Randy Ray: Let’s talk about the story of the ghost that made up the back-story for the song.
Tom Marshall: Did I tell you that I’m an anti-religious person? The ghost was kind of this friend that sort of freaked me out. I found that through all of these stories through the power of prayer and all of that stuff that you can make yourself believe. I saw Live and Let Die with my mom and a friend and I was scared. How does voodoo work? My mom said, “Voodoo doesn’t work. There’s no such thing as magic unless you believe in it.” (laughs) That kind of scared the shit out of me. I thought, “Oh, wait a minuteso, it is real if you believe in it.” That means that if you believe in it because you acknowledge that it’s real, then you’re fucked because someone somewhere can stick needles in a doll that looks like you and you’ll feel the pain. I think, basically, the story of the ghost for me came about when I was very young because I wasn’t raised in a religious household, at all. The questions about what’s out there weren’t really dinner conversations for us where they might be for other people. I was always kind of raised with science and proof rather than mysticism. I was a little bit distanced from certainly organized religion. Praying didn’t enter into the picture. There was this time when as a young kid I had this idea whereI think my dad read to me a lot. He read Last of the Mohicans to me, Tom Sawyer and _Huckleberry Finn_many things centered around a spirit. I was very intrigued by the American Indian version of the Great Spirit. I had the word spirit in my head. When I was younger, I would try to pray to this spirit just on my own, to make my own religion. I didn’t really do it regularly but it became this thing that I wanted to have around me. I wanted it when I was a kid, pretty young. As I grew older and grew up and started writing lyrics, it didn’t really enter my life anymore. I was always pragmatic. Fast forward to 8th grade, Princeton Day School when I met Trey. I also met this other friend of mine who became my best friend, by far. [Author’s Note: Marshall chose to keep his old friend anonymous.] Never had a friend as close as this guy. He and I were completely inseparable. We had a whole lot of first experiences togethergirls, dating, parties and discovering this weird private school environment together as we were both products of public schools in different parts of New Jersey. We stuck together through everything and we were together through every second of every weekend. We developed a language at one pointthis sort of strange language but that’s a whole other story. We even smoked pot together for the first time. The first few times nothing really happened. One time when it really did happen, there were a few other people around, everything was great and it was really fun. The thing for me that was great about it was that we really got into music, looking at the LEDs on the stereo as the music was on and really getting into T.V. and cool movies and the stars walking around at night and hearing cool things. My best friend was always about closing his eyes, talking in a completely dark room and exploring inward. It was magic and a whole other world. Being with him, he was sort of a guide without wanting to be one. He just was one. I gave him that credit once the next day at school. He smiled and it was a little bizarre. The next time when we smokedwe really didn’t do it that often; I make it sound as if it happened all the time but I think the total together was around fifteen times from 8th grade to senior year with him. Of course, with other pals, it was a little more. (laughs)and this time, we were together and, again, there were other people around at someone’s house and there were musical instruments and music going on. He came up to me and said, “Tomyou know I’m your spirit.” I said, “What? What do you mean?” He said, “I’m your spirit.” It really kind of freaked me out because that is the exact word that I had used, the name that I had used for the thing that I had talked to when I was a kid. I said, “What do you meanmy spirit?” He smiled almost like it was a joke and pretended that he didn’t say it. He said, “What do you mean?” And then walked away. One time I insisted. He said, “You know what I am. I’m the spirit that you asked for. I’m here. Here I am.” I said, “Oh, really? So, what can you do for me?” He said, “It doesn’t work that way.” He would know enoughjust that was enough. There were other instances, crazy stuff that I still can’t really even be sure (laughs), you know, if there’s any way unlessthere’s no real explanation, I’ll put it that way, for it. After graduating from Princeton Day School, he and I completely lost touch. I was getting a career, making money, getting an apartment and a car and he couldn’t be further from that. He drove this really old Ford