Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Three Songs of Madness, starting with...BRIGHT WHITE JACKETS

So many of the songs you hear endlessly around this time of year are just ooky-spooky kid stuff. Some of it is still good if it's not overplayed, from the Addams Family theme to "Monster Mash."

But the dull adults who regress around Halloween into giddy, pants-wetting little monsters just never stop, and that includes Tweets about what stupid limited edition action figure they just won on eBay, proudly idiotic Facebook snaps of themselves arm and arm at a memorabilia show with Conrad Brooks, or sharing their "slaylists" all over the Net…when they really should be caught in a net and tossed into a padded cell.

A good friend of mine, dead of course, was a cult actor who appeared in a lot of peculiar films, often as a character that was basically him doing his own macabre (to the point of parody) lines. His stand-up act was an equally bizarre mix of lunacy and tragedy. But despite being the type of guy who'd be a pal of (the equally late) Forry Ackerman (editor of "Famous Monsters") he wasn't particularly a fan of the ooky-spooky.

Paraphrasing him, he told me once, "The real horror is not Poe, not monsters…but our very existence. What happens when we die? Why is there such madness in the world, and how heartbreaking is it to find every precious day governed by anxiety and fear because your mind is going against you? Your mind torments you as uncontrollably as the heart can attack you. Then it's all over. All over…to nothing. That is horror, not what you can see and destroy with a stake through its heart, but what you are truly helpless to control; madness and death. That is the nightmare that truly haunts some of us all through the "fever called living."

I think we get a kick out of Halloween stuff involving Frankenstein's monster or zombies…because they're cartoonish targets; kill them and it purges our fears for a while. This is why the giddy asshole who dresses up as Uncle Fester and serves pumpkin pie and pumpkin latte at a Halloween party with his geek friends is not going to tune in a movie like "Frances" once everyone's sleepy and burping. He'll choose "Ghostbusters." Because a movie about mental illness, about cruelty, about the way paranoia or schizophrenia can turn a person's world into a neverending horror show, is a little TOO real. The reality that people can lose reality, or be achingly and acutely aware of reality (such as the fact that we DIE) is just not…well…HALLOWEENIE.

Which is why it's here, on this blog. Go listen to "Monster Mash" somewhere else (although Bobby Pickett's ecological re-make "Monster Slash IS here on the blog).

The blog is offering three very different songs about madness this time. The first is very much in the spirit of "Frances." It's by April Smith, who has, fortunately for her, gone on to become a kind of rock Betty Boop, using her Lauper-like voice for tasty, sometimes campy rock songs that aren't nearly as dire as this. Her albums are well worth buying (and I have) and she gives a wonderful and varied show with her band (I'll go see her any time) but there's only one "Bright White Jackets," a song I don't think she performs on stage these days. Not when folks come for retro love ballads and escapist rock spiced with humor.

The song is about a woman who is going off to therapy…which will involve medication, or perhaps brain surgery. It may take away her stress, anxiety and irrational fears, or the side-effects might eradicate her entire personality and leave her the walking wounded...tranquilized to stress but barely living. April's music video for the song, which harkens back to the 40's when Frances Farmer was dragged away to asylum hell, is pretty good, but this is the kind of song where you'd rather imagine it all for yourself. It didn't exactly match images I had, personalized to my own specific fears and fatalistic despair. But you can find the video on YouTube and hey, Google's cyclops will pay April a few pennies for the hit.

Listen to it as strictly audio first. April's voice hits notes here that have raised the hairs on my neck. There are "one hit wonder" songs that are a wonder because they are unique...same way a film is unique. In movies about madness, you'll find, among other unique gems, "Dementia," "Frances" and "Carnival of Souls," each different and impossible to duplicate and get the same effect. In songs about madness, there's everything from an Alice Cooper concept album to "Shine on Brightly" from Procol Harum to this song. Each is unique in tackling a certain aspect of mental illness. It's no surprise really that April never attempted to top it with anything similar.

This is a unique ballad, and it's matched by a unique singer with an expressive range and distinctive, magnificent voice.


No comments: