Pop Culture Miscellany

Trek or Wars?


So, I was talking recently with this guy and when I happened to mention that I wasn’t blown away by the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, the way I’d hoped to be, he replied, “Well, that makes sense… you’ve always been more of a Trekkie anyway.”

Whoa, wait… what?!

I have to admit, I was a little taken aback.

Not that I deny being a major Trekkie, of course. How can I, when I honestly can’t remember a time before I’d seen the original Star Trek series? Hell, one of my strongest memories of kindergarten — kindergarten! — is talking to a little girl about this cool guy on TV called Spock. But somehow it surprises me to think that people believe I prefer one of these pop-cultural juggernauts to the other. Certainly I’ve never seen myself as having a preference.

People love their rivalries, though, don’t they? Sports teams, political parties, favorite hamburger chains, what make of pickup truck you drive… the list is endless. For nerds, the irresolvable conflicts are Marvel vs. DC and Star Trek vs. Star Wars. I can tell you from personal experience that nerd rivalries are every bit as bitter as those between football fans. My first real taste of that came from this kid I knew back in college. He was frankly the biggest nerd I’ve ever met, the sort who was absolutely convinced there had to be an “in-universe” explanation for why the sets were different on later seasons of the BBC sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf than they’d been in the first year. (Um, because the production company got a bigger budget and built new ones?! As nerdy as I proudly am, I’ve always had this stubborn connection to real-world, behind-the-scenes reality.) This guy was so extreme in how seriously he took his fannish interests that he could’ve been a character on The Big Bang Theory. He would’ve been the guy the regular characters on The Big Bang Theory look down on, actually. Anyhow, this guy left me speechless one afternoon by snottily decreeing that he was a Trekkie and he hated Star Wars because there are obviously more story possibilities inherent in a trek than in a war. Um, okay, whatever, man.

Personally, I’ve always found the rivalry between the two properties and/or their fans, this idea that there are two warring camps who can never, ever find common ground, silly.and contrived, in spite of my old college pal’s rotten attitude. If you prefer one over the other, that’s your prerogative, but it’s perfectly possible to enjoy both, and I suspect most people — at least the people who like this stuff at all — like both.

For the record, I consider my affections pretty evenly divided between the two, about 50/50. Over the years, my focus has shifted back and forth between them, largely depending on which was more prominent in the culture at the time (Trek was far more active in the late ’80s and early ’90s, for instance, while Star Wars was in a fallow period then), but I love ’em both more or less equally. I find neither “superior” because they’re not trying to accomplish the same thing, and both franchises have produced lots of dross in name of the almighty marketing machine. From Trek, I’ve taken a lot of my personal sense of morality and ethics, as well as (probably) my urge to explore — or perhaps the stories of exploration have resonated with some trait that was already baked into my character. But Star Wars excites me in a way Trek never has. One appeals to my intellect and the other to my gut, I suppose. They are the poles at either end of my nerdy continuum.

Of course, at the moment, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is more consistently satisfying me than either Trek or Wars, so figure that one out.

This has been another meaningless exercise in navel-gazing brought to you by a late hour and a fuzzy head grabbing inspiration from wherever it can…


Turkey and Cheesecake

Evidently, it used to be A Thing to photograph Hollywood starlets in silly holiday-themed scenarios involving oversized, seasonally appropriate props — giant jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, giant fireworks rockets for the Fourth of July, etc. And this practice was evidently A Thing for a very long time, as I’ve seen examples of it from the Silent Era up through the 1960s or thereabouts. (Barbara Eden of I Dream of Jeannie fame did a lot of these.) For today, allow me to share with you one of my favorites from this genre, featuring the lovely Mary Philbin.

Philbin was a busy actress during the 1920s and is best-known today for playing Christine in the original Lon Chaney version of The Phantom of the Opera (1925). Although her career mostly ended with the coming of talking pictures, she dubbed her own voice for a special 1930 reissue of Phantom, when it was given a synchronized score, sound effects, and some limited dialog scenes. She died in 1993, at the age of 90.

