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The Sunset Tree

Title: The Sunset Tree 1 2 3
Released: 2005
Label: 4AD

Liner notes

"The howling of the wind in the window… Uncle Balt yelling… Several sounds that bombs make… The eerie echoes you sometimes get in caves… They get replayed." William H. Gass 4

Made possible by my stepfather, Mike Noonan (1940 – 2004):
may the peace which eluded you in life be yours now

Dedicated to any young men and women anywhere who live with people who abuse them, with the following good news:
you are going to make it out of there alive

you will live to tell your story

never lose hope

Early preorders of The Sunset Tree came with a bonus LP, called Come, Come to the Sunset Tree, which included demos of many songs (You and Your Memory, Up the Wolves, Dilaudid, Dinu Lipatti's Bones, Love Love Love, Lion's Teeth, This Year, and Song for Dennis Brown) and several outtakes (Collapsing Stars, High Doses #2, and The Day the Aliens Came). A single of Dilaudid was also released, which contained an alternate version of Dilaudid and a studio version of Collapsing Stars. Two unreleased outtakes exist, Abandoning My Father Talking Blues and Song for My Stepfather.

Table of contents

  1. You or Your Memory
  2. Broom People
  3. This Year
  4. Dilaudid
  5. Dance Music
  6. Dinu Lipatti's Bones
  7. Up the Wolves
  8. Lion's Teeth
  9. Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod
  10. Magpie
  11. Song for Dennis Brown
  12. Love Love Love
  13. Pale Green Things

You or Your Memory 5 6

I checked into a bargain-priced room on La Cienega 7
Gazed out through the curtains at the parking lot
Walked down to the cornerstore just before nightfall in my bare feet
Black tarry asphalt, soft and hot
And when I came back, I spread out my supplies
On the counter by the sink, looked myself right in the eyes

St. Joseph's baby aspirin 8
Bartles & Jaymes 9
And you
Or your memory

I ducked behind the drapes when I saw the moon begin to rise
Gathered in my loose ends, switched off the light
And down there in the dark I could see the real truth about me
As clear as day, Lord, if I make it through tonight
And I will mend my ways
And walk the straight path 'til the end of my days

St. Joseph's baby aspirin
Bartles & Jaymes
And you
Or your memory

Broom People 10

'36 Hudson 11
In the garage
All sorts of junk
In the unattached spare room
Dishes in the kitchen sink
New straw for the old broom
Friends who don't have a clue
Well-meaning teachers
But down in your arms, in your arms
I am a wild creature

Floor two foot high with newspapers
White carpet thick with pet hair
Half-eaten gallons of ice cream in the freezer
Fresh fuel for the sodium flares 12
I write down good reasons to freeze to death
In my spiral ring notebook
But in the long tresses of your hair
I am a babbling brook

This Year 13 14 15 16

I broke free on a Saturday morning
I put the pedal to the floor
Headed north on Mills Avenue 17
And listened to the engine roar

My broken house behind me and good things ahead
A girl named Kathy wants a little of my time
Six cylinders underneath the hood crashing and kicking
Ah-ha, listen to the engine whine

I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me
I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me

I played video games 18 in a drunken haze
I was seventeen years young
Hurt my knuckles punching the machines
The taste of Scotch 19 rich on my tongue

Then Kathy showed up and we hung out
Trading swigs from the bottle all bitter and clean
Locking eyes, holding hands
Twin high-maintenance machines

I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me
I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me

I drove home in the California dusk
I could feel the alcohol inside of me hum
Pictured the look on my stepfather's face
Ready for the bad things to come

I downshifted as I pulled into the driveway
The motor screaming out, stuck in second gear
The scene ends badly as you might imagine
In a cavalcade of anger and fear

There will be feasting and dancing in Jerusalem next year 20
I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me
I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me 21

Dilaudid 22 23 24 25

The reception's gotten fuzzy
The delicate balance has shifted
Put on your gloves and your black pumps 26
Let's pretend the fog has lifted
Now you see me
Now you don't
Now you say you love me
Pretty soon you won't
If we get our full three score and ten 27
We won't pass this way again
So kiss me with your mouth open
Turn the tires toward the street 28
And stay sweet

All the chickens come on home to roost
Plump bodies blotting out the sky
You know it breaks my heart in half, in half
When I see them trying to fly
'Cause you just can't do
Things your body wasn't meant to
Hike up your fishnets 29
I know you
If we live to see the other side of this
I will remember your kiss
So do it with your mouth open
And take your foot off of the brake
For Christ's sake

Dance Music 30

All right, I'm on Johnson Avenue in San Luis Obispo 31
And I'm five years old or six maybe
And indications that there's something wrong with our new house
Trip down the wire twice daily
I'm in the living room watching the Watergate hearings 32
While my stepfather yells at my mother
Launches a glass across the room, straight at her head
And I dash upstairs to take cover
Lean in close to my little record player on the floor
So this is what the volume knob's for
I listen to dance music
Dance music

OK, so look, I'm seventeen years old 33
And you're the last, best thing I got going 34
But then the special secret sickness starts to eat through you
What am I supposed to do, no way of knowing
So I follow you down your twisting alleyways
Find a few cul-de-sacs of my own
There's only one place this road ever ends up 34
And I don't want to die alone 35
Let me down, let me down, let me down gently
When the police come to get me, I'm listening to dance music
Dance music

