The Mountain Goats album All Hail West Texas is, for my money, the purest distillation of what America actually is ever put on wax. The record turned fifteen years old on Sunday, February 19, four weeks into a presidential term marked by rhetoric anchored to the phrase “Make American Great Again.” Of course, this country has already been great — and awful — and Darnielle’s old record speaks to both of those things. It’s right there in the title — “All Hail” puts our inexhaustible desire to big up ourselves in all things, along with the implication that everyone else should follow suit right out in front, and West Texas is the most American setting that Goats mastermind John Darnielle could have conjured up.
You see, most of our beloved American symbols don’t actually represent the United States as it is. Most towns don’t have their own copper lady in the harbor holding up a light of liberty, and they’re nowhere near a mountain range, purple or otherwise. Most towns don’t even have an H&M. If you ran all American landscapes through a computer and asked it to find the average, West Texas may well be the answer.
It’s vast, isolated and largely empty. The sort of place that’s as removed from the rest of the current world as the Puritans must have found the Eastern Seaboard, a place where they could let their anti-freakum freak flags fly. It’s an entire region of towns that are about a stoplight wide, the sort of highway off-ramps and pit-stops masquerading as towns that Mulder and Scully always found themselves in. Because “nothing goes on out there” and “anything could be going on out there” are awful close in the minds of people from denser locales.