Today, I spoke with one of my favorite students about ghosts and their relationship to humanity. We talked about how the concept of a spirit world is shared by all cultures and has a place within societal/religious traditions and edicts regardless of place or time.
My student brought up a really good point. She suggested that humanity needs to believe in the afterlife because we do not like seeing things end and have difficulty letting go.
She’s right, and not only about our species’ existential difficulties with death. Our modern existence is predicated on departure (and return). We live in a time when people constantly shift from one physical location to another, and then back again. In the virtual world, the phenomena is even more pronounced, with people disappearing and reappearing across cyberspace like a gazillion fireflies. (Or a googleplex, if you prefer.)
To deal with this psychologically, we create symbols of ourselves called “profiles” or “avatars.” We do this in order to maintain some kind of continuity within the chaos.
Ghosts are also an attempt to establish continuity. Artists, in particular, use ghosts as metaphors for people or situations passed. They act as bookmarkers for moments in our lives that we wish to remember or revisit. Ghosts can also represent our desire for eternal life or power or even serve as proxies for our strengths and weaknesses. In music, this approach is something of a cliche. But it’s a cliche I love.
The following are some of favorite songs that employ momentous metaphysical metaphors. I should probably find links to the songs, but that’s what the Googles are for. So, without further ado, here’s my Top Ten Ghost Songs list:
10. “I Hope I Become A Ghost” by Deadly Syndrome
From the World’s Greatest Dad soundtrack (directed by the great Bobcat Goldthwait — and Bob, if you are reading this, yes I read your liner notes and you owe me coffee). The movie is dark and hilarious and definitely a must-see. Deadly Syndrome’s song talks about entering ghosthood with the desire to understand the history of time and to make sure that the world will be all right. It’s a Holy Grail quest for closure that’s probably impossible, but we seek nonetheless.
9. “Casper the Friendly Ghost” by Daniel Johnston
A beautiful song about being pushed around and abused by society, yet hoping to find some relief by dying. It’s the age old “they will regret this when I am dead” idea with Johnston’s unique voice and songwriting twists. Johnston is always “smiling through his own personal hell” — just like his ghostly protagonist.
8. “Spirit on the Water” by Bob Dylan
Freud believed that the the ocean symbolically represents the depth of man’s soul — his darkness and his potential for greatness hidden below the surface. In this song, Dylan sings about his lost love dancing across the water and how he wants to throw her under.
7. “The Ghost Inside” by Broken Bells
My favorite song by my favorite group of the year. Indie rock mixed with electronic beats and rhythms. It’s fresh and exciting to listen to.
6. “The Ghosts of Saturday Nights (After Hours at Napoleone’s Pizza House)” by Tom Waits
Waits is the Poet Laureate of Cool. He consistently dazzles his listeners with stories of pain, lost souls and sorrow. He is so iconoclastic that it makes me almost cry to think that someday he will no longer be with us. The imagery and character studies in his lyrics are worthy of Hawthorne, Melville or Hemingway.
5. “Spirits in a Material World” by The Police
I always wished that this song was a response to Madonna‘s colossal smash “Material Girl” but I am sure it isn’t. But that would be cool and there used to be a time when Sting was cool.
4. “Is There A Ghost?” by Band of Horses
I caught this song while driving from Vermont to Atlanta on my XM radio a few years back and longed to hear it over and over again. It’s beautiful and cathartic and lovely and amazing and awesome and perfect.
3. “Bodysnatchers” by Radiohead
I am sure that this song isn’t about ghosts. Knowing what I do of Thom Yorke it’s probably about being haunted by his own thoughts. Still, I like to think that it’s about literal spirits. This was a song that I always listened to right before paranormal investigations — back when I thought stuff like that was worth doing.
2. “Ghost in You” by Psychedelic Furs
The Furs. So good. So misrepresented in John Hughes films. Stories of sad and lost people. In this case, a world where all things fade into nothingness except the memories of an unknown love. Perfection.
1. “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr.
Number one on the list for one reason and one reason only. Yes, it was from one of the best comedy of all time. Yes, it had Bill Murray and Dan Akyroyd and Rick Moranis. Yes, it was awesome. Yes, it was stolen from Huey Lewis. BUT! The music video had Danny DeVito in it — even just for a split second — and DeVito is the bacon of the entertainment industry: he makes all great things greater. Don’t believe me? Watch season one of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” that didn’t feature DeVito and watch it during the later seasons with DeVito! See what I mean? It’s just. . . better! Funny before, but hilarious with him! “That was human meat that you ate. Human! Meat!”
Narcissistic Honorable Mentions: Self-serving and conceited, and I don’t care. Bringing up two ghosts of my own past into the discussion:
“Susan Upstairs” by Chin Ho!
She lived in a small apartment in a 200 year old haunted house, but she was the subtle and unknowing tormentor to the storyteller.
“She’s a Ghost” by League of Evil
I never knew what this song was about because it was a cacophony of noise from the stage (for some reason it is impossible to get good stage sound in Atlanta) — but I know that it was called “She’s A Ghost” and it was awesome. If Simony gets to this, please tell me what they lyrics are/were or something.
I’m sure I left some off the list: tell me what I missed in the comments.