I rather like Halloween. In the last few years, it has really gone bonkers here in the UK. While it’s stupidly commercial now, and, much like most cultural developments in recent years, now has a very American twang to it, it just about has enough of the chill of Halloweens of my youth to appeal. By way of a contrast, Guy Fawkes Night, the other ‘slightly risky’ festival of this time of year, has definitely seen a decline. Heath & Safety-ed into strictly organised dullness now, it is far from the free-for-all gunpowder-fest of random banger and rocket attacks that it was in the ‘good old days’ of my teenage. Still, Halloween’s slightly menacing Trick-or-Treat threat from masked mini-hooligans is probably easier to cope with than a Roman Candle through the letter-box.
As mentioned, the Halloween of today is an American Halloween. Basically and simplistically, we have imported back the blended American version of all the individual All Hallows’ Eve customs we Europeans exported to the New World in the first place. More specifically, at Coffee & Flapjacks Mansions, we are rather enamoured with what I’m going to call an Americana Halloween, Americana being the term that gets applied to all things supposedly redolent of ‘authentic’ America, irrespective of whether they really are or not – in this case, The Adams Family, A Nightmare Before Christmas, many pumpkin Jack O’Lanterns, Edward Gorey illustrations, Sleepy Hollow (not the TV series!), you know the sort of thing. Over the two days before Halloween, the house is transformed into a be-cobwebbed warren inhabited by skeletons and flickering, grinning pumpkins plus spiders and bats (plastic) and cats (real). It’s pretty damn spectacular and monumentally scary, not least as it’s a massive fire-risk….
One of our favourite Halloween soundtracks is the only album by Dead Man’s Bones. Released in 2009 it is called, er, Dead Man’s Bones. It has a nostalgia in both sounds and tone for our imagined Americana Halloweens of old, taking things seriously yet having fun with it. It’s atmospheric, just a touch kitsch, and yet doesn’t quite descend into novelty spoof, despite its ingredients. Some tracks feature the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir who are both simultaneously joyous and somehow menacing. In fact, in places the album delivers genuine chills and is just occasionally, and rather unexpectedly, disturbing. All in all, just like the modern Halloween, enjoyable, if rather vacuous, frightening-lite fun.
I’m not sure the album is currently available but you can usually get it on eBay.
On YouTube there are several of the band’s videos including a couple of knock-out live performances. And, before you say it, yes, that is Ryan Gosling singing and playing the piano. Spooky.