Speedy Ortiz’s Abstruse “Casper (1995)”

Maybe the spookiest thing about Speedy Ortiz’s “Casper (1995),” off the indie rock band’s debut album Major Arcana, is its lyric’s inscrutability.

Many questions are left unanswered, including this bizarre one: what’s the speaker planning on doing with the plasma he has “coming through”? I use “he” without being sure of the speaker’s gender.)\ If you take the lyric literally, the speaker at some point trained to be a police officer, and in the narrative present the speaker stalks a witch “through the dark forest.” Shooting guns and stalking women are stereotypically masculine activities, so assuming the speaker’s a man is understandable––but Sadie Dupuis, who refers to herself as Speedy Ortiz’s “frontdemon,” was obviously interested in subverting listeners’ expectations when she wrote the lyric for “Casper.” And anyway it could be that the speaker has never touched a gun: “Magnetism,” Dupuis sings in the first verse, “my lone rifle.” And also is the speaker really stalking the witch, considering he’s (they’re?) hiding from her? The song’s coda, with its fluid, oscillating melody, suggests levitation. You can picture the witch hovering over the speaker on her broom, rendering their hiding pointless. Or you can think the speaker––whose only rifle is magnetism, “magnetism” perhaps denoting the ability to charm people––is the witch, is looking for herself and not liking whom she’s finding.

It’s unclear who the once-wanted “you” in the chorus is, and what happened to that person, and why the speaker performs or undergoes an exorcism, and what exactly the kids desiring horniness have to do with anything else going/not going/potentially going on. Here’s something I’m able to say with certainty: “Casper (1995),” a lyrically and sonically unsettling track, is, for me at least, an awful lot of fun to think about.