Daniel's Staff Pick: October 27, 2022

I hate to poop on anyone’s parade, but I’ve always had trouble enjoying Halloween. Sure, I like the Misfits and I’ve even come to enjoy the odd horror movie after years of avoiding them, but I think there’s something fundamental to the idea of Halloween that doesn’t click with me. Maybe it’s related to being introverted. Part of the thrill of Halloween is wearing something outrageous (or maybe doing something outrageous, if you’re a big fan of the “trick” part of “trick or treat”) in order to provoke a reaction in people, and that just doesn’t hold a lot of appeal to me. Getting a rise out of people isn’t what gets me out of bed in the morning. I also make things worse for myself by never preparing for Halloween. Like many people, I’m casting about for a costume the night of the big party, and I always find that mad rush to get ready stressful, and (if I get in my head about it), disappointing when I think about how much better it could have been if I put some time into it. So, grump that I am, better to just avoid the whole thing altogether and say “I don’t like Halloween.” Which isn’t entirely true, but that’s the story I tell myself.

One thing I have always loved about Halloween, though, is cover sets. Maybe it’s because those get the preparation I’ve never put into my costume? I’ve done a few cover sets over the years, including a few like the Descendents and the Adolescents that are documented on video. I was lucky to play with some incredible musicians for those sets, and I thought they went great and I had a blast.

When Jeff asked everyone to write a Halloween-themed staff pick for this week’s newsletter, though, I struggled with what to write about. I could write about my favorite Misfits record or something, but I thought about the concept of fear, which is what Halloween is about, right? It’s about scaring your friends and neighbors, letting them experience that feeling in a low-stakes context. Which reminds me of the time Jet and I went to a haunted forest a few years ago. Every Halloween a bunch of these things crop up in the rural areas of North Carolina, and you pay twenty bucks or whatever to walk through some sketchy looking woods and get scared by a bunch of people wearing professional costumes and makeup. It’s sort of like stepping into a horror movie. The last time we went to one of these was just before I started medication for anxiety, and I had a terrible time. I was in a terrible place where fear and dread were way too big a part of my minute to minute existence. Why would I want to walk into a situation that summoned those feelings and made me confront them?

Back to the task at hand. Free associating on the word “fear,” three tracks came to mind by three of my favorite bands, and that’s what I’m going to write about for my staff pick. Three songs, three different approaches to the concept of fear.

First up, Poison Idea’s “Getting the Fear,” released as a 12” single in 1989 and later compiled on the Ian Mackaye and Get Loaded and Fuck compilations (the latter of which, ahem, we still have in stock at Sorry State). I’m smack dab in the middle of reading Jerry A’s three-volume autobiography, and I just learned the other day that “Getting the Fear” is about the Manson Family murders. I guess I’d never taken the time to understand the lyrics, which are:

Peace, love and eternal lifeEnded with 169 swings of a knifeIt looks like the soul reallyPicked a good on this timeDeath Valley, CA, 1969

Getting the fear (x4)

I am just a mirrorA reflection of what you want to seeInfinite plan of fear unto infinityThey crucified him onceBut now he's back, at costNow it's the pigs turnTo go up on the cross

Getting the fear (x4)

There is no wrongThere is no rightThere is no sinWhen we dance in the night

Getting the fear (x4)

The people you call my familyYou didn't want,Left them out by the roadI took them into my dumpsterFed them and gave them clothesThe numbers are always growingThe will is always strongYou'll learn that for love of brotherThere is nothing that is wrong

I guess the key question regarding this song’s lyrics is, “who is getting the fear?” It seems like it’s not Manson’s victims (either the folks that formed his family or the people they killed), since they exist in the song’s background. Instead, it seems like who is “Getting the Fear” is the American public, who has to reckon with the idea that someone can warp the values they hold, like hope and charity and love and family, into something horrifying. It seems like it’s Charlie who speaks the line, “I am just a mirror.” The things that are the most terrifying are the things we know are within ourselves.