I have no idea when this photo was taken, but at a guess I’d say it was around the same time she appeared in Phantom, the mid-1920s. It always makes me smile. Hope it does the same for you.

thanksgiving_mary-philbin+turkeyHappy Thanksgiving to my Loyal Readers everywhere!


The Future Is Now…


Did you feel that? A kind of a tremor, as if some cosmic tumbler clicked into place? Or maybe it was a thunderclap of air being displaced by an object that wasn’t there a moment ago. Whatever it was, it brought with it a definite sense of… arrival. As if the world has finally caught up to something…

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you obviously didn’t spend any time on social media today, because it seemed to be the only thing on everybody’s minds. You see, today — October 21, 2015 — is the future date to which Marty McFly and Doc Brown time-travel from the year 1985 in the Back to the Future movies. The Internet being what it is, this was reason enough for today to become a sort of de facto online holiday. The memes and jokes were inescapable on Facebook, as was the complaining about how our actual 2015 doesn’t much resemble the one depicted in Back to the Future II, which was released in 1989. (I would argue that 2015 actually does have much in common with the fictional one. No, we don’t have hoverboards or flying cars, but our society is consumed with nostalgia, modern cars are pretty funny looking, and we are all eagerly awaiting the next high-numbered sequel in an old film series from the 1970s…)

Naturally, commercial entities were eager to hop onto the event’s coattails. Pepsi rolled out a limited edition “Pepsi Perfect” collector’s bottle like the one seen in BTTF II, complete with a retro-futuristic commercial that’s pretty entertaining. Nike announced it was coming out with self-lacing sneakers like the ones Marty sports in the movie, and made certain that Michael J. Fox got the first pair. (I have to confess, the video of him trying them on made me a little teary-eyed, as his Parkinson’s Disease is obviously advancing; it’s so damn sad what’s happening to him.) Toyota introduced its Mirai automobile, powered by a futuristic hydrogen fuel cell, with a long-form video featuring Fox and his co-star Christopher Lloyd, as well as some familiar-looking locations. Marvel Comics unveiled a cover design for an issue of its Deadpool & Cable title that mimics the familiar Back to the Future poster art. And there was a sweetly sentimental spot with Lloyd delivering a “message from Doc Brown,” which of course ends in a commercial pitch for a new BluRay collection of the trilogy.

Even the White House got into the spirit by declaring today “Back to the Future Day” and hosting a series of discussions on futurism and related topics.

Closer to home, Salt Lake’s arthouse cinema, the Tower Theater, held a marathon screening of the trilogy (complete with a Delorean out front!), and my own corporate overlords ran the movies on the big flatscreens in a couple of our conference rooms. Too bad I had too much work to do.

You know, the funny thing about all this is that I was working at a movie theater when Back to the Future II came out, and I remember it doing fairly well at the box office, but it was hardly a tremendous phenomenon. And even the original film, as big a hit as it was — and it was huge back in the day — never struck me as being, well, that big a deal. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. I had the poster on my bedroom wall, the soundtrack in my Walkman, and a Marty McFly-style denim jacket. And it’s a movie that has remained reliably and pleasantly watchable over the years. But if you’d have told me back in 1985 that three decades hence we would be making such a big fuss about a date we briefly glimpse on an LED readout in an old movie… well, I never imagined there would be a bigger uproar over a reboot of Ghostbusters than friggin’ Star Trek, either, so what do I know?

Some people have been kind of churlish about Back to the Future Day, posting that it wasn’t a very good movie anyway and they’re sick of hearing about hoverboards, etc. etc. I can see that. But personally I found today’s silliness a refreshing break from the usual hostility and political sniping… for one day, we were all posting about something other than gun control, abortion, and Donald Trump.

There’s only one thing that bothers me. Now that this momentous date has finally passed and we are most assuredly living in the unwritten future… what now?



