Category Archives: Death

Norma Tanega: Deadpan Folk

Norma Tanega
I love discovering forgotten gems from yesteryear, I suppose it harks back to the days when I used to go treasure hunting in the muddy creek below our house. I came across Norma Tanega, when her single ‘You’re Dead’ was used in the credits of Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi’s (Boy, Eagle Vs Shark)  fangtastic mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, about Vampire flatmates living in Wellington, NZ.

Norma Tanega was a camp singer in the Catskills, when she signed up to New Voice Records in 1966. She became a ‘one hit wonder’ when her strange, novelty single, ‘Walkin’ my Cat Named Dog‘ reached #22 on the US Billboard Charts.

The hit became popular in England and so Norma was asked to perform it on Top of the Pops, it was here in a rehearsal that she first saw Dusty Springfield. I’m standing there with my guitar, like a dork, while this woman, I had no idea who she was, stood on some scaffolding and went over and over this song until it was, of course, perfect.” The song was You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, Dusty’s #1 hit at the time. The lights went up in the studio and Norma, confused, asked Dusty what was going on and so Dusty explained the English tradition of a union tea break for electricians and cameramen, this sparked up a conversation between the two. Norma was in a relationship with Dusty Springfield during the 60s and as a prolific storyteller, provided lyrics to her songs, ‘No Stranger Am I,’ Earthbound Gypsy, Midnight Sounds.’  Just goes to show that behind every great woman is another great woman.

I am just obsessing over the dusty wryness and husky sincerity of Norma Tanega’s voice. There is a very deadpan delivery to her macabre and hilariously uncanny songs, which flatters the kiwi in me. Here is her song ‘You’re Dead’

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“Lord! there’s somebody walking over my Grave”

Criswell

I was reading The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham and I came across the line, ‘Someone is walking over my grave,’ a response by a character feeling a sudden shudder. I had used, what I presumed to be a common idiom often; but I had never actually thought about what it meant.  For some reason the saying irked me, scratched at my skull. This I declared called for an investigation.

Thanks to the wonders of the Interverse I discovered that the saying was first coined under Jonathan Swifts pseudonym Simon Wagstaff, in A Complete Collection of Ingenious Conversation, 1978,

“Miss [shuddering]. Lord! there’s somebody walking over my Grave.”

It also stems from a folk belief/wive’s tale, recorded in Basil Godfrey’s Caprice by Lee Holme, 1868,

“Joan shuddered – that irrepressible convulsive shudder which old wives say is caused by a footstep walking over the place of our grave that shall be.”
Link to full text here

The saying derives from a time when the distinction between life and death was ambiguously murky; also grave sites were for the most part pre-determined so the idea of someone walking across your future resting place made sense.

In American versions, the human footstep is substituted with a Goose, hence the term ‘goosebumps.’

I am often possessed by sudden shudders, I get them multiple times per day. Either someone is being a twit and walking over my grave multiple times to be an asshole, I think it could be the love of my life OR I have multiple grave sites because I am going to be chopped into tiny bits by New Zealand’s first serial killer and be spread across this antipodean land OR I am going to get my wish and be scattered to the wind and wind up flying back into my nearest and dearest’s mouths. Thats right, bite me future loved ones

and now to leave you with some grave words from Criswell…

 

 

 
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Kitchen Sink

I have been obsessing over Dada artist Hannah Hoch at the moment so I am experimenting with my own collage dadaism, looking at fatalistic females in kitchen sinks. Will see where this goes. Quite possibly this will be another, ‘I started something I couldn’t finish.
Ophelia Thinks Harder

 

Above Your Bones

I went to Napier for the weekend. If I go somewhere, first on my ‘to see’ list is the local graveyard. To me graveyards are one of the most beautiful spots on earth. I love the idea I am wandering above people, past and place. When I wander about graveyards I usually have …

I. A Sigur Ros song that I hum, this time it was the exquisitely chilling Varúð, the latest single from their album Valtari.


II
. The poem Elegy by Carol Ann Duffy in my head.

