In March of 2011, John Darnielle auctioned a tape on ebay dated “5/27/01” and labeled “FRENETIQUES Demos.” One song, “Eugene Sue,” was recorded on the tape. (John Darnielle writes that “it is the only Mountain Goats song known to feature a whistling outro.”) The auction was held for the benefit of Doctors Without Borders in the wake of the earthquake in Japan; it sold for $3,500.00. One performance, one recording, one tape, one song, one sale.
For nearly a year, the song existed, privately, somewhere in Seattle. Early on, I remember hearing something about a listening party; I was spending a lot of time on the internet then. I resigned myself to the belief that I would never hear “Eugene Sue,” which was difficult for me as I was certain that I had heard and would hear every single Mountain Goats song ever recorded, ever: especially the rare ones. (No, no. Of course I haven’t, and I won’t, but I’ve pushed those elusive, never-to-be-heard song-names out of my memory.) Maybe it is just a coincidence that this song would appear on the frénétiques demo(s), which translates to frantic, which translates all of us who have latched on, as we have, to The Mountain Goats (we know who we are). Part therapist, part provider: John Darnielle tells us, through all the shit, that we’re special in our smallness, that we can survive this; and he gives us unique, hand-numbered (or colored) objects to hold us along the way. We’re only enabled, by no fault of John’s, when our need to love something is transformed into our need to possess it.
In June of 2011, I attended a Mountain Goats show in Portland with a friend. While he was away, buying beer, I was listening in on the conversation happening one seat ahead of me. It was the woman, the winner of the tape, and she was talking about the song, that song I thought I would never hear, to those sitting beside her. They asked her if they could hear it. (Of course she had it recorded to her cell phone.) She lead them away to a quieter place. I wanted to ask her for a fix, for a quick listen, but that desire crashed into a different, newer sort of thought: what if some things are better left unheard? The internet had already given me all the Mountain Goats data I could ever need, and certainly more than John Darnielle would want me to have. So I sat there, quietly, and ignored the impulse to ask, or to follow, or to regret. They returned, talking about it, and I sipped my own beer a little faster.
“When you call down curses on the God that made you, you play hide and seek with trouble. Yes, but trouble’s gonna find you, too.”
On December 21st, 2011, a video of a tape recorder playing “Eugene Sue” was uploaded to YouTube. I immediately ripped it to an MP3.