Another Time, Another World


Live Aid has been called my generation’s Woodstock — Joan Baez herself made the comparison when she took the stage in Philadelphia to kick off the U.S. half of the show — but I wonder if the globe-spanning charity concert really had that same level of cultural impact. I suspect the name “Woodstock” would still mean something to kids today, two generations removed from that epochal event, but would those same kids recognize the words “Live Aid?” I just don’t know. As big a deal as it was at the time, I haven’t heard much about it in the intervening years, at least not until today, its 30th anniversary.

Ah, but thirty years ago today, I was fifteen years old, and Live Aid was just about the coolest thing that I’d ever seen, aside from Star Wars and the space shuttle: a day-long concert taking place simultaneously in two separate venues on two different continents, broadcast live on multiple television networks to a globe-spanning audience of over a billion people, all in the name of charity. I didn’t watch all sixteen hours of it, of course. As I recall, the TV was on all day while I was in and out of the room, going about my lazy summertime routines, and I would stop from time to time when one act or another caught my attention. But even though I wasn’t giving it my full attention, just having the event playing in the background made me feel as if I were… connected… a participant in something of tremendous significance, something bigger than myself. I was a witness to history. Or so it seemed at the time. It could that I was just a 15-year-old music fan who was blown away by the line-up of stars marching across the stages in London and Philadelphia. You can see some of them in the poster above, although that’s not a comprehensive listing. Basically, anyone who was anyone was there, either at Wembley or JFK Stadium.

My main man Rick Springfield, for example:

And then there was Phil Collins, who appeared on both stages, thanks to a supersonic hop across the pond aboard the late, lamented Concorde:

Yes, the ’80s were a very different time, and a lot more things seemed possible then. Even a Led Zeppelin reunion, probably the highlight of the whole day for me:

The mighty Zep had disbanded only five years before Live Aid, but this reunion performance nevertheless felt like something that had been a long time coming, as if the gods of legend had returned briefly from Olympus long enough to remind we puny mortals that the Earth had once been theirs, before vanishing again into realms beyond our ken. The fact that their performance was widely panned by the critics, and even by the surviving band members themselves (who refused to allow its inclusion in the official DVD set released a while back because they’re embarrassed by it), didn’t change the momentous atmosphere that surrounded it.

And that, I suppose, is a handy metaphor for the entire event. Looking back at Live Aid across a chasm of thirty years, I honestly have no idea whether it ultimately mattered, or did anything to help the people it was supposed to help. But at the time, we believed it would help. We really did, all of us who watched. And that was what made Live Aid such a big deal. That simple, naive faith that the world could be united by music to do something good felt… momentous. Sadly, though, it was fleeting. I can’t imagine a similar event happening today, for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because people just don’t have the right attitudes anymore. It’s not that we no longer feel compassion, but rather because, as a society, we just don’t have the same optimism we did then. About anything. So in that regard, I guess I really was a part of a historic event… or at least, of history. Because while it’s difficult to believe 30 years have passed, that optimistic world of 1985 seems as remote to me now as the one where men wore powdered wigs and velvet breeches.

Oh, wait. They did that in the 1980s, didn’t they? Some of them, anyhow. Well, you know what I mean…



Friday Evening Videos: “Pac-Man Fever”

Here’s something that will blow your mind, assuming you’re of the same general age as myself: Today is Pac-Man’s 35th birthday. Yes, Pac-Man, that minimalist yellow avatar of insatiable hunger, made his debut in Japan on May 22, 1980. (He wouldn’t arrive in the U.S. until October.)