Elegy – Carol Ann Duffy

Who’ll know then, when they walk by the grave
where your bones will be brittle things – this bone here
that swoops away from your throat, and this,
which perfectly fits the scoop of my palm, and these
which I count with my lips, and your skull,
which blooms on the pillow now, and your fingers,
beautiful in their little rings – that love, which wanders history,
singled you out in your time?

Love loved you best; lit you
with a flame, like talent, under your skin, let you
move through your days and nights, blessed in your flesh,
blood, hair, as though they were lovely garments
you wore to pleasure the air. Who’ll guess, if they read
your stone, or press their thumbs to the scars
of your dates, that were I alive, I would lie on the grass
above your bones till I mirrored your pose, your infinite grace?

and III, this scene from Alfred Hitchcocks Vertigo replaying in my head.

While, these lil’ rituals may remain, each wander through a graveyard is unique. Here are some photos I took at  the Napier Hill Cemetery.

The Caretakers

Sun spots look like spirits

I love Angels

When I first saw this photo, I mistook the sun spot for a spirit.

Yours Invisibly,
Anyones Ghost

WALT DISNEY AND THE SYMPHONIC MACABRE

Kids from the early 20th century were sure treated to the creepy winsome of early Disney.

Mickey Mouse Series 1929


Mickey Mouse – Haunted House (1929)

To escape the pelting rain and the fierce wind of a stormy night,
Mickey Mouse takes refuge in an abandoned house.
What will he encounter … dum dum da.

Watch here


Silly Symphonies (1929-1939)
Scores by Carl Stalling


The Skeleton Dance (1929)

They did the graveyard mash.
Watch here, if you dare.

 

 

El Terrible Toreador (1929)

Lets just say the bull comes out … not on top.
Watch here

 

 

 


Hell’s Bells (1929)

Featuring all the usual suspects from hell.
Watch here

 

 

 

Egyptian Melodies (1931)

A spider enters an Egyptian pyramid and meets its synchronized occupants.

Watch here

 

 

Yours Invisibly,
Anyones Ghost

10 REELS: Death as trauma, humor, mystery, therapy and after.

DEATH AS TRAUMA 

REEL I

The Tracey Fragments, 2007
Dir. Bruce McDonald
Writer: Maureen Medved
Starring: Ellen Page, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Ari Cohen and Erin McMurtry and Slim Twig.

Ellen Page is a girl running from and haunted by something. A something that lies buried between the fragments of her repressed memory. Without giving the plot away, the film is less about this ‘something’ and more about the trauma that exists between the fragments, the lump in the throat and the body that has shattered memory, image and representation. It is the guilt and burden of female sexuality. This film also has a very humorous Bob Dylan parody.Warning: The film is told through split screens, which may annoy some individuals. It will be a giant mind scramble, as your brain readjusts to the multiple image attacks.

Watch the trailer here


REEL II

The White Ribbon, 2009
Writer: Michael Haneke
Dir. Michael Haneke
Starring: Christian Friedel, Ernst Jacobi and Leonie Benesch

There is a trauma festering in a small village in Germany, left like Haneke’s infamous trope in the peripheries of the frame. This trauma erupts in strange events, rituals, violence and death. This trauma is unnamed but is ‘something’ bound to Germanys identity, a trauma that can never be erased nor cleansed through a national amnesia. This film is shot in black and white, however it is enraptured by grey areas.

Watch the Trailer


DEATH AS HUMOR

REEL III

Fargo, 1996
Directors: The Coen Brothers
Writers: The Coen Brothers
Starring: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi in a wood chipper. Enough said.

Ya Betcha. Watch the trailer here


REEL IV

Rope,1948
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Hume Cronyn
Starring: James Stewart, John Dall and Farley Hamilton.

A film based on the true case of Leopold and Loeb, the comrades who murdered a 14-year old is hardly what you call humorous content. Molded, however in the macabre hands of Alfred Hitchcock, this becomes a black humored tale of the murderous extremes of intellectualism. Moments of black humor involve a banquet for dinner guests (including the murdered’s family) laid out on top of the corpse, a swinging door and the various roles of the rope.

Watch the trailer here


DEATH AS MYSTERY

REEL V

Brick, 2005
Dir. Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Lukas Haas and Emilie de Ravin.


