Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Owen’s “The Ghost Of What Should’ve Been” explores the horror of an empty room

Mike Kinsella (Photo: Photo: Rachel Gulotta)

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: For Horrors Week, we’re once again talking about songs with the word “ghost” in the title.


Owen, “The Ghost Of What Should’ve Been” (2002)

As Mike Kinsella approaches the 15-year mark of operating under the Owen moniker, it’s fascinating to see just how much that passage of time can be heard in his music. While he may be best known for helping define ’90s emo in both Cap’n Jazz and American Football, it’s with Owen that he’s experienced the most artistic growth. At its start, Owen was an outlet for Kinsella’s songs about late nights and lost loves, until his concerns abut becoming a husband and father slowly took over.

What bridges the gap between Owen’s opposing halves is Kinsella’s tendency to explore the quiet, empty moments that make up a life. This makes songs about being the family night owl as engaging as the ones that see him milling about in his apartment, pining for a significant other who’s long since left. “The Ghost Of What Should’ve Been” from 2002’s No Good For No One Now may not be the type of horror most would associate with a week packed full of them, but that’s because it focuses on a terror that’s truly commonplace. Few have been chased out of their homes by shrieking apparitions or spooky monsters, but many have followed a relationship’s end by trying to find comfort in the disquiet. Here, Kinsella ruminates on how that emptiness is even more haunting than those unwanted presences milling about.

As he breaks down his despair, Kinsella finds that the items in his home have taken on new meaning. A couch transforms from a pile of cushions into a reminder of his failures as a partner, while the shoddy end table he built highlights that things were, perhaps, never as sturdy as he thought they were. These household items now add an eerie air to Kinsella’s home, and each one reminds him how he’s in desperate need of an exorcism. Opening each chorus with, “One more week in this apartment / One more week of being haunted,” he showcases that it’s not always the things that go bump in night that are the most horrifying. In fact, the lack of a familiar, loving presence can sometimes be the most bone-chilling.


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