Commentary

The ten most brutally honest songwriters

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4. Cage Chris Palko (aka Cage) had one of the most fucked-up childhoods imaginable, filled with drugs, violence and abuse. In "Too Heavy for Cherubs," he describes how his father used to make him hold the tourniquet as he injected heroin: "Erratic then gone, I go from manic to calm, watching the yellow liquid dripping back out of his arm. No automatic alarm sounded. Trying to wrap my six-year-old brain around it. Went in his pockets, took his money and couldn't count it."

3. Mark Everett Eels frontman Mark Oliver Everett had it really rough in the late '90s. His mother died of lung cancer, his sister Elizabeth committed suicide after a stay in a mental hospital and Everett was left the only surviving member of his immediate family. Much like the words of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, the lyrics on Electro-Shock Blues tell these stories of death and survival from the viewpoints of all involved. One of the most harrowing songs is the title track, written from Elizabeth's perspective: "Feeling scared today. Write down 'I am okay' a hundred times. The doctors say I am okay. I am okay. I'm not okay."

2. John Darnielle The Mountain Goats have never shied away from complicated and esoteric songwriting jam-packed with metaphors and literary references. Maybe that's why The Sunset Tree hit so hard with its relatively simple and straightforward recounting of John Darnielle's relationship with his abusive stepfather and the beatings he received: "And then I'm awake, and I'm guarding my face, hoping you don't break my stereo, because it's the one thing that I couldn't live without. And so I think about that, and then I sorta black out."

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Jesse Livingston
Contact: Jesse Livingston