Giving Up the Ghost (30 Days of Marc Cohn — Day 2)

Giving Up the Ghost
Join the Parada

Appropriately, this is a very haunting melody.  It’s a ghost story, of course.  As is usual for Marc Cohn, it’s also an extended metaphor for a relationship in trouble.

She gave me something I needed but now the feeling is gone
And it’s high time I told her she’s gonna have to move on

This is someone whose life has intertwined with his over the years.  They’ve gotten together, broken up, and fallen back together again.  She probably enters his life at the low points, when he’s looking for something familiar from his past, and even though he knows it’s going to end badly, he finds himself drawn over and over into her orbit.  This can wear hard on a person.  (There’s a nice and very subtle nod to superstitions that ghostly visitors can drain your vital energies away, using up your life trying to regain theirs.)

From the eerie lake to the hills that shake
I’ve been haunted on every coast

This can be seen as brillant, once you recognize that Marc Cohn grew up in Cleveland (on Lake Erie) and spent formative time in California (the hills that shake).

Last night she came in at the usual time
Twelve is the number that the church bells did chime

This couplet, on the other hand, is a real clunker.  It just falls flat.  It’s probably the reason this song  is so low on my top-30 list.

Now I’m feeling much better
But I’m still on the brink
I just got a letter in vanishing ink

It’s a really strong finish, lyrically, even though the song “fades to black” without a climax.  This is just impressive.  Clearly, even though he’s let her go, she isn’t letting go of him:  The resolution implied in the refrain is far from final.  And of course, associating letters from ghosts of your past with vanishing ink is tremendous.  It’s even better if you assume the letter was full of “I love you forever” and other endearments meant to win him back… because the vanishing ink makes clear that such sentiments are, despite the protestations, doomed to fade.