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Give Up the Ghost

Give Up the Ghost[1] 

Lester Bangs and The Delinquents

Well something was hauling me off to hell.
its claws in my neck as it hissed and laughed.
Then I heard the pealing of a midnight bell.[2]
As my heels scudded in the mud of the path.
Demons get weary and bored with their work.
Forbidden thrills to you is slavery to them.
and so I wondered, if he wouldn't like to rest in the murk
'fore we started on our dismal way again.
That's when we gave up the ghost.
Leaving hell is like leaving home.
His body was all scabs, and his eyes were flat lost.
But, at least he had the pride of being alone.
"Yeah," he said, "It's getting harder and harder;
to maintain respect for ol' Satan these days.
He's old and fat, and did you know he wears garters?
And all he wants to look at is miracle plays.
"You know, I'd defect, but God's just a punk.
I think he's senile: how he prattles on
about antigual nothings[3] till you're in a blue funk.[4]
I wish somebody'd see that both of 'em are gone.
I told him, "Give up the ghost.
You work in a sweatshop where you're being exploited.
Come have thirty-five beers with a human host.
You'll feel right at home in Detroit."
"Nah, I've been there," said he with a sigh,
"Your whole planet just hasn't a clue.
You're all laboring away, just waitin' to die.
Speaking of which, I got a delivery in you."
"Whoa, there, Junior," I said, feelin' my oats.[5]
"What about all them scarified words?
If hell is blow-dried, I don't wanna go.
A lifetime of terror just to feel this absurd?"
He said, "You might as well give up the ghost.
Nothing is like those travel brochures.
Handed out everywhere by the human host.[6]
We never said that evil was pure."
So we wrangled and we mangled to the deep of the night
I said I didn't want no halfway house pits.
He said, "You'll take what you get, and you'll say that it's right.
That's the essence of hell. You've been livin' it.
"You want to punish what you won’t understand;
electrocutions on TV—
you want your little shots of death on demand.[7]
Well, baby, don’t come lookin’ at me."
That was when he gave up the ghost
Now he sleeps with his tale tightly curled.
As in my own deceptions I roast,
He's turned his face away from the world.



Jook Savages On the Brazos, LP, CD 
Track B§5 (Track §11) 
LP: Live Wire Records, LW-3 (1981); CD: Moll Tonträger [GER], Moll 6 (1995); CD: re-issue: Live Wire Records, LW-20 (2009)

Jook Savages on the Brazos CD reissue lyrics insert, 2009. (Additional transcription by Lester Bangs Archive management.)

Last Updated: 08/29/2016


[1] The idiom "give up the ghost" has several meanings:
 • to expire or die;
 • to stop working; 
 • to give up and stop trying.
All three meanings are represented in the song's lyrics: the narrator has been culled for death; the devil is being cajoled to stop working; and, both Satan and God have given up on their "jobs." Bangs also used the idiom in his essay about The Clash, in defense of his digressive writing style: "I mean look, face it, both reader and writer know that almost all of what's gonna pass from the latter to the former is justa buncha jizjaz anyway, so why not just give up the ghost of pretense to form and subject and just make these rags ramble fit to the trolley you prob'ly read 'em on...You may say that I take liberties, and you are right, but I will have done my good deed for the day if I can make you see that the whole point is YOU SHOULD BE TAKING LIBERTIES TOO." (Source: "The Clash." Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung; upper case quoted as it appears in the original.)

Bangs's penchant for rambling is, in fact, why "Give Up the Ghost" caused his break-up with Birdland: the song's lyrics were written because of Lester's heated debates with Robert Quine over the death penalty and life sentences. Mickey Leigh accused the song of being too rambling, and Lester became bellicose, shouting, "I write the lyrics and this is my band!” As the band performed the song, Lester sang the lyrics in a deliberately threatening way and cornered Mickey Leigh. Drummer Matty Quick explains, “[Lester] was singing his heart out in a way, but at the same time he was pushing us away....I didn’t know if he was gonna hit Mickey or if Mickey was gonna have to bang him over the head with the guitar. And it was clear that this was how the band was gonna end.” Producer Rick Schneider tried to offer Bangs a deal that would put him behind the scenes of Birdland as the band's primary songwriter, but Lester would have none of it, and Birdland disbanded shortly afterward. (Source: DeRogatis, Jim. Let It Blurt.) However, in 2001 Mickey Leigh regrouped Birdland for the launch of Jim DeRogatis's Let It Blurt biography of Lester Bangs, and plans were made to record a tribute album that would include old songs by Lester and Leigh, as well as new songs by the original band members. Lenny Kaye from the Patti Smith Group, Ian Hunter from Mott the Hoople, Chris Stein from Blondie, and even Bruce Springsteen were to have signed on for the album. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, however, the project was placed on hold and has yet to be completed.

[2] "peal of the midnight bell": in literature and scripture, often associated with the hour of death

[3] "antigual nothings": this nonsense phrase appears in Lester's original typescript of the lyrics and perhaps was an intentional mistranslation of "antiquated notions." However, the lyric might also allude to Antigua's declaration of independence from British colonial rule in 1980—when these lyrics were written. As a significant part of the early sugar cane trade, Antigua also became a byname for the inhumanity of the slave trade, itself, which may be why God is so existentially troubled in this lyric.

[4] "blue funk": a severe state of existential depression and stupor

[5] "feeling my oats": feeling confident and energetic; the phrase derives from the practice of putting a feedbag of oats onto a horse just before a race.

[6] "human host": the sacrament of the "Host" in Christianity derives from the concept that Yeshua ben Pantera (a.k.a. Jesus) was the human host for Jehovah's son, and that, by extension, the human body is the host for the soul; therefore, "giving up the ghost" (see Note 1) requires disassociating its human host. In fact, in derivation the words "host" and "ghost" are related.

[7] The phrase "little shots of death on demand" refers to death by lethal injection; Bangs's use of the phrase "on demand" in this context of television entertainment seems prophetic of today's "OnDemand" programming.

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