Halloween is just a week away, and our 12-year-old son is revved up about it as usual. Evan has assembled a costume, has a Halloween party tonight and has made his trick-or-treating plans for next week.
Good for him. Halloween is not my thing.
We always went trick-or-treating when we were kids, but we never had the cool costumes. Our parents raised three boys on a rather modest income, so we would get a mask — usually a popular cartoon character — and that would be about it. Just the way it was.
Masks meant a choice of the lesser of two evils: Wear my glasses under the mask and have the mask not fit properly, or go without my glasses and not see anything clearly. I remember going as Superman because it was easy enough to scare up a cape, and you didn’t need a mask. (And you could take the glasses on and off as needed.)
On Halloween 1970, we were visiting my grandmother, so we had to go trick-or-treating in her town that Saturday night. Grandma lived in an old rental house in a rundown neighborhood hard by the railroad tracks in a small town in central Wisconsin. We were kids, so we never really noticed. It was just Grandma’s neighborhood.
My brothers and I — we were 13, 11 and 6 — had covered a couple of blocks when we walked up to a low-slung one-story house with a flat roof and a bunch of junk in the yard. It faced the tracks. We rang the doorbell and shouted “Trick or treat!”
After a short while, the door creaked open and a disheveled middle-aged woman peered out. Startled, it took her a couple of moments to comprehend what we were doing there. I was only 13, but somehow, I knew what was going on. She wasn’t expecting anyone.
The woman didn’t say much — maybe “Oh, my” — and then walked away from the door. Through the screen door, we saw her rummaging around a table. She came back to the door and dropped a couple of pennies into each of our bags.
The woman who wasn’t expecting anyone didn’t have anything to give anyone, either.
I suppose we kept on trick-or treating that night, but that was it for me. Done. Forever.
I’ve always wondered whether the kids in that little town just knew — or were told — not to go down to that house. We were visitors, and kids, and didn’t know any better.
Ever since, Halloween has not been my thing.
However, in the spirit of the season, I will confess …
– I greatly prefer “The Addams Family” over “The Munsters.” Make of that what you will.
– Horror movies? Also not my thing, though I watched enough of them late at night in the mid-’70s with a girlfriend who liked them more than she liked me. The ones I enjoyed most had Vincent Price in them. He was cool, as Andrew explains in one of his lovingly crafted Halloween countdown posts over at Armagideon Time.
– I like “The Cask of Amontillado,” an Edgar Allan Poe story in which a man is plied with wine, then sealed behind a brick wall and left to die. I discovered it in high school, then dug the episode of “Homicide: Life on the Streets” based on that story some 20 years later.
“The Cask of Amontillado” also is one of the cuts on the only album I associate with Halloween. It is, of course, “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” the first album by the Alan Parsons Project. It’s a prog rock concept album based on Poe’s stories.
In the mid-’70s, Parsons was highly regarded for his work as an engineer on albums by the Beatles, Paul McCartney, the Hollies and Pink Floyd. He then became a producer, then created “Tales of Mystery and Imagination” with Eric Woolfson, who pitched him the idea.
More than 200 musicians played on that 1976 album, which was arranged by Andrew Powell.
You know “The Raven” from that album. It wasn’t the single — that was “(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” — but it became more widely played, and rightly so.
So, for your Halloween listening pleasure … two treats only. No tricks.
“The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the Alan Parsons Project, from “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” 1976. (Arthur Brown does the wild vocals on the latter.)
My copy is the original vinyl. I haven’t heard the late ’80s CD version, to which Parsons added readings by Orson Welles and extra synthesizers.
One last note: In 2003, Woolfson — who admits he’s been fascinated by Poe for years — put together a sequel of sorts, calling it “Poe: More Tales of Mystery and Imagination.” I haven’t heard it. The reviews are mixed.