Dinu Lipatti's Bones 36 37 38

We stank of hair dye and ammonia 39
We sealed ourselves away from view
You were looking at the void and seldom blinking
The best that I could do
Was to train my eyes on you

We scaled the hidden hills beneath the surface
Scraped our fingers bloody on the stones
And built a little house that we could live in
Out of Dinu Lipatti's bones

We kept our friends at bay all summer long
Treated the days as if they'd kill us if they could
Ringing out the hours like blood-drenched bedsheets
To keep wintertime at bay
But December showed up anyway

There was no money, it was money that you wanted
I went downtown, sold off most of what I owned
And we raised a tower to broadcast all our dark dreams
From Dinu Lipatti's bones 40

Up the Wolves 41 42

There's bound to be a ghost at the back of your closet
No matter where you live
There'll always be a few things, maybe several things
That you're gonna find really difficult to forgive

There's gonna come a day when you feel better
You'll rise up free and easy on that day
And float from branch to branch, higher than the air
Just when that day is coming, who can say, who can say

Our mother has been absent
Ever since we founded Rome
But there's gonna be a party when the wolf comes home 43

We're gonna commandeer the local airwaves
To tell the neighbors what's been going on
And they will shake their heads, and wag their bony fingers
In all the wrong directions, and by daybreak we'll be gone

I'm gonna get myself in fighting trim
Scope out every angle of unfair advantage
I'm gonna bribe the officials, I'm gonna kill all the judges
It's gonna take you people years to recover from all of the damage

Our mother has been absent
Ever since we founded Rome
But there's gonna be a party when the wolf comes home

Lion's Teeth 44 45

The king of the jungle
Was asleep in his car
When your chances fall in your lap like that
You gotta recognize them for what they really are

Nobody in this house
Wants to own up to the truth
I crawl in shotgun and reach into his mouth
Grab hold of one long, sharp tooth

And hold on
For dear life
I hold on

Well, course he wakes up
His paw hits the horn
I am gonna regret 46
The day that I was born

And then Mom rushes out to the driveway
My sister too 47
Everyone screaming
I am dreaming of you

I hold on
For dear life
I hold on

And my arms get sore
And my palms start to sweat
And the tears roll down my face
'Til my cheeks are hot and red and soaking wet

In come the cops
They blowtorch the doors
I start wailing
The lion roars

There's no good way to end this
Anyone can see
There's this great big you
And little old me

And we hold on
For dear life 48
We hold on
We hold on

Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod 49 50 51 52

You are sleeping off your demons
When I come home
Spittle bubbling on your lips
Fine white foam
I am young and I am good
It's a hot Southern California day
If I wake you up
There will be hell to pay
And alone in my room
I am the last of a lost civilization
And I vanish into the dark
And rise above my station
Rise above my station

But I do wake you up, and when I do
You blaze down the hall and you scream
I'm in my room with the headphones on
Deep in the dream chamber
And then I'm awake and I'm guarding my face
Hoping you don't break my stereo
Because it's the one thing that I couldn't live without
And so I think about that, and then I sort of black out
Held under these smothering waves
By your strong and thick-veined hand
But one of these days
I'm gonna wriggle up on dry land

Magpie 53 54 55

Feed the kittens in the kitchen
Set food out for the strays
Try hard to do your best
The magpie will have his way

Fill your mouth with berries
By the full light of the moon
Work all night if you have to
The magpie comes at noon

Shore up the crucifixes
Above the archways and the doors 56
The magpie will come at midday
And you will go down on all fours

And when the cherries white with blossoms
Be ready and be brave
And remember what we had here
When there was something left to save

Song for Dennis Brown 57 58 59

On the day that Dennis Brown's lung collapsed, spring rain was misting down on Kingston 60
And down at the harbor, local cops were intercepting an inbound shipment
And for a while there it was chaos
As they handcuffed and then roughed up some sailors

On the day my lung collapses
It's not gonna be much different

On the day that Dennis Brown's habits caught up with him, schoolchildren sang in choirs
And out behind the Chinese restaurants, guys were jumping into dumpsters
And the stench was overbearing
But they were past the point of caring

On the day my habits catch up with me
I'll be down among the jumpers

And when the birds come home in spring, 61 we will fill them full of buckshot
And jets of contaminated blood will cloud the rivers and the lakes
It took all the coke in town
To bring down Dennis Brown

On the day my lung collapses
We'll see just how much it takes

Love Love Love 62 63

King Saul fell on his sword when it all went wrong 64
And Joseph's brother sold him down the river for a song 65
And Sonny Liston rubbed some Tiger Balm into his glove 66
Some things you do for money, and some you do for love, love, love

Raskolnikov felt sick, but he couldn't say why 67
When he saw his face reflected in his victim's twinkling eye
Some things you'll do for money, and some you'll do for fun
But the things you do for love are gonna come back to you one by one 68

Love, love is gonna lead you by the hand
Into a white and soundless place 69
Now we see things as in a mirror dimly
Then we shall see each other face to face 70

And way out in Seattle, young Kurt Cobain
Snuck out to the greenhouse, put a bullet in his brain 71
Snakes in the grass beneath our feet, rain in the clouds above
Some moments last forever, but some flare out with love, love, love

Pale Green Things

Got up before dawn
Went down to the racetrack
Riding with the windows down
Shortly after your first heart attack
You parked behind the paddock
Cracking asphalt underfoot
Coming up through the cracks
Pale green things
Pale green things

We watched the horses run their workouts
You held your stopwatch in your left hand
And a racing form beneath your arm
Casting your gaze way out to no man's land 72
Sometimes I'll meet you out there
Lonely and frightened
Flicking my tongue out at the wet leaves
Pale green things
Pale green things

My sister called at 3 AM
Just last December
She told me how you died at last, at last
And that morning at the racetrack was one thing I remembered
I turned it over in my mind
Like a living Chinese finger trap 73
Seaweed and Indiana sawgrass 74
Pale green things
Pale green things

Credits

Thanks also to Caliclimber, a nearly mythical being, whose excellent Flickr page provided the album art, and to Harrison Lemke for pointing out the Biblical reference in Magpie.

