ex-Cub factor, right? The more former Cubs you have on your team, the worse your chances are in the World Series."

    John jokingly describes the style of Cubs in Five as follows: "All my early sets were like that — I hadn't played any of those songs for anybody and so every single one was like, 'Oh yeah, I hope this works out, all right, maybe if it doesn't work out so good I'll just hang out on that D for a long time! <strums aggressively> I think that's how Cubs in Five was written." — Zoop - Farm Sanctuary, New York, June 16, 2007

    When the Cubs were on their way to the 2016 World Series , eventually winning the championship in the seventh and last game, it ended a 108 year World Series drought, the longest in the history of Major League Baseball. These events caused John to give several interviews and write an essay about Cubs in Five, the meaning of the song, and his feelings about baseball. In these excellent reads — which I'll summarize so you can enjoy them yourselves — he explains how his affection for the Cubs began in the third grade, when he was outraged to hear a man abandon his loyalty to the team given their losing streak. The song itself originated as he was watching a Cubs game:

    Specifically, I'm on the couch strumming my cheap Korean nylon-strung 3/4–size guitar, and at some point, I reflect idly on an on-again, off-again relationship I've been having for the last several years that's given me a great deal of pleasure and at least as much pain.

    Presently, I'm hoping that I've emerged from the final "pain" phase of the process (spoiler alert: I hadn't), and I'm kidding myself, as one does, thinking: Well, I'm free of all that now; there's a lot of unlikely stuff that'd have to happen before I'd ever dive back into that radiant, glowing, magnificent ocean of high highs and hurt feelings.

    … Over the years the song's taken on a life of its own: Everybody knows that feeling of the hopelessly doomed vow to renounce something or someone you won't and can't forget. Everybody knows that feeling, because they want what they hope is way over on the usually-only-theoretical other side of it, the undiscovered country that you have to take on faith. When the Cubs win the World Series this year, we long-game fans and hopeless lovers will notch what we've all learned, over the years, is a rare thing in this world: the awaited victory. The W on the flag. The substance of things hoped for.

    Darnielle, John (2016). The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle on His 1995 Song "Cubs in Five". Slate. Retrieved December 17, 2016.

    See also the Baseball Prospectus Effectively Wild #852 interview, March 31, 2016, which is excellent — sufficiently excellent that I will force you to listen to it by not quoting anything from it.

  7. The phrase "Cubs in five" refers to winning the World Series in only five games. The World Series is structured to have a maximum of seven games, with the first team to win four games winning the championship. Thus, "Cubs in five" implies that the team would win the World Series with only one loss (or tie).

  8. The Canterbury Tales is a frame tale surrounding a collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer, a Medieval poet, in the 14th century. Written in Middle English, they are challenging for a modern reader although they are nonetheless renowned for being written in what was at the time plain English. They are widely acclaimed as some of the best English writing.

  9. The Chicago Cubs are a famously underachieving professional baseball team from Chicago. As of 2013, they had not won the World Series, Major League Baseball's highest championship, in 104 years, the longest championship drought in the history of baseball.

  10. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a professional American football team from Tampa Bay, Florida. In 1995, when Cubs in Five was written, they had never won a Super Bowl and were the only National Football League team to ever have a winless season. That losing streak continued into the next year for 26 straight losses.

  11. In American football, the regular season of the National Football League concludes after the last week of December or first week of January. Playing through January therefore implies making it to the playoffs and potentially the Super Bowl, the championship game, which is played in January or February.

  12. A reference to a voicemail message left for his girlfriend referenced above:

    "Why don't you love me like you used to do?" ran a song on the outgoing answering machine of the person to whom the song was anonymously directed, at whom I was very angry on that day (for reasons lost to history), but with whom I could never stay angry for long, because that's how it is when you're a fan: You keep cheering, even when the circumstances might tell a less devoted partisan to seek out fairer pastures. You play nine innings. You keep hoping.

