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Author Topic: PC313: This is a Ghost Story  (Read 2666 times)
Talia
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« on: June 01, 2014, 11:37:34 AM »

PodCastle Episode 313: This is a Ghost Story

by Keffy R.M. Kehrli

Read by Rajan Khanna

Originally published in Apex. Read it here!

Turn up the sound too late for the question.

He runs cigarette–stained fingers over the stubble on his chin and leans on the arm of the leather couch. He crosses his legs, skinny jeans worn and ragged. He’s still wearing old Chucks with the tread half–gone, even though he could buy a thousand new pairs. He doesn’t wear the Mister Rogers sweaters anymore. Sometimes he still wears dresses for the fuck of it, but today he’s wearing a white t–shirt that looks like his kid doodled on it with four colors of Sharpie. A bloodied stick man holds a shotgun.

He licks his lips, and he doesn’t look at the camera, or at the floor, or at the interviewer’s face. He’s focused on the space between, like it’s a gulf or a fence or a wall. He says, “Yeah, it was pretty rough for a while, you know. I kept saying things were getting better, but really they weren’t. Eventually it was clean up or die, so…

“I started thinking about doing music for other shit, not because I needed the money, but to fuck with people. Then I thought maybe I’d do a Disney soundtrack, but it’d probably end up like in Fight Club where the guy’s splicing porn into kid movies.”

Then the interviewer asks about _his_ kid, and he grins. “She’s great,” he says. “I know that’s not very ‘punk rock’ of me, but whatever.”

What are you looking at? This interview never fucking happened.


Rated R: Contains profanity, suicide, drug and sexual references, and rock n’ roll.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: June 20, 2014, 07:01:59 AM by Talia » Logged
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2014, 10:00:09 AM »

When Kurt Cobain committed suicide, I was 13 and didn't really listen to Nirvana or was even really aware of them.  I don't think I recognized his name until I was in college, and even then I was only vaguely aware of him as "that guy in Nirvana who committed suicide".  So by the time I was really aware of him, his suicide was already part of the definition of his existence in my mind.

Maybe that's why this story didn't really hit me like it was probably supposed to have. 

Another thing was that I found the chatty metanarrative style of the narration kind of irritating, talking about how these aren't the same man but they could be and etc. 

I have known people who committed suicide, and others who have attempted suicide, so I felt I really ought to be able to relate to this story more, but for me the connection wasn't really there.  Not sure why--just those guesses are all I got.
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Fenrix
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« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2014, 10:34:55 AM »

To provide a bit more perspective: for people starting college, Kurt Cobain has always been dead. He is to the new adult generation what Jim Morrison was to the one before.
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« Reply #3 on: June 02, 2014, 01:09:19 PM »

To provide a bit more perspective: for people starting college, Kurt Cobain has always been dead. He is to the new adult generation what Jim Morrison was to the one before.

And that's pretty much the case for me, even though I was 13, since I really hadn't known him.

I can't think of a celebrity death that impacted me the way that Cobain's did for people who listened to him.  Celebrity deaths that made me sad, sure, like Chris Farley, or Johnny Cash (especially because I never saw him in concert), but not ones that affected me in that kind of way.
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« Reply #4 on: June 04, 2014, 07:23:43 AM »

I never liked Nirvana. I tried to, but couldn't. I still change the station or skip the track when I hear one of their songs. I wasn't affected by Kurt Cobain's death except to say "well, that sucks" (I was a teenager).

I also don't like Soundgarden or Chris Cornell. And yet my teenage years are steeped in alternative rock -- Candlebox, Pearl Jam, Better than Ezra, etc.

I liked the mood created by this story, but I didn't really connect with it. There weren't any characters I could hitch my wagon to and say "this is the guy/girl who I care about".

To provide a bit more perspective: for people starting college, Kurt Cobain has always been dead. He is to the new adult generation what Jim Morrison was to the one before.

