Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Halloween in March: Halloween Club's Spookshow 3

We didn't stay long - because it was hot, and because we couldn't resist the siren song of the nearby In-N-Out - but Mr. Spooky and I had a ton o' seasonally inappropriate fun at Halloween Club's Spookshow 3, which took place in La Mirada on March 7. It was basically like an outdoor swap meet, but there were randos in awesome costumes running around, and every vendor was selling the coolest Halloween goodies, from fancy spirit boards to the creepiest of creepy dolls to customized heads in jars.

I also received a flyer for what is probably the most extreme and controversial haunt in the world (barring some sort of real-life Hostel-type situation), San Diego's McKamey Manor. I want no part of those shenanigans! I mean, right? I mean...dare I? Should I? If anyone reading this has actually experienced McKamey Manor, I demand you comment and tell me all about it!

It may be March, but I'm officially in the Halloween spirit (LOL, as always). Next stop, ScareLA! In the meantime, enjoy a few snaps from our day in the spooky sun.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


"If you make enough noise, no matter your instrument, you can keep the old gods alive forever."  - Season of the Witch (p. 207)

If you know me, you know that I love music. I've played in bands for years, and I've been an obsessive fan of various musicians at least since seventh grade, when I discovered Nirvana and Pearl Jam. So when I heard about Peter Bebergal's Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll (released last year - on my birthday, no less!), I knew I had to read it. An examination of how music, magick and mysticism intersect and play off of one another, and how musicians have used the occult as everything from a marketing tool to a genuine attempt to channel the divine,  Season of the Witch is like the textbook for the most interesting class you never took in college.

In a Q&A, Bebergal is asked about the intended audience for the book, and he replies that, beyond the usual suspects (rock fans, scholars of religion, students of pop culture esoterica), "if you ever 'threw horns' at a rock concert, this book is for you." So, in other words, this book is for me. There was a period of time ('96-'99?) when throwing the horns was just my default pose whenever someone pointed a camera at me. I still occasionally throw horns as a way to, oh, greet a friend, or wave a fellow motorist through a four-way stop sign. You know, the usual.

You see, dear reader, weird occult rock music is in my blood. My dad introduced me to Black Sabbath. My mom initiated me into the cult of Stevie Nicks. Flirting with the devil via riffs, drum solos and vaguely sinister cover art is part of my DNA.

Season of the Witch starts at the beginning, demonstrating how rock music has been conflated with - if not Satan, exactly - then certainly with divine and mystical forces since its inception. From Robert Johnson allegedly selling his soul to the devil to the psychedelic shamanism of early Pink Floyd to Jimmy Page's Crowley fixation, it's all there. But Bebergal doesn't just stick to the hits - he goes for the deep cuts, introducing readers to occult-inspired bands that are a little less well-known than Sabbath and Zeppelin, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Take Coven, for instance. In addition to featuring this super sick cover art on their 1969 album Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, "Coven is also credited with being the first band to 'throw horns'" (p. 116). Now there's a cultural contribution that can't be denied! I also learned about Mort Garson, who was one of the first musicians to record popular music using Moog synthesizers. His 1970 album Black Mass, released under the name Lucifer, is a total retro-futuristic trip. This book even gave me a healthy appreciation of prog, previously one of my most maligned musical genres!

Witchy TV shows on Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel. Witchy clothes at Urban Outfitters and Forever 21. Hell, even Jay-Z and Beyonce are probably members of the Illuminati, right? (See page 211 for more info.) We are definitely in the midst of a serious occult revival, which means this book couldn't be more timely or intriguing. 

For anyone who has ever pondered an inscrutable lyric, for anyone who has ever felt unsettled by a strange and disturbing music video, for anyone who has ever wondered - even for a second - when this bullshit "Paul McCartney" will finally admit that Paul died decades ago...this is your new favorite book. Get ready to remember why you started loving rock & roll in the first place.

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book for review.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Book Review - VAMPIRA: DARK GODDESS OF HORROR by W. Scott Poole

Happy new year! It's 2015 - how the fuck did that happen?! Well, in any case, the holidays are officially over. In fact, according to the LA Bureau of Sanitation, they ended today, because today was the official day for Angelenos to drop off their Christmas trees for recycling. Christmas is a merely a memory and we're already four days into a brand new year. Did you make any resolutions? Do your resolutions include, say, reading more books? Or increasing the scope of your horror knowledge? Perhaps you're just a fan of macabre babes? Nice, me too! Oh, and I've got a book recommendation for you - W. Scott Poole's sociological examination of the original horror hostess, Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror.

As a lifelong Elvira fan and child of the '80s/early '90s, I didn't know a whole lot about Vampira growing up. Honestly, I'm not even sure when I first heard of her. Was it when Tim Burton's Ed Wood came out? Did I see her glamorously ghastly visage peering out at me from the shelves of some goth clothing store in north Orange County? I'm not sure. But I can tell you exactly when I became deeply interested in Vampira, and that's when my friend Lindsay, who had written a very good article on horror hosts and learned a lot in the process, gifted me a DVD of an intriguing little documentary called Vampira and Me a couple of years ago. Vampira, also known as Maila Nurmi in the daylight, led a fascinating life - and it's remarkable how a woman who was only a television personality for a couple of years in the '50s, who has only a combined few minutes of surviving film and TV footage to her name, has managed to impact popular culture in every ensuing decade. Simply put, Vampira is the shit. So when I heard that there was a new book about her, I was eager to learn as much as possible.

W. Scott Poole makes it clear in his book's introduction that this is NOT a standard biography of the OG goth girl, mostly because Maila Nurmi remains an enigmatic figure about whom little is known. Instead, it's an examination of what Maila Nurmi's creation meant to the counterculture, to the '50s, to entertainment and to the world at large. Of course, there are still lots of fascinating biographical details to be had, from a look at Nurmi's controversial friendship with James Dean to her dalliance with a young Elvis Presley. (Incidentally, Cassandra Peterson - a.k.a. Elvira - was a Vegas showgirl in her youth and claims to have lost her virginity to Elvis, so the man clearly had a type.)

You can also expect to find lots of juicy and evocative details like the following:

I'm sorry, is Vampira actually sucking strawberry milkshake off of a rosary in this scenario?! All hail the queen, dudes.

There were a few early passages in the book that I have to admit I found a bit dry, such as Poole's look at what it must have been like for young Nurmi to grow up in the Finnish American community and the impact her parents' religious views may have had on her as a performer. The story of how the character of Vampira came to be, however - she was Nurmi's take on Charles Addams' gothic housewife (later named Morticia for the Addams Family TV series), a costume created for a Halloween party - and the ways in which the character shaped the rest of her life was truly engaging.

I may not look like Vampira (I mean, I wish!), but the whole glamour ghoul schtick is something that is truly near and dear to my heart. Plus, there's nothing I cherish more than witty one-liners and deadpan delivery - and Vampira certainly puts the dead in deadpan, so you could definitely say that I owed a lot to this woman on a personal level, even before I knew who she was. If you're looking for a book to kick off 2015, pick up Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror - a look at the original "spooky little girl."

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary electronic copy of this book for review.


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