  1. The Sunset Tree, Nall, retrieved April 12, 2014.

Footnotes

  1. John has described in many places that this album is about his childhood, in which he and his family were abused by his stepfather. The album was written after his stepfather's death caused John to write about his family. Some of the songs also reference his use of heroin, cocaine, and other drugs in Claremont, and later his use of methamphetamine in Portland, which was covered more extensively in We Shall All Be Healed. These two albums are the only markedly autobiographical albums in the Mountain Goats corpus.

    John describes this excellently at the Bowery Ballroom, New York, March 28, 2011 and on WTF with Marc Maron #366, March 4, 2013, but also at the KEXP session, May 21, 2004; Black Cat, Washington, DC, October 11, 2004; KEXP session, June 16, 2005; Duke Coffeehouse, Durham, November 5, 2005; City Arts and Lectures, Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, February 24, 2009; Calvin College interview, October 22, 2012.

    The album was temporarily titled "Near the Original Pantry" prior to John deciding on The Sunset Tree. The Original Pantry is a historic café and restaurant in the South Park district of downtown Los Angeles, located on South Figueroa Street. The term referred to the location of the now-gone Grand Olympic Auditorium, where he would attend wrestling matches with his stepfather, as well as being near the location of several Mountain Goats songs (such You or Your Memory and Design Your Own Container Garden). WTF with Marc Maron #366, March 4, 2013.

  2. The title of the Sunset Tree takes its name from the chorus and opening lines of the Tyrolese Evening Hymn, also known as Come to the Sunset Tree, published in the early 19th century by Felicia Hemans. In the song, workers are encouraged to rest at the sunset tree after a long day of labor:

    Come, come, come
    Come to the sunset tree
    The day is past and gone
    The woodman's axe lies free
    and the reaper's work is done
    The twilight star to Heaven
    And the summer dew to flowers
    And rest to us is given
    By the cool soft evening hours

    Come, come, come
    Come to the sunset tree
    The day is past and gone
    The woodman's axe lies free
    and the reaper's work is done

    Sweet is the hour of rest
    Pleasant the wood's low sign
    And the gleaming of the west
    And the turf whereon we lie
    When the burden and the heat
    Of labor's task are o'er
    And kindly voices greet
    The tired one at his door

    Come, come, come
    Come to the sunset tree
    The day is past and gone
    The woodman's axe lies free
    and the reaper's work is done

    Yes, tuneful is the sound
    That dwells in whispering boughs
    Welcome the freshness round
    And the gale that fans our brows
    But rest more sweet and still
    Than ever night-fall gave
    Our longing hearts shall fill
    In the world beyond the grave

    Come, come, come
    Come to the sunset tree
    The day is past and gone
    The woodman's axe lies free
    and the reaper's work is done

    There shall no tempest blow
    No scorching noontide beat
    There shall be no more snow
    No weary wandering feet
    So we lift our trusting eyes
    From the hills our fathers trod
    To the quiet of the skies
    To the Sabbath of our God

    Come, come, come
    Come to the sunset tree
    The day is past and gone
    The woodman's axe lies free
    and the reaper's work is done

    Hemans, Felicia. Tyrolese Evening Hymn. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Box 115, Item 133, Johns Hopkins University. Retrieved May 28, 2014.

    Hymnary. Come to the Sunset Tree. Retrieved May 28, 2014.

  3. The Sunset Tree is part of the informal series of Biblical references.

  4. These lines are taken from William H. Gass' major novel The Tunnel, which presents itself as the work of Kohler, a professor of history, who, attempting to write a work about Nazi Germany, instead describes his own brutal life while digging a tunnel out of his basement. They stand alone in their own paragraph at the end of a chapter, following a description of one of Kohler's lovers being murdered and sexually exploited by the Nazis (p. 116). Apart from the original reading "Several sounds that bombs made", the lines are unchanged.

    William H. Gass himself is an American author, former philosophy professor, and now humanities professor emeritus from Washington University.

    Gass, William H (1995). The Tunnel. Normal: Dalkey Archive Press. ISBN 1-56478-213-1

  5. "This is a song about how… someday you might find yourself in a hotel — well, hotel is a generous term — you might find yourself in a motor lodge, The Royal Hawaiian motor lodge on Crenshaw. There's a Polaroid picture of a naked lady in the window of the Royal Hawaiian, and it says, 'Sexy Movie, $5'. That's how you know it's a class act, the Royal Hawaiian. You may find yourself there someday, plotting what you might do there. I don't recommend what you had in mind. Better days are coming." — Club Europa, Brooklyn, September 29, 2006. See also Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, July 20, 2006; St George's, Bristol, October 7, 2013.

