“halloween theme (main title)” – john carpenter (1979)

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John Carpenter’s slasher film classic Halloween was released 40 years ago last week.  Starring Jamie Lee Curtis in her film debut, the film tells the story of a serial killer named Michael Myers who escapes a sanitarium to murder teenage babysitters on Halloween night in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois.  With the film’s success, a franchise was built containing multiple sequels and inspiring several generations of horror filmmakers.  Since it’s release, the film has been considered one of the greatest horror films in the genre and has appeared on multiple “best of” lists by institutions such as Empire magazine and the American Film Institute.

Last week also saw the release of a direct sequel of the same name.  Adjusting and upending the continuity of the franchise’s other films, the 2018 Halloween sees Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role and returning to Haddonfield to face Michael Myers again forty years after his killing spree in the first film.  Already heralded as the best film in the franchise, the has also become the highest grossing in the franchise.

The original Halloween film is an absolute classic and a must see for anyone who appreciates horror or 1970s American cinema.  It was one I enjoy returning to every few years and I’m still surprised by its ingenuity and nuance.  It is truly a pioneering work of art that still stands on its own.

Interestingly, I have a couple of interesting connections to Carpenter and this film.  Carpenter was raised in Bowling Green, Kentucky and went to Western Kentucky University where I also attended.  I had an opportunity to meet him during my freshman year when he spoke to a select group of students who were in the video production track.  He didn’t many, probably about 30 or so, but it was really cool I got to see this filmmaking legend in person.

Before he spoke to the group, I got the chance to meet him.  I told him that I rewatched The Thing a few days earlier when I found out he was visiting.  He asked me if I watched it on DVD and I told him that I didn’t, and it was on an old VHS copy.  He then told me “there is this new technology called DVD and you should probably invest in one.”  It was 2006, so I knew what DVDs were, but he was just giving me shit.

On WKU’s campus at the bottom of the fame hill, there is a log cabin sandwiched between two of the freshman dorms.  It was John Carpenter’s childhood home that, when I was a student there, was converted into an office for the folk studies department.  Around Halloween of my freshman year, they held a screening of Halloween.  I had never seen it before, but I thought it was really cool to have the chance to see the film in the director’s former home.  I remember sitting on the floor and being really amazed by it.  I don’t remember who I was with, but I do remember that someone staring through the cabin window wearing a Michael Myers mask.  That was awesome.

The next year, during my sophomore year, that cabin would also become meaningful in a different way.  While sitting on the door step of Carpenter’s childhood home, I smoked pot for the first time.  It was late at night on a col fall evening in southern Kentucky and everything about the experience felt right.  In fact, I thought it was pretty badass that I was doing that where John Carpenter lived since he was a true badass himself.  I spent the rest of the evening asleep on a blanket a few feet from the cabin and woke up at dawn.  There was no Michael Myers on WKU’s campus.

Perhaps one of the most famous qualities of the film is the score.  In addition to directing Halloween, Carpenter also scored the film himself.  The main theme is a piano melody played in a 10/8 or “complex 5/4” signature.  Despite being fairly simple, the score for the entire film took only three days to create.  However, despite its simplicity, it is one of the most memorable aspects of the film.

While the film was released in 1978, the soundtrack wouldn’t be released until August 1979 and that was in Japan.  The United States didn’t get an official soundtrack release until October 1983 which is five years after the film’s release.  Since then, the soundtrack has been released multiple time and with supplemental material.  While other qualities of the film are amazing, it is Carpenter’s score that truly elevates the film to a higher plane.

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“alive” – pearl jam (1991)

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College radio was an important part of my life during the tail end of my formative years.  Many of my favorite bands were college radio darlings at the beginning of their careers before becoming more well-known.  Plus, I respected the institution of it as a bastion of terrestrial freedom within an industry and market plagued with stagnation.  However, above all else, I was active in it.

I started college at Western Kentucky University in the fall of 2006 and, within a few weeks, I started volunteering at the campus radio station WWHR Revolution 91.7.  WWHR was an interesting place to start my media career because of the intense focus and structure guided by the general manager of the station.  For one, it was most important that the station not be free-formed.  There had to be a clear sound and philosophy behind our programming.  We weren’t just going to sound like a bunch of kids on the radio like the majority of college radio stations.