Younger readers won’t see the significance, I’m sure, but to those of us who were there, Pac-Man was a very big deal indeed. Video games were still in their infancy in 1980, but were fast becoming a generation-defining fad, thanks to the popularity (and near-ubiquity, it seemed then) of Space Invaders and Asteroids. But then came Pac-Man, the first video game that was predicated on an activity other than shooting things (eating things, in this case) as well as the first game (as far as I know) that centered on a relatable, appealing character, unlike the so-called “space shooters” where you controlled a starship of some sort with no personality. Because of that cute little protagonist (and let’s be honest, Pac-Man’s enemies, the ghosts, were pretty cute too), the game actually appealed to girls, expanding a market that had been pretty much limited to the male of the species up until that time. Add the doubled audience to its fiendishly addictive gameplay, and it’s little wonder Pac-Man became the most popular arcade game of all time. The game’s manufacturer, Namco, sold nearly half a million units of the original version (not counting the sequel, Ms. Pac-Man), and continues to produce variations of it for every gaming platform now in existence. It’s still not unusual to run across a vintage Pac-Man cabinet these days, and it remains as fun and compelling as it ever was, unlike its contemporaries (when was the last time you saw, let alone dropped a quarter into a Space Invaders game?).

But it wasn’t just a popular game. Pac-Man the character became a genuine cultural phenomenon as he was licensed to all sorts of ancillary products and media. Pac-Man turned up on t-shirts and school folders, there were (still are!) toys of every description, there was a Saturday-morning cartoon series on television, and you could even eat Pac-Man cereal… if you were brave enough.

And on the radio there was the novelty song “Pac-Man Fever” by a duo called Buckner & Garcia.

Jerry Buckner and Gary Garcia had had some success with novelty songs before, and even co-wrote the lyrics for the extended version of the WKRP in Cincinnati theme song, which was released as a single in 1979. But it was a silly little ditty about a hot new fad that really gave them their 15 minutes. The song hit number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in March 1982. Here’s a clip of them performing it on the television series Solid Gold, which if you don’t recall — and if you don’t, I’m really sorry, because the Solid Gold Dancers were something, man! — was a syndicated television countdown of the top-ten pop hits of the week, featuring live (or more often lip-synched) performances by the stars themselves. I never missed it back in the day.

Ladies and gentlemen, Buckner & Garcia in a perfect time capsule from a better era:



I’d Watch an Entire Series of This!

Any Star Wars fan worth his or her salt knows that George Lucas was heavily inspired by the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s. I also fell in love with those serials as a boy, when they aired on television as part of a locally produced children’s show called Lighthouse 20 (it was on channel 20, get it?). They were pretty primitive looking by the standards of the late 1970s (never mind how they look today!), but I was enchanted by their earnestness and sense of exotic adventure, as well as the compulsively addicting cliffhanger endings of each episode. (It didn’t hurt that the serials were one of the very few bits of sci-fi I could share with my father, who didn’t understand my nerdy obsessions at all but had happy memories of watching these on TV himself as a kid in the 1950s.)

Flash is one of those great characters, like Sherlock Holmes or Superman, who seems to get reinvented every few decades for a new generation, and who can adapt to just about any medium. He started off in a newspaper comic strip written and drawn by the great artist Alex Raymond, and has since appeared in the film serials starring Buster Crabbe; in radio serials; in a 1950s TV show starring Steve Holland; in a variety of animated TV versions; in a plethora of comic books and novels; and of course, in the infamous 1980 feature film that’s likely remembered more for its bombastic soundtrack music by the rock group Queen than anything (although weirdly enough, it’s actually pretty faithful, visually speaking, to Raymond’s original strips!) The most recent effort to revive the character, a live-action series produced for the Sci-Fi Channel in 2007, was a misfire, but I’ve no doubt some big Flash project will be coming along again before too long.

In the meantime, we Gordon fans can content ourselves with a little treasure I’ve just discovered called Flash Gordon Classic, a fan film produced by a professional animator named Robb Pratt, who has worked on a number of features and TV series for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Pratt has blended elements from the ’30s serials (the opening crawl, the music, the giant lizard) and the 1980 feature (Flash’s origin as a football player and Ming’s magical ring), and spiced it up with a bit of Heavy Metal-style pulchritude (you’ll see what I mean), and the end result is, well, charming. Doctor Zarkov sounds a bit too much like Groo from the Despicable Me movies, but that’s a middling complaint. The truth is, I’m in love all over again…

I wish there was more of this… I’d not only watch an entire series of this Flash Gordon, I’d watch the hell out of it!

