July 10, 2002

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Spooky sheet
The Ghosts – recently back from the dead – are haunting the house.

By John O'Neill

WHAT I AM about to describe took place in the back room of the Hemlock Tavern. Five individuals – wearing what appeared to be bedsheets and calling themselves the Ghosts – were banging out rudimentary rock and roll to a bewildered audience. They were blistering drunk – to the point of fucking up every single song – but still managed to deliver a 30-minute attack. I was convinced I'd just seen San Francisco's newest entrants in the IdiotRock Sweepstakes. It was only later in the evening that I realized they were much, much more.

After the set the singer spent the evening spooking audience members by doing a semi-jig along with some sheet waving. While nobody seemed outwardly terrified by the display, you had to admire a person who would go this far to give people their money's worth – it had to be hot under those sheets. After a slurred conversation, I was assured that the Ghosts (Mike Dead, Jangly Shock, Grim Horror-Again, Scarold, and Heat Deader) were spirits from beyond who had returned to earth for a mojo workout. I was initially skeptical of the claim, but after seeing a number of their live performances, this reporter is at a loss to explain some of the things his eyes have witnessed. Are the Ghosts an elaborate hoax? Or are these spooks the real deal? I don't know the answer, but I do know the story needs to be told. Here are the Ghosts, in their own words.

Bay Guardian: It seems the obvious question is, why now? Some of you guys have been dead for hundreds of years. Why come back now to start a band?

Mike Dead: I died in 1349 [of the plague], so what was going on was I was sick of purgatory. It's a lot like California. If you're there for two minutes or 200,000 years, you're gonna snap. So I snapped. And I had the drive to rock.

Grim Horror-Again: What is time? There is no time. You mortals think of time as being linear, when actually it folds over on itself like a large burrito. I'm freshly dead in dead-man terms, and I have a lot to learn. But [the other band members] saw I had a lot of potential. And we decided to jam.

BG: Well then, why a rock band? In your case, Mike Dead, you've been deceased through a bunch of different movements in music. Why not a minuet band or a fife-and-drum band?

MD: Heat sort of found rock and roll. And she threw the rest of us together to make an effort to discover rock. She had a keyboard and two fingers and said she had a friend who was hot and played bass and that we should come by and see them shake their hot ghost asses. My last earthly relation was with a toothless old hag who bored me, as well as other men and many rotten children, so I was sold on joining the band right then and there. Then she discovered Grimm and decided he should sing because he kept walking around purgatory saying, "Dark moisty." We knew we could turn that into a song. And rock and roll allowed me to play the most violent music possible.

BG: So actually this has nothing to do with a love of the music? It's just a hobby?

MD: [His gesticulations under his sheet clearly indicate he is angered.] We formed this band to save rock, period! That's all there is to it. It doesn't matter that I'm 700 years old. Rock and roll is timeless. If you follow the theory that time isn't linear, then rock and roll has been around and I knew what it was before I was born! We are not hobbyists; we are saviors. And we aren't interested in being questioned by the likes of you.

BG: OK, sorry. Why do you feel rock needs to be saved? What was the impetus?

MD: Because of all the sewage that was clogging up TRL. When not rehearsing or haunting mortals, ghosts watch a lot of television. We decided that we should be the ones on TRL. Not only is Carson dreamy, it would be our chance to bring honest, violent, fuck rock back to the kids. When I decided to materialize on earth to study rock and roll, I heard the bands like Creed and Christina Aguilera and Lil Bow Wow. It's what I cut my teeth on. I tried to take that quality of performance and carry it to my own style, but it always left me feeling hollow inside, even though I don't currently possess innards. But you get the drift. Actually, I don't know anything. I'm just the drummer.

GH-A: I think the timing was just right for a band like us. The whole boy-band thing is played out, and it's time for something new. Something honest, like a band of 100 percent nonliving, hard-rocking, sometimes-frightening apparitions. When we say "the Ghosts," we mean that. It's a quality guarantee as much as a name. Were the Zombies real zombies? I think not. Hell, not only were the Groovy Ghoulies not real ghouls, I found them no more groovy than many of the East Bay bands the kids seem to go for so much these days. The Mummies may have been real mummies, as they certainly played with the stiffness of being recently reanimated, but I digress. The point is, we're authentic. We haven't really had time to "craft the art," but we'll get there.

BG: I'm glad you bought the authenticity angle up. There is a contingency of area clubgoers who assert that the Ghosts are in fact five half-witted musicians who can play two out of the three chords required for their songs.

MD: Anybody who calls us musicians is gonna get a face full of knuckles!

BG: I think what might be giving people these ideas – and there are plenty of examples on your Web page – is that just beneath the admittedly spooky ghost sheeting you wear, you can plainly see jeans and sneakers. So it is assumed by some that this whole authentic-ghost claim is a ruse.

GH-A: You need to take some type of physical form in order to hold a bottle of scotch. And you might as well have comfortable shoes. Nothing fancy, but something that will last more than six months.

MD: We can't just go flying around the stage. It would be too terrifying for the audience.

BG: Is that the reason you travel to gigs in an AMC Pacer? Couldn't you just materialize at shows after your five roadies set up the gear?

GH-A: We like the luxuries – fast cars, drinking, and smoking. The Pacer is a natural extension of this.

MD: We like to drag race the local teens when we tour Middle America. We pull into small towns and go to the Jack in the Box for some dinner and to cruise the lot. Then it's drag racing all night down Main Street. Sometimes we share our booze and cigarettes with them.

BG: As a group of folks who've been dead a long time, the Ghosts certainly know about marketing. Your Web page (www.officialghosts.com) sells everything from set lists to Ghosts action figures. What's the deal? Do ghosts pay rent?

GH-A: Hey, these sheets don't starch and press themselves. As I said, I'm recently dead – a ghost of the new, new economy, to be specific – and I'm going to get my piece of the pie.

BG: Everyone knows bands that play real rock and roll don't get paid or recognized. Would it be fair to say that by helping to save rock and roll, you'll have paid your penance? Is it the ticket out of purgatory to heaven?

MD: It's just the opposite. Every time we play, we're one step closer to hell. But the tail makes it all worth it. The Ghosts materialize on a semiregular Thursday-night basis all summer long to haunt the Parkside, 1600 17th St., S.F. For more information call (415) 503-0393. When he isn't writing about music, John O'Neill crunches numbers at the Bay Guardian and slings drinks at the Parkside.