Tallahassee 1 2 3

Cover of Tallahassee Back of Tallahassee

Released: 2002
Label: 4AD

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Liner notes

We came into town under cover of night, because we were pretty sure the people here were going to hate us once they really got to know us. It was summer. It's always summer with us. In our lives together, which are sweet in the way of rotting things, it is somehow permanently summer.

THE MOON rose above the trees, older than time, greener than money. You hung your head out the window of our dusty lemon-yellow El Camino 4 and howled, and I turned up the radio, because the sound of your voice was already beginning to get to me. The speakers crackled and the music came through: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Pretty as a midsummer's morn, they call her Dawn. 5 Let the love of God come and get is if it wants us so bad. We know were we are going when all of this is done.

SOME PEOPLE MIGHT SAY that buying a house you've never actually seen close-up is a bad idea, but what does anybody know about our needs, anyhow? For us it was perfect. The peeling paint. The old cellar. The garden in the back. The porch out front. The still air of the living room. The attic. Everywhere entirely unfurnished and doomed to remain largely so, save for our own meager offerings: a cheap sofa, an old mattress, a couple of chairs and some ashtrays. Maybe a table salvaged from some diner gone into bankruptcy, I don't remember. Neither do you. We drank store-brand gin with fresh lime juice out of plastic cups or straight from the bottle and we spread ourselves out face-up on the wooden floors. An aerial view of us might have suggested we'd been knocked down, but what we were doing was staking our claim. Establishing our territories. Making good. Not on the vows we'd made but on the ones we'd really meant. You produced a wallet-sized transistor radio out of nowhere and you found a sympathetic station: somebody was playing Howlin' Wolf. Smokestack lightning. 6 O yes, I loved you once. O yes, you loved me more. We entered our new house like a virus entering its host. You following me, me following you. However you like. The windows were high and the walls were thick and sturdy. It was hot as blazes. The guts of summer. Always down in the sugar-deep barrel-bottom belly of summer itself. Always. In our shared walk down to the bottom, which bottom we will surely find if only our hearts are brave and our love true enough, we have found that it is somehow invariably and quite permanently summer.

Thank you for all your goodness: all TMG posse members past, present, & future; [...] anybody who ever made a record that got described as "ambient dub," 7 anywhere, ever; anyone who reviewed said album(s) favorably so long as they didn't get all flowery about it; independent record stores who stock said ambient dub albums and keep the dust from gathering on their anti-theft packaging; clerks at chain stores who attempt to order such records, only to be rebuffed by the senior buyer when caught, and lectured rather sternly and rudely besides; and the dashing Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling. 8 The Mountain Goats do not themselves play ambient dub, or if they do, do so with such total lack of attention to the most basic elements of the genre that their efforts can only be described as falling so wide of the mark as to have missed it entirely. Jussi Bjorling, should he rise from the grave, will in fact put his tenor to entirely novel use by assisting us in honing the focus of our efforts in the ambient dub field. We look forward to this project with almost painfully sharp hunger and hope that you share our admittedly puzzling enthusiasm for it.

"With the invention of every new mode of communication, there is always a flurry of excitement when someone begins to believe he is using it to communicate with the dead."
Susy Smith,
Voices of the Dead? 9

"Leading cases are the very stuff of which the common law is made, and no leading case in the common law is better known than that of Regina v. Dudley and Stephens. It was decided in 1884 by a court in the Royal Courts of Justice in London. In it, two profoundly respectable seamen, Captain Tom Dudley and Mate Edwin Stephens, lately of the yacht Mignonette, were sentenced to death for murder of their shipmate, Ordinary Seaman Richard Parker, after a bench of five judges had ruled that one must not kill one's ship-mates in order to eat them, however hungry one might be." 10
A.W. Brian Simpson,
Cannibalism and the Common Law 11

I stroll the yard,
my keen convicted mind
wondering if the fence to freedom
will really deliver 30,000 volts.

— Jimmy A. Lerner 12


Tallahassee and We Shall All Be Healed both featured microsites on 4AD's Mountain Goats page. As described by 4AD, "Visit the amazing new web site for 'Tallahassee', The Mountain Goats new album, due for release on 27th January 2003. This fantastic site has been put together by the band themselves and features a room-by-room tour of the house in Tallahassee. Go to the Tallahassee site now..." While the site is no longer available, much of it is contained at the Internet Archive, and most of the text is mirrored here.

If you have a fuller copy, please let me know.

Tallahassee had one single, See America Right, and is intimately related with the Alpha series. Alpha Chum Gatherer and Ethiopians are Tallahassee outtakes.

Table of contents

  1. Tallahassee
  2. First Few Desperate Hours
  3. Southwood Plantation Road
  4. Game Shows Touch Our Lives
  5. The House That Dripped Blood
  6. Idylls of the King
  7. No Children
  8. See America Right
  9. Peacocks
  10. International Small Arms Traffic Blues
  11. Have to Explode
  12. Old College Try
  13. Oceanographer's Choice
  14. Alpha Rats Nest

Tallahassee 13 14 15

Window facing 16
An ill-kept front yard
Plums on the tree
Heavy with nectar
Prayers to summon
The destroying angel 17
Moon stuttering in the sky like film stuck in a projector
And you

Twin-prop airplanes
Passing loudly overhead 18
Road to the airport 19
Two lanes clear
Half the whole town
Gone for the summer
Terrible silence
Coming down here
And you

There is no deadline
There is no schedule
There is no plan we can fall back on
The road this far can't be retraced
There is no punchline anybody can tack on
There are loose ends by the score
What did I come down here for?

First Few Desperate Hours 20

Bad luck comes in from Tampa 21
Bad luck comes in from Tampa
On the back of a truck
Doing ninety up the interstate 22
We have bad dreams the night he rolls in
We have bad dreams the night he rolls in
And we try
To keep our sprits high
But they flag
And they wane
When the truck pulls up out front
In the light spring rain
And they sag
Like withering flowers
Let the good times roll on
Through these first few desperate hours

Yeah, the driver drops his cargo at the curb
The driver drops his cargo at the curb
And the sun peeks in
Like a killer through the curtain
And when cloven hoofprints turn up in the garden
Yeah, when cloven hoofprints turn up in the garden
We keep up the good fight
To keep our spirits light
But they draw 23
Like flies
And there's a stomach-churning shift
In the way the land lies
And they lean
Like towers
On a hillside struggling to stand
Through these first few desperate hours

Southwood Plantation Road 24 25

I've got you
You've got whatever's left of me to get
Our conversations are like minefields
No one's found a safe way through one yet
I spend a lot of money
I buy you white gold
We raise up a little roof
Against the cold
On Southwood Plantation Road
Where at night the stars blow like milk across the sky
Where the high wires drop
Where the fat crows fly

All night long
You giggle and scream
Your brown eyes
Deeper than a dream
I am not gonna lose you
We are gonna stay married
In this house like a Louisiana graveyard 26
Where nothing stays buried
On Southwood Plantation Road
Where the dead will walk again
Put on their Sunday best
And mingle with unsuspecting Christian men
La la la la la

Game Shows Touch Our Lives 27

Dug up a fifth of Hood River gin, 28 and
That stuff tastes like medicine
But I'll take it
It'll do

On the couch in the living room all day long
Music on the television playing our song
And I'm in the mood
The mood for you

Turn the volume up real high
All of that money look at it fly 29
And you smoking like a chimney 30
Shadows crawled across the living room's length
I held onto you with a desperate strength
With everything
With everything in me 31

And I handed you a drink of the lovely little thing
On which our survival depends
People say friends don't destroy one another
What do they know about friends?

Thunderclouds forming, cream white moon
Everything's gonna be OK soon
Maybe tomorrow
Maybe the next day

Carried you up the stairs that night
All of this could be yours if the price is right 32
I heard cars headed down to oblivion
Up on the expressway
Your drunken kisses as light as the air 33
Maybe everything that falls down eventually rises
Our house sinking into disrepair
Ah, but look at this showroom filled with fabulous prizes

The House That Dripped Blood 34

Look beyond the broken bottles
Past the rotting wooden stairs
Root out the wine-dark 35 honeyed center
Not everyone can live like millionaires

Look through the air-thin walls
Tear up the floorboards, strip the paint
Go over every inch of space
With the patience of a saint
Grab your hat, get your coat
The cellar door is an open throat

Look past the kitchen cabinets
Go through the chest of drawers
Scrutinize the casements
Rip the varnish off the doors
Dig up the laughing photographs
They're here somewhere or other
Take what you can carry
But let me tell you brother
Still waters go stagnant
Bodies bloat
And the cellar door is an open throat

Idylls Of The King 36

This place
With its old plantations 37
These roads
Leading out to the sea
This day
Full of promise and potential
More clay pigeons
For you and me
All of them, all of them
All of them, all of them
All of them, all of them, all of them, all of them
All lined up

Huge crows
Loitering by the curb
Our shared paths
Unraveling behind us like ribbons
And I dreamed of vultures
In the trees around our house
And cicadas and locusts
And the shrieking of innumerable gibbons 38
All of them, all of them
All of them, all of them
All of them, all of them, all of them, all of them
All lined up

How long will we ride this wave out?
How long 'til someone caves under the pressure?
My dreams are haunted by armies, armies of ghosts
Faces too blurry to make out
Numbers far too high to measure

Your face
Like a vision straight out of Holly Hobbie 39
Late light
Drizzling through your hair
Your eyes
Twin volcanoes
Bad ideas
Dancing around in there
All, all of them, all of them
All of them, all of them
All of them, all of them, all of them, all of them
All lined up

