The Ghost reminds me of me. There it is dancing alone in my apartment, singing “I want you to hold me,” as the Violent Femmes do on their song “American Music.” The Ghost thinks its lovers speak to it through the songs on its radio.
It sets forth each night assured of this, listening as one such lover follows “Gold Soundz” and “A Pillar of Salt” with “Lariat” and “Web in Front.” “If it means I get to hear you singing to me,” reasons the Ghost, “if it means our last words weren’t wasted, then so be it.”
Inspired by the aforementioned, Ghost decides on a whim to live well again. It comes and goes as it pleases amid the timestream of its ghosting, resolved in each instance to rip it up and start again.
“Going back to old sounds won’t help,” thinks the Time Traveler. “Do so and the Narrator stands revealed as a bloody mother fucking asshole.”
The Narrator, not quite omniscient and thus taken aback by the thought, asks of his sub-creation, “You think so?” “What, then?” he wonders. “Do we edit the entries to make me likable? What would we write instead?”
Thus it happens, thinks the Traveler. “The Ghost would have to enter into the narrative,” he says. We know for certain that some such being spoke to us via auditory hallucination, don’t we? And we know as well that it was already there, doing its work upon us in the house, prior to our introduction to marijuana. The latter didn’t invent the Ghost — but it amplified it. It gave it back its voice. Let us open ourselves to the Ghost, then, and recognize it as a potential for apartness within us that is always-already part of us. Once we accept all that is loop-like, all that is like Ouroboros in our nature, we reveal ourselves as we are, infinite: a single, transtemporal, interdimensional being, enunciating itself across time.
“So this home,” begins the Narrator. “It’s the cute little craftsman — the one with the stained glass, correct?”
“Yes — inasmuch as the Ship of Theseus is the Ship of Theseus,” replies the Traveler. “Yet don’t be fooled by its current guise. A subsequent owner repainted the home’s exterior with colors that don’t suit it. To properly understand its appeal, one must picture it now as it appeared then: a charming brown-and-yellow bungalow, two houses in from the corner, cyclopean stained-glass Eye of Providence fitted into the frame of the front window, staring intently at all who pass, on land that used to belong to the city’s waterworks.”
Narrator meets the Traveler’s gaze for a moment, then jots a few words in his journal. “And the musician / record producer Mitch Easter,” murmurs the Narrator, as if reading from a dossier. “Frontman for 80s alt-rock / jangle-pop group Let’s Active: he lived there too, did he not?”
“Yes, Easter grew up there, too. Not in the same house, mind you,” hastens the Traveler. “The Easter home was two doors down. But yeah, that was Drive-In Studio. That’s where Mitch recorded R.E.M.’s first single, ‘Radio Free Europe’ — there in his parents’ garage.”
“And Mitch would go on to produce Brighten the Corners, is that right?” asks the Narrator.
“Yes, precisely—the Pavement album,” says the Traveler, lips pursed.
“On which appears…?” adds the Narrator, as if coaching the Traveler through an as-yet unmemorized script.
When I listen again to “Shady Lane,” ears like Adam’s on the morning of his creation, I hear Pavement songwriter Stephen Malkmus sounding not like himself, but like a persona worn by a faraway you. You, dear reader, eyes closed before a cascade of ivy. It’s you, there, singing of worlds colliding. You, of all people, whether with emery board or without, shouting “Freeze, don’t move” and “Glance, don’t stare,” looking at me and thinking me beautiful when I cry.
“Shady Lane — everybody needs one,” goes the chorus. And it’s true. For one can scarcely improve on such a place. And I had one: albeit, “once upon a time.” However timeworn the connotations of that beginning, however hackneyed it may sound, I shit you not.
“For a time I lived differently,” sings the Narrator,
“mind out of time
or in sidereal time
because measured by fixed stars
in a house on Shady Boulevard.”
Granted, it was a strange place, this house — one that left me with many questions. Who from the home’s past, for instance, mounted the cattle skull on the home’s exterior above the porch? Was that the handiwork of the Wizard or of one of his successors?
To arrive at an answer, let us report on ourselves in third-person.
The journey occurred, we report, during the period of the professor’s tenancy, in the home of the Gay Wizard. Recalling it now in retrospect, his spiel is, “It never occurred to me at the time that the place might have been haunted.”
“Yet this haunting,” he says, “if that’s what we’re to call it: I insist, here, that the spirits involved were benign.”
“A benevolent haunting! Fair enough,” nods the Narrator. “Tell us more.”
“For my next act” I think as I stare at trees, their upper branches bathed in the orange light of the setting sun. I feel like a magician having built boxes, four wooden raised beds, conjured them in the midst of a field of clover here in the yard behind our home. In these beds, we’ll plant our garden. Yet the utopian in me (or the Faust in me? the Gnostic in me? the “slow sick sucking part of me”? same difference?) is already restless, ready to set sail (as per Wilde), ready to walk away (as per Le Guin), wishing for something other than what is here, wanting in its stead some other bower of bliss (this not that): a vertical garden, say, in the midst of a food forest.
We need to organize. I mean organize on many levels: from the desktop upward. Do we want to “arrange” life? And if so, into what: something more? Or do we want a “range life,” as Stephen Malkmus of Pavement used to sing. What was that song about? There were times in my youth when it felt anthemic. I used to drive around a lot playing it on the car stereo. Yet where are we now? What would I hear if I listened to it today? After singing of his want of a range life in the song’s chorus, Malkmus follows the line with an echoey, oddly haunting if-than proposition: “If I could settle down, / If I could settle down, / Then I would settle down.” Is “range life” country-western? Is it a life of aim and ambition? And how does it relate to “settling down”? Biographically, the song was written in the midst of the band’s performance at Lollapalooza 1994. The music video—always-already a time capsule (the whole thing framed as if found in a lunchbox on a beach)—shows tour footage of the band wandering bemusedly among festivalgoers.
It’s like watching a home movie shot by visitors at a grunge-themed World’s Fair. Malkmus sneers somewhat haughtily from indie-land at the major-label acts sharing the bill, Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots, his voice drifting off into the clouds of a dream during the song’s finale. These topical references are enjoyable reminders of a particular historical moment. Yet today they interest me less than the song’s sentiment. Youthful arrogance, maybe, mixed with exhaustion and a sort of wistful melancholy about a life of crime. Was Malkmus feeling wearied by the festival, wishing he could settle into a home? I struggle with the song’s verses. They don’t quite cohere for me into a consistent narratorial voice, resembling instead a range of romantic-bohemian characters and personas: skateboarders, druggies, members of the Gen-X “doom generation,” some a bit pulpy, some a bit self-absorbed. Maybe I’m just singing this song to myself after too many meetings, wearied by work. Maybe the song just rehashes in advance plot-points overheard in the minds of tour-goers, kids raised on MTV.