Halloween has always been an uneasy holiday for me.
I blame neighbor Donald Morin, or really his father, Gil, who one Halloween took cotton balls and molasses and transformed Donald (two years my elder) into a wolf man who inspired awe in everyone we passed as we trick-or-treated.
And there I was, unaided by either of my parents, wearing a navy windbreaker buttoned around my neck as an ersatz cape. In my mouth were white plastic vampire teeth through which I only could slur my spitty words. To this day I could howl at the moon remembering that night, wishing I’d had a molasses wolf man mask to hide behind.
Still, I love Halloween: the imagery, the crisp fall weather, the candy. Which brings me to candy corn, a blog topic at this time last year.
A typical Halloween season for me includes a steady march through a bag of Brach’s candy corn (it has to be Brach’s) followed by nausea and self-loathing. I’ve avoided that altogether this year, nary a kernel having entered our home, much less my body.
That’s pretty impressive when you consider that candy corn has been in stores since early August.
Two songs titled ‘Halloween’
No holiday is complete without music, and Halloween is no exception. Two of my favorites are titled “Halloween,” although neither one is explicitly about All Hallows’ Eve.
My rock hero Steve Wynn sings it, but The Dream Syndicate’s “Halloween” was written by lead guitarist Karl Precoda. I love the lyrics, especially the “Don’t say I didn’t warn you” part. Yet I always wondered what the song was about. So I went to the source.
I reached out via email to Precoda, now a professor at Virginia Tech University, who said he composed the song in early 1982 “on a grand piano (with the sustain pedal engaged).”
Precoda, who teaches cinema studies, gave me a horror-film education with his elaboration:
“[The] lyrics are a condensed film script, an alternate take on what was then the state of the art in mainstream U.S. horror. Interesting to see how dominant a trope ‘horror’ has become since that time. Prophetic?
“In 1982 Herschel Gordon Lewis’ ‘Blood Feast’ was only 19 years old (!) and the genre — decidedly minor — was framed by [George] Romero, [Tobe] Hooper, and [Wes] Craven (to a lesser extent [Dario] Argento); from 1982 to 2015 is almost twice as long a period (!!) and it’s curious to consider how many genre cycles we’ve been through in those decades, and how this sensibility has proliferated throughout the culture.”
Grant Lee Buffalo’s “Halloween” is haunting in its own way, although the holiday is merely a coincidental backdrop, as it tells of the passing of actor-singer River Phoenix “on Halloween” in 1993.
Phoenix, whose films included “Stand by Me” and “My Own Private Idaho,” died from drug-induced heart failure outside Johnny Depp’s West Hollywood nightclub, The Viper Room.
Songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips noted that Phoenix was “only 23” at his death, which left much unfulfilled promise in the same way that James Dean’s fatal car crash at age 24 did in 1955. Dean’s “East of Eden” came out after his death.
You were like my own James Byron Dean
Private Idaho was my East of Eden
Hit me like a stone when I heard you’d passed
Prior to Halloween 2014, I discovered that the same You Tuber who taught us all how to fold a shirt in fewer than two seconds also had another video about flaming pumpkins. We wowed trick-or-treaters (and some parents) with the flaming pumpkins in our driveway.
In case you can’t stop by our house this year, here’s a video of a flaming pumpkin I created, the Goulet Communications sound-wave logo carved in it.
Watch it, if you dare, and have a Happy Halloween!