No Children 40 41 42

I hope that our few remaining friends
Give up on trying to save us
I hope we come up with a failsafe plot
To piss off the dumb few that forgave us
I hope the fences we mended
Fall down beneath their own weight
And I hope we hang on past the last exit
I hope it's already too late
And I hope the junkyard a few blocks from here
Someday burns down
And I hope the rising black smoke carries me far away
And I never come back to this town again
In my life
I hope I lie
And tell everyone you were a good wife
And I hope you die
I hope we both die 43

I hope I cut myself shaving tomorrow
I hope it bleeds all day long
Our friends say it's darkest before the sun rises
We're pretty sure they're all wrong
I hope it stays dark forever
I hope the worst isn't over
And I hope you blink before I do
Yeah, I hope I never get sober
And I hope when you think of me years down the line
You can't find one good thing to say
And I'd hope that if I found the strength to walk out
You'd stay the hell out of my way
I am drowning
There is no sign of land
You are coming down with me
Hand in unlovable hand
And I hope you die
I hope we both die

See America Right 44

I was driving up from Tampa
When the radiator burst
I was three sheets to the wind
A civilian saw me first
And then there was the cop
And then the children standing on the corner
Your love is like a cyclone in a swamp
And the weather's getting warmer

I was getting out of jail
Heading to the Greyhound 45
You said you'd hop on one yourself
And meet me on the way down
I was shaking way too hard to think
Dead on my feet, about to drop
Went and got the case of vodka from a car
And walked the two miles to the bus stop

Got on the bus half drunk again
The driver glared at me
Met up with you in Inglis 46
Thumbed a ride to Cedar Key 47
If we never make it back to California
I want you to know I love you
But my love is like a dark cloud full of rain
That's always right there up above you

Peacocks 48

I hear them squeal
I see them preen
Fans all spread out
Neat and clean

Grab hold of the morning
Head out to the porch
Feel the wind stopping
Feel the sun scorch
I fear for my safety
You can see it in my eyes
In an hour or two
We will rise

Then a sharp breeze kicks up
I hug myself hard
How come there's peacocks
In the front yard 48

Sun's all prickly
On my neck
When the helicopter passes
We both hit the deck
Hands grasping and groping
Seizing opportunity right where it lies
The sky will fall
We will rise

International Small Arms Traffic Blues 49

My love is like a powder keg
My love is like a powder keg in the corner of an empty warehouse
Somewhere just outside of town
About to burn down

My love is like a Cuban plane
My love is like a Cuban plane flying from Havana 50
Up the Florida coast to the Glades 51
Soviet made 52

Our love is like the border between Greece and Albania 53
Our love is like the border between Greece and Albania
Trucks loaded down with weapons
Crossing over every night
Moon yellow and bright
There is a shortage in the blood supply
But there is no shortage of blood
The way I feel about you baby can't explain it
You got the best of my love 54

Have To Explode 55

Tile floor of the bathroom
Scrubbed clean and bright
Checkerboard white and gray
Towels from the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Kingston, Jamaica 56
I can still see the rust-colored stains today 57
The stage is set
Someone's going to do something someone else will regret
I speak in smoke signals and you answer in code
The fuse will have to run out sometime
Something here will eventually have to explode
Have to explode

You and me lying on the tile floor 58
Trying to keep cool
Restless all night
Sweating out the poison
As the temperature climbs
Staring up, up at the hundred-watt light that burns above
Name one thing about us two anyone could love
We roll out the red carpet
When rotten luck comes down the road
Five, four, three, two, one
Watch for the flash
Something here will eventually have to explode
Have to explode

Old College Try 59 60

From the housetops to the gutters
From the ocean to the shore
The warning signs have all been bright and garish
Far too great in number to ignore
From the cities to the swamplands
From the highways to the hills
Our love has never had a leg to stand on
From the aspirins to the cross-tops to the Elavils 61 62
But I will walk
Down to the end with you
If you will come all the way down with me

From the entrance to the exit
Is longer than it looks from where we stand
I want to say I'm sorry
For stuff I haven't done yet
Things will shortly get completely out of hand
I can feel it in the rotten air tonight
In the tips of my fingers
In the skin on my face
In the weak last gasp of the evening's dying light
In the way those eyes I've always loved illuminate this place
Like a trashcan fire in a prison cell
Like the searchlights in the parking lots of hell
I will walk
Down to the end with you
If you will come all the way down with me

Oceanographer's Choice 63

Well, guy in a skeleton costume
Comes up to the guy in the Superman suit
Runs through him with a broadsword 64
I flipped the television off
Bring all the bright lights up
Turn the radio up loud
I don't know why I'm so persuaded
That if I think things through
Long enough and hard enough
I'll somehow get to you
But then you came in
And we locked eyes
You kicked the ashtray over as we came toward each other
Stubbed my cigarette out against the west wall
Quickly lit another
Look at that
Would you look at that?
We're throwing off sparks
What will I do when I don't have you
To hold onto in the dark?

