I performed this song a year ago at a schoolwide talent show with a good friend of mine, and prefaced it as follows: "This song is by the world's greatest living songwriter, John Darnielle, of the Mountain Goats." There was a bewildered silence in the audience (apparently the Mountain Goats aren't widely played on MTV?), but then we launched straight into it--my friend hunched over his guitar, staring minutely at the strings, and me, curly hair expanding with the notes, barefoot in a long white skirt, singing with the microphone in one hand and the other hand held open. We harmonized on the chorus:
And I want to go home,
but I am home --
and by the end the whole school was clapping along.
All of which epitomizes perfectly the secret of this song. At first glance it's a sweet, melodious clap-along folk song; the couple in the song has a relationship out of some perfect fantasy --
We write letters to each other, invent secrets to confess to,
I learn foreign and exotic terms of endearment by which to address you,
We feed fresh fruit to one another,
We stay up all night --
--and you think, who does that? Who are these people? I want to be there, all right, I want to be them! But... well. Well, it's a song by the Alpha Cabra. And the secret nestling in the heart of this song, the canker in the flower, is right there in that harmonic nine-word little chorus -- the lines that haunted me for a year, because in the center of the most perfect happiness lies a lonely restless selfness that cannot be overcome-
I want to go home,
but I am home.