Armagideon Time

(from “The Halloween God” by Gary Cohn, Dan Mishkin and Adrian Gonzales in Secrets of Haunted House #44, January 1982)

All Hallows’ Eve is upon us, and the time has come to bring the black velvet curtain down on this year’s Grand Guignol.

It has been an Armagideon Time tradition to close out the Halloween countdown with a singular track which perfectly encapsulates the spooky season, and you can’t get more singular than this macabre gem of a song…

Recommended listening: The Dark – The Masque (from a 1982 single)

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It has become a staple of mass market “goth” compilations, but I first encountered it on the second Punk and Disorderly LP were it stood out among the audio examples of how rapidly the early 1980s Britpunk scene had burned itself out.

The odd thing is that nothing else band recorded sounded anything like it. They were a competent-to-mildly-interesting outfit in a crowded field of similar midtempo melodic poltical-punk acts that managed to catch a bolt of deathrock magnificence in a bottle.

It knocked my socks off when I heard it twenty five years ago, and it still gives me goosebumps when I listen to it today.

And on that note, it is time to dim the lights, bolt the doors, and await the dark dreams to come.

I’d been married a year and a half when I began Armagideon Time. Somewhere out there is a Livejournal Monday-after recap of our wedding day. I bring this up because today marks our tenth wedding anniversary, with tomorrow marking a decade of residency in the House on the Hillside.

The ceremony was an afterthought in many ways. For starters, Maura and I had been a couple since December 1991 and been engaged since July 1992. The process of purchasing a home and making it habitable was such an ordeal that we refused to even consider wedding plans until we’d passed paper, at which point it became a scramble to book a venue, find a minister, and sort out all the other associated logistics.

It was as DIY as it comes. My father-in-law sprung for a small reception at a local Italian place, but everything else was done on a shoestring budget. The flowers were gifted by a family friend, the invitations were mocked up with Victorian clip-art and printed out on the office’s laserjet, and the table decorations were assembled from cheap harvest/Halloween stuff from a craft store.

And it worked out really well. Not just the wedding ceremony, but also the decade that followed it. The better has outweighed the worse, and even the worse has been mitigated by the knowledge there is someone who will steadfastly support you when things take a turn for the rotten.

Club of two, forever and always.

Recommended listening:

There are plenty of songs we claim as “ours,” but only one which so perfectly fits the dynamic, seasonal inflection, and relative dental hygiene of the Andrew-Maura relationship.

An interesting strategy, sir, but I’m having trouble understanding how you plan to implement it. Will they build you a honeycomb coffin or have the drones contribute to a crowd-sourced fund for your family or…

That certainly seems doable. Have you thought of marketing your plan to the masses? Offer various levels of apiary coverage, maybe throw up some commercials on retro TV channels featuring morbidly gleeful Boomers. Hey, you could ask Alex Trebek to be your celebrity spokesperson…

Oh, I see you already have.

Recommended listening: Hysteria – Tears of Wax (from the Behind the Veil EP, 1984)

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Music to watch colony collapse disorder by.

Wishing a happy birthday to a child of the spooky season who just so happens to be the love of my life.

Recommended listening: Blood and Roses – Assault on Precinct 13 (from Enough Is Never Enough, 1985)

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If you can’t say it with flowers, say it with an floridly named anarcho-goth outfit’s sinister cover of a classic John Carpenter theme.

(from “Haunted Halloween!” by Gardner Fox and Everett Hibbard in Flash Comics #78, December 1946)

Man, the Albert Hofmann Foundation gives out the best Halloween candy.

Recommended listening: The Damned – Is It a Dream (from Phantasmagoria, 1985)

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A delightfully delicate lullaby from the horrorpunk pioneers’ (unjustly maligned) attempt to reinvent themselves as a goth-pop incarnation of Love.

(from “In the Hills, the Cities” by Clive Barker, Chuck Wagner, Fred Burke and John Bolton in Tapping the Vein: Book Two, 1989)

In my search for spooky season reading, I recently dug my set of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood anthologies out of storage. They were some of Teen Andrew’s favorite works of horror fiction, and it has been a pleasant surprise to discover how well they’ve have held up over the years.

Though Barker was frequently lumped into the “shock and blah” school of “splatterpunk” writers, there’s an astonishing level of depth to the Books of Blood material which goes beyond the pandering to the gorehound base associated with that pseudogenre. As much as I try to avoid facile “x meets y” comparisons, the stories marry the relatably quotidian settings of Stephen King’s best work with Lovecraft’s themes of existential dread and imperfectly veiled realms of nightmare.

