Death and Desire in the Shadows


I’ve always considered Jon Foreman to be a prophet of sorts to the postmodern world. Ever since Switchfoot, his main musical venture, broke into the mainstream with “Meant to Live,” his songs have challenged us to consider the meaning of our existence here on earth, and our often futile chase after fleeting pleasures. Along with these themes, his songwriting has harbored an increasing focus on death, and seeking out true life in light of impending mortality. The lyrics of “Where I Belong” come to mind, from one of Switchfoot’s more recent albums, Vice Verses:

But I’m not sentimental
This skin and bones is a rental
And no one makes it out alive

Until I die I’ll sing these songs
On the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home
In a world where I belong

These themes of death and desire come to full fruition in Foreman’s latest solo EP Shadows, which is part of a four EP project called The Wonderlands, a set of twenty-four songs moving through Sunlight, Shadows, Darkness, and Dawn.

With only six songs, Shadows works surprisingly well as a small concept album. Its first song “Ghost Machine” begins with the lyrics,

All hail the siren of our time
I’m possessed when she passes by
She drains the best years of my life

The title alone could refer to several things: René Descartes’ phrase “ghost in the machine” explained his theory of mind-body dualism, the immaterial, spiritual mind interacting with the physical brain and body. The term has also been utilized technologically to refer to the idea that strange behavioral anomalies in machines may suggest some sort of sentience.

Foreman leans toward the latter in lines like, “My idolatry is in the pocket of my coat” and “I’m still haunted by the faces on her screen.” He seems to be talking about the ubiquitous presence of technology in our lives, and all the allure that offers us, tempting us “to sprinkle the blood of most my life on the altars of” social media, pornography, etc.

He continues to dwell on this theme in the song “Good For Me,” which opens with Foreman asking:

Sometimes I wonder what I put in my soul
I wonder if it’s good for me
Sometimes I wonder if it’s taking its toll
I wonder if it’s good for me
Sometimes I wonder if it’s taking a hold
I wonder if it’s good for me
Sometimes I wonder if I’m losing control

Later in the song, the seductive siren reappears:

I was upside down
I thought the floor was the ceiling
And from my backwards view
She looked just like the real thing

In contrast to the false love and artificiality expressed in these songs, the EP ends with “Siren’s Song,” which opens:

My love is at the edge
Edge of the ocean
She’s wrapped in green and blue
My love is at the edge
Edge of the ocean
She sings to me a tune

This siren also comes across as perilous, but in a different way, more like the peril of giving yourself entirely in true love. The sea contrasts the machine. Nature contrasts technology. The sea can take life, yes, but also give life. The machine sucks you dry and leaves your shell (or ghost).

This brings me back to the theme of death, which as I said also weaves itself through the EP. “Ghost Machine” is followed by “My Coffin,” where Foreman ponders mortality, culminating with this chorus:

Resurrection comes
But death comes first
All our entitlements and rights drive the hearse
Through maker’s death
Death is unmade
And when I lose myself I’m safe
In my coffin

For Foreman, the escape from the seduction of false desires comes by dying to our entitlements and rights, in order to rise to new life. It’s the gospel in poetry.

This idea of death-as-life is played out even more in “Fake Your Own Death,” which poses the question, “What would you do with a second chance at life?”:

You could fake your own death
And live it like you’ve always been afraid of living
Fake your own death
And come alive

The climax of the EP is the song, “Your Love Is Enough,” in which Foreman answers the question of how this new life can be found. He sings:

Who can satisfy these longings?
Who could wash my doubts away?
Who can save me from my follies?
Even when the feelings fade?
Your love is enough
Your love is enough

Foreman’s words echo the ancient sentiment of St. Augustine from his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Or as Foreman sings,

Here in my maker’s arms
I find my soul
Here in my maker’s arms
I’m finally home

The prodigal, wayward, regretful son of “Ghost Machine,” who prays “Father forgive me cause I know/How exactly I spread my soul,” now sings “I’m coming home.”

The EP ends with a reply, a call to come home. The siren-lover beckons:

Come to the sea
Come and cross me
We’ll reach the other side
Come to the sea
Come and take me
And have me for your bride

Proving his brilliance as a songwriter once again, Jon Foreman takes us on a spiritual journey in just six songs, from false desire to true love, from roaming prodigal to home, from shadows back to light.

[Click here to listen to the entire EP.]

Chris is an Associate Professor of English at Bristol Community College in Massachusetts, and is also the author of several books of poetry. In 2018 he helped co-found The Poetry Pub, an online community for poets. He enjoys walking in the woods, visiting coffee shops, and poking through used bookstores with his wife Jen.


  1. Joe Sutphin