I’m taking a risk and pre-writing all my October columns.
Why is that a risk? Because it’s 2020. The last time I wrote a column early a civil rights movement broke out between the time I filed it and when it ran. I was going to file this on Wednesday but got sidetracked, and since then the President of the United States 1) was exposed to the plague by his top aide, 2) tested positive for the plague, and 3) was hospitalized to undergo experimental treatments that may end up killing him faster than the plague itself. And that was all in less than 24 hours! [Gokhman edit: Sorry Kellyanne, you didn’t make it in to the mentions].
But I’m going to do it anyway because it’s October, and that means it’s time for 31 days of spooky music! Halloween deserves to be a whole season far more than Christmas in large part because it has much better music, as I went into in-depth last year in a similar series of columns. And since my esteemed editor Gokhman’s first reaction upon finding out was to sternly tell me not to do a boring rehash, here are the same five songs I listed in the first Halloween column of 2019.
The Misfits — “Dig Up Her Bones”
OK, I’m not actually going to do that. Not because Gokhman told me to but because there are so many great Halloween songs to choose from that it’s a shame to just reuse the same ones. It’s leaving a lot of great material on the table and even I won’t go that far to annoy my boss.
In fact, the songs don’t even have to be explicitly horrifying to be pretty danged horrifying! For example have you ever really listened to the lyrics of these tracks?
Ricky Martin — “Livin’ La Vida Loca”
I’m serious this time, this really is my first horror song.
Don’t be seduced by the catchy horns and major key and really listen to the lyrics. This isn’t a song about a manic pixie dream-girl making Ricky Martin’s protagonist really live life for the first time. It’s a textbook tale of a really, really abusive relationship. Don’t believe me? Switch the genders, make the lyrics declarative statements, and listen again.
“He’ll make you live his crazy life, but he’ll take away your pain. Like a bullet to your brain.”
“Woke up in New York City in a funky cheap hotel. He took my heart and he took my money, he must’ve slipped me a sleeping pill.”
“He never drinks the water, makes you order French champagne. Once you’ve had a taste of him you’ll never be the same. Yeah, he’ll make you go insane.”
Tell me that’s not both a cry for help and a warning to others. It’s a legitimately unsettling song. Catchy, though.
Third Eye Blind — “Semi-Charmed Life”
Yeah, this is kinda the classic example of a secretly disturbing song. But it works in the column, is disturbing, is a good song and it maintains our status as the Internet’s leading source for Third Eye Blind news that Stephan Jenkins doesn’t want you to read. You may think I’m kidding but we seriously do get a ridiculous number of readers from Google seeking out our ongoing chronicles of Third Eye Blind’s legal drama.
Anyway, if you haven’t heard in the last 23 years, this song is about meth addiction and how it destroys your life. Not that you’d know it from the radio edit in this video, which clips the key line: “Doing crystal meth will lift you up until you break.”
It actually gets darker from there: “It won’t stop, I won’t come down/ I keep stock with a tick-tock rhythm, a bump for the drop/ And then I bumped up, I took the hit that I was given/ Then I bumped again, then I bumped again.”
Finally, at the end of the bridge, lines that are somewhere between a psychological horror movie and “Requiem for a Dream” in terms of disturbing: “Still it’s all that I want to do, just a little now/ Feel myself hovering off the ground/ I’m scared, I’m not coming down/ No, no/ And I won’t run for my life/ She’s got her jaws now locked down in a smile/ But nothing is all right.”
Florence and the Machine — “What the Water Gave Me”
This one’s a suggestion by my dear friend Dr. Robin St. Clare, who you should follow on Twitter because she’s brilliant. Definitely a better follow than me. Probably don’t follow me.
As you might expect from the artist, this isn’t quite as deceptively upbeat as the others on the list. Florence Welch doesn’t really do upbeat, though by her standards it’s uptempo. But unless you really listen, it may not be obvious that this song is about Virginia Woolf’s suicide in 1941.
Woolf—for those of you who aren’t familiar with early 20th century authors because of the failures of our public education system—killed herself by filling the pockets of her overcoat with rocks and walking into the river to drown. That is just an awful way to go. And for the icing on the horror movie cake? This is a quote from her suicide note: “Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time.”
Even if Welch tried to make the music match that tone, I’m not sure it’s possible to get quite that depressing. Gokhman wants you to know he was one of the first journalists in the United States to interview her, more than a decade ago, but since becoming famous she’s never called him since. Still, we’ve covered her a lot.
Foster the People — “Pumped Up Kicks”
When this first came out I was actually pretty surprised people didn’t listen closely enough to realize that this is a song about a school shooting. [Gokhman note: Everyone knew]. Is that still the case? [Gokhman note: Most have probably forgotten who Foster the People are]. Do you still not know this is a song about a school shooting? Because it’s right there in the chorus.
Anyway, this song reminds me of an even darker remake of “Carrie” without the supernatural elements. That is a movie that Hollywood should absolutely not make, because today’s students are experiencing enough trauma from their school shooting drills without seeing it dramatized for entertainment.
The thing is, this is from 2010, but there’s an entire genre of school shooting songs. “Youth of the Nation” by POD in 2001, for example. Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” from 1991. It’s almost like this has been an issue for a really long time and we should stop blaming the kids and start blaming the ridiculously easy access to guns, the boys-will-be-boys hand-waiving of abuse, and the stigmatization of mental health treatment. But that would be too easy.
Barry Manilow — “Copacabana”
The story begins with a showgirl named Lola and her boyfriend, the club’s bartender Tony. Even though she yearned for stardom and he was happy to just serve drinks they were very deeply in love.
One night a local gangster named Rico showed up with his entourage. He called Lola over to his booth after the show and “went too far,” which in the 21st century we understand to be sexual assault. She reacted much as you would expect and Tony came over from the bar to defend his girlfriend. A fight erupted between Tony and the gangsters. Tony was shot and killed.
Flash forward 30 years. The club is now a disco, but Lola still comes every night to sit at Tony’s bar in her old, faded showgirl costume. She never was able to truly continue living, succumbing to depression and alcoholism after that night. The final line of the song is, “She lost her youth and she lost her Tony, now she’s lost her mind.”
Not such a cheerful song now, is it?[Gokhman note: This column was more about tragic songs than scary songs… wasn’t it?].
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.