Next, the station had to be live 24/7 with a DJ operating the board.  With the exception of overnight hours during the summer and Christmas break, live human DJs were broadcasting around the clock.  Senior volunteers would first pick for shifts while newer volunteers like me would get what was left.  As a result, my first-year shift was Sunday mornings from 6 AM to 10 AM.  This meant my ability to party on Saturday nights was limited, or I just partied all night and powered through my Sunday morning DJ shift in a toxic haze powered by lingering alcohol and sleep deprivation. Oh, to be young again.

Every volunteer was a DJ and could be one after completing training.  However, for those who had a little more ambition, you could take on a leadership role on the board of directors. I spent a year in leadership doing traffic log operations before moving to promotions for a year and a half or so.  There were perks to this.  For one, directors got to go on trips to places like SCSW in Austin, the NAB conference in Vegas, or conferences in NYC.  The downside to all of this was there was the dreaded “director on duty” week.  You got a special flip phone to carry with you to answer whenever a problem ever came up.  And you had to drop what you were doing to handle it.  On a date but the DJ didn’t show up?  Tough shit.  Tuck it back in your pants, play indie rock for three hours, and take care of your blue balls on your own time.  The station doesn’t wait.

I was 18 when I started and 22 when I graduated.  In those four years, I had a lot of interesting experiences.  Most were good, but some were not.  And that’s fine.  A college radio station, which is essentially a collegiate club, is a strange place to be.  It is a microcosm of ego, hormones, and whatever else fuels awkward people transitioning from being kids into something that kind of resembles adulthood.  Naturally, an environment like that is ripe for drama but it is also a place where you make friends and get a sense of the kind of person you want to be.  What pissed me off and stressed me out no longer bothers me and I don’t hold onto to stupid grudges based on college nonsense.  We were all just kids trying to figure it out amidst all the fights, fucking, and fun.

This month marks 30 years since the launch of WWHR’s broadcast.  When it launched in October 1988, the station was called New Rock 92.  Back then, I imagine it was your typical college radio station; freeform and a place for kids to goof off.  Though, in 2001, the station was rebranded as Revolution 91.7 with a specific philosophy guiding the broadcast and aided by a new 30-mile radius transmitter.  The freeform was gone, but we still got to goof off in our own ways.

The last DJ shift of a volunteer was always a special thing.  In the last shift, a DJ could ignore the programming logs and play whatever they wanted.  They had earned the right.  And people would spend months planning their final shift.

I put a little thought into my last shift, but not much.  My musical knowledge, taste, and diversity is more complex and expanded now than when I was 22.  If I could go back in time with what I know now, I’m sure I could’ve crafted a really awesome playlist.  Instead, I just kinda winged it.  And that’s fine.  I don’t think it’s a bad way to go out.  After spending over three years following what a sheet of paper told me, perhaps going freeform with very little thought of what to play was the most spirited and alternative way to end my college radio career.  It is a big middle finger to the establishment within the establishment.  That is very rock and roll.

My last song I played was “Alive” by Pearl Jam.  The band’s first ever single from their debut album Ten, I played it because it was the most quintessentially alternative song I could think of at that time (yeah, I could’ve played something truly alternative, but I didn’t know as much back then so you Gen-Xers can chill out).  I loved the guitar that powers through the end of the song and the passionate shouts from Eddie Vedder.  I played it loud and rocked out in that studio one last time.  The same studio where I spent countless hours as a DJ, hanging out with friends, and doing all kinds of things only a young college student would be so brazen to get away with.

My college radio spirit hasn’t left me.  I’ve moved onto community radio.  I volunteer with a station in Chicago.  I don’t currently DJ (and haven’t since college), but I engage as a volunteer in ways that are helpful to my career.  I’ve also made a lot of great friends.  The age and background of our volunteers is a lot more diverse, but we have tinges of the kind of drama you would find in college radio (as you would with any large volunteer organization).  In many ways, the station I’m at now is a better station.  It is more professional and has a broader presence in the community. However, I won’t have the same memories like those I made while volunteering at Revolution 91.7.  For all the good and bad, it is a place I’ll always cherish.