Unlike Lovecraft, there are no long-winded, armchair Campbellian nods to a greater mythos. Unlike Gaiman — who has also thematically dabbled with the thin borders between the mundane and mystic realms — there are no stylistic elbow jabs to remind readers about the cleverness of the conceit.

The hows and whys of a subterranean cannibalistic overlord or a gender-bending godhead which dwells in an old bath house are of little consequence to Barker’s protagonists. They simply are, and what happens from there is no less disturbing for the lack of explanation.

Apart from perhaps Candyman (adapted from “The Forbidden” and transposed from a British slum to a Chicago housing project), the Books of Blood haven’t fared that well on the big screen. That can partly be chalked up to audiences being more responsive to the pretentious cartoon slasher flick S&M of Barker’s Hellraiser series, but it also speaks of the difficulty of translating the phantasmagoric quality of the stories into the narrative clarity of a motion picture.

It’s not a question of “could it be done” but “could it find a profitable audience,” which is why the primordial pagan themes of the prose version of “Rawhead Rex” were excised in favor of a franchise foisting Celto-kaiju for the screen version. (I’ve been told “The Midnight Meat Train” fared slightly better, but I still doubt it could one up the visuals of my mind’s eye.)

Even the funnybook adaptations of the stories — published under the title Tapping the Vein during the late 1980s and early 1990s — tended to sell the material short, despite featuring a murderer’s row of artistic talents. Some of the efforts are quite good, but none manage to capture that slightly off-focus sense of dread the permeates the source materials. Call it prose snobbery, but that aspect was what attracted me to the stories in the first place.

That said, I do wonder if certain selections Books of Blood would work well as animated works, with art direction optimized to fit the themes. I envision it as a throwback thing, evoking the weird kid-lit “horror” one reelers and filmstrips of my youth, where the battling civic giants of “In the Hills, the Cities” would writhe and twist across a backdrop of abstract flourishes and minimal Euro-synth tones.

Recommended listening: Every New Dead Ghost – Visions (from a 1986 single)

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No direct callback here, just another spiky slice of sinister sound wrested from the plague pit of the Eighties.

(from “It Just Ghost’a Show Ya!” by Arnold Drake and Winslow Mortimer in The Fox and the Crow #97, May 1966)

Recommended listening: Roger Roger – Ghost Romp (from Gags À Gogo, 1979)

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Moog, et je viendrai pour vous.

While the actual on-the-page content of pre-Code horror and crime funnybooks could be objectionable in its own right, its transgressive power was amplified by the cultural context of the era. The luridly graphic depictions of death and mutilation went directly against the grain of an America determined to expand the social engineering experiment of World War 2 into a peacetime, corporate-consumer utopia (providing you had the genetic and gender credentials to qualify).

Child-rearing and parenting philosophies, as they affected the target demo torchbearers of the unfolding American Century, underwent a massive sea change. The ol’ “hide them till they weep” concept found itself supplanted by less physical means of coercion backed by the ascendant tenets of pop psychology. Newly elevated members of the (white) middle class attempted to insulate their offspring from the want and violence that marked their own comings of age even as moral panics raged about the promiscuity and delinquency of wayward wartime youth culture.

It’s a subject I keep returning to because it not only provides important context for a significant moment in funnybook history but it also helps clarify a number of overlapping inter-generational conflicts which continue to affect the socio-cultural landscape.

Which brings us to “Eve of Halloween,” a four-page filler tale from the forty-seventh issue of Atlas’s Astonishing in March 1956. (The title hadn’t yet grown its “Tales” yet.)

The story centers around the parenting travails of a single mother. The whereabouts of her spouse are left unstated. Maybe he was off working in the Venezuelan oil fields. Maybe he’d been transmogrified into red mist by a Red Chinese mortar round that landed in his foxhole near the Chosin Reservoir. Maybe his spouse caved his skull in with a frozen leg of lamb and then fed the evidence to the investigating detectives.

The point is that the hapless housewife was left dealing with her tow-headed daughter’s (fairly mild) reign of terror.

It was a tough row to hoe, and one whose sting could still be felt sharply through the haze of doctor-provided psychotropic assistance. While the hard-pressed parental unit did her best to adhere to modern methods of child-rearing, her moppet’s proclivity for mayhem forced her to evoke the ULTIMATE SANCTION….

