Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Different Take On Halloween (Via Collage Art & Joe Meek)

<"All Systems Go">

<"Sky Men">
Halloween 2015 is slowly ebbing away as I write...but it's been cold, windy and drizzling all day in our fair little town. So I reckon there haven't been as many flying squads of children trick or treating as you'd normally see on the holiday. Then again, we at Ramen Noodle Nation Towers wouldn't know, since I don't believe our complex's management allows that sort of thing.

However, Squawker and I have done our bit to partake of the usual pleasures associated with Halloween -- notably, bits of complementary KitKats and candy corn-flavored Hershey bars (basically, white chocolate with an underlying kernel of corn flavor)...which the corner gas station was handing out. We then scurried home, having shopped a few odds and ends of food (made possible by leftover proceeds from a friend's instant lottery ticket). Now that I'm home, another pleasant surprise drops into my inbox: a $30 bonus for my latest bit of transcription work.

All these images are a long way away from our traditional view of Halloween, which -- pop culture-wise -- is often associated with the likes of Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, and so on, and so forth. But my Moddish mindset tends to associate Halloween with the likes of Screaming Lord Sutch, and Joe Meek...who worked together on several classic '60s-era singles, such as 'Til The Following Night," and "Monster In Black Tights," which seem a lot closer to the creepy crawly feeling of dread that we associate with Halloween. (Just check out the lengthy intro that opens the former track, and ask yourself which soundtrack seems nearer to getting under the skin -- Marilyn's and co.'s current pantomime, or...Sutch's volley of shrieks and moans. Yes, I've concluded, the man named himself well. Judge for yourself!)

Of course, what else needs to be said about Joe Meek (1929-67)? I'm currently re-reading -- yet again, for the umpteenth time -- John Repsch's epochal biography, The Legendary Joe Meek: The Telstar Man...which I bought in London in '89, right when it came out...and the whole story still takes my breath away. On one hand, it's a tale of resourceful brilliance, of a man using techniques that people only take for granted today -- from close miking, to his signature heavy washes of echo and compression, direct recording of instruments, even early forms of sampling, you name it -- which he achieved with a fraction of the equipment (and often homemade equipment, as well).

On the other hand, it's also hard to separate the man from the undercurrent of tragedy that caused him to shoot his landlady -- and then, himself -- with a shotgun on February 3, 1967, which coincided with a sea of financial problems from which he was struggling to extricate himself...including a general drying up of his fortunes (his last big hit had come three years earlier, with the Honeycombs' "Have I The Right")...piling up of debts, and back taxes...and a lawsuit filed by an obscure French film composer over "Telstar."

Although Meek eventually won the suit -- escaping with the princely judgment of 108 GBP (Great British Pounds) -- he never earned a penny for composing "Telstar" in his lifetime, as Repsch notes...which makes his untimely end all the more tragic. It's a fair bet, too, that not many committed music fans know that the Tornados -- who recorded "Telstar" -- were the first British band to get a US #1, a full year before the Beatles pulled it off.

The above collage, named after the Honeycombs' 1965 LP (All Systems Go), is similar to those done by my mate, Chairman Ralph....and is offered in tribute to the era's go-for-it giddiness -- when it was possible for mavericks like Meek to craft a signature style, working from a home studio that he'd specially built above a leather goods shop at 304 Holloway Road, in north London...which coincided with the onset of a dizzying array of technological innovations...of which the Telstar communications satellite that fired up Meek's imagination was only one.

Sky Men, on the other hand, takes its name from the 1963 Meek-produced single by Geoff Goddard, who wrote or co-wrote many of the early hits that put Meeskville on the map (such as "Johnny Remember Me," and "Just Like Eddie," to name two). Goddard's final single did nothing at the box office, marking an end to his career as an artist, but I really like it -- since it coincided with a major stirring of interest in alien phenomena that arose during the '60s... although, judging by its lyrics, the little green men in this song are simply out for a stroll, or perhaps a night of spot-the-homo-sapiens:
As I was walking out one night, me and my darlin' We saw in the sky a flashing light, me and my darlin' And as it hovered overhead And as the Sun was turning red We heard a voice and that voice said... "Children of Earth, be not afraid, for we come in peace"

There's a solo piano version of this song floating around on Youtube. Find it if you can, as it adds a whole new dimension to this track -- apparently, it's a home recording from '74 (even if the hissy-fit sound of the tape places it closer to the previous decade).

Funnily enough, I've tried taping
All Systems Go to the hallway wall, but it simply wouldn't stay up. A case of Joe's spirit pottering around, refusing to allow such a thing?

Perhaps, given his well-documented interest in paranormal matters...which prompted him to prowl around graveyards with his tape recorder, hoping to catch a spirit or two on tape...and calling out the spirit of Buddy Holly in seances. (His suicide coincided with Holly's birthday, a date that -- as Repsch remarks -- would never have escaped such a committed Holly-phile's attention.)

So I've stuck All Systems Go, and its companion, Sky Men, back up on my desk shelf for now. (Well, as of 11/21, actually, I've tried sticking 'em back up again -- we'll see if Joe or some other paranormal force interferes with the proceedings!). But whenever my own inspiration flags, I reach for that book, look up at those collages, and find new inspiration to carry on with whatever I'm doing. So, in that spirit, check out the links below for your own specially ghastly soundtrack...

...oh, and one more thing: Happy Halloween. What's left of it. --The Reckoner

If you are ever out at night, you and your darlin' And if you see this flashing light, you and your darlin' Don't be afraid and run away For soon there's going to come a day When all the world will hear them say... "Children of Earth, be not afraid, for we come in peace"

<"All Systems Go">
Original photo...snapped just before the battery 
ran out, when I originally started this goes 
life in our dreary little technocracy, eh?

Links To Go (Hear 'Em,
And Scare Yerself Plain Silly):

Joe Meek (Productions & Compositions)
I Hear A New World: An Outer Space Music Fantasy:

Geoff Goddard: Sky Men:

The Moontrekkers: Night Of The Vampire:

The Tornados: Telstar:

Screaming Lord Sutch
Jack The Ripper:

Monster In Black Tights:

Murder In The Graveyard:

'Til The Following Night: