12 Days of Apologies – 8. Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts
Dan Boeckner and I spoke last week about the creation of Apologies to the Queen Mary. The last 7 parts of this conversation have been about the recording process and the year it took for the record to come together.
These next two parts are more personal. Dan spoke frankly with me about his personal life and wanted to share with the fans what he was dealing with personally and how those events inspired his lyrics on Apologies. I want to thank Dan for sharing this with us.
A lot of the songs on that first record are about Cowichan Lake. I’m a 15-minute drive from there right now. I’m gonna have dinner tonight at the house where a lot of those, at least the psychological component of those songs were born and incubated. I was trying to have my own voice and I think I figured it out on that record, just naturally. Cause the stuff I had done up to till then was really informed by a lot of other musicians, people I worked with in Victoria, a lot of the Atlas Strategic stuff has like wacky science fiction components in it, with failed attempts at humor. Before I moved to Montreal, my Mom died in a pretty horrible way. She had been ill for a really long time, since I was a child, with systemic Lupus. We always had these groups of doctors saying ‘all right get ready she’s gonna die, everybody prepare for the inevitable’. But it would just never happen. She’d always pull out of it at the last minute. Her lupus would go into remission and this was the backdrop to my childhood, up until I was in my mid 20’s.
What happened right before I moved to Montreal in 2002 was I had gone on tour with Atlas Strategic opening for Modest Mouse down the west coast. We finished that tour and we were about to start negotiations with Sub Pop and I got a call from my Dad as soon as I got back to Victoria saying ‘come home to Cowichan Lake your Mom’s not doing so great’. I went home and they were at the doctor and I was at the family house. They came back home and my Mom was like, ‘I have cancer’. She had basically gotten cancer from the drugs she was taking to keep her Lupus in check, which is a heavy immunosuppressant and it gave her liver cancer. She died 4 days later at home. They said maybe 2 more weeks, maybe another month, but it was literally 4 days. That was a huge blow psychologically for me. I stuck around for the wake, and then I went to Montreal and I started Wolf Parade with Spencer shortly after that.
Spencer explains what the song is about and talks about the recording of the track in this 2005 interview with Cokemachineglow.com.
In one particular Buddhist religion – and don’t ask me why I referred to something Buddhist – but there are these neat characters in Buddhism that are these tortured characters. They symbolize one of the levels of Hell. I forget the name for it – but there are a bunch of different levels of Hell, and one of them is this level where hypocrites and liars go; not the worst sins, sort of middle-ground punishment. And when they get there, they turn into hungry ghosts, that’s the best translation for it. And hungry ghosts are always thirsty, and always hungry. They’re sort of like that character Tantalus in Greek mythology: he can’t eat or drink, but he’s always hungry or thirsty. And these ghosts, they have really tiny throats, so if they try to eat, it chokes them and they die, because they only have these little straws for throats. I THINK that when they drink water it turns into fire. Yeah, so Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts is addressing my own generation, I guess. Insatiable thirsts, and hunger for whatever.
CMG: What do the “la la la la la la la la’s” mean in “Sons and Daughters”?
SK: It means “blah blah blah”. It means “not saying anything”. It’s this idea that you just tralala along, that you just go along with things. It symbolizes “not caring”, just sort of let the intellectual struggle go and just “blah blah”, like how in this interview right now I want to dump my coffee over my head and start speaking all the Spanish words that I know.
SK: Like, what’s the difference going to be at the end of the day? Like, there’s just so much information right now. So much stuff coming out of everywhere: so many bands, and artists, and writers. Culture is saturated so heavily, with so much stuff. And some of it is really good, but some of it is really bad. So what’s one more drop in the bucket? I mean, I’m trying to make good stuff, in any band I play in or any story that I write. But some days it’s like smoke and mirrors, which is what I’m trying to say with that like “I can trick them into thinking anything.
There’s a couple of songs on the album that we rerecorded that really suffered from the re-recording. Some of them grew into more beautiful things. Some of them shriveled up and died. In my opinion, “God’s Hands” – er, that’s what we call it – in my opinion that one shriveled up and died. It’s just better on the EP, we should have just left it. We gave it a shot, but I dunno. The idea of trying to re-record it a third time though… but I think the performance on the album, it’s just a bit dry.
Here’s the early EP version Spencer talk about. From Wolf Parade’s self released EP 2. You can purchase it from ‘Cheap Thrills’:
I have a confession – I haven’t always loved Wolf Parade.
I can remember the first time I heard Apologies to the Queen Mary. My friend and I had just purchased CD’s (!!!) at Best Buy. As she placed Apologies into the player I can still hear her words – “I don’t know if you’ll like this.” And I didn’t.
Flash-foward to present-day and I couldn’t imagine my life without the impact of Wolf Parade. I discovered them again during one of their final tours as the band. A different friend asked me to accompany her to a show, and I agreed, half-listening to their past albums, suddenly realizing maybe I kind of liked this band.
Afterwards, I couldn’t stop listening. I returned to their catalog, again and again, dismayed that I found out about them just as they were set to “indefinitely hiatus.”
Although I love each and every song in their catalog – there’s something about “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts,” I haven’t been able to shake. I suspect it has to do with my Christian-upbringing. I discovered that tune about the time I was discovering myself. Live, it took on a whole other life. It felt religious in its experience and the ideas resonated all those years ago, and continue to resonate again.
Now we’ll say it’s in God’s hands
But God doesn’t always have the best goddamn plans, does he?
I can build my own future, my own destiny, my own crazy plans, regardless of any outside spiritual force. The whole reason I really loved Wolf Parade was because they gave me hope – from post-grad to adulthood they’ve been the soundtrack for so much of my wanderings, and I imagine they’ll soundtrack so many more.