Life is a complex enterprise full of contradictions, intricate relationships and unanswered questions.
This couldn't have been more apparent than last week, when the world was blindsided by a high profile wake-up call. It was a “Breaking News” reminder that even those who are revered and envied for their success and for having life figured out struggle to make sense out of a confusing world like everyone else.
If it weren't for the poets and the artists, abundantly imaginative and tirelessly curious about the uncertainties of life, you’d lose your mind trying to contemplate such a complicated endeavor.
'The Ghost' and Mr. Coffman
It’s a role he knows well. He takes the helm and sails head first into the fray called life, confronting many of the paradoxes and ambiguities life lays at your doorstep. “The Ghost” is six vivid captures of life, focusing on its magnificence and its complications and the tenuous boundaries between the two which often blur and keep you questioning.
In contrast to his previous EP, “Stumble On Love,” a collection of intimate songs stripped down to their bare essentials, “The Ghost” is Keeton Coffman breaking out of his musical shell. However, this is not to diminish his previous work. The canvas may have changed, but the artistic honesty remains. They’re two different paintings on separate canvases, expressing the world as he sees it, with open eyes and an open mind. “The Ghost” is rich and full of orchestration, but it doesn't sacrifice the essential heart and soul that Keeton put into making each song. The heart and soul of "The Ghost" is palpable from the first note until the very last.
“The Ghost” begins with the gentle piano solo of “The Hunted and the Hunter,” softly lulling you into a sense of security, even as a hint of something larger prowls beneath the melody as it builds to a crescendo, reminding you that feeling of security in such a big world is fragile at best. This instrumental contrast is the perfect introduction and backdrop for an EP that thrives on exploring life’s contradictions. “The Hunted and the Hunter” examines the complexity of relationships you share with incomprehensible forces, whether manifested spiritually or through the immediate surroundings of nature, spirituality’s surrogate. The opening tune contemplates this ongoing struggle to come to terms with and find meaning for things which are beyond your grasp and control in an effort to comprehend your place and purpose in an overwhelming universe.
Whether intentional or not, “The Ghost” is broken into three pairs of what could be considered companion tunes.
Ironically, the first pair of these tunes explores the delicate, sometimes unstable structure of the interpersonal companionships you choose in life. “The Letter” quickly brings you back to earth after the larger than life opening track, and reminds you that even worldly, interpersonal relationships can be perplexing and uncontrollable. This hopeful epistolary tune questions the limits to which you can love unconditionally when the love is not reciprocal and you’re faced with betrayal from the objection of your affection. Will you continue to hold on to that which you can never have in order to maintain a semblance of purpose as someone else’s salvation even as it goes unrecognized? “The Letter” makes it okay to re-examine some of your own relationships and reassess the choices you've made.
In contrast to the optimism of the protagonist of “The Letter,” Coffman creates a darker persona in “The Magician,” the second of the interpersonal relationship companion tunes. “The Magician” has a more ominous perspective on relationships, revealing what can lurk beneath the surface of one’s public facade and remain hidden from even those you love the most. This brooding, yet addictive tune contemplates the deception which can lie in your heart and threaten to sabotage even the strongest relationships. “The Magician” discloses the shrewd misdirection necessary to keep your inner demons dormant and hidden from your partner so love can prevail.
If interpersonal relationships aren't hard enough to navigate, Coffman confronts one of the most frightening and mysterious relationships everyone would like to avoid, the relationship with death. You don’t want to think about your own mortality and the end of your earthly existence, but it’s an inevitable outcome that you must eventually face. On “The Ghost,” Coffman stares into the eyes of the ultimate end with a set of companion tunes, exploring the concept of mortality but from opposing sides of that final line everyone must cross.
In the first of these tunes, Coffman draws on his own spirituality and gets biblical but not preachy with “The Morning Sun.” The song is not a sermon. Its musical supposition is more in line with John Lennon’s “Imagine,” except Coffman imagines there is a heaven or a glorious afterlife of some kind, and by putting faith in this, it’s easy and more reassuring to contemplate your own morality if you try. “The Morning Sun” is surprisingly one of the more uplifting tunes on the EP even as it envisions such a somber eventuality. Whether you’re spiritual or not, you've most likely pondered your own mortality and considered what will become of you when it’s all over. Coffman gives you hope that the dark unknown of death is followed by a new beginning, a morning sun to warm and light the way.
In the second of this companion set of tunes, Coffman takes the point of view from the survivor side of that final curtain. “The Ghost,” a Beatle reminiscent tune, is “Eleanor Rigby” reincarnated into a better life and death. Unlike her musical predecessor, in "The Ghost," the departed's legacy and the ghost of her memory lives on after she is gone. “The Ghost” reveals the difficult and troubling conflict you must grapple with when confronted with the loss of someone you love. The remnants and ghost memories of the departed remain in the daily surroundings of your living world, reminding you of the traces they left on your life. “The Ghost” recognizes the disconcerting paradox you face when coming to terms with the loss of someone close. You cherish their residual memories that still occupy your world, but when the memories linger like ghosts, they prolong your grief and hamper your ability to let go and move on. "The Ghost" is an introspective glimpse of Coffman drawing strength and resilience from his music to work through the grief, give up the ghosts that haunt him and finally let go.
Coffman ends the EP with a bang, proving his rock and roll roots are always waiting in the wings ready to turn it up and let loose when you need that extra boost of energy the most. He ties the EP together with his closing bookend, “The Ocean,” a companion song to the opening bookend, “The Hunted and the Hunter.”
With “The Ocean,” Coffman dives deeper into the contradictions of life and death and the love hate relationship you share with forces beyond your control and larger than yourself. He evokes one of nature’s most breathtaking and powerful forces to articulate the fine line separating life and death and fear and freedom, opposing forces coexisting and competing in a complex world. It’s a high-energy voyage which dares you to shed all apprehensions and sail toward your destiny. In the end, just as with life, “The Ocean” is too short. It ends abruptly leaving you wanting more, but you relish the time you had. You want to go back a relive it again.
This is the beauty of “The Ghost.” It’s a voyage you can take over and over again without growing weary of the journey. It covers a vast amount of territory without being all over the map. It hones in with precision on the paradoxes of life. It’s a voyage of discovery, a discovery of your world and a discovery of yourself. Coffman doesn't have all the answers, but he has what so many others lack. He has the willingness to explore human frailty and the desire to question the mysteries of life that elude you and leave you wondering. On “The Ghost,” Coffman attempts to piece together this puzzle of the universe you inhabit. You may leave without solving the puzzle to your satisfaction, but when you work on it together with the music of Keeton Coffman, you don’t leave alone.
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