A couple weeks ago today, at 9:53pm (give or take), I was swaying to the tune of “Ghost” by Yellow Ostrich in a sea of Antlers fans. And at 9:55 pm that night, I declared my devoted fandom. I wanted to catapult my body on stage and just jiggy with them, because I was feeling them, man. A few strums in and a couple lyrics out and I was making a sign at the back of the crowd saying, “I <3 U YELLOW OSTRICH.”
Now their song “Ghost” and I have met once before. ‘Twas a passing meet-and-greet on Songza’s playlist Tar Beach Lullabies, but they still offered a humble & charming wave in between the string of underground indie bands. In hindsight, Yellow Ostrich actually left quite the weighty impression on me – at least enough to strike a chord of nostalgia as soon as frontman Alex Schaaf’s sweet hymns coated the air. Once Michael Tapper’s pointed drums pierced through the words don’t remember your face, I knew I’d inadvertently stumbled upon the song that made a stellar first impression once before. I’m telling you – my fandom was instant.
But as a new fan, I’m not here to talk about the indelible and ardent concert they gave, nor their charming stage presence (which was somewhere in between the “original” variety of hipsters and teenagers jamming in their parents’ garage), and not even the fact that I met Alex Schaaf afterwards and was weirdly starstruck (I hadn’t even heard of the fella before that night and here I was mumbling with big ol’ animated stars in my eyes). First and foremost, I’m here to bring you “Ghost”, because everyone needs to hear this song at least once. Secondly, I’m here to share my feelings on the song
because that’s what blogs are for because this is a song that makes me stop speaking, writing, thinking, really functioning whatsoever as a human being for the 3 minutes and 46 seconds it’s playing. It’s hypnosis, stirring my heart round and round in its wake.
At it’s core, I think “Ghost” is a love song, but it doesn’t follow the rules of Love Song Writing 101 (and that’s precisely why I love it). There’s no “I want you back” or “take me back” or “I regret this, I regret that.” It’s a love song lamenting the difficulty, and ultimately the impossibility, of forgetting an ex-lover; the thousands of blinking memories playing themselves over and over in someone’s head act as constant reminders. And not the memories one would expect to remember, either. They’re not from a high school dance, or a fancy dinner out, or a big meet n’ greet between friends and family, or any “milestones” in the relationship. They’re memories of a pair of hands sneaking around your waist, or how you felt following in their footsteps on a sunny, ordinary walk to the grocery store, or the tickle of their eyelashes on your collarbone. “Ghost” depicts the intimacy between two lovers as a result of knowing that person better than anyone else, and how the memories forged into your mind reflect that familiarity. In conclusion, this means that a part of that person, no matter how small, will always impose some sense of influence on your life’s direction (and I can’t decide whether this is heartbreaking, uplifting, or merely touching).
Consider the line, “I remember the way you move, the taste of you and your eyes – green or are they blue?”
I ache at these words. These are the words that leave me still, contemplative in the very definition of intimacy that society imposes on us. Instead of painting intimacy in a blinding light of sexuality, we’re introduced to an alternative “taste” of it: the taste of someone’s eyes. See, eyes are inherently intimate already. Relationships have been made and broken by certain looks. One pair of locked eyes can be enough to ignite an electric connection, while other times a fleeting glance can be taken to betray someone’s words and reflect their true thoughts & feelings instead. They carry the nuances of someone’s personality, and deliver the punchline to a joke on their own. In time, eyes become more than the staple of that first pick-up line. They become your support system, and they share whole stories in seconds. The “taste of someone’s eyes” shows just how intimately two people know one another; it shows that you know the true quality of someone. You crave them not because of their physical attributes, like their “dreamy ocean-blue eyes”, but because of the quality of their soul. Everyone can know the colour of someone’s eyes. One glance at a driver’s ID will tell you that. But when you look into a lover’s eyes, you get the taste of who they really are. You get whole stories back. You get their fears and ambitions and clever observations back. You get their soul looking back at you – fearlessly and trustingly.
But then, after a breakup, those eyes and all that they can reveal become nearly cruel. Because you’ll still get stories looking back at you, but you have to pretend you don’t. Small talk trumps opening up because, maybe, it’s too hard to dabble on that side of the relationship again. Maybe it’s all or nothing. But here they are, back to strangers. Back to small talk. In fact, come to think of it, this song reminds me of a quote I heard a bit ago.
Strangers, friends, best friends, lovers, strangers.
To see the cycle of broken relationships in this sordidly simple way is devastating. I’m sitting happily in the fourth stage (and I do feel blessed), having never experienced a breakup. I can only use lyrics, poems, stories, eavesdropped lines while waiting for coffee as my way of experiencing mere fragments of what others have felt. And perhaps this is why “Ghost” tugs at so many heart strings that haven’t ever been plucked before.
“I’m so tired of you, I can see the way the clouds move. I’m so tired of you, I can see the way your legs move. I’m so tired of you, but I’ve got no one else to talk to.”
The words manage to invoke a sense of hollow weariness inside me; I can imagine the emptiness of a heart that once felt it belonged to two. The exhaustion of seeing memories of an ex-lover continuously coming into your life, unannounced, seeking to fulfill the imprint they once left on your mind. And see, I don’t think you could ever be “one” again – not with someone’s memories and thoughts and taste so tirelessly infiltrating into your mind. Yet, you cannot be two either; the other half of them are broken fragments that haven’t been swept away. There will always be a few left in your mind – to poke you, to hurt you, to reflect certain things when you least expect it.
I imagine a break up to feel like this: a vase of flowers that has been broken. Once upon a time, it was a thing of beauty. Friends, loved ones, even a couple of strangers on occasion would remark how beautiful the flowers look together, how naturally they fall into one another, how they’ve lasted so long. But as life gets busy (isn’t that what they always say?), the flowers are no longer as lovingly nourished as they once were. The radiant colour is no longer exceptional – it doesn’t stop them in their tracks. They pick at the wilted petals, deplore the delicate nurture it requires, yet put off throwing out the whole batch together (they have a few more days in them, don’t they?). But this leads to murky waters. Friends and loved ones remark how it’s time for it to go; after all, it pains them just as much. Finally, the wilted, deprecated bouquet is thrown out altogether. But what is there to see now? Filthy waters? The vase is stained anyways. A favourite vase. The only vase.
You wipe it off the table immediately, propelling shards of glass into every corner of the room. That felt good, didn’t it? But where do you think those shards of glass fell if not for under the table, behind the curtains, lingering underneath the rug? Even with a thorough sweep, there will always be that bittersweet reminder of bygone beauty.
I may have gotten away with myself during that last analogy. I just ran with it. To be completely honest, writing about this makes me so weary. Genuinely, it leaves me mentally exhausted. I find myself so quiet after, my thoughts a little tinged with melancholy even though I am so madly and deeply in love right now. I’d say this weariness is justified though; the mindset is not a happy place. And then again, “Ghost” is not a happy song. There’s no conclusion of acceptance in moving onto another stage in life. The only conclusion I can come to is that ex-lovers permeate through your mind long after they’re gone. This young man, or whoever Alex Schaaf is imagining as the narrator (himself?), is deep in the throngs of desolation not because of the breakup, but because of the realization that so much of that person will never leave him. It’s a whole other type of grieving, and one that I’ve certainly never contemplated. The imprint of those who have touched you, and just how profound that imprint is.
p.s. I’m thinking now perhaps I should write a follow-up song. I can be the one to write in acceptance for this grief. Remember, to be madly in love is a blessed, beautiful thing, but make sure you are always just as kind to yourself, and look into your own eyes with just as much love. You deserve that, more than anyone.