“so long, frank lloyd wright” – simon & garfunkel (1970)

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For me, living in Chicago, October is an awesome time.  The trees are adorned in autumnal hues as the season change and the excitement of Halloween hangs in the air.  I don’t have to start worrying about Thanksgiving travel or Christmas presents yet.  It is a month of subdued electricity running through my veins as I celebrate the season before winter arrives. Also, it is the month of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago!

Since 2011, the second weekend of October is the most magical time of the year for Chicagoans.  Put on by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Open House Chicago is an opportunity to see over 200 sites across the cities from as far south as Englewood all the way to Evanston.  The appeal of these sites ranges from their architectural elements, historical significance, normal public exclusion, or for other unique treasures that you weren’t aware existed in this fair city.

It truly is my favorite time of the year and I’ve gone every year since its inception.  Some years, I scramble to see as many sites as possible over the two days.  Other years, I take my time and check out a few places.  And with the variety of amazing places to check out, there are a lot of ways to have fun.

This year, I made an effort to venture out to Bridgeport and Back of the Yards which are neighborhoods I never go to.  Like ever.  Considering this was my eighth year in a row, it was time to break some new ground so to speak.

Due to the time it took to get to that area, I only saw a few locations.  However, they were amazing.  Zap Props was well worth the trip.  Zap Props is a large prop rental warehouse that rents out props to film and television productions.  They had thousands of knick-knacks and other items that are rented out regularly for productions, parties, and even restaurants.  It was a flea market junkie’s dream.  From there, I checked out other place such as the Chicago Maritime Museum, the ComEd training facility, a restored Roman Catholic church, and a Buddhist Temple.

On Sunday, I went north to Evanston to see the American Toby Jug museum.  A Toby Jug is a large pouring vessel modeled after this British guy’s famed love for drinking.  Since the late 1700s, the tradition of the Toby Jug has expanded from jugs modeled after the guy to jugs modeled after animals, world leaders, entertainers, and so on.  It was such a strange collection to see and it was curious that it would be in Evanston of all places. Still, these are the kooky and fun things you may come across on your journey through Open House Chicago.

Open House Chicago appeals to all tastes.  For me, I like weird and unique places.  For others, you may be seriously interested in architecture.  And if that is that case, you may have a deep appreciation for famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Living in Chicago, you’ll occasionally walk by homes designed by Wright.  For Open House Chicago, some of his sites are even opened up for tours.  The experience may not be as comical or bizarre as the Toby Jug Museum, but it is truly a great experience.

In honor of Open House Chicago, architecture, and Frank Lloyd Wright, the song to celebrate all of those things this week is Simon & Garfunkel’s “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright.”  Released in 1970 and closing out the A-side of Bridge Over Troubled Water, “So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright” is a folk ballad tribute to the architect.  Lamenting that architect may come and go, there are fond memories of laughing so long and harmonizing until dawn.  In the duo’s signature style, Simon & Garfunkel bring a shade of curiosity, romanticism, and humor to the song.

Architecture, though admirable ad awe-inspiring in its craftmanship, is also something that can fun and alter your point of view.  Open House Chicago does that for me in a city where I’m sometimes dulled by the familiar during my normal routine.

“autumn serenade” – john coltrane and johnny hartman (1963)

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I deeply cherish the transitional seasons.  Spring is an awakening for me.  After a long, cold Chicago winter, I am filled to the brim with life and energy.  I have to get out and do everything.  Exploration is on my mind and I’m an active whirlwind swimming in warm sunshine.  The brilliance of it makes me feel so young.

Fall, on the other hand, makes me sleepy and a bit weary in a welcomed way.  After an active summer of outdoor sports, travel, and social engagements, autumn is nature’s signal for me to start slowing down.  Winter is on the horizon and I’ll need to use that time to refresh.  Until then, autumn is my needed motivation to stop and look around at the beauty and mortality of all things.

The colors, the smell, and the chill are all things I adore about the season.  When spring arrives, I look around and am energized by all the things I can do now that it is warm. With autumn, I find comfort that things need to wind down.  Not just for the sake of energy expenditure, but to appreciate its return after winter.

A lot of my friends hate the fall because of what it represents.  To them it means that winter is almost here, and they’ll be miserable.  So, they don’t celebrate fall because of it’s the season in between winter and summer.

Part of that makes sense to me.  Winter, in that sense, almost signifies a sense of death.  However, that is life.  Embrace it and perhaps you’ll find it isn’t all the bad.