Yep, that one. The punishment so held in terror that even the most recidivist rapscallions in my neighborhood would — for the month of October, at least — comport themselves with the utmost of civility lest they miss the All Hallow’s revels to come.

Yet the quality of maternal mercy is not strained (though in my case, it once involved getting thwacked on the head with a meat fork), and the short-term demands of discipline nust oft yield to fears of long-term trauma.

Her heavy hand stayed, the mother acquiesced to her daughter’s fondest desire –

– to take part in a nonsensical twist ending of a half-assed post-Code “horror” story.

On the other hand, it does provide a compelling explanation of why Baby Boomers are so messed up.

Recommended listening: The Mob – Witch Hunt (from Let the Tribe Increase,, 1983)

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Fifties political paranoia translated into Eighties political reality.

The toughest part of this season is the prep work….and those pesky bone chips that get caught in the drive sprocket.

Recommended listening: Pop Will Eat Itself – Black Country Chain Saw Massacre (from NME‘s Indie City 2 compilation, 1988)

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Who will survive this melodically mellow slice of grebo-jangle, and what will be left of them?

Today I attended a funeral for a man I once tried to kill.

The December of 1987 wasn’t a great time for my family. My father was drying out in a court-mandated rehab facility, while my mother was slipping further into the booze-induced agoraphobia which would incapacitate her entirely.

Into this cheery holiday season came an notice of eviction from my grandmother’s lawyer, stating that we had thirty days to vacate our side of the duplex we lived in.

Me, being young and angry and full of panic went next door to confront her about it. I told her my grandfather would roll over in his grave if he knew about it, despite the fact that he was alive and in vegetative state at a hospice in Brighton following a massive stroke the previous summer.

“GRANPIE’S NOT DEAD, HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT” she wailed as she pushed me out the door.

A couple of hours later, someone began pounding on our front door and shouting. It was my mother’s sister and her fiance.

He was the archetypical Angry White Guy, a chronically unemployable and disgruntled loser who loved guns, martial arts, and blaming minorities for his self-induced lot in life. He’d been friends with my dad at one point, but had a violent falling out when he announced he’d started going to Klan meetings and my dad physically ejected him from our North Woburn apartment.

For some reason, he and my aunt decided to assume the role of my grandmother’s enforcers that evening. My mom, who was already brittle from the booze and mental health issues, went into full panic attack mode.

“Don’t answer it. Don’t answer it. Don’t answer it,” she kept mumbling right up until the asshole put his fist through the screen door.

Using the sound sense of judgment intrinsic to all fifteen year old boys, I went upstairs and grabbed the shotgun my dad gave me the previous summer.

It was piss-ant weapon even by grouse-hunting standards. Even if I had ammo for it, the mechanism for ejecting spent shells was broken. Yet it still implied a threat through which I could project my adolescent heroic idiocy.

I opened the door, leveled the gun at him and told him to leave us the fuck alone. He grabbed the barrel. We tussled on the front steps. For someone so keen into martial arts, he did not put up an impressive fight against a skinny, hysterical teenager.

I wrested the gun back from his grip and went back into the house. He did not follow.

Then the police showed up. My mom had called them.

This being a simpler time, they merely confiscated the shotgun and gave me a lecture about not being a fucking idiot. It apparently stuck, because I’ve had no desire to own or handle a firearm since.

Nothing came of the eviction notice, apart from my grandmother and I not speaking to each other until my mother’s death a year later…when she took de facto custody of my brother and me. We haven’t spoken of the event in the twenty-seven years since.

(My grandmother has a knack for rewriting family history to remove the unpleasant parts. It’s something of a necessity, given my family.)

As for my uncle, Jim Beam and Johnny Walker did what me and my unloaded shotgun couldn’t. Decades of drinking and hate devoured his brain, leaving behind a shambling husk that eventually succumbed to internal organ failure.

I take no joy in his passing, as he was more pathetic figure than an odious one in the decade before his passing. That incident on the front steps is something I try not to think about, but these past few days have made me wonder what would have happened if the gun had been loaded.

Could I have? Would I have?

I suspect I’m better off not knowing the answer to that.

Recommended listening: Screaming Dead – A Dream of Yesterday (from a 1985 12″)

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Nice track, but all my dreams of yesterday are soundtracked by a Quiet Riot cover band.

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