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The Song That Became the Mental Health Anthem of 2020

“I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me.”
— John Darnielle, The Mountain Goats

It’s the chorus of indie-folk ensemble The Mountain Goats’ 2005 processional “This Year.” That lyric encapsulates a longing for an end to 2020, a year that — as we all know — was plagued by coronavirus, financial strife, high unemployment, food insecurity, isolation and for us, depression, anxiety, erratic moods, addiction and a host of other horrible mental health challenges.

UK newspaper The Guardian, created a poll asking readers to name the song they want to hear on their “Ultimate New Year’s Eve Playlist,” and The Mountain Goats’ “This Year” came in at number-one with nearly 10,000 votes. It’s followed by R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Monty Python.

John Darnielle appeared on “The Late Show” back in July, performing “This Year” with current Vanity Fair cover-boy Stephen Colbert singing and dancing along.

I am happy to vouch for The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle as one of the greatest songwriters of my generation. And I am a journalist with 20 years experience covering popular music. I’m also an author who happens to have bipolar disorder and has written a memoir about it titled “The Bipolar Addict.”

The Mountain Goats are a band that started out in California as one man — John Darnielle — who wields his trusty acoustic guitar, attacking it like a punk rocker would, and recording a prolific body of songs on a boombox. 

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Now with a homebase of Raleigh, NC, he has a bassist and percussionist supporting him, as well as 19 albums — the latest being “Getting Into Knives,” one of two albums and a live set he released this year.

Then there are also countless other unreleased songs that exist on cassette tapes and live in boxes underneath Darnielle’s bed. However, since 2002, The Mountain Goats have recorded their music in a studio, giving it the luster and shine of Darnielle’s musical peers. 

The Mountain Goats are a quintessential member of the lo-fi movement in rock ‘n’ roll, a genre that involves intentionally crude recordings, the polar opposite of a polished studio creation.

Darnielle is a singer-songwriter, who, in the tradition of people like Bob Dylan, is a total storyteller. His lyrics are exquisitely literary, and his musical world is populated by sordid and wretched characters and tales of misfortune that sound like fables.

Collectively, all of us have COVID fatigue by now. And the promise of two new vaccines — one by Pfizer and one by Moderna — are coming to the rescue slowly but surely. This is a good and welcome omen for the new year. 

I’m sure I’m not alone, but 2020 was a year I missed attending live events including concerts, theater and sports. We missed going to the movies and summer festivals like Lollapalooza, Coachella, Pitchfork and Riot Fest. We hosted pared-down Thanksgiving dinners, Hannukahs on Zoom, Christmases only including our immediate family units. 

But if you are reading this, congratulations. You survived 2020. You’re all in tact. 2020 didn’t kill you. And I bet you’re psyched for 2021. I know I am. 

Meanwhile…  further Mountain Goats listening: “No Children,” “Sax Rohmer #1” “Heretic Pride.” “You Were Cool” (YouTube only), “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” “Cubs in Five.”

What songs encapsulated your 2020? Leave a reply.

Getty image via Maria Voronovich

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