High school noir, hardboiled Joseph Gordon-Levitt, oral sex in the dressing room, drug ring, underworld aka parents basement, a brick, pin, tug … intrigued? Watch now.

Watch the trailer here



REEL VI

Mulholland Drive, 2001
Dir. David Lynch
Writer: David Lynch
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring and Justin Theroux

Ever experienced a Lynch fuck? If you haven’t then Mulholland Drive is good place to pop the Lynchian cherry. True to form, Lynch is the digger, digging away at buried American unease, this time in the founding soil of ‘American’ myths: LA/Hollywood or the City of Fatalism as I like to call it. This film is a bizarre montage of Hollywood musical dream sequences, ghostly archetypes from studios past, a noir fatalism, a decaying corpse called mythicism, female masturbation and a mysterious blue box. What’s reel?

Trailer here

DEATH AS THERAPY

 REEL VII

Movern Callar, 2002
Dir. Lynne Ramsey
Writers: Liana Dognini, Lynne Ramsey
Starring: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott

There is nothing like sawing up ones boyfriend to the Velvet Underground to mourn his suicide and to ultimately write a space of ones own. This film also has a rad soundtrack.

P.S Samantha Morton is brilliant.

Watch a scene here


REEL VIII

Incendies, 2010
Dir. Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Denis Villeneuve, Wajdi Mouawad(play)
Starring: Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette

Twins, Jeanne and Simon are each given an envelope after their mothers passing, with a quest to find their father and brother. This quest will walk them through the fire, inciting a return of the repressed  – woe, origins, family secrets, shame, war and taboos. This film is an operatic therapy, featuring one of the most chilling mirroring of music (Radiohead’s, You and Whose Army) to image.

Watch the Opening Scene


AFTER DEATH

 REEL IX

The Ghost and Mrs Muir, 1947
Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Writer: Philip Dunne, R.A. Dick (Novel)
Starring: Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders and Natalie Wood

Doomed romance between a widower (Mrs Muir) and a ghost (Sea Captain Gregg) in a house that Keats built,
“Magic casements, opening on the foam, of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.”
It also has what modern films have forsaken: the romance of language.  Add some fine moments of witticisms and banter.
Lucy Muir:[referring to her romance with Miles Fairley] You, yourself, said I should mix with people, that I should see… men.
Captain Gregg: I said men, not perfumed parlor snakes!
Bernard Herrmans haunting score serenades this romantic tale. I Suggest watching this by yourself on a stormy night.

Watch a montage of images from the film here


REEL X

Let the Right One In, 2008
Dir. Tomas Alferdson
Writer: John Ajvide Lindqvist (screenplay and novel)
Starring: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson and Per Ragner.

An introverted, bullied, morbid and extremely blonde boy, befriends a girl(?) with a secret. She is extremely strong, cold, undead, drinks blood and no her skin does not sparkle (thank god). Don’t let the children fool you, this film deals with suburban anxiety, bullying and human morbidity. The child actors are amazing.

Watch the trailer here

Yours Invisibly,
Anyones Ghost

 

 

IN TUNE WITH DEATH: 10 deathly serenades

1. Buried in Water – Dead Mans Bones

Most of the Dead Mans Bones album would suffice but there is something about the composition between Gosling’s lullaby croon, whistling and the Blakean children’s chorus that sends uncanny shivers down my spine. It’s the moment when innocence meets experience. Where the child dreamer meets the grim reaper. It instantly bestows one with a death fetish, mainly because it’s a sexy man crooning about death. It reminds me of this scene from the offbeat creepy 1950s film Night of the Hunter. It is achingly morbid and induces those pleasurable spine tingles.
Have a listen here:

2. There is a Light that Never Goes Out – The Smiths

Love is inseparable from death, they are entwined lovers. Think about it … the greatest love stories involve death: Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Orpheus and Eurydice; of course these deaths involve romanticized death/fetish objects such as the knife, poison and water. Yet, The Smiths somehow make being hit by a “ten-ton truck” sexy.

