As many of us know, the greatest holiday known to man is right around the corner. For centuries, October 31st has stood as both the reverent gateway to colder months and the reason for simultaneous remembrance and celebration. The ancient Celts' festival of Samhain and the superstition-based practices that accompanied it are commonly understood to be the the source of all things Halloween which continue to captivate communities around the globe hundreds of years later. Their fears and their prayers stemmed from seasonal shifts and the wiles of their mother earth, and that night meant to them a turning point that could be honored only by the meshing of past, present and future. They believed otherworldly spirits would roam freely, if only for a short while, both threatening their well-being and allowing their religious leaders to accurately predict what days to come would bring.
Today, we're fortunate enough to have central heating to keep us warm, electricity and light bulbs which in tandem shield us from encroaching darkness, and the freedom to decide our own fates without the religious dictation of others. We have not, however, escaped the ultimate prospect of death, and to remind ourselves of this is to make better use of the present, to stretch our emotional vocabularies as far as they will go and to refresh ourselves moving forward.
To reflect on this prospect, I propose a soundtrack to the week leading up to Halloween of songs that remind us of days past and the depths of the human spirit. Some are somber, others wild -- all meant to frighten, thrill and challenge us just as the impending weather promises to do. And just for good measure, I've included their alcoholic complements, since no seasonal celebration is complete without a good drink. (And also because you might be sad after reading this.)
1. "Surgeon" -- St. Vincent
This tune is not only a seamless jam and absolute proof of songstress Annie Clark's capabilities; it is an exercise in borrowed words. Its featured line "Best finest surgeon/ Come cut me open," is taken from an entry in Marilyn Monroe's diary which detailed a nightmare she had towards the end of her life in which a doctor has operated on her to find the source of her woes, but unearths sawdust instead of regular, human insides. The tragic star, raised out of nothingness to become one of America's most celebrated sexual icons suffered from crippling self-doubt, as many of us do. We put on a show, and in the meantime hope for quiet deliverance from all of life's issues.
The drink: Champagne, AKA Monroe's preferred beverage. (But was it, really?)
2. "Zombie" -- The Cranberries
Verifiable horrors in this world exist, unfortunately, in the realm of politics. (Don't worry, we won't dwell on it long.) The Irish '90s powergroup wrote this number in honor of the two children killed in the 1993 bombing committed by the Irish Republican Army, a group which believed that their desired goal of independence was achievable only through violence. The song even harkens back to the nation's Easter Rising of 1916, launched for similar reasons -- an attempt to end British rule in the territory. Almost 500 people died, and a good 1,800 Irish citizens, many of them innocent, were sent to British internment camps and prisons as punishment. The savage vocals and heavy guitars give us all an outlet as we face acts of senseless violence that continue today.
The drink: Guinness. Duh.
3. "Hey Man, Nice Shot" -- Filter
This one is about a suicide -- but not that of Kurt Cobain, as many people believe. The group attests that it pays tribute to Pennsylvania state treasurer R. Budd Dwyer and his decision to decision to shoot himself during a press conference upon his conviction on charges of bribery. The man was expected to face a hefty sentence based on his role in state employees' overpaid taxes, but insisted he had been framed. Anyway, what's Halloween without a little industrial rock? The lyrics poke some worrisome fun at the conundrum Dwyer found himself in, almost praising him: "You'd fight and you were right/ But they were just too strong." Money and corruption abounds. Scary stuff.
The drink: Vodka, straight up.
4. "Freak on a Leash" -- Korn
The prolific nu metal group put this song out in 1998 as lead singer Jon Davis's commenting on the treatment of bands by the corporate music industry, an entity which at times seems to be a very real embodiment of modern-day horror. In a statement upon the tune's release, Davis expressed the sensation of being paraded around like "a freak on a leash" by entertainment companies and his experience receiving less than he had earned upon the dreaded process of selling out. Ironically, the music video in question earned the band their only Grammy ever.
The drink: Jägerbomb.
5. "Tonight You Belong to Me" -- Patience and Prudence
Popularized more recently by "American Horror Story", this famous and unjustly adorable tune about infidelity was originally covered in 1956 by the young sisterly duo Patience and Prudence McIntyre, and written way back in a completely different time: by Billy Rose and Lee David in 1926. The old-time harmonies and playful, back-and-forth flow of poetry evokes intense meshing of generations, no matter which of the many renditions one chooses to enjoy. Though this version premiered as a successful introductory recording of the two girls to the Liberty Records company, the duo later attested that neither one had really wanted the fame; neither of their musical careers advanced beyond childhood.
The drink: Shirley Temple, black.
6. "Monster" -- Kanye West
Here we have more good 'n' sinister vibes regarding pop culture and the unequal give and take between successful musical artists. Moreover, what's any Hallows Eve jubilee without Nikki Minaj? We all need to sit back, relax and enjoy those snappy beats -- not to mention Jay-Z's shout-outs to so many critical names in monster classics during his bit.
The drink: Any of these sweet Halloween cocktails.
7. "Debaser" -- The Pixies
The entire "Doolittle" album, released in 1989 to overwhelmingly positive reception, at times makes less sense lyrically than its popularity would suggest. Dotted with biblical lessons in treachery and power struggles, the record appears to question the listener's existence within the overarching span of humanity; the Pixies in fact kicks things off with the first track, "Debaser", making a reference to surrealism and the 1929 surrealist film "Un Chien Andalou". Innovative punk styles and just a pinch of fantastic, creepy flavor carry us forward, stopping off at other standout tracks like "Wave of Mutilation", "Monkey Gone to Heaven" and "Hey". Killer album. New rule: Actually just make a point to listen to play this entire album at your party.
The drink: Knob Creek on the rocks.
8. "She's Leaving Home" -- The Beatles
With a sparse and lilting orchestra and the dishearteningly sing-song vocals of Paul McCartney, this "Sgt. Pepper's" selection is the perfect tune for staring out your window at dying leaves and wondering what life even is. It's understood that the group saw a story in the newspaper about a 17-year-old girl who had run away from home that year; her parents spoke in public following the incident expressing their confusion, explaining that they had given her everything she had ever wanted. Upon listening, one has no choice but to face life's depressing reality that children will inevitably grow up and leave their parents on their own time, unable to fathom the emptiness they leave in their wake.
The drink: Merlot...to drown your sorrows.