From The Side of the Road… spooky songs for bluegrass gatherings
I’ve discussed in past columns the fact that, while bluegrass bands still get booked at weddings, there are at most three appropriate bluegrass songs to play at a wedding. Even some of the instrumentals are questionable, at least if you announce the titles: Pretty Little Widow, Farewell Blues, and Don’t Make Me Go Through With This (an obscure Kentucky fiddle tune from the 1920s).
With Halloween approaching, it occurs to me that we also have a shortage of appropriate scary/ghosty material. Sure we have the murder ballads, and if you think that’s good enough, then fine, but I have to register a protest there: Over the past decade or so, grisly murder and violence, as exemplified by horror and slasher films, have become associated with Halloween, which I think is somewhat lazy (not counting the considerable effort exerted by the serial killers) and has been detrimental to the essential innocence of Halloween.
Remember when Halloween was just about carving pumpkins and gorging on candy, and stuck mostly with the wholesome themes of ghosts, hauntings, witchcraft, and demon possession? Those were the days. Just throw in some urban legends about candy poisoning incidents and you sum up the Halloweens of our fresh-faced childhood.
Just as a side note: the fear of tainted candy (other than just handing out last year’s leftover candy to unsuspecting children) has always been vastly overblown. A recent study by the Bureau of Pointless Statistics (BPS) states that the chances of a child being a victim of Halloween candy poisoning are equal to the chances of said child perishing by a grizzly bear attack while canoeing unsupervised (the bear is canoeing).
What do we have to offer in the bluegrass repertoire for truly appropriate Halloween material? We really can’t get much further than Bringing Mary Home, Long Black Veil, Caleb Meyer, Eli Renfro, and maybe Ghost in This House. That’s a pretty short set or Halloween-themed radio show. We really need to write some more, and I do have to give praise to Billy and Marija Droze here for already jumping on this bandwagon, even before it was a wagon.
Here are a few ideas to get some creative juices flowing in the bluegrass songwriting community. Most of these are sequels to, or inspired by existing songs:
Not a 14th Time! (Bringing Mary Home Again)
Little Haunted Home on the Hill
This could contain the chorus,
Oh death has taken you from me
And yet I don’t feel all alone
I don’t think it’s just the rain upon my windowpane
In our little haunted home on the hill
Albert the Australian is Back (in which one of the Matterhorn hikers returns to haunt a small Swiss village)
The Wife of Eli Renfro
Also in the revenge category:
Rose Conley Has Returned! (From the Willow Garden)
With apologies to the late Bill Bryson:
The Ghoul at the Crossroads Bar
Dark and Spooky Hollow
A Voice From Inside
(“I hear a voice calling, it must be upstairs . . .”)
And, my personal favorite:
Hot Candy Corn, Cold Candy Corn
Happy Halloween. Please eat candy corn responsibly and don’t let your kids canoe with grizzly bears.