A Soundtrack For All Hallow’s Eve, Pt. I

Because Ian Olson and myself could not quite leave it alone without making our devilish […]

Blake I. Collier / 10.27.15

Because Ian Olson and myself could not quite leave it alone without making our devilish imprint on Mbird during the Halloween season, we decided to each choose a five song playlist, explain them and then comment on the other’s choices. What follows are Blake’s choices with commentary by Ian.

“Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan

B: Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan wrote this track after a visit to India and the lyrics themselves are saturated with a typical concoction of various Eastern/mystical ideals with a fuzzy center. It is not really remembered for its lyrics so much as its surreal and rather unnerving atmosphere: acoustic guitar melds into the Indian tambura and distorted electric guitar, which are accompanied by a heart-like, pumping drum part and distorted vocals.

Zodiac, and films like it, has put the final nail in the titular coffin of turning the largely friendly image of a kind hurdy gurdy man into the nightmare that actually fits the musical atmospherics of the song more.

trickortreat_1513769cI: When I first saw your selection of this song, I thought, “Come on, Blake,” but in listening to it again, I rediscovered that hallucinogenic miasma that washes over the experience like blood pulsing from a mortal wound. I never knew what Donovan was singing here, but that hazy indecipherability makes the menace more palpable. The entire recording sounds to me like a microphone being fed into an interdimensional portal that has momentarily opened and imprinted on the tape are the sounds of the mad undead, intoning eldritch chants in the spaces between what is visible to us here.

“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” by The Animals

B: So from the outset, this song is nothing more than a longing. A longing to escape from the predetermined life that many people, especially teenagers, find themselves feeling in the midst of discontent with their life, their surroundings, their family situations, etc., yearning for greener grass they’re convinced must await on some other side than the one they’re on.

The line that always strikes me in the song is: “Now my girl you’re so young and pretty / And one thing I know is true / You’ll be dead before your time is due, I know.” Now, I know this sentiment is more in the vein of how being stuck in this town, this marriage, this situation will suck the life completely out of the person, but with the song the way it is, and the demonic being what it is, one can’t stifle the chill of sensing some unseen malevolence just beneath the surface of that small town’s existential woes. Waiting.

I: Eric Burdon and company wail and seethe at the tentacles of futility choking the life out of life and nourishing our already deep and wide dissatisfaction. On the whole, though, I still think I’d rather tackle adulthood and matrimony and jobs than, say, Cthulhu. Just saying.

“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult

picture-11B: All cowbell jokes aside, this song is solidly planted in my pantheon of all-time favorite songs. It is a song about death and its agent, the reaper–one which attempts to shift the tables and cast death as something we ultimately should not be afraid of because its bark is bigger than its bite. It has a sting, but one that, we believe, as those who cling to the cross, can be overcome.

Blue Oyster Cult’s metaphysical outlook on life after death may not have been Christian in nature, but the picture they paint is one I think reflects the Gospel–especially if the song is truly considering those who sink so far into depression that suicide becomes a viable and real option. When the reaper comes to someone whose actions are culturally looked down upon and says, “Don’t be afraid”—a refrain of the angels throughout the Bible—then we see that death isn’t the end and forgiveness and mercy transcend time and space. A gracious revelation that befuddles our human senses and rationality.

I: I remember the first time I heard this song: I was in third grade, Stephen King’s “The Stand” was a TV movie, and the opening credits employed this song to soothingly plunge viewers into the onrushing darkness. The ringing arpeggios of that classic guitar riff were so eerie, and I found the vocals’ calm earnestness deeply unsettling; all the more so because they seemed to welcome oblivion like a lover. Years later would come the SNL skit that tried its best to ruin this ditty for all of us, but nothing can exorcise its haunting majesty.

“Lose Your Soul” by Dead Man’s Bones

B: This one album side trip from Ryan Gosling and fellow actor, Zach Shields, is dripping with classic horror nods, epic soundscapes encapsulated in 3-4 minute songs, and a continual sense of dread throughout its runtime. It is my all-time favorite Halloween album.

“Lose Your Soul” is a simple song that trades on the dread that we have all felt from time to time. The feeling that the end of something is coming, whether it’s our physical or figurative lives, provides the central momentum. The singer assures us that we will lose our soul tonight…yet we keep getting up even in the face of the death and dread that pervades our personal microcosms and our relationships. I suppose Christian hope does not lie in our ability to stop the decay of our souls so much as in knowing the one who can–and losing our soul to him may just be the very thing that saves it.

I: The juxtaposition of that cheerleader chorus with those vampiric, baritone lead vocals flings open a revolving door of doom and “Rah rah!” team spirit, hearkening us towards an end we catch glimpses of through the glass but never actually step into. This one feels to me like the soundtrack to a martyr’s preparation sequence, a la Donnie Darko.

“The Vampyre of Time and Memory” by Queens of the Stone Age

halloween-stevenmartin02B: In the wake of severe complications during a knee surgery that almost killed him due to asphyxiation in 2010, lead singer, Josh Homme, found himself largely incapable of making music for a couple of years due to enduring weakness. But …Like Clockwork was the album that eventually came out of that traumatic event in his life.

Homme and company had always been very cynical of religion and God on past efforts, but never to the point of being blasphemous (in my opinion). One might think that Homme’s experience might have shifted his view on such matters, but it really hasn’t, it’s just changed the maturity and nuance in which he writes lyrics about that subject matter. This is a slow burner of a song and one that showcases Homme’s new approach to God and suffering. The song pulsates and seethes while Homme battles with near death and the ghosts of time and memory. It’s the existential dread that drives this one into my Halloween playlist.

I: I’m not sure why this is, but this one feels like another song that could fit Zodiac quite well, in a taxi montage or an aerial scan of San Francisco emphasizing the anonymity of the Zodiac. Obviously it’s fifty years too late for that, but this song seems to slot ancient terrors into contemporary urban settings to create an unnameable disquiet.

Coming later this week: Ian’s picks!