Have a listen here: 

3. Seven Devils – Florence + The Machine

This is a song to go insane to. The lyrics:
“See I was dead when I woke up this morning 
I’ll be dead before the day is done,”  
give me the jeepers creepers. The repetitive melody is claustrophobic, gothic and brooding. I imagine myself as Alice on acid in a straight jacket, in a white room chocking with candles, getting smaller and smaller and smaller, while I’m screammmmmmmmmmmmmmming.

Have a listen:

4. O Death – Ralph Stanley

A quintessential lament to death. I think of a gnarled sun beaten figure almost inseparable from the landscape, waiting in the deep South, imploring death on his horse to spare him. The figure would be a bit like one of the tragic characters from Waiting for Godot.

Have a listen: 

5. The Lady of Shallot – Loreena McKennitt 

The Lady of Shallot – the ballad, the myth, the painting have always fascinated me and Loreena McKennitt’s version of the song based on the ballad by Lord Alfred Tennyson has always been my favourite. It reminds me of the dear childhood pastime of storytelling. I won’t ruin the story incase one hasn’t heard it before but I will say the song includes: Arthurian romanticism, female sexuality and death.

Have a listen:

6. Gallows – Cocorosie

The masters of creep folk, sisters Bianca and Sierra spin poesque tales to whimsical lullabies and create one hell of the creepy song. I won’t keep you hanging, listen now:


7. Death Rides a Horse –
Ennio Morricone 

From the spaghetti western Da Uomo A Uomo but made infamous in Quentin Tarintino’s Kill Bill: Volume I. If I ever were chased by the 4 horses of the apocalypse this would be my soundtrack.

 Listen:


8. Untitled 1 –
Sigur Ros

This song evokes death to me for the following reasons:
I have always associated the letter s with death, because of its slow, perishing whistle of a sound. The song conjures an image of a tired cowboy by the fire, belonging to a mythological world which has to perish. A long sigh before death.


9. Carmen –
Lana Del Rey

Named after Bizet’s opera Carmen, about a wild-spirited gypsy murdered by her lover. Lana’s Carmen differs however, she is dying by the hands of another lover – Meth. A deathly droning voice accompanied by a video – a montage of Americana, super 8 home videos and meth warnings, crowns Lana the pop princess of Americana Unease.


10. Ghost of Love –
David Lynch

The distorted phantom echoes of Lynch’s voice projecting the uncanny ghosts of once upon a time.  Be sure to watch Inland Empire.


Death Ballads and folk songs

Here is a list + links for my favourite death ballads and folk songs from around the world.

1. Omie Wise – Doc Watson

2. Lady Margaret – Cassie Franklin

3. She Moved Through The Fair – Anne Briggs

4. Matty Groves – Alela Diane & Alina Hardin

5. Barbara Allen – Joan Baez

6. El Jinete – Jose Alfredo Jimenez

Yours Invisibly,
Anyones Ghost

DINNER WITH THE DEAD

Have you ever read or seen Caryl Churchill’s play, Top Girls? For those that haven’t, Act I takes place in a liminal space where the protagonist from Act II (Marlene) has dinner with five real and imagined female figures from the past. What takes place is an interesting discussion, deconstruction and interruption of femaleness between subjects of male imaginings, archetypes of femaleness, historical feminists and a business woman from the Thatcher period. This got me thinking, if I could choose five real or imagined figures from the past to have dinner with: Who would they be? What would the conversation be like? How would they interact?

     THE FIVE

  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Helen of Troy
  • Catherine from Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim

and just to add a lil heat to the fire:

  • Sigmund Freud

I have chosen these five because the four females offer various readings and deconstructions of feminism and ‘femaleness.’ All four females are tragic figures, closely linked to death and death is a controversial space of female empowerment. I have added Freud to the mix because he would treat these females as his patients, trying to trap them within his theories, however I think he will find himself a patient and student too. I believe he will be haunted. That is not to say all the females will band together to attack a common enemy ‘hegemonic masculinity,’ there will be disagreements between the females too, over femaleness and what it is to be a feminist. All five figures are involved in depression and suicide, issues of shame and silence even today. Everyone will speak in their native tongue but will be able to understand each other.

