Tuesday, August 7, 2007

An Inscription At Salonae

I imagine this song being sparked by seeing a picture of a relief--a pitcher of wine, a laughing girl cast in stone. I imagine the Alpha Cabra caught her stone gaze and decided she deserved to be brought to life in a song, just as much as any angsty Midwestern traveler does. And so she became the next of his 'yous', those ephemeral love-objects that flit through his songs, sometimes described, more often not. In An Inscription At Salonae, as in so many of his songs, the geography surrounding the protagonists is thrown into hyperfocus, while the protagonists themselves remain enigmatic.

The guitar sound is fuller than usual, with a firm, joyous beat, filling out the description of brightly colored ancient Roman pageantry. I can clearly see some thin, toga-wearing figure staring with fevered eyes at a dancing girl with long hair in the valley below him, altar smoking, purple cloths draped all around, the clouds languorously curling. It's uncanny, it's unfair, how Mountain Goats songs can create lovers anywhere; it calls up the question of the binding forces of history. The man who longs for his woman in Rome, who inscribes her name on some monument and wishes he could catch her by the bangles and scoop her into his soul, isn't much different from any other man who longs, no matter the era.

But the moment of pure longing, still and hot against a riotous backdrop, that's captured in this song can't possibly sustain itself: like any other human emotion, it pales and retreats into the faded tapestry of memory. Though the picture is inscribed with fierce clarity somewhere in Salonae, the feelings in the lover's breast, the image in his mind, leaches, brittles and breaks, like a flower caught in the overgrowth/ falling, falling to pieces.

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