Yes, everybody's going to need a witness
Everybody's gonna need a little backup
In case the scene gets nasty
You throw the attic window open
And I throw myself all around you
And night comes to Tallahassee
I don't know why it's gotten harder
To keep myself away
Thought I'd finally beat the feeling back
It all came back today
And then we fell down
And we locked arms
We knocked the dresser over as we rolled across the floor
I don't mean it when I tell you
That I don't love you any more
Look at that
Would you look at that?
The way the ceiling starts to swerve
What will I do when I don't have you
When I finally get what I deserve?

Alpha Rats Nest 65

Ah, the lengthening hours in the refinery
Belching fire into the sky
We do our best vampire routines
As we suck the dying hours dry
The night is lovely as a rose
If I see sunlight hit you
I am sure that we'll both decompose

Ah, the fitful sleep and the fire engines
That I dream of when I dream
Someday we'll both wake up for good
I will try hard not to scream
The evening wind will shake the blinds
You're stirring from your slumber
We've got something hateful on our minds

Oh, sing, sing, sing
For the dying of the day 66
Sing for the flames that will rip through here
And the smoke that will carry us away
Yeah, sing for the damage we've done
And the worse things that we'll do
Open your mouth up and sing for me now
And I will sing for you


A huge thanks to the generous contributions of Riley Routh, also known as echo on the Mountain Goats forums, who wrote much of this page. They have a website of their own, which you can view here Also, as ever, Caliclimber, you are awesome, thank you for your amazing Flickr page from which the album art comes. Thanks also to Mairead Beeson for noting the Dylan Thomas reference in Alpha Rats Nest and the reference to Homer in The House that Dripped Blood.

  1. Tallahassee, Nall, retrieved August 9, 2013.
  2. The Mountain Goats: Tallahassee. 4AD. The Internet Archive, retrieved August 9, 2013.


  1. John initially considered Flashburn and then Bottom Feeders as possible titles and wrote several lines of the title track for Bottom Feeders before settling on Tallahassee. See also the origin of Alpha Rats Nest and his use of the bottom feeder metaphor in the indispensable VPRO interview on January 15, 2003. Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, June 23, 2001; William Caxton Fan Club, the sleeve that held the boarding pass from my..., retrieved March 17, 2014. 

  2. This album and every song on it is part of the Alpha couple series. For much, much more information on the couple in general, see there.

    See for example Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, June 23, 2011, American Theater Company, Chicago, May 16, 2010, and the Mountain Goats 4AD biography circa 2002 for confirmation. 

  3. "[The album is] about these people I've been writing about forever that I sort of abandoned — well, I didn't abandon them, I couldn't take it any more. They don't have any names, it's a man and a woman, they're from... Southern California, and they get married because they think that's a good idea. Now, this is where the trouble begins. They get married, and immediately, to celebrate their marriage, they begin drinking. And they drink a lot. And then they drink some more. And predictably, there really isn't much marriage because they're so narcissistic that they can't really — they do love each other, but they don't know how to do that. So there they are, married, you know. And you get married, that's a big thing to do. So they figure if they move, that will help — a lot of people think that. So they move to Nevada, and they live in a motel room drinking for about a year. Now, while I would recommend this as a step for marriage counseling — you never know what could work and what couldn't — that doesn't pan out for them, and so they flee across the country, trying to sort of escape the ghosts that are actually living inside of them. That was why I stopped writing about them, because when they got down to Tallahassee, I really felt like they got kind of raw. And this is weird to talk about, but they get down there and they buy a house and they live in it and they figure, you know, 'Here we are, we're married, and we bought a house, right, and so here we are, so we can do this'. They can't do this. But they want to. And so the album is about the fact that they want to." — Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, October 23, 2010

    See also: William Caxton Fan Club, the sleeve that held the boarding pass from my..., retrieved March 17, 2014; Opalis, Norman, Oklahoma, November 13, 2002; and the phenomenal interview in the VPRO session, January 15, 2003. 

  4. The Chevrolet El Camino was a popular and stylish coupé utility from the late 1950s through 1980s. 

  5. Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons were an American pop group from the 1960s and 1970s. The lyric "Pretty as a midsummer's morn / They call her Dawn" is from their song Dawn (Go Away)

  6. Howlin' Wolf is one of the classic American bluesmen. He wrote and recorded the blues song Smokestack Lightning in 1956. His recording of the song earned him a Grammy award and became a signature of his body of work. 

  7. Ambient dub is an electronic music genre blending elements of ambient and dub, forming an atmospheric, largely lyricless, spacey, reggae-influenced style. 

  8. Jussi Bjorling was a major Swedish tenor opera singer from the 1930s through 1960s. 

  9. Susy Smith was a purported psychic and author of many books on parapsychology and related pseudosciences, such as ghosts, ESP, and consciousness after death. 

  10. R v Dudley and Stephens was a major British court case in which, as described, two seamen were sentenced to death for eating their companion to reduce the chance of their own demise. The ruling established that murder was unacceptable even if it seemed necessary to save one's own life, and was the topic of enormous public controversy due to the public of the time's sympathy towards castaways. The case is still studied in common law areas, and the incident remains influential in popular culture. 