    "It's a song that takes place in a hotel, a hotel whose secret name, secret because none of y'all were there and I were, was — probably going back someday — the Royal Hawaiian, the Royal Hawaiian hotel. Motel. I really think to call it a hotel would be putting on airs. The Royal Hawaiian hotel, it was a mile and a half from the AIDS hospice where I was working, from which I got fired after I got arrested. You can't be working in the AIDS hospital jobs if you're gonna spend time in jail. I was an honest man, I came in, I said, 'Hey, I just think I should let you guys know, I spent the weekend in jail.' That's what 21-year-olds are like. I said, hey, they'll be cool, they're probably all right. But my employer was actually the Roman Catholic Church, they weren't cool with that. They said, 'Cool, come back if — what are you going to plea?' I said, 'No contest.' 'All right, well, we'll see you again sometime.'" — The EARL, Atlanta, November 3, 2006.

  6. A demo of You or Your Memory was released on the Come, Come to the Sunset Tree bonus LP.

  7. La Cienega Boulevard is a major road running north-south through Hollywood and South Los Angeles.

    John has clarified that the motel in this song, the Royal Hawaiian, is not actually located on La Cienega. Club Europa, Brooklyn, September 29, 2006; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, July 20, 2006; St George's, Bristol, October 7, 2013.

  8. St. Joseph's Low Dose Aspirin is a brand of aspirin sold by Johnson & Johnson. Baby aspirin generally refers to an 81 mg dose and is prescribed for a variety of ailments, notably reduction of heart attacks, or used acutely to relieve pain.

  9. Bartles & Jaymes is an American brand of wine cooler.

  10. "This is a song about how I was fourteen years old and I had gotten to high school and I was kind of terrified to be in high school because I was a scrawny little fellow, unlike the gigantic hulking mass you see before you today, and I was pretty terrified, 'cause in junior high it was bad, there were people coming to kick my ass, but there weren't so many of them, but at the high school in my town, there's 900 people there, and I knew there was a fair number just waiting on me to get there to kick my ass, right. And I was tiny, I was a little fellow, and I got there and the first month or two was pretty bad, first semester was pretty bad, and then I met a girl named Marcie Dean. Marcie Dean was the chief of the stage makeup crew. Marcie Dean and I began to date, shortly thereafter, we began to have sex three times a day. <cheers> You're fucking right. Because then, when I'd be getting my ass kicked, I'd look up at the guy kicking my ass, and go, 'You can kick my ass all day. It'll still be two years before you're where I'm at, beyotch', right. This is the only song I ever wrote for Marcie Dean, whom I will probably never see again." — 40 Watt Club, Athens, Georgia, August 10, 2006. See also Bowery Ballroom, New York, September 20, 2006; Gargoyle, St. Louis, October 23, 2006; Bowery Ballroom, March 28, 2011; Bowery Ballroom, March 29, 2011; Bowery Ballroom, March 30, 2011; Festival for the Eno, Durham, July 6, 2013.

    These events took place at Claremont High School after meeting Marcie in a class on stage makeup. Bowery Ballroom, New York, March 29, 2011.

  11. The Hudson Motor Car Company was a major Detroit-based automobile company from 1909 through the 1950s, when it formed American Motors in a merger with another firm. Most 1930s Hudsons had a straight-six engine, which itself is the name of another Mountain Goats song. The primary manufacturing line in 1936 was the Terraplane, a powerful now-classic car.

    John explains that as a fourteen-year-old, he was having sex not in the back of a Hudson but in the back of a Honda Civic. Bowery Ballroom, New York, September 20, 2006; Gargoyle, St. Louis, October 23, 2006.

  12. I'm not entirely sure what the sodium flares refer to here. My best guess is that it refers to a sodium-vapor lamp, commonly used in streetlamps. If you have a better idea, I'd love to know about it.

  13. One of the most popular Mountain Goats songs and a common encore, along with No Children, The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton, and Going to Georgia.

    Like most of the Sunset Tree, it describes a true story. Bowery Ballroom, New York, October 16, 2012; Calvin College interview, October 22, 2012; Troubadour, Los Angeles, December 13, 2012.

    "This is a song about when you are having a year that you need to see it through to the end of." — Wexner Center, Columbus, April 11, 2011

    "This is a song about how sometimes you are living in a house, and you're in high school, and your stepfather is abusing your mother and you, and it really sucks — you have to take a lot of drugs to deal with that, right — well, you don't have to, I should say, but you probably do. And when you do, they make you feel marginally better but the main thing that makes you feel better is the company of other people who are as damaged as you are or will shortly become as damaged as you are, and you can sense it, because there is an internal sensor if you bear some damage, there is this sensor that says, 'That person is either damaged or is getting there, and I think I will hang out with her until things get a little brighter'. I play this for a lovely person who wore a cape to school, it's called This Year." — Bowery Ballroom, March 30, 2011

    Given the cape context, I think it's reasonable to speculate that this may be about the same person that You Were Cool is about.

    This Year was one of few songs that didn't get finished at first, was shelved, and was unexpectedly resurrected, unlike John's typical pattern, in which songs are completed in one session or thrown out. Swedish-American Hall, San Francisco, October 22, 2012.

  14. A demo of This Year was released on Come, Come to the Sunset Tree.

  15. This Year is one of very few Mountain Goats songs to have a music video. Opening with the first few seconds of Dilaudid, it depicts the band being kidnapped and forced to play in a house to their abductors.