To be fair to those of us from the generation when Jim Morrison was always dead... back then people seemed to be a lot more observant of the roots of the music they liked. I highly doubt most people today who listen to... hell, I can't think of any popular hard-rock bands at the moment... are aware of the effect that Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Holly had on the music they listen to, let alone early-20th-century bluesmen like Blind Lemon Jefferson. (Full disclosure: I took one year of music class in high school, and I play three instruments, but I am not a musician nor am I a student of music history.) I was aware of those things, but kids coming out of high school today only know of Hendrix as "that guy from the Pepsi commercial who played a guitar".
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« Reply #5 on: June 04, 2014, 08:38:10 AM »

I am not sure if I dislike the story or the idea of suicide on the part of celebrities. If the host did not equate this story with Cobain I would not have made the connection. But since he did, here goes.

I was not a fan of Nirvana, nor did I really care about Cobain aside from resenting why so many would give him the benefit of grieving for him with the exception of family and friends.

It is the height of self-indulgent narcissism for a wealthy celebrity with millions of adoring fans to decide they can’t handle it and destroy their lives. What right did Cobain have to take his own life, breaking the hearts of millions? I wonder how many of those followed his example.

This is not to denigrate honest grief of over a tragic event such as suicide of someone you love or perhaps adore in some way. But suicide is a shamefully selfish act and in some way atonement must be made through the tears of the victims left behind. 
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« Reply #6 on: June 04, 2014, 01:11:36 PM »

Well written, but the tone got me.  It was a bit too misanthropic.  It's good art, I can appreciate it, but it is just not my thing.   

PS, I liked Nirvana.  But mad props to David for pulling through it with the Foo Fighters.
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Varda
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« Reply #7 on: June 04, 2014, 05:30:31 PM »

Wow. This story was incredible and difficult. It blew me away. While I can understand why suicide is sometimes framed as selfish (taking the perspective of those left behind when a loved one dies), I don't think that gets at the heart of this story (or the nature of suicide for that matter). For me, it was a story about depression, the social structures that make dealing with depression extra difficult, and the way this is compounded by things like fame, which can turn you into a product to be consumed while simultaneously isolating you from the social support that could help ease the pain. Depression (and accompanying suicidal thoughts) is about brain chemistry in interaction with social supports, but we often make it out to be some kind of vice. As if being in that dark place is a choice that anyone makes, and that anyone can just change their brain chemistry by wishing it so.

In fact, "This is a Ghost Story" explicitly addresses this problem. I especially loved the part about how people will try to point out how much better you have it than people in the third world, as if human suffering exists as some sort of yard stick to measure ourselves against. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes what we need is permission to be sad, permission to be screwed up without answers and without a neat, pat narrative arc like a washed-up rockstar. Note how the story circles again and again to the way people demand this arc from you. You can admit to depression, addiction, and suicidal thoughts, but only if it's in the past tense and you're doing better now. Otherwise no-one knows what to do with you at all, and everyone is just uncomfortable about it, which then makes it even worse.

It all boils down to the fact that we treat mental illness differently from how we treat other kinds of illness. Instead of recognizing that a person is in excruciating suffering, we stigmatize it, say they're selfish or narcissistic, and fail to see how suicide might just seem like the only good option left when you're in such a dark place. We would understand it if a person were in awful physical pain if they just wanted it to end. But when the pain is in your brain chemistry itself, we make it out to be a moral failing to suffer so.

I think this comic offers an outstanding explanation of depression for anyone who hasn't been there before, and I'd recommend it as a place to start if this story was difficult for anyone to get into.

Anyway, great story. Thanks for running it, and thanks to Dave for refusing to trivialize the very dark and frankly depressing stuff going on in the world right now. Much love to all of my fellow forumites, and may all of you have what you need to get through the dark place, if you ever find yourself there.
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« Reply #8 on: June 04, 2014, 07:15:22 PM »

It is the height of self-indulgent narcissism for a wealthy celebrity with millions of adoring fans to decide they can’t handle it and destroy their lives. What right did Cobain have to take his own life, breaking the hearts of millions? I wonder how many of those followed his example.

