Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 102
Sun. May 12, 2013

“Your Ghost (featuring Michael Stipe)”
Kristin Hersh


“♫ I
think last
night (you
were in my
dreams) You
were driving
circles around

Having been a member of Throwing Muses, one of the most respected 4AD alternative rock acts of the 1980’s, singer and songwriter Kristin Hersh was looking for a different approach on her 1994 solo album Hips And Makers. Looking for fresh and more natural perspective, Hersh actually recorded Hips in a rebuilt stable in Rhode Island. Hersh talked to Jon Kvebaek of Puls Magazine about trying to find the right sound for Hips and Makers. “I got rid of the unconscious search for the beat; the acoustic music gave me an incredibly beautiful and floating feeling. There is no sense of time, and there’s this incredible _space_ in the music. Since the music is acoustic, it feels inexact, the voice is ‘inexact’, and the cello is ‘inexact’. Everything melts together in a kind of fragile state of balance.”

Listening to my favorite song “Your Ghost,” from Hips & Makers, you would never guess Kirsten Hersh was not used to singing against more wind/stringed instruments; Other that guitar and bass, Hersh had difficulty singing against such a lush cello backing track when she explained, “I’m not used to how the cello sound. You’re used to hearing all these fake cellos with that beautiful, deep sound. I guess I thought that cellos were like an antique Italian cello that played high, screeching and rusty low tones that almost scared me to death the first time I heard it. It was just like my voice! All the cello sequences I had written were fighting against my voice all the time. Michael (Stipe) called me to check how things were the day the cello arrived. I just had to tell him the truth — that I did not know what to do with it. It scared me to death. When he called we had just tried a low D. The tone just hung vibrating way down there. “DDDDDD!” she says and demonstrates.” “It’s a scaring sound. I sat there, pulling my hair. Michael just said: “Oh, it’s scaring you, the low D? That’s my favorite note”. And I shouted: “Yes, it scares me!” He suggested that I should move the microphone a bit back, and that really helped.”

I never realized tribulations Hersh experienced while recording one of my most favorite and personal songs. Thankfully R.E.M.’s lead singer was there to help see “Your Ghost” to its immortal completion. According to Jon Kvebaek’s interview in Puls Magazine, Kristin never had any plans of having Michael Stipe sing on her album as she explained, “paying attention to what Michael said at all. I just heard his voice in one of my ears, and “Your Ghost” being played in the studio in the other. Suddenly I knew what could save the song. “Michael, would you sing on this song? I think it would save it.” He wanted to, and he really saved it. He has an unbelievably beautiful, deep voice at the same time as it whines in high tones. It flies around. I had already tried to save the depth in the song with a low thundering drum, a big marching drum that sometimes roars out below it all. It sounded very experimental – until Michael sang. His voice balanced all these fragments from the drum and the cello at the same time as it introduced a certain _character_ into the song. I’ve been singing with a lot of different people, and their voices turns into instruments. With Michael, it’s like having a person walking into the studio. I do not know how he does it, but it sounds great.”

There’s more than the fascinating making of this now vintage Kristin Hersh gem. It could’ve just ended there, another amazing anecdote of how R.E.M’s lead singer came to help Hersh in the studio but the there’s a reason we’re still talking about Kristin’s mystical song. “Your Ghost” beauty still haunts us almost twenty years after its sonic inception. Kristin’s “ghost” is gray enough for us to paint in the shadows of our personal whispers… spirits and flashbacks vivid enough to make our lyrical memories almost come true.

It’s at the climax where you feel the true greatness of “Your Ghost;” the most poignant part has to be when Stipe and Hersh trade lines at the end of Kristin’s song. Listen closely as Michael and Kristin both sung different lyrics at the same time. While Hersh sings “I think last night,” Stipe croons, “You were in my dreams.” It’s very subtle but those slight differences mirror how two people may look back with contradictory reflections at the events of a lost love affair.

Enough talk, it’s time to go back and relive the loss and the love you thought forgotten suddenly sings back to life; remember the moment when she would call and you would answer her by racing through those blurry San Antonio highways just to awaken her at midnight? It’s time to resurrect “Your Ghost” and let this Hips & Makers song reflect all its haunted beauty that’s already a part of you.