  16. This Year is part of the informal series of Biblical references and informal series of demos.

  17. Mills Avenue is a major north-south road through Claremont. On the north end, it becomes Claremont Boulevard, which passes through the Claremont Colleges (bordering Pitzer, where John attended), to the south, it crosses the 10 Freeway and terminates at Holt Boulevard one block east of Indian Hill Boulevard, a nexus of many Mountain Goats songs (including Palmcorder Yajna, From TG&Y, Short Song About the 10 Freeway, and other songs on We Shall All Be Healed and The Sunset Tree).

  18. Sometimes sung with a specific name, such as "I played Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! in a drunken haze". Other games referenced include Mr. Do! and Aero Fighters. (Incidentally, Mr. Do is the name of the rat on the cover of Beautiful Rat Sunset.) Also occasionally sung with an alcohol, such as "I played video games in a Cutty Sark haze", similarly to the footnote below. Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, June 20, 2005; 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, November 27, 2009; Memorial Hall, Chapman University, November 12, 2010; Newport Folk Festival, Fort Adams State Park, Rhode Island, July 26, 2013.

  19. Sometimes sung with other alcohols in place of Scotch, such as Allegheny or Cutty Sark. See also the above footnote. Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, September 20, 2006; Bimbo's 365 Club, San Francisco, February 29, 2008.

  20. A reference to the phrase spoken at the conclusion of the Passover Seder, "Next year in Jerusalem". The saying reflects the hope that one day the Messiah will return to and rebuild Jerusalem, an ancient and holy city to all Abrahamic religions. Passover itself celebrates the escape of the Jews from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses, aided by God's infliction of ten plagues upon the Egyptians.

  21. Often sung with a final line or couplet, "And it almost killed me". Cat's Cradle, Chicago, April 8, 2011; El Rey, Los Angeles, June 23, 2011.

  22. "This is a song about how when you're in love but you know it's going to hell, you take drugs and have sex." — Canopy Club, Urbana, October 12, 2005. See Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, September 20, 2006; Black Cat, Washington, DC, September 20, 2007; Bluebird Theater, Denver, October 17, 2008.

    "This is a song about an ex-girlfriend of mine, whom I loved more than I had ever loved anyone at that point. I was 16, so I hadn't loved all that many people. You know how it is, right — I mean, like, it gets inside of you, and you say, 'Oh my God, not only is this awesome', but if you're me, and I suspect if you're anybody who's 16, you go, 'Not only is this awesome, none of these other people are experiencing anything remotely like this. My deal is way better than the stuff I see people doing at school. Those people are lame, I'm sure they're enjoying themselves but they don't have what we have. Because what we have is special, right.' You get up in that frame of mind, and if you got somebody else who's just as driven and narcissistic as yourself, oh, boy can you dig a deep hole." — Club Europe, Brooklyn, September 29, 2006; Bowery Ballroom, New York, October 1, 2007.

    John has described this as the successor to the story in Broom People where he's finding liberation in sex in a Honda Civic. "And then, do you remember, a couple of years later, how you discovered that once the interest had waned in that, there were people in town with harder drugs. Really good stuff. Stuff that could put you in the hospital, if you're lucky. This song is about those good times and great oldies." — Bowery Ballroom, New York, September 30, 2006

    Dilaudid and Attention All Pickpockets describe the same person. Zoop, Farm Sanctuary, New York, June 17, 2007; Are 'Dilaudid' and 'Attention all Pickpockets' related?, William Caxton Fan Club, retrieved June 15, 2014.

  23. A demo for Dilaudid was released on Come, Come to the Sunset Tree. The single for Dilaudid contained both the studio version and an alternate version (called the Marrtronix version) performed on an electric guitar instead of Erik Friedlander's cello.

  24. Dilaudid is part of the informal series of Biblical references and the informal series of demos and alternate versions.

  25. Dilaudid is a common brand name for hydromorphone hydrochloride, an extremely potent opiate analgesic. Several times more potent than heroin, it has high recreational abuse potential alongside numerous medical uses for treatment of severe pain.

  26. Sometimes sung, "Put on your gloves and your top coat". A top coat is a lightweight overcoat. Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, March 2, 2008.

  27. A reference to the famous King James translation of Psalm 90:10, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." Psalm 90:10, King James Version, retrieved June 15, 2014.

  28. Also sung, "Turn the tires of the B210 toward the street". The Nissan or Datsun Sunny B210 was a 1970s model of fuel-efficient, fastback car. Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, March 2, 2008.

  29. Sometimes sung, "Hike up your fishnets, Jackie". Jackie is referenced in alternate lyrics to other Sunset Tree and We Shall All Be Healed songs, notably Your Belgian Things, Mole, and Dance Music. Club Europa, Brooklyn, September 29, 2006; Bottom of the Hill, March 2, 2008.

  30. "That song, like everything else on the Sunset Tree, is a true story, and that one's a pretty naked true story, where it's two scenes, one from childhood and one from my teenage years that I'm sort of drawing a connection between. And the second one was the night that they declined to arrest my girlfriend and myself. And the thing that I remembered was the anger of the policeman because I think he'd thought he was going to find something on us, but he didn't, because it was already all in our bodies. But we were parked in my car, and the police cruiser came up behind us, and we saw the lights, 'Oh, this sucks', right, and so he came up and he was really livid and was yelling at me about how he'd had a tip-off as to what we were up to, which was hard drugs with needles." — Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, April 19, 2014. He has in other places emphasized the connection between the two events being music, see Apolo, Barcelona, October 19, 2013.