The next song I thought of was “Because You’re Frightened,” the standout first track on Magazine’s third album, The Correct Use of Soap. Even though it’s well into their career, “Because You’re Frightened” is one of Magazine’s great songs… if you assumed only their first album was good, do yourself a favor and check out Secondhand Daylight and The Correct Use of Soap. “Because You’re Frightened” is built around a killer lead guitar hook that’s descended from the Buzzcocks’ “Boredom,” which, of course, Magazine’s singer Howard Devoto had a hand in. Devoto is one of punk’s most compelling lyricists, and “Because You’re Frightened” is as good as any of the brilliant songs he wrote:

You love me because you're frightenedAnd I'm falling in love with youBecause I'm getting frightenedOf the things you somehow make me doYou love me because you're frightenedI can easily believe my eyesYour fear is my finest hourMy fear is your disguise

Look what fear's done to my body

A frightening worldIs an interesting world to be inIn the Forbidden CityOr on The Roof of the WorldOr at the receiving endOf the nine o'clock newsHowever you put your mind to itYou can find fear where you choose

Look what fear's done to my body

You want to hurtYou want to craveYou want to praise and curse and blameYou want to believe just what you likeThen you want to hurt and crave again

They took you to the top of the mountainThey showed you the valleyYou bought itYou couldn't wait, could you!

Look what fear's done to my body

You want to hurt ...

Devoto’s song about fear examines complex (presumably romantic) relationship dynamics, a place where we don’t typically think fear lives, but often does. In the relationship Devoto describes, fear is an elaborate dance… within the relationship, one can be afraid of what the other person might do or afraid of what one’s self might do under the influence of such strong feelings, and all this fear pushes them apart and makes both parties vulnerable to manipulation at the hands of the other. No one seems to know what’s going on, but both people live in this nebulous world of possibility where they’re both wondering what the other might think or do. And of course, this fear, even though it lives in this world of possibility, has real consequences: “Look what fear’s done to my body.”

Speaking of punk’s most compelling lyricists, the third song that came to mind was the Fall’s “Frightened.” Another leadoff track, this one starts the Fall’s first album, 1979’s Live at the Witch Trials. While Poison Idea’s and Magazine’s songs focus on the interpersonal power dynamics surrounding feelings of fear, Mark E Smith’s song zooms in on the individual subjective experience of fear. While the other two tracks have a triumphant tone that’s appropriate given the theme of dominance that runs through those songs’ lyrics, the Fall’s “Frightened” is as skittish as a wounded animal. Here are the lyrics:


Someone's always on my tracksAnd in a dark room you'd see more than you thinkI'm out of my place, got to get backI sweated a lot, you could feel the violence

I've got shears pointed straight at my chestAnd time moves slow when you count itI'm better than them, and I think I'm the bestBut I'll appear at midnight when the films close

'Cause I'm in a tranceOh, and I sweatI don't want to danceI want to go home

I couldn't live in those people placesOh, they might get to know my actionsI'd run away from toilets and fecesI'd run away to a non-date on the street

'Cause I'm in a tranceOh, and I sweatI don't want to danceI want to go home

I feel trapped by mutual affectionAnd I don't know how to use freedomI spend hours looking sidewaysTo the time when I was sixteen

'Cause I'm in a tranceOh, and I sweatI don't wanna danceI wanna go home

I'm frightenedAmphetamine frightened

I go to the top of the streetI go to the bottom of the streetI look to the sky, my lips are dry

I'm frightened, frightened, frightened

The feelings of fear Smith describes here are tied to drug use (“Amphetamine frightened”), and beg the question, what is the relationship between fear and paranoia? To me, fear is an acute sensation. It is bounded in time, space, and circumstance. However, paranoia is more diffuse. It is a dull background drone, like tinnitus, that colors your experience of everything (“I spend hours looking sideways”). Maybe part of the appeal of this drug experience is that it takes that dull ache of paranoia and focuses it into something that’s discrete, bounded, and (possibly) controllable. When you’re frightened, you can choose to go home, to get out your current situation and to a safe place that will relieve the suffering. The song’s music dramatizes this, ambling around for over four minutes with its awkward, stumbling rhythms before getting to the big dramatic moment at the end where Smith repeats the chorus. There’s that feeling of triumph that we heard in the other two songs, and maybe that’s something bundled in with fear, the other side of its coin? Maybe I’m starting to understand the appeal…

Happy Halloween everyone!

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