Hat tip to Christopher Mills, proprietor of the Space: 1970 blog, as well as many other interesting things, including his own Flash-inspired planetary romance comic, Perils on Planet X.


Missing Something

fanx-2015_bannerFanX 2015 is now in the books, and, well… I’m feeling pretty weird about not going. This was the fourth major pop-culture convention held under the Salt Lake Comic Con brand, and, counting the rival FantasyCon, the fifth convention of this type in Salt Lake in the past fourteen months. And my lovely Anne and I have attended all of them… until now.

We chose to sit this one out for perfectly good reasons. Coming only a handful of months after the last Comic Con in September, and only one month after Christmas, it was hard to justify the expense again so soon. Plus, we’re saving our pennies for a major adventure we have planned for the fall — more on that another time. And also, the first few celebrity guests that were announced just didn’t excite us that much. The con this time around looked like it was going to be built around several TV properties that are very popular right now, but which we’re not that into: Doctor Who (which I enjoy but I’m not crazy about), The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones. And to be perfectly honest, I think we were just a little burned out after going to four of these things in the space of a year. So we decided to pass on this one, and we were perfectly okay with that decision.

Later on, I was tempted when the organizers announced Christopher Lloyd, who was scheduled for one of the earlier cons but disappointed us by cancelling, but we decided one person really wasn’t reason enough to change our minds, considering the cost. Then came Carrie Fisher. I’ve met her before at a book signing, already have her autograph and a fuzzy snapshot of myself with her… I adore this hilarious, eccentric woman and would love the opportunity to get a better photo with her, but… I’ve met her before, so it was okay. Anthony Michael Hall and Ralph Macchio, two icons of my teen years in the Awesome ’80s, would’ve been fun to meet, but I could resist them. Same for Ray Park, a.k.a. Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace. Or so I kept telling myself. By this time, I was experiencing some genuine pangs of regret, but I stuck to my guns.

Last Monday, only days before the event, the organizers announced they’d gotten Nichelle Nichols, a.k.a. Uhura in the original Star Trek television series and movies. She was the first celebrity I ever met, way back in 1988, and the snapshot I have of her with me and my college buddy Jaren is one of my most cherished mementos. Jaren and I chatted soon after the announcement about how fun it would be for the two of us to take that photo to her and ask her if we could recreate it… but he wasn’t going to FanX this time either. If he had been, I would’ve caved. As it was, it just wouldn’t be as much fun to meet her again without him along, not after he and I had talked about it.

Then the con got underway, and a couple of my coworkers went to it, and photos started appearing on Facebook of cosplayers and celebrities and little kids with big excited eyes, and the local news covered it every night like it was a big important political rally. And those little pangs of regret started mushrooming into… something else. I felt an anxiety I haven’t really experienced since I was a kid. I’m an only child and I always liked being around the adults more than kids my own age, so when the adults were off someplace where I wasn’t welcome — parent-teacher conferences, R-rated movies, parties or bars, you get the idea — it drove me absolutely crazy. I couldn’t stand the feeling of not being included. I sometimes worked myself into a complete dither because I might be missing something. That’s what I’ve been feeling all weekend as FanX 2015 unfolded. Like there’s something happening that I should be at, but I’m not.

I kept these feelings to myself, at first. I thought I was being silly. Then, Friday night, Anne asked me if I wanted to try and go for the final, biggest day, which was yesterday. Saturday. I asked if she was just indulging me. And she said no, that we had been there at the beginning, at the very first Salt Lake Comic Con when nobody thought this thing was going to fly, and nobody knew what they were doing. “It’s like we’re a part of it,” she said, “and it feels really weird to not be there.”

I kissed her on the end of the nose and told her I felt the exact same way, and that I loved her for saying it.

