So Sean Lennon forms a band called GOASTT (with girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl) and holds a concert in a cemetery. A quirky triad, or perhaps it a clever way to divert attention from the obvious ghost that comes to life when one looks at his face: his famous father. Yes, he has a famous mother, too, but between the clothes he wears onstage, the perfectly round spectacles, and the curly, longish hair, it is his father that comes to life out of our collective consciousness. Is the whole thing an embracing of his legacy or a path-of-least-resistance approach to expelling people’s expectations or prejudices? Give them what they expect in order to get their attention, then challenge that.

GOASTT stands for Ghost of a Saber-Toothed Tiger. It is as quirky of a collaboration as the name suggests, but romantic at the same time. (It was taken from a play Muhl wrote at the young age of eight, which Lennon came across one day while looking through her old writings.) In true Los Angeles fashion, the show started an hour late. The two of them came up on stage hand in hand, almost like a hippie/hipster bride and groom; he wearing a black sort of tuxedo and she wearing a wispy white dress made of lace, a feather sticking out of a masculine sort of straw hat. A perfect display of vintage smoke and mirrors; you can’t really tell where they’re from, when they’re from, or where they want to go. Oh, I get it: they’re sort of a ghost. Or an ever-illusive metaphor.

Musically, they were very good. I say this apprehensively, because I don’t know anything about music. I’m a little ashamed of this, but there’s no getting around it at this point. I’m not even sure I know how to talk about music. What can I say about what happened onstage? Banter, string and percussion instruments, voices singing. Some adjectives that come to mind: dulcet, as in dulcet chimes on the xylophone (or at least I think it was a xylophone), poignant, as in the lyrics that speak to the opinions not of your mind but of your soul, forceful, as in the rhythm set by the bass and that Bob Dylan cover they did on the piano. Their voices are very sweet and unassuming, almost like shy children at a grownup dinner party, who have just been announced by their parents to the guests. “OK everybody. Attention please. Sean and Charlotte are going to play their special songs for us. They’ve been practicing all week.”

The intimacy blends into informality; the two even stop in the middle of a song if the key or tempo is off and try it again. “And a one, and a two, and a three, and four…” And the music begins again. When it stops, one of them will talk to the audience, usually in reference to the other. Lennon takes the role of the clumsy but loving one, (“she’s very good with her fingers,”) she the role of that nobody’s-fool kind of girl with a stern look. After the look, he tries to fix it (“yes, she has these long beautiful fingers, she can play that bass, me just little stubs”) and then she smiles and everyone laughs. A very light-hearted play, and one really does have to wonder if it is not just an act, given that Lennon is clearly Muhl’s superior in both musical legacy and sheer practice. (This is Muhl’s first foray into music, I believe, and although her voice is apt for the task currently at hand, Lennon’s is certainly more audible and memorable in a song.) Very kind of him to prop her up and let her lead? Or is he just ducking, diverting attention from himself and all that he brings to the audience?

As a child of two over-achieving immigrants, I have this infinite psychological tic that constantly reminds me I have to be just as good or better then them. That I have to do it on my own like they did. That it’s not fair for me to use the profits of their hard work to prop myself up in my own success. I may just be projecting here, but I have a feeling that Sean Lennon might have a bit of the same thing. I have a feeling that every time he’s about to show his face on stage, he is thinking of how many people will think of his famous parents. More specifically, because of his last name, and his… well his face, that they will be thinking of his father. Maybe he thinks people will expect him to be just as good and fears they will be disappointed. Maybe he thinks people will consider him privileged in his musical lineage and thereby dismiss his efforts as just another case of nepotism. (The petty ones who say: “imagine how many connections he has.”) This paragraph is here not just to vaingloriously tie myself to Sean Lennon, but to point to the idea that maybe there are two ghosts here, one of a saber-toothed tiger, and one of a past life, both imagined (by us) and real (for Lennon), that lives on and colors everything.

What can I say about what happened off stage? My roommate’s boyfriend, also the bartender for the event, gave us another glass of wine. We watched as everybody left the Masonic Lodge. He pointed to an exiting lady. She was dressed all in white, wore her sunglasses at night (I know it’s a cheesy eighties song, but is was night and she really was wearing sunglasses). “That’s the wife of one of the Ramones,” we were told, and we nodded to each other. My roommate and I, now one of the few remaining in the hall, eventually left, and on the way to her car we spotted a group of people walking off into the cemetery. We followed them and ended up at Johnny Ramones’s grave. “That’s some cool hair,” I lamely remarked to anyone around. Muhl agreed and noted how low he plays his guitar. Other people gathered around the statue. It was dark and cell phone flashes were going off. Surely some of the flashes must have been directed at the famous guy and his beautiful girlfriend, but none of them seemed bothered by it.

We walked on, my roommate and I now part of a private tour of the cemetery. Next stop, Valentino’s tomb in the Cathedral Mausoleum. I remember walking around a moat, Muhl’s white lace dress like a ghost in the crowd. People laughing, lighting the way with cell phone flashlights, pointing to this or that tombstone. Inside another structure, my roommate and I came in late and found the group humming a low, soft sound just to create an echo. It was everywhere, and in the middle Lennon and Muhl held hands and he kissed her. A moment apart while in the middle of a crowd, not the shy, self-conscious onstage banter but a confident, satisfied act. The calm and quiet on his face almost declared: “this is beautiful, see what we can do?” And back at him, she looked twenty-three, which is, in fact, her actual age.

The tour disbanded shortly after that, everyone going on their way. I made conversation with one of the last people to exit, a girl from Staten Island. My roommate then talked about her college days there. (I’d never known that about my roommate.) Her boyfriend caught up to us. We walked to her car. On the way there we crossed paths with a few of the people in the group and saw Lennon and Muhl walking towards the exit. They were leaving, not as ghosts or even as GOASTT, but as two musicians who have had and have given a unique experience. Ghosts live in the people and things that conjure them up for the living, but eventually, you have to live in the present and realize that ghosts are ghosts and people are people.

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ANDRA MOLDAV lives and works in Los Angeles. Before that, she was a grad student in New York. Among other things, she writes stories about foreign people in strange lands.

5 responses to “Ghosts and Music”

  1. Ben Loory says:

    i love nights like that. not that i’ve ever had a night like that. but i mean, you know, like that.

    also, you did a good job of talking about music. maybe you should be a music critic. 🙂

    i wonder if sean lennon has a fear of being assassinated if he tries too hard and does too well. i can’t imagine what it’s like to live in that guy’s head. must be just a whole different universe.

    • Andra Moldav says:

      Yes, a whole other universe. And not just like in that movie Innerspace with Martin Short.
      As for being a music critic… I think I already criticize enough stuff in the world.

  2. D.R. Haney says:

    I have yet to visit the Johnny Ramone statue. I’ve only seen photos of it. However, when I first moved to L.A., I went, more than once, to what’s known called Hollywood Forever. I had a guidebook, which led me to the grave of Virginia Rappe, the starlet who may or may not have been fatally violated by Fatty Arbuckle. I’m generally more interested in marginal figures than I am in legends.

  3. Andra Moldav says:

    Thanks Duke. Yeah, Johnny Ramone probably has enough visitors.
    Congrats on the new book, by the way. I got Banned For Life for one of my friends earlier this year. He’s really into punk.

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