MARILYN MONROE (1926-1962) A sex icon of the collective unconscious.
What she will bring to the conversation: She is the liminal where boundaries collapse. She is everything and nothing, belongs to both reality and imaginary, the tragic and the comic, life and death, innocence and experience, fake and real. She is an object of desire for both male and female. She is a tease for the person who believes they have trapped her. She will also deliver off-beat jokes and self-depreciating wit. She will express the fear of female entrapment – in both archetype and institutionalization. Topics she may bring up: schizophrenia, Fox, exploitation, ‘Dumb Blondes,’ sense of self, death, method acting, reading, Joyce, Freud, but above all things LOVE.
Her relationship to the other figures:
Freud: Marilyn was always searching for ‘father figures’ to fill the void left by her ‘real’ father, thus she may serenade Freud with ‘My heart belongs to Daddy.’ She also studied Freud, during his American resurrection during the 50s so I think she will take genuine interest in his theories in her pursuit of knowledge.  I think she will flatter his theories until he attacks her ‘father complex,’ and she will become either cold and unresponsive or she will subtly undercut his Electra complex theory, with herself as an example. Virginia: Marilyn and Virginia were both institutionalized, share a past of sexual abuse, subject to mood swings, fear of madness and both committed suicide, although Marilyn’s drug overdose may have also been accidental or homicidal. Marilyn, who attached herself to older women will do so again with Virginia.
Helen of Troy: Marilyn was well-read, therefore she would be very familiar with the figure of Helen of Troy and the different interpretations. Marilyn would connect with Helens frustration over being misinterpreted and re-imagined within popular culture, as the blonde siren. She would also understand the sense of ‘multiple selves’ the two share.
Catherine: Catherine was born on screen the same year Marilyn departed life’s stage (1962). Marilyn will hate but be fascinated with Catherine. Marilyn will see the uncanny in Catherine, who will be both familiar (the space where boundaries collapse) and unfamiliar (Catherine as character is but a projected shadow on the wall). Marilyn will compete with her for the affections of Freud and Virginia.
VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882-1941) Advocate for every woman to have a “room of ones own.”
What will she bring to the conversation? If the conversation tends to become silly she will enforce an intellectualism. She will discuss literature with such fervor and express issues surrounding feminism, gender power structures using her fellow female dinner party guests as proof. Her conversation will be in a stream of consciousness, at times she will seem as though she is talking to herself. She will bring an intensity to the conversation. Topics she may bring up: sexual abuse, gender, Vita, female writers having a room of ones own, depression, St Ives at Cornwall, water.
Her relationship to the other figures:
Freud: There will be a power struggle between these two, while simultaneously there would be an amount of mutual respect, where they will discuss in tandem issues of literature, war, shell shock, fascism and suicide. There will be a serious debate regarding his studies on Hysteria. He will say her hysteria is a direct result of her unconscious desire and fantasy for the sexual abuse she suffered from her half-brothers. Undead Virginia will not suffer any nervous breakdowns from these attacks, she will instead place herself in position of therapist awakening Freud’s own unconscious desires and fears. Every time Freud makes an oral slip, she will tease him with “freudian slip.” Marilyn: Virginia will be impressed by Marilyn finding a room of her own (starting Marilyn Monroe Productions) however she will find it hard to condone her self-exploitation for fame. Virginia will recognize Marilyn’s attachment to her and will be kind and attentive to her. The two will discuss literature together.
Helen of Troy: Virginia will be intrigued by Helen of Troy, however she will simply call her Helen. As a figure of literature, Virginia will try an unpack the layers of her creation by male hand. She will try to get to the real Helen but will be competing against layers of myth and imagination.
Catherine: As a film creation of the femme siren, Virginia will also be curious as to deconstructing and rereading her through a feminist lense. She will recognize in Catherine the misunderstood ‘mental illness,’ the sexual liberation and drive for suicide.
SIGMUND FREUD (1856-1939) Father of Psychoanalysis What would he bring to the conversation: He would bring a narcissism. He will not know he’s dead and will continue treating the females as his patients and diagnosing them. He will be delighted by the prospect of having dinner with very complex, layered and repressed subjects. Topics he may bring up: trains, ‘unheimlich,’ dreams, talking cure, castration, penis envy, hysteria, depression.  
The following would be his diagnosis or response to the other figures:
Virginia: Hysteria, due to unconscious pleasure derived from sexual abuse. While he called homosexuality an Inversion, he did not condemn it,  and in fact believed all humans to be bisexual so he would not be interested in Virginia’s relationship with Vita. Marilyn: Electra complex thus her displacement of her absent father onto her lovers. Catherine: He would see her ‘bipolar’ as some sort of childhood trauma repressed and bouncing from the id to the ego. He would try a talking treatment on her.
Helen of Troy: Freud will be fascinated with Helen because of his interest in the beginnings of western civilization, ‘the childhood,’ integrating classical beauty and personal enlightenment. He also had a dream where he had an affection towards his daughter Mathilde who had the words Hella above her. He would use Helen for his self-psychoanalysis.
How I would I respond to Freud: I would want to paint his face pink so I could call him Pink Freud 
 
