Retro spin: “Walking With a Ghost” by Tegan and Sara


Of all the songs to deserve the title “alternative,” Tegan and Sara’s “Walking With a Ghost” is certainly one. Depending on an audience’s location, and perhaps the time period during which they grew up, Regan and Sara might have been nowhere near their radio waves. With the advent of alternative radio stations that managed to reach broader audience’s than college rock stations, more people were introduced to music that was instantly recognizable as “alternative.”

“Walking With a Ghost” is a classic and arguably, it does not get the discussion it deserves on the basis of its unique lyrics and haunting, yet seemingly  simple arrangement.

Tegan and Sara: “Walking With a Ghost”

The pair are twin sisters with a knack for off-kilter alternative tunes. Their word choice and arrangements are stunning in their simplicity.

The song “Walking With a Ghost” is from the duo’s  album “So Jealous.” The lyrics could be about more than subject depending on how they are parsed. In some ways the lyrics seem to be about a love affair that has ended and the narrator is walking around with the memories of that person. A person that the narrator would rather forget. On the other hand, the song could be about an actual ghost. And the narrator could be trying to escape it for obvious reasons.

There is a feeling of contemporary poetry to the group’s lyrics. Maybe because the lyrics lend themselves easily to rhetorical analysis and the instrumentation is sparse and haunting, and perhaps even a bit aggrieved.

The soundscape sounds as if it were comprised of a guitar (acoustic), keyboards, and drums. The song begins with a rough and lonely sounding acoustic guitar jangle. A halting series of triplets starts the song by themselves.  Then the drums kick in,  keeping a simple pattern like that of the guitar, but the notes do not line up exactly and it gives the song a pleasantly off-kilter sound.

There is no traditional arrangement of verse and chorus. Only the title and a few other lines comprise the song as in “I was walking with a ghost/ I said please, please don’t exist/ no matter which way you go/ no matter which way you stay/ you’re out of my mind.” Backing vocals provided by one female voice hauntingly echoes “Say please,” and that adds to the song’s tension. The song apparently made as an impact on The White Stripes,” as they covered “Walking With a Ghost” and named an EP after the song.

The album “So Jealous” was released in 2004, and went gold in Canada. But Tegan and Sara are still active. Nominated for a Juno Award in their native Canada, the duo received a Grammy nomination for their DVD and live album, “Get Along.” Tegan and Sara’s most interesting latest album is “The Con X: Covers” which was released October 2017.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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