Harlem Roulette
  • Harlem Roulette
  • The Mountain Goats
  • Transcendental Youth

The Mountain Goats - “Harlem Roulette”

John Darnielle is a songwriting genius. Take “Harlem Roulette.” It’s about Frankie Lymon, a New York doo-wop singer in the ‘50s and '60s who used the large advance he received for an upcoming album to buy cocaine, ultimately overdosing. No one else would dare write a song about such a tragedy, but Darnielle takes the story and fashions it into a heartbreaking realization: “the loneliest people in the whole, wide world are the ones you’re never going to see again.”

The Mountain Goats has been one of the more prolific and consistent bands in recent memory, especially considering Transcendental Youth is their twentieth studio release over the last twenty-one years (between both cassette and CD) and their third in the last two years.


Harlem Roulette 

Unknown engines underneath the city
Steam pushing up in billows through the grates
Frankie Lymon’s tracking “Seabreeze” in a studio in Harlem
It’s 1968
Just a pair of tunes to hammer out
Everybody’s off the clock by ten
The loneliest people in the whole wide world are the ones you’re never going to see again

Feels so free when I hit the avenue
Nothing like a New York summer night
Every dream’s a good dream,
Even awful dreams are good dreams,
If you’re doing it right

Remember soaring higher than a cloud
Get pretty sentimental now and then
The loneliest people in the whole wide world are the ones you’re never going to see again

from Transcendental Youth (2012)

“This is a song about the death of Frankie Lymon, who was a wonderful young singer. Then he wasn’t young anymore and his voice changed and the world had no further use for him. But he kept trying to work because that was sort of the only line of work he’d ever had. And, uh, he scored a recording contract with a tiny little label out of Harlem called Roulette, there were a lot of tiny little labels in the 1960s, and they let him track like fifteen demos in one night, and he did that, and got a couple hundred bucks, and he went and got some heroin, as you do when you get a couple hundred bucks, and died in his mother’s house that night. This is called ‘Harlem Roulette’." 

- 2012-10-16 - Bowery Ballroom - New York, NY


every dream’s a good dream, even awful dreams are good dreams if you’re doing it right