Fairlane or something. It was that car that everyone drew designs on. He had that car (laughs) whereas I had a VW Rabbit that I washed everyday. He went off and did the Peace Corps-kind of thing and went to Morocco. In fifteen years we communicated by post card maybe five times. His parents were not super duper helpful. They got divorced and then, they moved. I wasn’t really able to track him down very well. Time passed, I got married and had two kids. Suddenly, I was out with my daughter who was about three at the time in this park by my house. My wife was pregnant with our second child. I was out in the park in the snow and all of sudden this guy walks up with a sled pulling his kid and it was [my old best friend]. It was the first time I had seen him in fifteen years. It was amazing. He had called my wife and was able to track me down pretty easily. My wife said, “Well, he’s outside right now, pulling our daughter in a sled. Why don’t you come by?” He did and he had the same kind of sled in his trunk. We walked around for hours with his little girl and my little girl. We were next to each other and it was awesome. We talked and talked and talked and I don’t think it was right then but a subsequent time we since sort of drifted again. He’s in Maine, I think, as an environmentalist. He married a very environmentally-active woman and I think they have three kids. We still have lots of parallels in our lives that we discovered. After finally catching up, I had to ask him. I said, “What do you remember about the spirit’? Can you tell me, finally? It has been this thing that has not really plagued me which implies something unpleasant but it has sort of been haunting me my whole life since it happened. Were you really my spirit? What happened and where have you been since then? Are you still my spirit?” He kind of looked at me with one of those looks like “I’ve got to resolve this now and forever.” I think that question echoed the same sentiment that I had put in these letters over the last fifteen years. Finally, he said, “Tom, I don’t really remember a whole lot of that. All I really know is that we had a really intense friendship and they were the best times of my life. We were really close and that’s what I remember about that.” I never got a satisfactory answer. Even at the time, he implied that I wasn’t allowed to knowit was knowledge that I wasn’t allowed to have when I asked too deeply. There’s this concept of the spirit. Aside from you, right now, Randy, and my sister, Stina, Trey is the only other person that I’ve told the whole story to and the way that I told Trey first was by writing him the story of the ghost. I wrote that out in lyrics, knowing that we were
going songwriting in Vermont. I wanted him to question me about the lyrics so I said, I think I’ve never told you the story of the ghost that I once knew and talked to, of whom I’d never boast.
RR: What was Trey’s reaction?
TM: He loved it from the word go, loved it. It’s really funny because I later read that he had told someone about it, violating some sort of sanctity that I wouldn’t have wanted him to and he used the wrong guy’s name. (laughs) It was so funny. I didn’t really mind but at the same time, he was touched by it but Trey never pasted the actual ghost onto the right person, which I think is good because he’s kind of protected him. (laughs)
RR: Ten years later, have your feelings changed towards ghosts and spirits?
TM: I would be more reluctant to casually dismiss something like that now. That song is right, in a waythe end of “Ghost,” maybe he’s still with me, I simply haven’t looked, maybe I’ll look when I really need him. Actually, frankly, I don’t really want to talk too much about my current state. I’m not saying that I haven’t gone back to the well, lately. I think perhaps that, hypothetically, perhaps that could be what could get people’s wheels spinning the right way again. It is an important part of my life. It has always been a tiny bit of a disappointment to me in that it wasn’t that important to him and yet, I still think in many ways that he was not the spirit. I think that he was the medium. He wasn’t the message; he was the conveyor, in a sense, or something along those lines. I don’t know. It needed someone that close to me to receive it correctly. If you’re reading, right now“Dude, message received.” (laughs)
RR: Perhaps, as a writer, you wouldn’t have benefited if he had acknowledged the importance of it like you didthat moment in time when he was the spirit.
TM: I think you’re right. And I think it would have given more importance to our relationship. He always had a big need to get out of town, of New Jersey, away from everything. We talked about going away together. If our relationship was the big thing rather than this incident, you’re right, it would have changed the whole dynamic. I agree.