    The opening verse is clearly about child abuse. However, he's occasionally explicitly stated such or elaborated on his experiences. Two key elaborations are that these events took place in the first apartment he lived in after his parents divorced, and that what made these events especially painful is that his stepfather was a fun person that they loved when he wasn't being violent. See especially Letters to Santa, Chicago, December 12, 2011 and WTF with Marc Maron #366, March 4, 2013, but also KEXP session, May 21, 2004; Bottom of the Hill, May 26, 2004; Black Cat, Washington, DC, September 20, 2007; Empty Bottle, Chicago, November 15, 2007; Swedish-American Hall, February 25, 2009; American Theater Company, Chicago, May 16, 2010; Bowery Ballroom, New York, October 15, 2012.

    John describes that the record player on the floor was a flexi disc player that came with a recording of the famous, "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" Apollo 11 moon landing speech that he listened to when he was upset. Club Capitol, Perth, January 2, 2007.

    The song originally had a complex piano portion written and played by Franklin Bruno, but John ended up playing a pared-down version as John had gotten drunk to help get through the emotional intensity of recording the Sunset Tree and the vocal track was slurred in the original take. A great version of this story is told at the Bowery Ballroom, New York, October 1, 2006.

  31. San Luis Obispo is a small coastal college town in California midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, home to California Polytechnic State University. Johnson Avenue is a northwest to southeast running street which heads into downtown San Luis Obispo to the north and turning due south before ending at Orcutt Road on the other end. This area is south of the freeway from the university.

  32. The Watergate scandal was an infamous political scandal in the 1970s following the burglarization and wiretapping of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, DC and the Nixon administration's attempts to avoid culpability by covering up their involvement. Ultimately, the scandal led to Nixon's impeachment in 1974. The hearings themselves took place in 1973.

  33. Occasionally sung with other ages, such as 28. The EARL, Atlanta, October 18, 2004.

  34. This verse often invokes Jackie, either as, "And Jackie, you're the last best thing I got going", or, "There's only one place this road ever ends up, Jackie". Jackie (presumably from the above banter, John's girlfriend at the time) is referenced in alternate lyrics to other Sunset Tree and We Shall All Be Healed songs, notably Your Belgian Things, Mole, and Dilaudid. China Clipper, Olympia, June 18, 2005; Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, June 20, 2005; Club Europa, Brooklyn, September 29, 2006; Bowery Ballroom, New York, September 30, 2006; The EARL, Atlanta, November 3, 2006; Bowery Ballroom, New York, October 1, 2007; Gardner Lounge, Grinnell, November 2, 2007. 2

  35. John often exhorts the crowd to chant this line with him. Bowery Ballroom, New York, September 30, 2006; Bowery Ballroom, New York, October 1, 2007; Gardner Lounge, Grinnell, November 2, 2007; First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, March 20, 2008.

  36. "This is a love song for an old friend." — Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, June 23, 2005. See also China Clipper, Olympia, June 18, 2005.

    John has recounted that this song is about a particular, turbulent summer with his girlfriend doing hard drugs. Festival for the Eno, Durham, July 6, 2013.

  37. A demo of Dinu Lipatti's Bones was released on Come, Come to the Sunset Tree.

  38. Dinu Lipatti was a celebrated classical pianist in the early 20th century, born in Romania and playing music across Europe. He died at 33 from Hodgkin's lymphoma.

  39. Ammonia, NH3, is a common chemical used in permanent hair dyes. The ammonia creates a basic environment to increase the activity of an oxidant, usually hydrogen peroxide, which lightens the hair. Ammonia is also believed to increase dye penetration.

    Lewis DM, Rippon JA (2013). The Coloration of Wool and Other Keratin Fibres. Bradford: Wiley & Sons. ISBN 1-119-96260-9

  40. On the demo (see above), this verse is changed to:

    There was no money, it was money that you wanted
    And the paint peeled, and the rotten rafters groaned
    And we watched cracks form in the house we'd made
    From Dinu Lipatti's bones

  41. "This is a song about how sometimes you have to proclaim bad things good and good things bad to stand your day. That's all it's about." — Bowery Ballroom, New York, September 30, 2006

    "I'm always trying to figure out what to say about this goddamn song. Part of me wants to say, 'Well, it's about revenge.' But as soon as I say that, I go, 'No, that's not quite it.' Part of me wants to say, 'Well, it's about the satisfaction of not needing revenge.' And then I say, 'No, that's some New Age stuff, you know, you're not up on that business,' But I think it's a song about the moment in your quest for revenge when you learn to embrace the futility of it. You really — when you know that the thing that you want is ridiculous and pompous, and a terrible thing to want anyway, and the direction in which you're headed is not the direction you want to go, yet you're going to head that way a while longer anyway, because that's just the kind of person you are." — Bowery Ballroom, New York, October 1, 2007. See also Showbox, Seattle, December 17, 2012.

    "This is a song for survivors." — Troubadour, Los Angeles, December 16, 2011. See also Bowery Ballroom, New York, October 15, 2012; Burkirk-Chumley Theatre, Bloomington, June 15, 2013.

