“Human, Like the Rest of Us; Weak:” How Jukebox The Ghost’s “The Spiritual” Shows the Futility of Internalizing Human StrugglesBy Jonathan Skufca | 30/11/17 11:28am
The last two weeks of classes are heavy times, so instead of discussing a lighthearted song while I take a break from doing final projects, studying for final exams, practicing for my trombone jury, and preparing for the LSAT, I’m going to tackle a song with a heavy subject matter. Take a seat, grab a security blanket or stuffed animal, and prepare yourself for it. If you’re not ready or ever want to click away, here’s a cute video of some bison calves playing.
Ready for this? Here goes nothing. Indie-pop band Jukebox the Ghost should be familiar to long-time readers of Another Kind of Currency (and also anyone who knows me decently well), but if you’re not, they are a three-piece band consisting of Ben Thornewill on piano and synthesizer, Tommy Siegel on guitar, and Jesse Kristin on drums and percussion (Absent is a bass player but you’ve got the bottom half of the piano for that range). The song in question, “The Spiritual,” closes off their 2012 album Safe Travels, one that was noted for its darker subject matter than their first two albums. The track also is a slight departure from the band’s usual indie-pop/rock sound, predominantly featuring Thornewill’s voice with overdubbed harmonies and hand percussion throughout the first verses. Those verses, right away, set the tone for the rest of the song:
Some walk quiet, and some walk loud
Sometimes people yell, but they don’t know what they’re yellin’ about
I’ve said things I didn’t mean but I’d already said them out loud
Forgive me if you can find out how
You could rise or you could sink
Some get filled up with the secrets that they think they need
Oh, whatever would the others think
That you’re human, like the rest of us; weak
Thornewill is painting a picture of an individual going through some type of struggle. He remains very vague at the start, but the general feeling is there. Where I think he finally begins to nail down the meaning of the song is in the second verse. In saying that people get “filled up with the secrets they think they need,” he then is able to completely dismiss that idea in the next line. There he takes on the idea that we fill ourselves up with the secrets of what is truly happening in our lives to make it appear on the surface that things are going fantastic and that we are not struggling through. But the last line of the verse shows that we, as humans, all have some type of weakness and showing that weakness is not something that should be internalized.
As Thornewill beings to sing the chorus, the piano enters with huge, gospel-sounding chords, which matches the lyrical content of the chorus quite well:
Oh Lord, above me to my knees bring me
It’s a call I don’t often make, this is the rarest of pleas
Fair enough, again you got the best of me
Now let me go, let me go in peace
This shows the narrator at their absolute lowest, having been internalizing this struggle and their problems, likely from their beginnings, and finally broken. They are so desperate that they are calling for help from a God that it’s heavily implied they don’t really believe in. He then is frustrated that the help is not instant (“Fair enough, again you got the best of me”) and, quoting the way that the Catholic Mass ends, is asking to be let “go in peace,” a potential plea for their life to end, without any resistance from God.
This attitude continues throughout the rest of the song, but it generally keeps repeating the same general gist climaxing with the last verse, which all but confirms the singer’s suicidal ideation:
I walk the night
As the rain turned to sleet, then to ice
The roads became cruel and left me to my vices
So I drank, stood, and stared, and then walked out into the street
Singing “Come on cars, slide and take me!”
All this being said, if you’re struggling, talk to someone. This is a tough time on everyone. Even if you don’t want to talk about what’s bothering you, call up a friend and talk to them about something random, and unrelated to your stress: upcoming albums or shows you’re excited about—a good book you’ve read or movie you just watched. Don’t bottle things up.