Friday, October 24, 2014

Scary songs to sing in the dark.

Only one week until Halloween! The suspense is terrible... I hope it lasts.

On this last theme weekend before I retreat into my velvet-lined year-long slumber, we're going to honor songs that scared the crap out of me when I was a kid, and maybe did the same for you. Over the past couple years, I've been revisiting my favorite scary books from childhood, and although there are lots that I loved--the supernatural mysteries of John Bellairs (illustrated by Edward Gorey!), the surreal weirdness of Roald Dahl (especially The Witches), the anti-conformist sci-fi odyssey A Wrinkle in Time--the scariest by far has to be Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

I still remember the exact location of this series of books in my elementary school library, and the feeling of dread when I would go near them. That dread couldn't overpower my curiosity, however, and despite my fear, I read and reread all three. It's not the stories in these books that are especially scary, though. They basically retell folklore and legends that have been spun around campfires for decades, or even centuries. What is scary here is the art, and even when viewed as an adult, it is truly horrifying! 

While Alvin Schwartz collected tales from all over the country to fill the books, illustrator Stephen Gammell came up with some of the most terrifying images ever to be printed in children's literature. As a kid, I imagined the ghastly figures in these drawings had been carved out of lard--they have a spongy, waxen quality that makes them look like they would smell really, really bad. Gammell used pure grade nightmare essence as his medium, and because the pictures are so disturbing, the books have often been banned. For the series' 30th anniversary, the publisher went so far as to replace the art with less horrific fare, much to the outcry of longtime Gammell fans.

The originals can still be found in many used book outlets, however, and the video for today's song includes several of Gammell's most well-known works. It's a version of "The Hearse Song," which is featured in 1981's first volume of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The band Harley Poe, which lead singer Joe Whiteford aptly describes as "Voilent Femmes meets a slasher flick," does the song spooky justice. I can just imagine hearing this around a campfire, right before something really, really horrible emerges from the woods...

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