  11. A. W. B. Simpson was a law professor at the University of Michigan and historian of British law. Cannibalism and the Common Law: The Story of the Tragic Last Voyage of the Mignonette and the Strange Legal Proceedings to Which It Gave Rise was one of his many publications, focusing entirely on the described cannibalism case and its ramifications. 

  12. Jimmy Lerner is an American poet and author, famous for his writings about being imprisoned in Nevada for manslaughter. Lerner was controversial for both the differences between his account of events and that of the police, and for being the case which struck down Nevada's Son of Sam law, which prohibited criminals from profiting from writing stories about their crimes.

    The lines here are from his poem Fence Skeptic, published in his collection of poetry, It's All Part of the Punishment and originally published in the poetry journal Rattle:

    Mommy warned me not to do it —
    Jimmy, don't put that bobby pin
    in the outlet —
    daddy drove me to the emergency room,
    mommy still in shock.

    Daddy warned me not to do it —
    Jimmy, don't touch the hot stove,
    you'll burn your hand —
    mommy drove me to the hospital,
    daddy still steaming.

    They say the fence here is electrified
    that this is how some of us learn,
    beneath the guntowers
    behind the razor wire.

    I stroll the yard,
    my keen convicted mind
    if the fence to freedom
    will really deliver 50,000 volts.

    Lerner, Jimmy (2000). Fence Skeptic. Rattle, 1(14). 

  13. "This is a song about alcoholism... this song is about the miracle of love for a couple of people hell-bent on destroying themselves and one another, in that order." — St George's, Bristol, October 7, 2013.

    Describing Tallahassee's place as the opening track, John says, "In the case of 'Tallahassee' it seemed like a scene-setting song: it introduced the principal characters, established that there's been a movement from the other side of the country to here, and took one last look in the rear view at the thing they once had that's now in collapse. Last look through more than one door as Joan Didion would have it. Water under the bridge and dynamite it behind you."

    William Caxton Fan Club, How do you start and end albums?, retrieved March 18, 2014. 

  14. Tallahassee is part of the informal series of Biblical references

  15. Tallahassee is the state capital of Florida, USA, and the setting for much of the album's action. For more on this, see the album commentary and the Alpha series

  16. Several people have pointed out that it sounds like someone is saying "Hey, John" very faintly over and over at the beginning of the track. John's statement on this is simply, "There is a thing there. It may be a voice though I'm not 100% clear on that. I'm reasonably certain it's not saying 'hey, John' but that's all I've got on this question at this time." He has later called this a ghost in the recording, discussing how no one is sure what this sound is or how it got there.

    William Caxton Fan Club, In the very beginning of "Tallahassee," there seems to be a hardly audible voice in the background..., retrieved March 18, 2014. Center Church on-the-Green, New Haven, June 7, 2013. 

  17. The destroying angel is an unnamed angel or angels sent by God throughout the Bible to cause death and destruction, such as killing the firstborn in the Tenth Plague of Egypt, or in the destruction of Jerusalem observed in 1 Chronicles. 

  18. Also sung as "Crows on the lines / Squawking and bawling". See Bottom of the Hill, October 23, 2002. 

  19. As the Alpha couple are heading to Tallahassee from Nevada (see above), the airport referred to here could be either McCarran International Airport or the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, the two major commercial airports of the state. 

  20. "This is a love song about people who aren't in love any more... Yes, it is sad, and to combat the sadness they've taken to drinking, I'm sorry to report. It helps them feel better sometimes, other times it makes them feel bad. They have unfortunately learned that the only way to combat that bad feeling is to drink more. They've taken to drinking the cheap stuff. It tastes horrible and gives you awful headaches." — Black Cat, Washington, DC, October 11, 2004

    "This is a song about the morning when you say to yourself, 'Divorce will come to my life. I have long suspected that I heard the beating of its wings on the wind, but now I know — now I know it's coming. I don't know how exactly, it's not any particular thing. It's not like, you know — on the Lifetime Movie Network there might be one signal event, you know, but it's not really like that I think, I think it's a collection of tiny little dust-mote things, that eventually become a mountain, rolling down 95 toward Tallahassee." — Troubadour, Los Angeles, December 13, 2012 

  21. Tampa is another Floridian city. The Alpha connection here is unclear, as Tampa is farther south from Tallahassee, meaning that it's not on their route from Las Vegas.

    John writes that the influence of poet John Berryman, a Tampa native, and a line from the song The Wells Fargo Wagon in the 1962 film The Music Man contributed to his use of Tampa throughout his work. William Caxton Fan Club, I've never read anywhere about you living in Tampa..., retrieved March 18, 2014. 

  22. The primary interstate heading towards Tallahassee from Tampa is Interstate 75, which ultimately intersects Interstate 10, which takes one west to Tallahassee. However, given the banter above, this could also refer to Interstate 95, which runs up the east coast of Florida before continuing up the East Coast. 