    "When people talk about triumph over adversity, adversity sounds like a sort of a faceless sort of a thing that you don't actually really need to triumph over as get around. This is a song about triumph over the adversary." — Newport Folk Festival, Rhode Island, July 26, 2013

  42. A demo for Up the Wolves was released on Come, Come to the Sunset Tree.

  43. An allusion to Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers and mythological founders of Rome. Their grandfather, Numitor, was the deposed king of Alba Longa in Italy, and their mother, Rhea Silva, was made a Vestal Virgin to eliminate Numitor's lineage. Therefore, when she conceived (either by the god Mars or the divine hero Hercules), the new king abandoned them in the river Tiber to die. Instead, however, they are nursed by a wolf and fed by a woodpecker until they are found and raised by shepherds. When they become men, they overthrow the false king, reinstate Numitor, and found Rome.

  44. "Unlike most of the next album, it's not exactly a true story, but a revenge fantasy." — Black Cat, Washington, DC, October 11, 2004. See also Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, June 20, 2005; Wow Hall, Eugene, June 21, 2005; Empty Bottle, Chicago, October 14, 2005; Buffalo Icon, Buffalo, October 18, 2005; Empty Bottle, Chicago, September 9, 2006; Club Capitol, Perth, January 2, 2007.

    "This is a true story, after a manner of speaking." — Lollapalooza, Playstation Stage, Chicago, 2011-08-05

    "This is a hard song for John to play." — introduction on the Come, Come to the Sunset Tree demo

    John has explicitly confirmed that this describes him and his stepfather. Gargoyle, St. Louis, October 23, 2006.

  45. A demo for Lion's Teeth was released on Come, Come to the Sunset Tree.

  46. Sometimes sung as, "I am gonna regret, I do regret". China Clipper, Olympia, June 18, 2005. See also Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, June 20, 2005; Fuel Rocket Club, Dartmouth College, Hanover, October 28, 2005.

  47. This line is frequently sung as, "My sister Theresa too". Empty Bottle, Chicago, October 14, 2005; Fuel Rocket Club, Dartmouth College, Hanover, October 28, 2005; Bowery Ballroom, New York, October 29, 2005; Empty Bottle, Chicago, September 9, 2006; Bowery Ballroom, New York, September 30, 2006; Gargoyle, St. Louis, October 23, 2006; Club Capitol, Perth, January 2, 2007.

  48. Also sung, "With both hands". Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, June 20, 2005; Empty Bottle, Chicago, September 9, 2006.

  49. "This is one of those songs where when I tell people what it's about they look really uncomfortable and they don't laugh at the parts that I think are funny when I tell the story. Here, I'll show you. So, this is one of those songs about how if you're 13 and you live in a house where your stepfather beats your mother nightly — see, I told you. Some of us from these houses, we laugh when we remember the things. I don't know why, if I figure out why I'm gonna right a self-help book about it. But in the meantime, this is a song about the headphones that were most important to me when I was 14." — Durham Armory, Durham Be Easy Festival, August 14, 2009. See also Troubadour, Los Angeles, December 13, 2012.

    John has explained that this describes a literally true story. Duke Coffeehouse, Durham, November 5, 2005; 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, November 27, 2009.

  50. This title is potentially an allusion to God's discussion of Job with Satan, in which Job is held as a paradigm of virtue:

    "And the Lord said unto Satan, 'Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?'"

    Satan subsequently torments Job in an attempt to wrest his faith away, and the Book of Job uses his suffering (and ultimate reprieve) to explore the inaccessibility of wisdom and the nature of suffering even among good people.

    Job 1:8, King James Version, retrieved June 16, 2014.

  51. Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod? is part of the informal series of Biblical references.

  52. A tetrapod is a member of the superclass Tetrapoda, which contains all of the original four-legged vertebrates. This clade therefore began in the Devonian period, where they evolved from lobe-finned fishes, and contains all extant and extinct mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians, including modern members who no longer have four limbs but whose ancestors did (such as snakes). While modern tetrapods are primarily terrestrial, the most ancient tetrapods likely were aquatic. This superclass contains the animals who made the transition from oceanic life to terrestrial life.

  53. "[This is] an extended metaphor." — Club Capitol, Perth, January 2, 2007

  54. Magpie is part of the informal series of Biblical references.

  55. Magpies are a type of crow, but the term especially refers to the Eurasian magpie. These birds are extremely intelligent and eat an omnivorous diet. In European folk traditions, magpies are associated with bad luck and theft, as they are purported to take shiny objects. Particularly, they are associated with the English nursery rhyme One for Sorrow, in which one counts magpies seen to predict the future:

    One for sorrow,
    Two for joy,
    Three for a girl,
    Four for a boy,
    Five for silver,
    Six for gold,
    Seven for a secret,
    Never to be told.

    Many other variations exist.

  56. Plausibly a reference to Passover, in which the Israelites were instructed by God to paint their doors and doorways with the blood of a lamb so that they would be spared from the Plagues of Egypt.

    Exodus 12, Holman Christian Standard Bible, retrieved October 28, 2014.

