Dan Deacon’s “Become a Mountain”

I highly recommend listening to Dan Deacon‘s ebullient song “Become a Mountain” while driving up an actual mountain. If you don’t have one nearby to summit, by all means find a small hill or an inclined street and get going. It’s a song that benefits from elevation, from reaching your arms wide and feeling the power of perspective in real time.

I love when songs accidentally soundtrack my life, which is what happened on this particular December afternoon as I drove Elk Mountain Scenic Highway to hike the Rattlesnake Lodge trail in Asheville, NC. The road wound higher and higher, with absolutely nothing separating my not-so-mountain-friendly car from tumbling over the side should I hit a patch of ice. And it was cold enough for that to happen. So I drove slowly, the knot in my stomach winding ever tighter. And then Deacon’s song came on.

“Become a Mountain” appears on the Baltimore-based musician’s latest album, Mystic Familiar. In the five years it took between solo albums, Deacon turned his attention to composing, a choice well-suited to his work, which has always contained visual kernels ripe for scaffolding other artistic projects. (NYCB’s resident choreographer Justin Peck used Deacon’s song suite “USA I-IV” from America for his 2017 ballet The Times Are Racing. And if you ever get the chance to see it, GO. I saw it performed last year, and it’s easily among my top five ballet memories. And yes, I have enough ballet memories to rank them. I digress.)

The album’s an attempt to replace the often negative voices that loop in our heads with voices from nature, using the ‘familiar’ as a motif to achieve that switch. The elements in the album—mountains, trees, oceans—offer their perspective.

On “Become a Mountain,” the song serves as a reminder to stay present. The narrator’s ambition, always future-focused, distracts him, but the mountain’s point of view grounds him in the present moment. “Close your eyes/ And become a mountain/ Become all around you/ Become the skies, become the seas/ Open your eyes/ And remain the mountain/ Breathing in deeply/ Feeling the day change with the breeze.” The song’s piano, a sound Deacon carries off with a player piano he controls via computer, creates a shimmering, cascading sound that elevates the central message.

Climbing ever higher that day in my car, I felt the exuberance of inhabiting the present—of following the winding road even if some primitive part of you is convinced it’s too scary. For one of those rare, glorious moments when a song soundtracks your life, you aren’t just watching things happen—you’re in it. The lyric “And remain a mountain” cogently summarizes the point: don’t just focus on becoming. Inhabit your life. Be.