  23. Also sung, "But they drop / Like flies". See Black Cat, Washington, DC, October 11, 2004. 

  24. "I looked at a map of Tallahassee and there's this road out past the tracks, and then I wrote to a Mountain Goats fan that I know down there and I said, 'Would you live down there?' 'No, that wouldn't be a place you'd want to live.' 'Is property cheap down there?' 'Oh, yeah, yeah.' And so, I wanted them to have a house that they could maybe actually buy, but they haven't held jobs in forever, these people, so it'd need to be a cheap, very run-down house, and so, so I put it there." — VPRO session, January 15, 2003

    John explains: "The house plays a big role in these people's crumble, it sort of is the third person in their marriage, because they almost never leave... It's kind of a celebration of how bad things have gotten." — Transition Video Magazine Issue 001, 2005

    "Last time we were in Tallahassee, we were driving around, and I spotted this house. And as you may know, new album's called Tallahassee, and it takes place in this single house in Tallahassee that this married couple have inhabited as they drink their love into the ground. And we spotted this house, this abandoned place, and I went, 'Jesus, that looks like it, that could be their place, eh?' And we stopped, and it just had this ghostly, horrible aura to it, you know, it was condemned. The door was open, we went in — I couldn't stand to go deeper than the first room, there's broken bottles and cigarette butts everywhere, and I thought, 'Oh my God, this is where they did their thing." ... It turned out that it was on Monroe Street, instead of elsewhere. We passed it on the way to the Beta Bar last night, and it had been razed to the ground... This is a song about a house, and two people who were once in love. Now they're not, but they've got liquor and they've got each other's bodies, so they'll make do." — Will's Pub, Orlando, April 9, 2003. See also Opalis, Norman, Oklahoma, November 13, 2002; Transition Video Magazine Issue 001, 2005; John on the Mountain Goats forums, Southwood Plantation RoadFlashEarth, March 19, 2007, retrieved March 18, 2014; and El Rey Theater, Los Angeles, June 23, 2011.

    "This is a dance number." — Berbati's Pan, Portland, October 3, 2003. See also Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco, May 26, 2004, Black Cat, Washington, DC, October 11, 2004, Transition Video Magazine Issue 001, 2005, and 40 Watt Club, Athens, Georgia, August 10, 2006.

    Unlike the usual gender neutrality of the Alpha couple songs, John has clarified that this is sung by the husband. Transition Video Magazine Issue 001, 2005.

    An alternate mix is purported to exist, but has never surfaced. 

  25. Southwood Plantation Road is a real road in Tallahassee and the location of the couple's run-down home. As discussed above, the location of the real-world home that John found later and felt was the archetype of their house is actually located on Monroe St. 

  26. The state of Louisiana is known for its above-ground graveyards in which those entombed are put into vaults such as those in Saint Louis Cemetery

  27. "I'll tell you how the song title was born... So, we're watching the E! Channel one evening, and E! has run out of things to do true Hollywood stories on, and bios, and so they start flashing in really grainy relief, you know, Pat Sajak, Alex Trebek, Vanna White, yeah, and Chuck Woolery, and the guy from Joker's Wild, whatever the hell that guy's name was... So, the show says, 'We laughed, we learned, in every way..." And my wife ad-libs, she says, 'Game shows touch our lives!" And I went, 'I gotta write that shit down!'" — China Clipper, Olympia, June 18, 2005

    "This is a story about, as it happens, sometimes, that you find yourself in a house with a person who shares your enthusiasm for vodka, and you happen to have a TV. It's so nice to have a TV when you have all that cheap vodka and cigarettes that you buy bulk from one of those cigarette and batteries stores off the highway there. And maybe the cigarettes are a little stale, but maybe after a couple of slugs it doesn't matter so much, and then you have the TV, and you have the vodka, and you have the cigarettes, and you have each other." — Wow Hall, Eugene, June 21, 2005

    The Tallahassee microsite contains a video of John with Michael Ganzeveld (an old friend of John's) yelling in a parody of a game show or home shopping channel, asking them, "How much would you pay?" The show hosts describe the Alpha couple's trajectory from Las Vegas until they "run out of road" and allude to Hood River gin. The video is playing on the television in the house. 

  28. "The alcohol mentioned in the first line will land you in the drunk tank on the northeast side of Portland. I can't recommend it." — China Clipper, Olympia, June 18, 2005

    Hood River Distillers is a producer of spirits based in Oregon, USA. Among others, they produce Broker's London Dry Gin

  29. The idea of a booth with money flying around inside (with the aim of a contestant locked inside to gain as much as possible) has been used in many different game shows, but can be traced back to 1975 with The Diamond Head Game, a game show hosted by Bob Eubanks. 

  30. Often sung as, "And you standing there, smoking Newports like a chimney", more rarely with other brand variants (such as Salems or Camels). China Clipper, Olympia, June 18, 2005; Wow Hall, Eugene, June 21, 2005; Visulite Theatre, Charlotte, January 31, 2012; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, September 20, 2006; Black Cat, Washington, DC, September 20, 2007; and Evening of Awesome at Carnegie Hall, January 15, 2013. 