HELEN OF TROY(Mycenaean age- ) The face that launched a thousand ships
What would she bring to the conversation: As a product of mouth, myth and males she would bring a mystery to the conversation, ‘Will the real Helen please stand up.’ She would bring multiple personalities as she would be layered internally with centuries of constructions, deconstructions etc. As an archetype of the siren and the founding femme fatale i.e. luring men from ships into their imminent deaths, she would stimulate an interesting debate on archetypes of femaleness and how it has individually effected the females at the dinner table. Topics she may bring up: fathers and mothers, birds, beauty, rape and abduction, Troy and Egypt, loneliness, reincarnation, the uncanny, worship and scorn, confusion, deja vu.
Her relationship to the other figures:
Virginia: Helen would be curious as to how Virginia would interpret her in literature; as siren, victim or something entirely different.
Marilyn: Helen would identify with Marilyn’s mythical status postmortem and how that layers the dead with multiple identities. She would be however, jealous of Marilyn’s founded origins, even if her father was still a mystery.
Catherine: As the Mother of the femme fatale archetype, she would look to Catherine as her daughter but would also carry the guilt over burdening her with this image. The two would discuss the multiple readings of the femme fatale.  
Freud: Helen would grow weary of Freud’s constant questions towards her, which would aggravate her multiple personalities. He would see himself as her savior, talking away her multiple selves; she would see him as another suitor, this time after her inner ‘self’ rather than her external beauty and she would fiercely protect it.
CATHERINE from Francois Truffaut’s Jules et Jim.  The face in stone that possessed two men.
What would she bring to the conversation: Catherine will bring spontaneity to the conversation. She will be talking furiously one minute and then withdraw into an internal cave. She will suggest eating the dinner with our hands and the next minute call us uncivil gutter snakes. She will break into song and suddenly leave the table to run around it. Topics she may bring up: female sexuality, seaside, her names absence in the title, threesomes, liars, time, dreaming, runaway.
Her relationship to the other figures:
Virginia: Catherine, often cautious around females, will find Virginia to be a fearsome thing to behold. She would connect with Virginia over water, the medium they both choose to end their lives.
Marilyn: Catherine would see Marilyn as the uncanny but also competition, in terms of self-depreciating wit, kooky humor and the struggle between happiness and sadness. Helen of Troy: Catherine would feel like the reincarnation of Helen of Troy, the archetype of her creation as ‘femme fatale.’ She would harbor resentment towards her because of this misunderstanding. She would purposely say things to intensify Helens guilt.  
Freud: Catherine often drawn to men, will also be drawn to Freud although she will keep her true self detached from him. She will desire his attention and loath its claustrophobic nature when it is given.
How I would I respond toCatherine: I love Catherine and will defend her to the end when others deem her ‘bitch.’ She is such a complicated soul, balancing the ideas of femininity and simultaneously deconstructing them. I love her spontaneous personality, especially when she jumps into the water as I have done this also. Another character I love who reminds me of Catherine is Justine in Lars von Trier’s, Melancholia. I would beg her to sing. I would also probably join her in her spontaneous activities.

Yours Invisibly, Anyones Ghost