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Going inside: Jon Brion’s “Her Ghost”

post brought to you by: dyson

Jon Brion’s influence on music is one that can’t be overlooked. A very early post of mine stated “Jon Brion is God. This is not up for argument.” Strong words I still stand by.

I’ve ranted on and on—in many posts—about my admiration for Mr. Brion. This post is a little different. I want to take a song from his only solo record “Meaningless” and break it apart—provide a little background into the admiration I’ve grown for the song writing and production genius of Jon Brion.

From a guy who has lived in Boston for almost a decade. this song has a close place to my heart. “Her Ghost” is a track from “Meaningless” written while he was a Boston resident. I can create an amazing mental picture of him in a Boston apartment pouring his heart out over his thoughts of this woman he sings of.

“Her Ghost” is no doubt a love song. What kind of a love song is entirely up for debate. (Just about everything I’ll say about these lyrics is of course subjective, but none the less strong thoughts on them.)
Jon Brion – Her Ghost

Lyrics

Here’s how I would lyrically sum up the song.

Jon is a guy who lives in an apartment building with a girl he knows. How well? I don’t know, but it’s enough that he has strong feelings for. She could be a neighbor of which he has grown close. She could be his reason for living. Never quite been able to make that part out. Either way, she has this guy in her life. But this guy is not up to the standards of Jon or his muse. But he’s there, and Jon makes it really clear he’s not going away.

Jon is hurt by the amount of power this guy has over her life. He really wants to step in to do something about what is clearly unhealthy and he desperately wants to change that.

“And every where I turn, I tend to learn that she’s got memories that never burn. And this is of concern and I prepare to go. ‘Cause this I know, that though he’s out sight, he’s in her mind and in my hair. I’m tiring of this fight. Besides, it’s getting me nowhere.”

I imagine Jon watching silently in the halls as this man fights with his neighbor. I can see him imagining all her pain. He feels like he’s invisible to this guy, hidden away in the dark shadows of the building’s halls and hates that feeling.

“Her ghost is propped up in the hall. He speaks no evil there. He doesn’t notice me at all, I find it a bit unfair.”

There’s no happy ending or closure to the story he tells. We’re left with the sad state of Jon knowing that as long as this guy is in her life, “He’ll be the death of me”. (which happens to lead into a perfect transition into “The Same Mistakes”)

Production

Jon Brion exhibits amazing songwriting ability on “Meaningless”, but nothing falls short of his production genius.

The song kicks off with a Chamberlain/Mellotron pad that is definitely a distinctive sound for a Brion production. Besides the drums, bass, vocals, and piano, the Chamberlain/Mellotron makes up most of its beauty. Jon really wanted to get a full orchestra to due this track justice, but luckily his brother pushed him to include it on the record.

The best way I can describe the groove is “chunky”. Every instrument chunks along while these pads are held out over it until they decide to add perfect accents on top of the chunking groove.

As the song goes on, perfect breaks in the instrumentation are brilliantly placed to drop out and emphasize lyrics or give you that space to breath and regroup on the impact of the importance of what he’s saying.

At about 2:45 in the song you get to an unusually climactic build. The bass holds strong yet everything starts to build up around it. The payoff isn’t grand; the payoff is a dropped out, small, filtered sound of Jon’s voice. It pans to the right speaker delivering the line “Memories that never burn”.

It’s full from top to bottom but his vocals cut through (probably why the lyrics grabbed me so much). The overall sound of the song is full, spacious, warm, and distinctly Jon Brion.

Have a listen to the original demo of the song and prepare to be blown away by how little changed between it and the final product that made it to the record. And dear lord, if you don’t have this album, get on it now!
Jon Brion – Her Ghost Demo

Purchase “Meaningless” on CD Baby

Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier/LA Times

3 Responses to “Going inside: Jon Brion’s “Her Ghost””

  1. […] dysonsound offers a lovely exploration of Jon Brion’s “Her Ghost.” […]

  2. D. Nicholson says:

    Bang on the money. I’m a Jon Brion fan(atic), with nearly 20 hours of bootlegs, plus his legit releases. Not to put too fine a point on it, but…you done nailed it, son.

  3. Damian says:

    I am glad to find that I am not the only person absolutely enamored by this song. However, my interpretation differs from yours a little bit. I thought the song was about a girl, who Jon loves, that hasn’t quite got over her ex-boyfriend, who she still cares about tremendously. At least, that was the way it was explained to me by someone else, but I still wholeheartedly agree with their interpretation.

    This song is hauntingly beautiful, and I always get a tingling sensation throughout my whole body when I try to visualize the lyrics to this song. The last line of the song is especially heart-wrenching and moving.

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