The start of my autumn has unusually busy.  It almost feels as my hectic schedule and need to do things from the summer has delayed a true autumnal experience for me.  I’ve been working a personal project that has really been eating up my time (in a good way).  But I’ve been aware of how little time I’ve had to enjoy the colors changing.  The experience I feel I’m supposed to receive of winding down just hasn’t happened yet.  But, that’s life.

John Coltrane is excellent to listen to this time of year.  I’m very partial to the record he released with Johnny Hartman.  Released on Impulse! in 1963, John Coltrane And Johnny Hartman is a jazzy match made in heaven.  Coltrane plays his sax supremely while Hartman lends his iconic vocals to the album’s six tracks.

Closing out the record is “Autumn Serenade,” their tribute to quite possibly the greatest of seasons.  Over the sweet saxophone, Hartman sings a sad ode to the wind coming three the trees which make the sweetest melodies.  Warmed by kisses, those beautiful souvenirs, we hold onto the true comforting value of life’s little gifts.

“je bois (i drink)” – charles aznavour (1987)

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Yesterday, the world lost Charles Azanvaour.  As one of France’s most popular vocalists, and a singer of world-renowned fame, Aznavour was dubbed the “French Frank Sinatra” for his distinctive and classic tenor voice.  His accolades run deep including being named “Entertainer of the Century” by CNN, edging out Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan as being recognized as the world’s most outstanding entertainer, and was even appointed ambassador of Armenia to Switzerland.  HE was also recognized for his activism and sheltering Jews during World War II.  Aznavour sang for presidents, popes, and royalty.  Aznavour was a remarkable human being.

Aznavour was a remarkable talent that I discovered surprisingly early in my life.  I was in high school when I first heard “Je Bois (I Drink).”  At the end of my senior year, Bob Dylan had premiered his XM Satellite Radio show Theme Time Radio Hour.  I was a huge Dylan fan and I wanted to listen to everything associated with that man.  So, naturally, a radio show he curated with thematic playlists was right up my alley.

In May of 2006, Dylan’s third episode was about drinking.  In keeping up with the theme, all of the songs he played were about alcohol.  Dylan was a huge fan of Aznavour and that was evident in his outro for “Je Bois (I Drink)” when he said Aznavour “Sings in six languages, French, English, Italian. He’s written over a thousand songs.  I only know about half of them.”

“Je Bois (I Drink)” was co-written by Aznavour with Georges Garvarentz and Roger Loubet.  In the song, Aznavour sings and laments about the reasons he drinks.  There is a love degraded, a woman who took satisfaction, and the lost of an innocent heart.  Aznavour drinks to dull his pain and find solace within endless confusions, but he also aware of the damage it is doing and how this refuge is killing him.  It is a cynical and heartbreaking song with just a touch a dark humor.

I have a funny story about this song.  I had a girlfriend my junior year of college and we were on-again and off-again throughout that year.  We would break up and then not see each other, but then time would pass by and she would treat me like she missed me and couldn’t stand to be away.  It was confusing and childish. We wouldn’t talk through issues because she was just excited to see me again.  And then the cycle would continue.

One day, after a period of not seeing each other because we are angry, she wanted my advice on a homework assignment.  She was taking a French class and needed a song to feature and discuss.  She knew I loved music and knew a lot about it, so she asked for my advice.  She didn’t pick a song because she felt like she wouldn’t be able to pick something that no one else would.  She wanted to be unique.

So, I felt a bit cunning and told her to play Aznavour’s “Je Bois (I Drink).”  I can’t remember if the assignment was due that day or the next day, but it was coming up soon.  She never did listen to the song beforehand. I knew this because she met up with me a few days later and tore into me about how embarrassed she was to play the song because she knew I was sending a message.  I was and she walked right into it.  It was cynical and vindictive and really played well against the themes of the song.  I wish I would’ve been there to see the look on her face as she played the English language version of the song.

Aznavour was a remarkable talent an incredible person as well.  Not only did he sing gorgeously, but his activism made significant impacts and added depth to his legacy.  With a career spanning seven decades and recording more than 1,200 song in eight different languages, he was the epitome of a truly great entertainer.  We need more people like Charles Aznavour.