    Darnielle, John (2016). The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle on His 1995 Song "Cubs in Five". Slate. Retrieved December 17, 2016.

  13. I presume that this refers to Philip Morris, now known as Altria, is one of the major American manufacturers of cigarettes. They are known for massive lobbying against exposing the risks of smoking and for fighting against efforts to reduce climate change.

    However, it might also be about Philips, a Dutch electronics company which anecdotally caught flak from vinyl collectors for developing and releasing the CD. It may also refer to any of a variety of companies named Philips. Nall spells this "Phillips" instead of "Philips" in his lyrics sheet, but I don't know that this means anything significant.

  14. Bill Gates is a former CEO of Microsoft and famous billionaire, being the wealthiest person alive from 1993 to 2007.

  15. Heaven 17 are an English pop band famous especially for the 1983 smash hit Temptation. Their popularity waned after the late 1980s.

  16. Utrecht is a major city and provice in the Netherlands.

  17. Going to Utrecht is part of the Going to … series.

  18. Cheshire County is a county in England on the Welsh border. It is also a county in New Hampshire.

  19. Chanson du Bon Chose is part of the Song for … series.

  20. An alternate version of Chanson du Bon Chose exists, in which John, pretending to be someone else as the band the Yamaraja Racers, covers the song himself. The song was released on a tribute tape to the Mountain Goats, by an English fan who would prefer not to be named, on the Bacchanalian Revel label.

    One other Yamaraja Racers cover exists, The Black Ice Cream Song.

  21. Chanson du Bon Chose translates from French to roughly Song of the Good Thing, which in French would actually be "Chanson de la Bonne Chose". Given John's interest in the French writer and philosopher Maurice Blanchot (evidenced in the Nothing for Juice liner notes, his Tumblr, and in interviews), and given that John pronounces his name as "bon-SHOW" (see the 2008 WNYC session), this title may be a pun simultaneously referencing the aforementioned French translation while meaning Song for Blanchot.

  22. Pure Money is part of the Pure … series.

  23. Jon Nall translates this as roughly "… lo-fi, from now on we'll talk about eh — bi-fi, I think that's better" in his lyrics sheet. During the VPRO interview from which this is taken, the interviewer repeatedly asked about the Mountain Goats' lo-fi asthetic. In response, John and Rachel denied being lo-fi, stating that they were bi-fi, which is both a brand of German sausage and John's term for what he considers his high-fidelity, low technology approach. The interview is phenomenal, go listen to it.

  24. This is possibly a reference to the chorus of the popular reggae song Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals, which contains the lines "I say and when it drops, oh you gonna feel it / Know that you were doing wrong".

  25. Chrysanthemums are colorful flowers found in Asia and parts of Europe. In parts of China and elsewhere in Asia, their petals are used to make a tea.

  26. Hunan is a province of China in the central southern part of the country.

  27. While not a true cover, the allusion is strong enought that Stars Fell on Alabama is part of the informal series of cover songs.

  28. Stars Fell on Alabama is not a pure cover, however, it strongly alludes to and borrows some storyline and lyrics from the jazz standard of the same title, performed by numerous famous artists. Its title allegedly comes from the title of a book by American folklorist Stars Fell on Alabama, which refers to a particularly astonishing occurence of the Leonid meteor shower in 1833.

  29. Lonesome Surprise is part of the informal series of cover songs.

  30. Lonesome Surprise was originally written by Allen Callaci and performed by his band Refrigerator. Callaci, an integral member of the Inland Empire music scene from which the Mountain Goats originated, has been a longstanding friend of Darnielle and has performed Lonesome Surprise as a duet on several occasions, usually over a phone (presumably to recreate this spontaneous, amazing moment). See for example the Swedish-American Hall, San Francisco, June 28, 2012.

  31. It sounds here like Allen is explaining what's happening to someone who's standing next to him. As best I can tell, he says, "My friend's on a radio show — he called me. Now we're doing a duet from Amsterdam." I could be wrong, however, so if you hear something different or know more about this, please let me know.