Yam, the King of Crops 1 2

J-card of Yam, the King of Crops

Released: 1994
Label: Oska

Liner notes


We are John, Rachel, Sara, Rosanne, and Aaaa-my. It's 1994! Red gold all over!


Thank you, Jod!


Yam, the King of Crops was included in its entirety on the compilation Protein Source of the Future... NOW!.

Table of contents

  1. Seed Song
  2. Quetzalcoatl Comes Through
  3. Omega Blaster
  4. Coco-Yam Song
  5. Alagemo
  6. Two Thousand Seasons
  7. Chinese Rifle Song
  8. Yam, the King of Crops

Seed Song

The rain didn't come
For one calendar year
So when the man with the sunflower seeds in his hand
Came here
We sent him away
We sent him away

The rain didn't come
For twelve months more
So when the man with the seed catalogs darkened our door
We sent him away
We sent him away
We sent him away
We sent him away

And I know you're waiting
For the ironic ending
And I know you're waiting
For the punchline
And I know you're waiting
For the rain to come by
So am I
So am I
So am I
So am I

Quetzalcoatl Comes Through 4 5

He came spitting fire
On a day like no other
Tried to hold you near to me
I heard him passing over
He made a banquet for the stray dogs of the air
He put our love in clear perspective

Blue, red, and green plumage 6
Trailing behind him now
Swaddling the sky in its aftermath
The last day coming down
He made a banquet for the stray dogs of the air 7
He put our love in clear perspective
Rising, rising, rising, rising

Omega Blaster 8

You've come back from Yosemite 9
You brought and aromatic cedar bookmark for me
And a brand new stuffed bear
It's summertime and you've cut your hair
And I am leaving you
And I am sorry

You come in through the back door
Why do you come in like this, smiling for
I have done something I need to tell you
I can feel your smile burning through
And I am leaving you
And I am sorry

Coco-Yam Song 10

"But I'm always true to you darling in my fashion
Yes, I'm always true to you darling in my way..."
11 12

A neighboring clan
Went on the attack
Stole all the giant coco-yams
From the barn out back
I will make them pay
For taking my yams away

I carved out little figurines of thieves 13
Burned a palmful of red dust from the medicine bag
Broke a kola nut in half 14
I ate half of it myself
I sat back and watching the evening drag
I will make them regret
That they haven't brought my yams back yet

Alagemo 15

The new rose
Floating on water in the old clay bowl
The white clouds on the night sky
They way they just roll on by
Made me think of you
And the religious cult of flesh dissolution you've committed yourself to 15

The nightcrawlers 16
Poking their little slimy heads through the dirt
Made me think of you again
Made me think of you a third time
I don't know where you've gone
But I hear your voice droning on

Two Thousand Seasons 17

How have we come to be mere mirrors to annihilation
Whom do we aspire to reflect our people's death
For whose entertainment shall we sing our agony
One hopes that the destroyers aspiring to extinguish us
Will suffer conciliatory remorse at the sight of their own fantastic success
The last imbecile that dreams such dreams is dead
Killed by the saviors of his dreams
How have we come to be mere mirrors to annihilation
How have we come to be mere mirrors to annihilation

Chinese Rifle Song

Lay out on the patio
Lay out on the patio
And the Chinese rifles sounded in the evening air
I heard them popping off everywhere

I lay out on the patio
On the chaise lounge
I lay out on the patio
Where I let my hand rest against the hot redwood frame
And the Chinese rifles sounded again
I could not stomach their acumen

Yam, the King of Crops 2

Felt sick, felt good
The heat burns with the old wood
Muscles in my arms pump like machines
The Jericho palm tree 18 is plush and green

Bright sun, the new day
I felt sick in a good way
Felt the fever climb when you came down
All the way across town

And you brought me
A plate of sweet potatoes

Sun fading overhead
The sunset bright red
Your green eyes, your smooth walk
Fresh tomato, celery stalk
You cook Pari basmati rice 19
I felt good, you looked nice
You stood like Galatea 20 over me
You brought fried garlic and kimchi

And you brought me
A plate of sweet potatoes

  1. Yam, the King of Crops, Nall, accessed October 11, 2013.


Thanks as always to Caliclimber the rock star, whose Flickr page provided the album art.


