Musical Space: Grown-Up Halloween

Oct 23, 2018

Halloween has gotten a little musically unscary, in my opinion, because it’s become too much about the kids. Nothing against trick-or-treating and dressing like superheroes, but I’m talking about the one holiday that invites us to think about death and its unearthly consequences. 

Music is folklore; generations have used it to deal with emotions good and bad. And our ancestors had a lot to work through every autumn. The harvest feasts are over, the sun betrays us as cold overtakes the land and thoughts turn to whether we would survive to the spring. This is fearsome stuff; early Christians and Pagans had to invent a time to mentally play with death imagery. This holiday is too important for just the kids. We adults can use music to take back Halloween.

Sure, we have “The Monster Mash,” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” These are a cute start, but they don’t help us exorcise our mental demons like the old funereal chants and murder ballads, or for that matter, punk and death-metal. There is truly scary music of all styles and from all generations. Let’s listen to a serious classical tone poem. Or find some dark, arcane genre like horrorcore. We’re adults and we can use music to work out our adult issues.

Because although we ultimately lose to him in the end, laughing at Death is one of the best ways to know you’re alive.


Listening List: Halloween songs that aren’t “The Monster Mash”

Camille Saint-Saens, Danse Macabre (1874) Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Conductor: Charles Dutoit Soloist: Kyung-Wha Chung

Tone poem based on a French folk tale. Depicts Death as a seductive violinist. Violin is de-tuned to give the evil-sounding chord at the beginning.

Ralph Stanley, O Death,” O Brother, Where Art Thou? OST (2000)

The soundtrack is so important to the story that they recorded it before filming. Dr. Ralph Stanley was one of the original bluegrass artists.

TV On The Radio, “Wolf Like Me,” Return to Cookie Mountain (2006)

A love song sung from the point of view of someone turning into a werewolf

Geto Boys, “Mind Playing Tricks On Me,” We Can’t Be Stopped (1991)

(note: this is the clean radio version. Should we go with the original?)
Some call this horrorcore

Cannibal Corpse, “Evisceration Plague,” Evisceration Plague (2009)

An example of death metal. Politicians and pundits made a lot of noise vilifying Geto Boys and Cannibal Corpse back in the 90’s.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Henry Lee,” Murder Ballads (1996)

Carrying on the old folk tradition of the murder ballad. "Henry Lee" is based on a traditional song (or two), often referred to as Young Hunting.

The Cramps, "Surfin' Dead," (single recorded for Return of the Living Dead, 1985)

The inventors of Psychobilly