“Black Cadillacs” by Modest Mouse

90. Song No. 1,066: “Black Cadillacs,” Modest Mouse
Good News for People Who Love Bad News, 2004

Good News is the Modest Mouse album everyone knows, its popularity greatly aided by being both the first and probably most accessible foray into Isaac Brock’s mad genius, which makes me feel like a total poseur for admitting it’s my favorite.

But I love this intense and inexplicably summer-sounding album that feels less like a lazy humid day and more like a window-rattling thunderstorm. So so so much. It’s one that I love for a different reason every time I put it on. Sometimes it’s because this is one of those albums I just want to restart as soon as it’s over. Sometimes it’s a song or a lyric feeling nothing like they did the last time I heard them. Sometimes it’s because some of these songs are just so good for angstily singing along to.

“Ocean Breathes Salty” and more so “Float On” are the two songs everyone knows and I certainly love them too, but it’s the less-popular songs that have endeared themselves to me the most. “Dance Hall” is pure, irresistible manic energy; “Bukowski” is forever a sentimental favorite for its frank invocation of my favorite asshole/poet; “The View” burrowed under my skin for keeps and remains a song that I typically need to listen to on repeat for a good hour to get it out of my system every time I’m reminded of how deeply I love it.

But “Black Cadillacs” was the first song I fell in love with here. It wasn’t the chronicled demise of an unhealthy relationship that grabbed me, nor was its story of accepting the reality that closure isn’t always a guarantee. It is dark and emotionally frenetic and brutally honest and feels like that first time when all-consuming, raw-nerve heartache levels up to become self-righteous anger that heralds dawning clarity.

It builds from those first sparse and unassuming notes to the fully fleshed-out chaos of all the ways things fall apart before petering out into the minimalistic return to how it began, a cycle and resolution emulating that cathartic blowout of a relationship’s clear-eyed post-mortem examination. It has all the peaks and valleys and organic explosions of that “how did we get here” moment of realizing it’s over, where things too-long unsaid are finally safe to put out there now that there’s nothing left to lose and detonating all the things that could have blown the relationship apart present zero risk to something already long reduced to rubble.

When Good News came into my life, I still had the hair-trigger temper of a more insecure mess poised to lash out over the first breath of a threat like all scared and cornered creatures do. I had no idea this song so closely mirrored the trajectory of a healthy argument or itemized and acknowledged the mutual failures against each other you owe it to another human being to hold yourself accountable for: I just liked it for its ferocity.

It’s interesting — first as someone who only learned how to appropriately approach life’s more explosive and less enjoyable feelings when someone else’s are also on the line as an adult; second as someone who just hates conflict and takes great pains to avoid it, especially if I’m the only one whose happiness is compromised if we never talk about the unpleasant things that really should be dealt with instead of turning into a human pressure-cooker — listening to this song now and being so cognizant of such an obvious arc, even if it is just the happenstance of the verse/chorus/bridge/resolution construct just happening to effectively accommodate the trajectory of a last fight. Like so many interpersonal conflicts waiting to finally bubble into all involved parties’ consciousness, this song’s emotional thunderclap comes out of nowhere and almost seemingly unprovoked and having nothing to do with how the conversation started. The music follows the spikes in tempers and concessions and hard-to-swallow truths and harder-to-admit signs of defeat. The lyrics have all the hallmarks of a death-knell blowout that got put off ’til the right time and finally forced its way out to put everyone out of their misery, even beyond the looming death metaphors.

Now, this song sounds a lot like learning how to establish boundaries, allocate and accept blame, recognize that a shared history doesn’t necessitate a shared future, and finally say that you’re done fucking around when it’s time to move on. It might, perhaps, be colored by certain arguments I’m trying not to have with people I don’t particularly have the energy or I-statements to deal with right now, but that just makes it all the more cathartic to sing along to in the shower and in my car and while making lunch because working from home means I can do that until the dog’s had enough of my shit or my husband has a conference call, and with a renewed intensity that eluded my younger self but makes far too much sense almost half a lifetime of standing in line to please everyone else later.

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