  1. In the liner notes to Protein Source of the Future... NOW!, John writes:

    My noble if futile efforts to write a song as good as the Tom Robinson Band's "2-4-6-8 Motorway" continue. If cornered, I will admit that Yam is my favorite Mountain Goats release, so I'm very happy to have it on here: it's been out of print for ages. Red gold all over! Somebody catch me.

    2-4-6-8 Motorway is a British rock song charting to the #5 singles position. 

  2. Many songs on Yam, the King of Crops are related obliquely or directly to a significant work of African literature. The album title (as well as the eponymous song and references in several other songs) is directly taken from the seminal work by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart:

    "Share-cropping was a very slow way of building up a barn of one's own. After all the toil one only got a third of the harvest. But for a young man whose father had no yams, there was no other way. And what made it worse in Okonkwo's case was that he had to support his mother and two sisters from his meagre harvest... It was like pouring grains of corn into a bag full of holes. His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women's crops, like coco-yams, beans and cassava. Yam, the king of crops, was a man's crop." (pp. 22 - 23)

    "Yam, the king of crops, was a very exacting king." (p. 33)

    Achebe, Chinua (1953). Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. ISBN 0-385-47454-7  2

  3. These are the opening lines of Horace's Ars Poetica, Horace's thoughts on writing good poetry, contained in his second book of Epistles. This phrase translates to, "If a painter should wish to unite a horse's neck to a human head, and so on." The full paragraph continues:

    "If a painter should wish to unite a horse's neck to a human head, and spread a variety of plumage over limbs [of different animals] taken from every part [of nature], so that what is a beautiful woman in the upper part terminates unsightly in an ugly fish below; could you, my friends, refrain from laughter, were you admitted to such a sight? Believe, ye Pisos, the book will be perfectly like such a picture, the ideas of which, like a sick man's dreams, are all vain and fictitious: so that neither head nor foot can correspond to any one form. 'Poets and painters [you will say] have ever had equal authority for attempting any thing.' We are conscious of this, and this privilege we demand and allow in turn: but not to such a degree, that the tame should associate with the savage; nor that serpents should be coupled with birds, lambs with tigers."

    Horace. Ars Poetica. Translated by Christopher Smart. Retrieved October 19, 2013. 

  4. Quetzalcoatl is a major Aztec diety. Meaning "feathered serpent", Quetzalcoatl is one of many winged snake dieties throughout history in South and Central America. 

  5. Quetzalcoatl Comes Through is part of the informal series of Aztec songs

  6. Quetzalcoatl is described as having bright, multicolored plumage, much like the Resplendent Quetzal which is associated with the god. 

  7. I am not sure what this refers to, although it recollects Xolotl, the canine Aztec god of death and lightning, who escorted the dead to Mictlan, the Aztec underworld. Dogs were strongly associated with the dead in Aztec mythology. 

  8. Given the similar use of a prefacing Greek letter and the divorce context, Omega Blaster is sometimes considered to be an Alpha couple song. However, based on the geography and context, I don't think this is correct. 

  9. Yosemite is an enormous national park located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Renowned internationally for its beauty, especially the granite walls of Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows, it is a Mecca for climbers, backpackers, mountaineers, backcountry skiers, and other outdoor recreationalists. 

  10. Taro, also known as cocoyam or coco-yam, is a major root crop of Africa, India, and elsewhere. Germane to this context, it plays a major role in Achebe's Things Fall Apart, where coco-yams are described as an important crop, if less significant than yams. While related to the Igbo culture described in Things Fall Apart, this scene is not described in the book. 

  11. John describes this clip as being intended to provide a "stark contrast" to the content of the song. Heavy Metal, Ephemera, and Popular Culture: A Chat With the Mountain Goats, Space City Rock, Spring 2001. 