  31. Also sung, "With everything / With every useless thing in me". Evening of Awesome at Carnegie Hall, January 15, 2013. 

  32. A reference to the longrunning game show The Price is Right, in which contestants would attempt to win a showcase of prizes by guessing the retail price of the items. 

  33. Also sung, "Your wasted kisses as light as the air". Evening of Awesome at Carnegie Hall, January 15, 2013. 

  34. The House That Dripped Blood is a 1970 British horror film directed by Peter Duffel. 

  35. "Wine-dark" is a famous phrase from Homer's Odyssey, where he frequently uses it to describe the ocean. This (and other color discrepancies) has led to a raft of theories about Homer's potentially being colorblind.

    Thanks to Mairead Beeson for catching this! 

  36. Idylls of the King is a cycle of twelve narrative poems by English poet Alfred Tennyson describing the legend of King Arthur. John has confirmed this allusion. William Caxton Fan Club, is the song "idylls of the king" related to..., retrieved March 20, 2014. 

  37. Plantations litter the Southern United States. See also Southwood Plantation Road above. 

  38. This line is "half-stolen from Tennyson"; plausibly these two lines from The Princess:

    "The moan of doves in immemorial elms
    And murmuring of innumerable bees."

    Mountain Goats Twitter, (1), January 15, 2013, retrieved March 20, 2014.

    Tennyson, Alfred Lord (2008). The Princess. Project Gutenberg, retrieved March 20, 2014. Original work published 1847. 

  39. Holly Hobbie is a fictional character originally drawn by an artist of the same name in 1960, and featured in a novel entitled "The Adventures of Holly Hobbie" by Richard S. Dubelman. Her defining characteristic is that her face is constantly half-hidden by shadow. 

  40. One of the encore staples along with This Year, The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton, and Going to Georgia. Often performed as a singalong, sometimes without instrumentation.

    "There may come a day when you're gonna need the words to this song. You'll be sitting there going, 'What has become of my marriage? This blows.' Right? I want you to remember that I gave you a little something that you could sing, because when that time comes, there won't be much to do besides sing." — 40 Watt Club, Athens, Georgia, August 10, 2006. See also Bowery Ballroom, New York, October 1, 2006; Zoop II, Farm Sanctuary, New York, June 14, 2009; and St George's, Bristol, October 7, 2013.

    "It's a love song. It's about how when two people love one another but then they succumb to the urge to want to kill each other, what's love like then?" — Mains d'Oeuvres, Mofo Festival, Paris, France, June 27, 2003. See also Lollapalooza, Playstation Stage, Chicago, August 5, 2011; Letters to Santa, Chicago, December 7, 2011; Visulite Theatre, Charlotte, January 31, 2012; McCabe's Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, June 30, 2012; Bottletree, Birmingham, Alabama, June 22, 2013. 

  41. A demo for No Children was released by John on the Mountain Goats forums during the final game of 2007 March Madness song matchups, which paired No Children against Color in Your Cheeks. It's awesome, go read it.

    Mountain Goats forums, TMG March Madness! CHAMPIONSHIP, BABY!!, March 26, 2007, retrieved March 20, 2014. 

  42. No Children is part of the informal series of demos

  43. "I drove to the airport in Des Moines... and on the way in to Des Moines, I heard a song that was very popular at the time, 'cause Des Moines is very into country radio, and it was that, "I hope you dance", song, right? And I was listening, and I thought, 'God, this is horrifying, this is a terrible, terrible song, teaching people awful lies', and I was sort of singing along at the same time because it had a catchy melody. And the song goes, 'I hope you dance, I hope you dance', right? And I just sort of vamped on it, I went, 'I hope you die, I hope you die', right? And I thought, 'Well, that's an idea, isn't it, right?' So I scribbled it down on a receipt, and I tucked it into my pocket, and I got on the plane to Des Moines... I had a couple hours to kill, and I wrote the first verse, and I was like, "Oh God, I hope I remember this song, this seems like a good idea!" — 40 Watt Club, Athens, Georgia, August 10, 2006. See also McCabe's Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, June 30, 2012.

    The song in question that inspired No Children is Lee Ann Womack's I Hope You Dance

  44. See also the See America Right single

  45. Greyhound Lines is a major long-distance bus company in the USA. 

  46. Inglis is a small town in Florida near Tallahassee. 

  47. Cedar Key is a city in Floria in the same county as Inglis

  48. On the Tallahassee microsite, peacocks are found in the front yard, alongside a pamphlet titled The Shocking Truth About Peacocks. The pamphlet states:

    Peacocks have a highly developed language, and are thought by many scientists to be the only animal besides man capable of expressing itself abstractly.

    In prehistoric cultures the peacock has been observed to hold totemic status. Archaeological evidence strongly suggests that several American communities prior to the continental drift considered the peacock an omen of death or disaster, and left ablutions at the entrances to their dwelling-places before retiring to sleep nightly.

