The Night Stalker

October 30, 2010

As much as I love old horror and sci-fi flicks, Halloween is a holiday to which I’ve been surprisingly indifferent.

It might be because I’ve always gotten a bit wigged by attention – good or bad – and few things demand a reaction like dressing up for Halloween. The entire object is attention.

And candy.

Candy is something to which I’m also surprisingly indifferent.

As kids, candy was not as forbidden to us as it was to Tim Burton’s Willie Wonka, but it wasn’t the building blocks of the food pyramid as it was for some of my friends growing up.

Candy procured on Halloween was doled out by our mom like rations to POWs. After a few weeks things either went stale or we lost interest, distracted by the impending Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

If I’d truly been edgy and hip, in 1974 I would have gone out for Halloween as Carl Kolchak, but I didn’t since, well, I was six and decidedly not edgy and unhip.

If you were a kid and watching television in the mid-’70s, you likely knew Kolchak, as portrayed by the great Darren McGavin, to be the rumpled Chicago reporter investigating the paramormal on Friday nights in Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Kolchak was always wandering dark alleys or dimly-lit tunnels, pursuing that week’s vampire, voodoo legend or clan of reanimated prehistoric primates.

Compelling stuff to a kid.

(one of those kids being Chris Carter who amassed a small fortune with The X-Files two decades later)

By the following spring The Night Stalker had ended its lone season on the air. It would be the early ’80s before I’d come across Cark Kolchak again and, then, it was for a period of time that one of the networks showed reruns well after midnight.

In the years since, I’ve only seen the rare episode here and there. Though the effects – just good enough to help me suspend imagination at six – now seem rather shoddy, The Night Stalker definitely had a vibe that still works.

And Darren McGavin was perfect as Kolchak.

Of course, the late actor would become a holiday institution as The Old Man in A Christmas Story.

But, it’s Halloween. So, here are four songs, chosen randomly, that might make the cut if it was possible for me to send a mixtape back through time for Kolchak…

The Replacements – Rock ‘n’ Roll Ghost
from Don’t Tell A Soul

The Replacements got a lot of flack when Don’t Tell A Soul was released in ’89, with more than a few fans/critics/hipsters accusing the band of selling out. Maybe I have a soft spot for the album – it was the first album I’d owned by the group – but, though it is more polished than past releases, I dug it.

Though The Replacements earned much attention for drunken antics and raucous rackets of songs, there was a quieter, melancholic side of them that was equally as impressive.

Poe – Haunted
from Haunted

Paloma and I spent a lot of time listening to Poe’s 1995 debut Hello. I don’t think that she was nearly as fond of it as I was.

The music was a supple fusion of alternative rock and folk elements with atmospheric and hypnotic electronics. I thought that Poe was going to be a superstar.

She didn’t reach such heights and, though Hello got some notice, I thought that the album got lost in the glut of female artists at the time.

The dense, swirling Haunted is the title track of her second and, thus far, last album which came out a decade ago. It was a worthy successor to Hello, but it caused barely a ripple.

Apparently Poe spent ten years feuding with her record label, attempting to extricate herself from them, which is unfortunate.

David Gilmour – Murder
from About Face

I was on the cusp of a Pink Floyd phase when About Face came out and the album further stoked my burgeoning interest in the band.

(a year after the quartet’s iconic line-up released their final album)

I seem to recall Pink Floyd guitar great David Gilmour’ second solo album getting mixed reviews at the time, but me and my friends dug it and Murder sounded stellar on the radio.

Voice Of The Beehive – Monsters And Angels
from Honey Lingers

I’m not sure if I could picture Kolchak racing through the streets of Chicago in his convertible with Monsters And Angels blaring from the stereo, but it’s a delightful song.

Formed in London by two sisters from California who were the daughters of Four Preps singer Bruce Belland, Voice Of The Beehive was a college rock favorite with their ’86 debut Let It Bee.

I was out of college when the follow-up, Honey Lingers, was released and working at a record label where my boss – who was usually quite prescient in such matters – predicted that Monsters And Angels would be their mainstream breakthrough.

(it wasn’t)

Though it does suffer from some of the glossy production of the time, the song is candy. The song shimmers and has a towering chorus with a girl group vibe for a modern age.

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Stay Up Late

December 12, 2009

The night was like an alien world as a kid. And, staying up late was one of the first conquests of childhood.

I have no doubt that the first time I reached midnight was probably watching television with my father. It was, more than likely, something on the CBS Late Movie in the early ’70s. The show’s nightly fare often consisted of sci-fi or suspense stuff – one of the more terrifying being a flick called Gargoyles, set in a remote stretch of highway in the Southwest.

(I’d be curious how it has held up after thirtysome years, but it seems to be available nowhere)

There was something comfortable about hearing the familiar intro music and seeing the opening graphics, then, the announcer dramatically announcing, “Tonight, on the CBS Late Movie…” A short trailer would follow which would either heighten the anticipation or puncture it.

Of course, with only half a dozen channels from which to choose and all but one or two concluding the broadcast day with a somber sign-off sometime around one in the morning, you either muddled through or went to bed.

(or, you fell asleep on the couch under a pile of blankets while attempting to muddle through)

There was something wonderful about the solitude and peace at that time of the night. I’d peer out the window behind me and there was little but inky blackness and, perhaps a light or two from one of the few neighboring homes in our rural area.

As everyone else in the house was usually asleep, I owned the world.

(not bad for some kid that wasn’t old enough to drive)

There was nothing left to accomplish aside from raiding the fridge during the next commercial break.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – B Movie
from Get Happy!

Elvis Costello is one of those artists for whom I feel a sense of failure that I have never embraced as much as I feel I should. The critics love him. Friends from almost every period of my life, whose taste I respect, love him. Paloma loves him.

I’ve always been a bit more ambivilant. And, despite that ambivilance, I realize that I own a large chunk of his catalog.

Maybe I need to make more of an effort to meet Elvis halfway.

Pulp – TV Movie
from This Is Hardcore

I owned a trio of Pulp’s records from the mid-’90s when they reached their highest profile in their native UK. Here in the States, the group garnered little attention (which is too bad).

Jarvis Cocker always reminded me of a latter day Ray Davies. This is Hardcore was a darker, more somber affair than the band’s previous Different Class. TV Movie, lamenting a failed relationship, is somber, but it is also lovely and moving.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – TV Movie
from Tracks

Of all the artists whose heyday has overlapped with my years as a music fan, few amassed as much unreleased music as Bruce Springsteen (Prince would be in that conversation, too). Some of that music popped up as b-sides or as hits for other acts (Pink Cadillac fell into both categories).

Springsteen finally raided the archives on the box set Tracks. TV Movie was an outtake from Born In The USA and though that set isn’t lacking by its exclusion, the song is a fun, self-effacing romp.

Elton John – I’ve Seen That Movie Too
from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

In retrospect, Elton John produced a staggering amount of amazing music in the ’70s and his classic album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road has a little bit of everything that made him a superstar for the ages.

It’s not difficult to picture Elton playing the resigned I’ve Seen That Movie Too in some piano bar at an hour when the crowd has dwindled and I would have been crashed out on the couch during yet another showing of Night Of The Lepus on the CBS Late Movie.