We did not go, in the end. Again, we had reasons… money, timing, other priorities. Grown-up, responsible reasons. But we spent an hour tonight looking through other peoples’ photos on Facebook, and wishing we hadn’t been so damn responsible…



I’m a Lover, and I’m a Sinner…

The sunshine streaming in through my Mustang’s windshield is almost spring-like, a welcome relief from the oppressive cold of last week. I want to stretch like a cat as my face and arms absorb the warmth. The snow banks alongside the road are melting, casting thin silver streams out onto the asphalt where they shine and flash and shush beneath the car. I happily sing along with the song on the radio, remembering all the times I sang this one as a young man with a cool car and no particular place to be: “Some people call me the Space Cowboy… some call me the Gangster of Love… ”

And then suddenly I remember Homer Simpson singing the same song, under the same circumstances, and the words catch in my throat, and I look around self-consciously, because… Homer Simpson, man.



Ian McKellan Understands Fans

ian-mckellen-velvet-and-smokeOne of my favorite media personalities in recent years has been Sir Ian McKellen, the Shakespearean-trained actor who attained fame relatively late in life with his spot-on portrayals of two icons of geekery: Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr, the sympathetic villain of the X-Men films, and the wizard Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. In addition to these enormously popular movies, McKellen has also built a wide following through fairly regular posts to Facebook and Twitter, in which he unfailingly radiates warmth and good humor. (His “tourists in New York” photos with friend and fellow icon Patrick Stewart quickly became a viral phenomenon last spring, because they were just so damn charming.)

I think one of the big reasons he’s become so beloved, though, is because he understands fans and what makes us tick. Rather than being put off by our enthusiasm, he embraces it… because he gets where it’s coming from. From an interview I recently ran across:

“When people are waiting outside the stage door to see me, these days they want a ‘selfie’, and you just put your arm round them and you discover they are shaking.


“You must not take this personally because you may get the wrong idea about yourself, but it is a huge moment for people when they see made flesh an image that they are familiar with and that they like.


“Well, I am just the same. I would be exactly the same if I were to meet Brad Pitt or George Clooney.


“I am sure I would be like a little groupie.”

I’ve attended four good-sized fan conventions in the last year, largely for the purpose of meeting celebrities. Not everybody understands why I do it, or how I can justify throwing down a not-insignificant amount of cash to get my photo taken with some actor and spend a few seconds making small talk with them. (To be honest, I’ve wondered that more than a few times myself!)  McKellan explains it about as well as I’ve ever managed to: “It is a huge moment for people when they see made flesh an image that they are familiar with and that they like.” And that’s all there is to it, really… this image I have enjoyed and admired and learned from and been comforted by suddenly becomes tangible. And it’s… huge. It’s emotionally moving. It’s a thrill. Especially if the flesh-and-blood person turns out to be friendly or kind or appears to be genuinely interested in me. (I’ve had that experience a number of times, and it’s incredibly… I guess the best word is “validating.”)

It pleases me that McKellan understands… and it amuses me that he says he’d do the same thing for the celebs he admires. He’s human. He’s one of us. I hope I get to meet him myself some day… even if it’s only for 30 seconds of small talk and a selfie…


The Sounds of Halloween

When I was a kid, my dad always made big plans for Halloween. We had the paper skeletons in the windows and the jack-o-lanterns on the front porch, but he wanted to do something more impressive. Of course, this was the 1970s, long before there was a seasonal Halloween super store on every corner and Hollywood-style special-effects gadgets available to the public. If you wanted something more than, well, paper skeletons and jack-o-lanterns, you had to figure out how to make it yourself. Like the time a neighbor of ours turned his barn into a “haunted attraction,” or, as we called ’em back then, a spook alley. (Basically, he would lead neighborhood kids on a twisty path through the barn while older kids in rubber fright masks jumped out from behind farm equipment and hay bales to scare the little ones. It was pretty primitive compared to what you could do these days, but it was effective.)

Dad’s ideas weren’t quite so grandiose as that. He wasn’t the sort to try and organize a small army of young helpers; instead his ideas focused on things he could do by himself. For example, he used to talk about getting a refrigerator box from Mortensen’s Furniture Store, painting it to look like a coffin, and setting it up on the front porch, so he could “rise” for the trick-or-treaters. Then there was his idea to put together a Headless Horseman outfit and ride our ghostly white horse Thunder through the dark subdivision streets behind our house, just so he could be seen. Sadly, neither of those schemes ever went anywhere. Dad worked the afternoon shift back in those days  — 2 to 11 PM — so he often wasn’t around on Halloween night.

But one of his ideas that did come to fruition was to rig up a speaker in the front-room window and play a record of spooky sound effects to set the mood for trick-or-treaters as they approached the house. As I recall, the record included the usual Halloween-ish fare like rattling chains, moans, and creaking doors, and also since this was in the post-Star Wars late ’70s, there were some “spacey” sounds like flying saucers landing and rayguns zapping. And somewhat incongruously, there was the sound of a giant gong ringing. I myself never found that to be especially frightening — I associated it with the old movies I saw on TV, actually — but based on the reaction of one small child, at least, I may have been wrong about that.

I remember sitting on the couch the Halloween we played that record, looking out the window as the kid timidly mounted the front steps of our house. His mother waited back on the sidewalk for him, and thinking about it with an adult’s perspective, I realize this was probably a big night for him… the first time he’d had the courage to venture out on his own a bit, perhaps the first time his mom had loosened the apron strings enough to let him do it. The kid had to stand on his tippytoes and stretch out his index finger to reach the doorbell… and by coincidence, just at the instant he pressed the button, that gong crashed out of the speaker and rolled into the night. The kid seemed to contract into himself like an accordion as he pivoted on one foot and ran screaming back to his mother. My own mother opened the front door and tried to lure him back for his candy, but the kid was too traumatized to set foot anywhere beyond the edge of our front lawn. I didn’t know whether to laugh or feel sorry for him. And now, over 30 years later, I really hope our inadvertent prank didn’t set back his development somehow.

You know, it’s odd… as many childhood relics as I can easily lay my hands on, I have no idea whatever happened to that record. I imagine my mom has it tucked away some place, or at least I hope she does. Because I really did love it. Not for the sound effects, fun though they were. But they were only one side of the LP. No, what I really loved was the ghost story on the other side of the album, which was like an old-time radio show with actors and sound effects painting creepy, hair-raising pictures in our minds. I must’ve listened to that side of the album a thousand times, even well after the month of October was over, giving myself a good case of the creeps in the middle of the summertime.

I don’t know what made me think of that record earlier this week. It’s probably been decades since I’ve seen or heard it. But some confluence of the decorations around the house or the movies I’ve been watching to get in the seasonal mood, or perhaps just the slanting, guttering light and fragile warmth of an October day… something jarred loose an old memory. And so, without even recalling the title of this ancient piece of ephemera, I started googling… and as ever, I found myself utterly amazed by what you can find out there in the back alleys and hole-in-the-wall curiosity shoppes that comprise the InterWebs.

It turns out I’m not the only one with fond memories of this record, as it was ridiculously easy to track down. It was called Halloween Horrors: The Sounds of Halloween (and Other Useful Effects), released in 1977 by A&M Records, serial number SP-3152, with cover art by a guy named Gary Meyer. And here it is:

Halloween Horrors_LP_front-cover

And here’s the back cover:

Halloween Horrors_LP_back-cover

I even found a version without the credits, so you can appreciate that fantastic illustration:

Halloween Horrors_LP_back-cover-no-credits

Isn’t that great? I love this album’s artwork, and I now recall spending a lot of time studying it as a boy. These illustrations are, to me, the very essence of Halloween: not the intense, deeply disturbing stuff that haunted attractions and horror films have turned into, but more the decrepit-house-on-the-hill Gothic sort of thing.

And now, here’s the most unexpected find of all, the piece de resistance… the actual story from the album, digitized and YouTubed for our modern convenience:

Children of the ’80s ought to pay especially close attention as they listen to that. Does the voice of the gas station attendant sound familiar? It should… that’s Peter Cullen, who played Optimus Prime in the old Transformers cartoon and continues to bring life to that character in the Michael Bay films today! As I said, the things you can discover out there on the Web…