My emotional reaction to your comment is powerful anger. Rather than flaming you, I just want to say that you might not understand depression very well.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #9 on: June 08, 2014, 08:59:44 PM »

While I can't remember *exactly* where I was when it happened, as I live in the town *where* it happened, I remember it well. The town - or at least a significant percentage of it - went into serious mourning.

Now, I too am from the generation for whom Jim Morrison has always been dead (that's not quite true either, but I was very young), and I was also too old and differently inclined musically for Cobain to have much effect on me, but it was clear to me that effected others.

I was not a fan of Nirvana, nor did I really care about Cobain aside from resenting why so many would give him the benefit of grieving for him with the exception of family and friends.   

One of the things this story does best, I feel, is to get behind the idea that this is a "celebrity suicide" and exam the possible underlying problems. I don't the anger expressed herein is simply at suicide but why he didn't look after himself better, mental-health wise. And there's clearly a lot of anger. 
« Last Edit: June 11, 2014, 01:13:43 PM by InfiniteMonkey » Logged
Devoted135
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« Reply #10 on: June 11, 2014, 12:13:06 PM »

I have to confess that I didn't "get" this story. It's not that I don't have any personal experience with depression, because I do. Also, I was only 10 when Kurt Cobain died, but I might as well have been 2 because I never even heard of him until high school or possibly even college. I don't know, I can't quite put my finger on it. Anyway, I was very thankful for Dave's content/language warning at the front!
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FireTurtle
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« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2014, 12:57:13 PM »

Thanks Dave for the warning.  Grin

I hate to say it, but this one completely passed me by. Completely. I was outside doing some minor yard work at the time so was a teensy bit distracted (but really not much more than usual) and I got to the end feeling as if nothing had happened but a stream of consciousness about an artist guy. Then I come to the comments and feel kind of silly for having missed something bigger.

For the record, I was in my early high school years when Smells Like Teen Spirit was released. I wasn't a hard core fan (I'm really just not the type to be a hard core fan of anything, to much the skeptic I suppose), but was very aware of them. But, to be honest, Cobain's suicide just didn't mean that much to me. So many young artists have lost themselves (intentionally and semi-intentionally) over the years I suppose I just found it sadly inevitable and not a moment of crisis. And like Devoted135, I have plenty of experience with depression and suicide, this just didn't get to that spot.
Maybe it would have at a different point in my life. (disclaimer: I am very close to finally meeting the child I've been gestating since fall and I think pregnancy ADD just doesn't allow you to dwell on.. Oh look, something shiny!)
 
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« Reply #12 on: June 23, 2014, 07:45:29 AM »

Thanks for running this. It was amazing. I went and read the piece in print as well, which was really interesting as the layout of the words is a part of the piece that's difficult to express in audio. The audio version was fantastic, though.

I wasn't a Nirvana fan or aware of Cobain's suicide in any meaningful way when it happened. I've become more of a fan of the music since, but I think this piece works both as a tribute to Cobain, as well as if it is taken apart from any specific person or reference.

Hard story to listen to, definitely. Very glad I did. Thank you again.
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« Reply #13 on: July 12, 2014, 05:14:58 PM »

Loved this when it ran on Apex, loved it here. Thank you guys for playing it.
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Dwango
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« Reply #14 on: August 13, 2014, 03:12:06 PM »

I just finished listening to it and had to listen to it again.  This is so sad to listen to, as Robin Williams just passed away.  This is about a rock star, but it has a similar feel.  I'm just sad about Robin William's death, because he was an icon I grew up with and his comedy I really enjoyed.  When you get depressed, it really becomes a constant weight, its always dragging and you just sometimes don't want to go on.  I know from the past, you just have to hook on to the light at the end of the tunnel and endure, but I guess it gets too much.  So weird to listen to this now, as I thought it was going to be a fantasy lark with ghosts.
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