Cloven hoof prints turn up in the garden.
April 6, 2019 3:48 AM   Subscribe

When "The driver drops his cargo at the curb" in the Mountain Goats' song First Few Desperate Hours what the heck is it? The song is from the album Tallahassee, which is the story of a marriage that was a bad idea. Lyrics inside.

Bad luck comes in from Tampa
Bad luck comes in from Tampa
On the back of a truck
Doing ninety up the interstate
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 hoof prints turn up in the garden
Yeah when cloven hoof prints turn up in the garden
We keep up the good fight
We keep our spirits light
But they draw 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
posted by bendy to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The devil is said to have cloven hooves
posted by atlantica at 4:00 AM on April 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Gazelles, goats, cattle, and generally members of Artiodactyla have cloven hooves. But yeah I’m thinking this cargo is more devilish. Also the bit about drawing flies rings of Beezlebub. Maybe they got a goat, but that goat would sure seem to serve as a metaphor for evil.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:27 AM on April 6, 2019

Right, but why are they getting a devil delivered? I think the delivery is their belongings and/or possibly wedding gifts. The liner notes talk about buying a house sight-unseen, and the previous track is about visiting the house for the first time, so I think the devil got mixed up in their other stuff they were getting shipped up from Tampa.
posted by capricorn at 4:55 AM on April 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

Darnielle says a lot of stuff about his songs, but this Darnielle quote from Kyle Barbour's Annotated Mountain Goats rings true to me, that it's the accumulated freight of all the things that have gone wrong with the relationship finally arriving home.
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
posted by zamboni at 4:59 AM on April 6, 2019 [17 favorites]

I'd agree it all sounds generically Biblical-doomy. Not just the cloven hooves, but also the "good fight," a cataclysm, leaning towers "struggling to stand" in the "desperate hours."

Isaiah 32:14: Because the palace has been abandoned, the populated city forsaken Hill and watch-tower have become caves forever, A delight for wild donkeys, a pasture for flocks;

And also in the explanation zamboni linked - "a beating of its wings."
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:39 AM on April 6, 2019

I always thought it was the narrator's stepfather (or perhaps the mother's awful boyfriend), a devil in his cruelty to her and the children who, now returned, would wreak havoc on the peaceful life they attained at great cost after a previous escape.
posted by carmicha at 7:47 AM on April 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's a baby.

I do think it's belongings that have been dropped off in their new house, where they eventually will get divorced. The stuff itself is a portent of bad luck because the relationship is doomed. Other bad portents appear, such as the cloven hoofprints, but they ignore them because they're trying to put up a good fight and remain optimistic about the future at this point.

The entire album is about the Alpha Couple. Reading through lyrics of other songs (aside from those on Tallahassee, which chronicles the end of their relationship specifically) might be illuminating. A theme in Darnielle's work of this period--also seen in the "Going to . . ." series--is that you can't escape yourself or your demons (more figurative than literal but also literal) via relocation despite that being an optimistic theme of his generation broadly.

Carmicha might be thinking of The Sunset Tree, where Darnielle writes autobiographical songs about his own stepfather, and while I understand that the alpha couple is inspired by his parents' bad relationship, I don't think there's anything that literal here. They're getting their belongings in their new house and ignoring how poorly everything is going, right down to the fact that the movers drop their stuff off at the curb instead of bringing it inside.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:55 AM on April 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'd always interpreted the cargo to be the final stage of the Alpha Couple's relationship rather than a literal thing. They'd been able to stay ahead of it for a while by moving around constantly but luck finally caught up with them.
posted by Candleman at 8:01 AM on April 6, 2019

The Alpha Couple don’t have a baby, per my or any other close reading I’ve encountered. There is an early song (per the Annotated, not per my memory, I’m not that much of a completist) that says something about a pregnancy and the other details kind of line up, although I don’t think it’s actually titled Alpha anything.

I’ve always thought of the cargo as, you know, baggage. You move and for a split second you think you’ve outrun all your old bullshit, but then the United truck pulls up and you sign for it and there it is.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:01 PM on April 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

The Alpha Couple don’t have a baby, per my or any other close reading I’ve encountered.

Indeed. We are explicitly told they have “No Children”.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:47 PM on April 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

zamboni - thanks for the link to the Annotated Mountain Goats site. I'm looking forward to digging into it.
posted by bendy at 1:24 AM on April 8, 2019

The Mountain Goats Wikia site often has good information on songs pulled from his performances, though it doesn't help with your particular question.
posted by Candleman at 10:35 AM on April 8, 2019

The Alpha Couple are notorious alcoholics, so it could be a delivery of alcohol?

But I doubt it. I've always assumed, like others, that it's the accumulated baggage of the relationship. That stuff follows you wherever you move to.
posted by kensington314 at 11:15 PM on April 8, 2019

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