The Ghost of Myself

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 1999
Original album - Format
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Nightlife 2017 reissue Further Listening 1996-2000 bonus disc
Other releases - bonus track with single "New York City Boy"; bonus disc with the U.S. "special edition" of Nightlife

Neil has described this song, originally released as a bonus track on the "New York City Boy" CD single, as a reflection on his own lifestyle before his Pet Shop Boys success and, more significantly, coming to terms with his homosexuality: "Looking back now, I can see the ghost of myself haunting me." He reminisces about his attempt at heterosexuality, living with a woman (his reading of the final line, recalling "getting it on" with her, is positively chilling), in a run-down apartment and socializing in the surrounding neighborhood. The song has also been described (on the official Format "microsite" posted at the time of the album's release) as "a musical snapshot in Chelsea in 1979" (Chelsea being the area of West London where Neil was living at that time). In short, it stands as one of the most blatantly autobiographical songs the Boys have ever recorded.

The music is performed at a near-march rhythm and tempo in an arrangement that owes, as other commentators have pointed out, a strong stylistic debt to Britney Spears's recent debut hit "… Baby One More Time." (Chris as much as concedes this in the Format booklet interview when he asks coyly, "Do you know 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' by Britney Spears? Shall we pause and play it?") It atmospherically sets up a mood, but what precisely that mood is proves hard to describe. It's certainly not nostalgia, but what is it? Is it regret and/or guilt at having used a woman that he obviously cared about in an attempt to overcome his gayness?

Intriguingly, Paul Rymer, a dedicated fan of David Sylvian and his band Japan, has pointed out that "The Ghost of Myself" appears also to owe a significant debt, in this case both stylistic and thematic, to the track "Ghosts" from Japan's 1981 album Tin Drum—which, incidentally, Neil has specifically denied. It's not inconceivable, however, that Neil (who has attested to the Pet Shop Boys being influenced by David Sylvian, specifically with regard to "King's Cross") may have unconsciously drawn upon a song associated with this particular period in his own life.


List cross-references