Issue #73 / November 2019
Many people have remarked that Ghosteen is a sad album, but I don’t think it is at all. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more uplifting, jubilant record before. When I listened to it the first time alone, I was brought to tears. And when I listened to it again with my friend, both of us sitting in the car in complete silence, we both felt moved by its brightness and gentle optimism. Why do you think people are reacting so differently to it? I almost feel like I’ve misinterpreted it.
JONAH, SALT LAKE CITY, USA
Ghosteen seems haunted. Is it?
AMBER, CORK, IRELAND
Where did the drums go?
KJELL, HOLMESTRAND, NORWAY
Dear Jonah, Amber and Kjell,
I am very happy to hear you describe Ghosteen as uplifting and jubilant, Jonah. This was certainly the Bad Seeds’ objective when we made the record. We wanted each song to feel as if it were climbing toward an exultant and euphoric state, for the record to be a vessel that transported the listener far away from the world and its troubles, and that it lived in the jubilant and hopeful beyond.
If there is sadness in Ghosteen, perhaps it is the recognition that we are often blind to the splendour of the world and indifferent to its attendant wonder. Perhaps the sadness is the recognition that the world is indeed beautiful, that it spins within the palm of our own hands and its beauty is available to all, if only we had eyes to see.
And maybe, Amber, you are right and Ghosteen is haunted. Perhaps the songs became a kind of free-floating conversation with the spirit world, buoyed up by the absence of the ones we love. Perhaps the ghostly forms of the departed are all around us, magnetised toward the act of creation. Perhaps they see that to be alive and upon the earth, at this time and against all the odds, is the most rare and coveted of things, and to be making art such a singular and fortuitous privilege, that they just wanted to come along for the ride. In the song Ghosteen, baby bear goes to the moon in a boat; Ghosteen is that boat, as it sails through the dark to the stars, a galleon ship collecting fireflies and spirit-children as it goes. At times Ghosteen may feel unmoored and homeless, but it is pointed firmly toward paradise, the crew is joyous, the world smiles, and the sun bursts over the edge of the earth.
Kjell, to answer your question, Thomas Wydler, our drummer, did some amazing work on this record, however, after a great deal of thought, we all felt that the drums anchored the songs to the ground and didn’t allow them to float. The decision was not made lightly or on a whim, rather it was a tough artistic decision determined by the needs of the songs themselves. Although there is little drumming on the first part of Ghosteen, Tommy’s absence is courageous and monumental and gives the record its amorphous sound. He is the very best there is.
The decision as to what sort of record we make is largely out of our hands. We have no ‘intentions’ beyond meaning itself. The record must mean something, right? What more can we ask? The form that that expression of meaning comes in is, to some degree, beside the point. We are slaves to manifest meaning and masters to nothing at all.