  57. "Dennis Brown was a reggae singer with a gorgeous, gorgeous voice, just amazing, beautiful voice and beautiful feeling, who like a lot of people in the '80s and '90s, and a lot of people always, I guess, developed a bottomless thirst for cocaine, and eventually it killed him. I mean, some drugs, like, you know, heroin, it's easy to die, you know, and you can really just make a wrong turn and die. But you gotta work to kill yourself with cocaine, you really got to mean it and ramp yourself up and get going so bad that you enlarge your heart and in his case, collapse your lung. And so, I mean, me in high school, living in the house I lived in, really, really, you know, and I thought about — it always feels very strange to start talking about this stuff — I thought about killing myself every single day. Every single day. And it was like the main thing I thought about, you know, and I didn't want to hang out with anybody who didn't find that an interesting topic of conversation, you know. And, you know, and I think I got like a lot of would-be suicides do a sort of a thrill out of how frightened people are if you talk about that kind of stuff. And so, since in writing this album, I was trying to get in touch with that angry, frightened, 17-year-old man that I once was, you know, I thought about how I would have, well, I was reading about Dennis Brown, and I felt just like I would have felt at 17. I would have thought, 'Oh, what a great thing, you know, that he went so insane that nobody could touch him.'" — KEXP session, June 16, 2005. See also China Clipper, Olympia, June 18, 2005; Fulton Mall Parking Garage, Brooklyn, July 4, 2005; Buffalo Icon, Buffalo, October 18, 2005; 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, November 27, 2009.

  58. A demo to Song for Dennis Brown was released on Come, Come to the Sunset Tree.

  59. Dennis Brown was an influential Jamaican reggae singer in the mid to late 20th century, also known as the Crown Prince of Reggae. He died in 1999 after years of cocaine-derived respiratory issues developed into pneumonia, leading to a cardiac arrest. He died the next day of a pneumothorax.

  60. Kingston is the capital of Jamaica and the location of Dennis Brown's death.

  61. On the Come, Come to the Sunset Tree demo, this is sung, "And when the birds come home to roost, we will fill them full of buckshot". This phrasing more clearly echoes the old metaphor of chickens coming home to roost, meaning that wrongs done come back to hurt their perpetrator, a theme also brought up in Dilaudid. John has confirmed that this metaphor was intended even in the final studio version. Fulton Mall Parking Garage, Brooklyn, July 4, 2005.

  62. A demo for Love Love Love was released on Come, Come to the Sunset Tree.

  63. Love Love Love is part of the informal series of Biblical references.

  64. Saul is a major Biblical figure, being the first king of Israel after being appointed by the prophet Samuel in the 10th century BC. When the Philistines attacked Israel, Saul and his army met them at Mount Gilboa, where they were defeated. To avoid capture and torture, he fell on his sword.

  65. Joseph was a Biblical figure sold by his brothers into slavery for twenty silver pieces, then faked his death to convince their father. Joseph would ultimately rise to be the most powerful man in Egypt after the Pharoah, whom he advised.

  66. Sonny Liston was a famous heavyweight boxing champion. He died a young death, his exact age obscured by an unrecorded birthday, of either a heroin overdose, heart failure, or murder, depending on which record one believes.

    Sonny Liston ultimately lost his heavyweight champion title in 1964 to Muhammad Ali. During and after the fight, Ali reported stinging in his eyes, and believed Liston had put something onto his gloves to blind him. Tiger Balm, a heat rub used for aches and made since the 1870s, has not, to my knowledge, been one of the substances which Liston purportedly used; my best guess is that this is intended as a stand-in for whatever that substance could have been.

  67. Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov is the fictional main character of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. In the novel, Raskolnikov, a destitute former law student, murders Alyona Ivanovna, a pawnbroker, with an axe, feeling that great men can take whatever actions they wish and wanting her money. As his plan deteriorates, he also murders her sister. He becomes progressively more insane, ultimately confessing after realizing that he will not become great, and is sentenced to exile in Siberia.

  68. Also sung with an additional adjective at the end, such as "one by trembling one" or "one by twinkling one". American Theater Company, Chicago, May 16, 2010; Folk Music Center, Claremont, July 3, 2012.

  69. Sometimes sung, "Into a fine and private place", referencing the 17th century poem To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell, where the phrase refers to the grave. The poem itself is an call to life, with the narrator trying to make the one he loves enjoy their love together while they can. The second verse is as follows:

    But at my back I always hear
    Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
    And yonder all before us lie
    Deserts of vast eternity.
    Thy beauty shall no more be found,
    Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
    My echoing song; then worms shall try
    That long preserv'd virginity,
    And your quaint honour turn to dust,
    And into ashes all my lust.
    The grave's a fine and private place,
    But none I think do there embrace.

    Black Cat, Washington, DC, October 11, 2004; The EARL, Atlanta, October 18, 2004.

  70. A reference to 1 Corinthians 13:12:

    For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
    but then face to face.
    Now I know in part,
    but then I will know fully,
    as I am fully known.

    Holman Christian Standard Bible, retrieved June 16, 2014.

  71. Kurt Cobain was the lead singer, guitarist, and composer for the well-loved Seattle grunge band Nirvana. A heroin addict and depressed man, he committed suicide in 1994 by shooting himself in the head in his backyard. He was 27 years old.

  72. No man's land refers to contested territory, particularly in warfare, where two groups are struggling to control a piece of land. The phrase originates in World War I trench warfare, where two dug-in, opposing parties could fight over a small piece of land, neither being able to get the upper hand.

  73. A Chinese finger trap is a children's toy that traps the user's finger in a bamboo tube, which tightens as one tries to pull their fingers out.

  74. Sawgrass, or Cladium, is a common genus of sedge, characterized by sharp edges and long, thin leaves. There may be a particular species called Indiana sawgrass, but my best guess is that this refers to Cladium mariscoides, a very common sawgrass species widespread across the United States.