The Mountain Goats: Golden Boy
This is one of those songs that inexplicably has grabbed me. If you are not a Mountain Goats fan, please listen to it, and maybe it will grab you, too. Apparently, though, if you are a Mountain Goats fan, “Golden Boy” is considered the “Free Bird” of their prodigious body of work. It is a song about peanuts, and the entire moral structure of society. Both of which are important.
The Mountain Goats started in the early 1990’s as a solo project of John Darnielle, one of the more interesting and productive songwriters around. Much of their/his early work was aggressively low-fidelity—recorded on a boom box with awful sound. Yet, the quality of the songs, and their quirky, yet deep lyrics, based on Darnielle’s twisted view of the world led to a significant cult following. More recently, The Mountain Goats have become a real band, and they have abandoned their lo-fi sound for more conventional production, although their songs continue to be anything but conventional.
“Golden Boy” originally appeared on an EP released in 1998 called Object Lessons: Songs About Products, which included 5 songs by 5 bands (4 of which I have never heard of) about products, including “Grenadine” and “Honeywell Round Thermostat.” It was later included on a Mountain Goats compilation album, Ghana.
The track starts with what appears to be Darnielle telling “Paul” (presumably Paul Lukas, who was behind the Object Lessons EP) that he believes that this take is better than the one he was about to send, because “I have my boots on, which always guarantees a good showing.”
The song then begins with an exhortation to live a good life, and to follow the Golden Rule (do unto others….). This is generally good advice, but in the song, Darnielle does not suggest the moral course because it is the right thing to do, or for a general shot at eternal paradise. No, according to Mr. Darnielle, one should live a good life, specifically so that
When you die
You’ll find Golden Boy Peanuts
Waiting in the afterlife for you
These must be some damn good peanuts.
Further, Darnielle warns about the horrible alternative—
There are no pan-Asian supermarkets down in hell
So you can't buy Golden Boy Peanuts
Clearly, the traditional fire and brimstone, ceaseless pain and suffering, etc. are nothing, when compared to spending eternity without a specific brand of Singaporean peanuts, distinguished by a
Drawing of the young Chinese farmer
The eastern sun behind him smiling at you.
I can’t really explain the charm of this song, but as someone who finds pretty much anything about religion to be ridiculous, maybe the idea that the reason to live justly is to assure an eternal supply of a particular brand of snack just amuses me.