  12. This excerpt is from the showtune Always True to You in My Fashion, written by Cole Porter for the Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate. This particular version is that sung by the jazz and pop great Peggy Lee. 

  13. Described in numerous world religions, most famously vodou, the creation of objects intended to carry magic power over other individuals in a community, often by depicting them physically, is known as fetishism. While not a major part of Things Fall Apart, Igbo culture may have incorporated such objects. 

  14. Kola is a caffeinated tree nut indigenous to Africa and notable for being the origin of cola as a flavoring throughout the world. It is described in Things Fall Apart as being a key part of hospitality and many ceremonies, being broken and offered to guests or eaten before important occasions. 

  15. A reference to the poem Alagemo, by the Nobel laureate author and playwright Wole Soyinka. He has been active in political activism in Nigeria, the country of his birth, and was imprisoned for several years as a consequence of his commitment to justice and independence. Alagemo prefaces his play The Road as follows:

    "Since the mask-idiom employed in The Road will be strange to many, the preface poem Alagemo should be of help. Agemo is simply, a religious cult of flesh dissolution." (p. 149)

    The poem itself is as follows (p. 150):

    I heard! I felt their reach
    And heard my naming named.
    The pit is there, the digger fell right through
    My roots have come out in the other world.
    Make away. Agemo's hoops
    Are pathways of the sun.
    Rain-reeds, unbend to me, Quench
    The burn of cartwheels at my waist!
    Pennant in the stream of time — Now,
    Gone, and Here the Future
    Make way. Let the rivers woo
    The thinning, thinning Here and
    Vanished Leap that was the Night
    And the split that snatched the heavy-lidded
    She-twin into Dawn.
    No sweat-beads droop beneath
    The plough-wings of hawk.
    No beetle finds a hole between Agemo's toes.
    When the whirlwind claps his feet
    It is the sundering of the... name no ills...
    Of... the Not-to-be
    Of the moistening moment of a breath...
    Approach. Approach and feel
    Did I not speak? Is there not flesh
    Between the dead man's thumbs?

    Soyinka, Wole (1973). Collected Plays, Volume 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-281136-3  2

  16. An earthworm used as bait for fishing. Oxford English Dictionary, retrieved October 19, 2013. 

  17. The title and these verses are adapted directly from the prologue to the novel Two Thousand Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah, a writer from Ghana. The book focuses on the destruction wrought on Africa by colonialism. Speaking of such, the original text is as follows (italics present in original):

    "How have we come to be mere mirrors to annihilation? For whom do we aspire to reflect our people's death? For whose entertainment shall we sing our agony? In what hopes? That the destroyers, aspiring to extinguish us, will suffer conciliatory remorse at the sight of their own fantastic success? The last imbecile to dream such dreams is dead, killed by the saviours of his dreams. Such idiot hopes come from a territory far beyond rebirth. Those utterly dead, never again to wake, such is their muttering. Leave them in their graves. Whatever waking form they wear, the stench of death pours ceaseless from their mouths. From every opening of their possessed carcases comes death's excremental pus. Their soul itself is dead and long since putrified. Would you then have your intercourse with these creatures from the graveyard? Go to them, and speak your message to long rotted ash."

    Armah, Ayi Kwei (1973). Two Thousand Seasons. Nairobi: East African Publishing House. 

  18. This is not a variety of palm tree, however, the city of Jericho, located in Palestine, is known from Biblical times as the City of Palm Trees. These varieties are likely date palms

  19. Basmati rice is an Indian variety of long-grain rice. Pari is a brand of rice from India which has been in business since the 1700s, formerly as Sachdeva and Sons. 

  20. Told in Ovid's poem Metamorphoses, Galatea is the name given to the statue which Pygmalion, a sculptor, makes and then falls in love with. On the day of the festival of Venus, he prays for a woman like his statue, which comes to life. Pygmalion and Galatea then marry.