    Between 1970 and 1978, peacocks were directly or indirectly responsible for no fewer than 37 deaths in the upper Ohio Valley — more than any other animal, predator or prey, in the same region during the same timespan.

    Some peacock mating rituals can take as long as one full calendar year.

    Peacocks mate for life, but one mate will often attempt to kill the other just prior to migration.

    Contrary to popular belief, peacocks do not eat their young.

    However it is generally conceded that peacocks are scavengers, and will submit wholly on carrion for whole seasons at a time. Many once-prominent aviculturalists have left the profession entirely after tending to peacocks through several seasons. The turnover race within the profession is equalled only by that of severe trauma wards in urban hospitals.  2

  49. "This song is about how they feel about each other and the great love that they wished they had instead of the case of vodka they traded it in for." — Opalis, Norman, Oklahoma, November 13, 2002

    "This is a song about the tender feelings people experience toward one another when they are in love and they have tender feelings. It should probably be called, "Tender Feelings", but I am a disingenuous song titler." — Berbati's Pan, Portland, October 3, 2003 

  50. Havana is the capital of Cuba. 

  51. The Everglades is a large tropical swampland and estuary ecosystem in Southern Florida. 

  52. During the Cold War, and especially the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, Cuba's dependence on aid, and Russia's hostilities with the United States led to an alliance against American interests. However, I don't know of a particular incident that this might be describing. 

  53. In 1997 the Albanian people rebelled against their government, resulting in over 3,000 deaths and the trafficking of weapons caches into Greece. 

  54. A reference to Best of My Love, a 1977 hit disco song by the Emotions with the chorus, "You've got the best of my love". 

  55. "This is a song about a certain vibe you get in a house where you're planning on getting a divorce before too long." — Troubadour, Los Angeles, December 16, 2011 

  56. Kingston is the capital of Jamaica. 

  57. Plausibly a bloodstain, which results in rust colors on white fabric. 

  58. "My favorite thing about this song on the album is that you can hear, if you listen very, very, very closely, the moment when Peter got back from making the food run, and he didn't realize we were tracking... I remember it happening, and I [thought], 'Oh God, this is a pretty good take, and now I'm going to have to do it again", and I'm a very irritable person when it comes to multiple takes... I feel like I'm in my zone and out of the corner of my eye I see Peter come in with, like, a sandwich. And he walks in... <laughter> But if you listen to the song on Tallahassee, you can hear the creak of the door during an instrumental interlude. I love it so much." — McCabe's Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, June 30, 2012

    You can hear the creak at around 1:45 on the studio track. 

  59. "It's about the love we have in our hearts for our own eventual destruction. You look yourself in the mirror sometimes and you feel the tenderness that a person can only feel for him or herself when he knows that doom is imminent." — Troubadour, Los Angeles, December 16, 2011

    "You know how in some operas, usually not the good ones, there'll be some sort of... guy'll come out and basically tell you what to expect... Guy comes out and says "Well, you'll be seeing me and I'll be divorcing my wife and then by the end of the play we'll all be quite miserable and I hope you enjoy it and pay us afterwards." ... This song is sort of like that moment from Tallahassee where everybody is announcing that, you know: "Looks as though divorce is what's next for us, eh? Let's get everything lined up for the big ugly divorce, shall we?" And they sort of look each other in the eyes and say "Yes, let's!" — Remis Auditorium, Boston, October 27, 2005 

  60. An "old college try" is a vigorous and committed attempt to do something. 

  61. Also sung, "From the aspirins to the Quaaludes to the Elavils". Quaalude is a brand name for the drug methaqualone, a central depressant used to treat insomnia and frequently recreationally abused. Cat's Cradle, Carrboro, July 17, 2004. 

  62. Aspirin is the common painkiller drug, whereas cross-tops refer to the shape of pills notched into quadrants so they're easier to break up. Elavil is a brand name for amitriptyline, a medication used to treat depression. 

  63. "It's another love song, sort of." — Mains d'Oeuvres, Mofo Festival, Paris, France, June 27, 2003 

  64. "Most albums that I write I don't know what the order of the songs is going to be while I'm writing... But I always knew this was going to be the last song on Tallahassee." — Zoop - Farm Sanctuary, New York, June 17, 2007

    John had considered naming the album Bottom Feeders, including writing the following lines for the title track:

    If you don't give a rat a pellet
    He's not going to push the lever
    Take one last look at the West Coast
    Say goodbye forever

    The rat in these lines became the rat of Alpha Rats Nest. William Caxton Fan Club, the sleeve that held the boarding pass from my..., retrieved March 17, 2014. 

  65. Plausibly an inversion of the refrain of the celebrated villanelle Do not go gentle into that good night by the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, which goes, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light". The poem is transparently about death, and is in full:

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
    Because their words had forked no lightning they
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
    Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
    And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
    Do not go gentle into that good night.

    Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
    Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    Thomas, Dylan (1952). The Poems of Dylan Thomas. New York: New Directions. p. 239.

    Thank you very much to Mairead Beeson for noticing this and telling me!