All right, admittedly it appears delving into music might stretch the limits of a blog about writing and books. On top of that, I’m also connecting it to my Halloween countdown theme (night #6). Have I gone crazy?
Not yet. I don’t think. Stay with me, because I’m going to bring it all together. I promise.
Let’s start with Bob Dylan. In case you were unaware, the great singer/songwriter who gave us ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ just won the Nobel Prize for literature for his music. (Seems like an oxymoron? Some people do think so.) There has been a lot of controversy over the appropriateness of this decision and regarding Dylan’s own behavior. I’m not going to weigh in on this except to say I think music, particularly lyrics, are a form of poetry (aka literature). And music, even without lyrics, can tell a story. I mean, come on, VH1 created an entire series about musicians called “Storytellers.”
Given that, can music represent literature about things that are scary and spooky? Heck yeah it can! (Music + Literature + Halloween = I did it!)
Still not sure you agree. Well, let me give you some further evidence for my case.
Exhibit 1: Now I have a story that I’d like to tell
This is the first line of Will Smith (aka the Fresh Prince) and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s great ‘Nightmare on My Street,’ a whimsical homage to horror movies. But, they are not alone in invoking things that go bump in the night. Countless songs across varying genres chronicle stories of ghosts, ghouls and monsters or retell even famous scary stories.
The Who penned a song about Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Eminem also named-dropped that story in more than one song. Plus his song ‘Stan’ about a psychotic fan definitely falls into the category of frightening. Johnny Cash saw ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky.’ The Eagles wrote lyrics about a creepy hotel in California. Ice Cube rapped about Frankenstein. The Charlie Daniels band famously fiddled with the devil in Georgia. More recently, Radiohead released a song about burning witches.
This could go on for a while. So let’s just assume I’ve got your attention and get onto my next piece of evidence.
Exhibit 2: The skin’s alive; it’s leaving! The skin’s alive; it’s moving!
Music is more than just a single song. A story can be told across an entire album. With songs like ‘Skin Graft,’ ‘The Pit,’ ‘Mean Spirits,’ ‘Bloody Mary’ and (my favorite) ‘Out of Breath’ the Silversun Pickups album Neck of the Woods embodies the eerie, intense and terrifying sense of a horror movie using sound and lyrics.
If we stay long enough
We can play with Bloody Mary
She’ll chase us though the dark
Activate our nerve endings
Other albums that are horror-inspired or at least horror-adjacent
- The Misfit’s – ‘American Psycho,’ described by Entertainment Weekly as “goofy formula of lyrics inspired by bad horror movies”
- My Chemical Romance – ‘The Black Parade’, which tells the story of The Patient and what happens as he transitions into death
- Pink Floyd – ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’ an eerie album that includes themes of death and insanity, also rumored to be a soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz (that puts this in the super weird, creepy category alone for me)
Exhibit 3: It’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark
That line sounds like the beginning of a spooky story right? Well, if you are a child of the 80s, at any point obsessed over Michael Jackson or just live on the planet earth, you probably already realized that is the opening line of ‘Thriller’. The epic song turned epic, game-changing movie/video even features a poem read by the Vincent Price, who practically owns the concept of creepy.
Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y’awl’s neighborhood
No other song probably brings music, literature and Halloween together better than this one. I rest my case.