XXXI. "The American Battlefield Ghost Hunters Society is Right On"
Why do we listen to music?
"For entertainment," says the cynic.
"Because it's beautiful," says the poetess.
"Because it offers an articulation of our lives and time we ourselves cannot articulate," says the Dylan fan. And then quotes obscure lyrics.
But not everyone just listens. We scower. We prowl. We hunt. We are dedicated in our search for the next Blow Your Mind record. "Music snob" is the title with which many get branded, and most are proud of the scar. We pour over cardboard boxes of LPs in basements and shops, brands exposed, hoping for something to join Kid A and OK Computer, Zeppelin II and IV.
But why? What fuels this discourse on the daily blogs, arguing over the merits of Dismemberment Plan vs Q and Not U? What doorways do the greatest records open that others do not?
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On March 13, the Washington Post ran an article titled "A Stakeout for Civil War Spirits." It documented William Wan's evening with the American Battlefield Ghost Hunters Societyâ€”an "eclectic group of history buffs [who came] from Maryland to conduct their own homemade brand of Civil War scholarship: battlefield ghost hunting."
One searcher sprinkled beef jerky and chewing tobacco about the ground. "'It usually works better with the Confederate soldiers,'" he is quoted as saying, "because they were less well-fed than the Union.'"
The Society's search may seem strange, humorous. But for a music fan, it must be somewhat familiar. The Society's search, for something they cannot know exists with certainty, is founded on faith and hope and trust. In a way, the same as the search through record bins for something new and exciting. Something that can take you from the everyday into that different, perhaps more beautiful, world.
When we search through the tracks of an unexplored record, don't we hope to discover something that, upon entering the esophagi of our headphone wires, will spew forth an unexpected torrent of sound so enlightening and perfect as to be rendered immortal?
But there is so much out there, so much terrible music to be waded through. And for the serious listener, even well-executed mediocrity is a failure. Like silence on the battlefield for the ghost hunter, a record, a chord, an instrumentation, either works or it doesn't. When it doesn't, the record fails.
But even the most optimistic listener has to agree that truly great records only come along once every few years. Even the most hopeful ghost hunter knows that ghosts will come on their own time.
* * *
In Stephen Wright's novel entitled "The Amalgamation Polka," Liberty Fish is a young boy growing up during times of the Underground Railroad and Civil War. In a sense, he is today's ghost for the society of hunters, presented perhaps more real in fiction than an apparition could ever appear to be on a nighttime battlefield in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
"Are dreams real?" Liberty asks his friend, a former slave, early in the novel.
"Of course a dream is real," he answers. "You saw it, didn't you? No different than anything else you see. If you saw a dead man moving around…he was real too."
* * *
"Everyone's looking for something to believe in," the Post quotes Mike Hartness, 54, a re-modeler of homes from Silver Spring. This core member of the American Battlefield Ghost Hunters Society continues:
"'The thing I'm really looking for is that perfect night, when you're out there and it's like a window opens onto the world. And you get a whole brigade marching down in one glorious moment."
Everyone has the dream of a perfect record — the hope of the needle hitting wax, pressing the well-worn "play" button on an iPod, and being given another favorite. Another 12 inches of perfection that opens windows onto worlds you never knew existed.