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Unsold "Monster Mash" op-ed

Monday 10/31/22

I include these unsold op-eds in this journalistic record for the reason many things are included or written into this record. A case is being made. A case about and against this industry. One is not going to read a better op-ed today than these op-eds, and I can say that baldly because that is obvious.


So what happened? Why were these not even responded to, save in two cases (by someone who was swamped and was polite about it--and was telling the truth--and someone else who gave an honest effort to find the space despite having their Halloween content already scheduled)?


It's obviously not the quality. It's obviously not because I've done something wrong. So what is it? Incompetence? Bigotry? Cronyism or a lack thereof in the case of this author? You're telling me people don't want to read pieces like these more than what they're going to see in op-ed sections today? I don't buy that for a second. And I don't think anyone else would either.


If these pieces run later on, I'll take them down from here. Or I won't. I may just leave them up, because what does it really matter?


I wrote most of these back in the summer, knowing that this is what most likely would happen. That's what I do every single day. Knowing what will most likely happen. And knowing with pretty much total certainty what will happen with fiction and books. And yet, there I am, doing what I do, at the level I do it, even with that knowledge. Can you imagine that kind of hell being your life? And nothing else. That. I wrote four different versions of the Nosferatu one for different outlets.


As “Monster Mash” turns sixty, give it a fresh listen this Halloween.


The first time I heard Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash” as a kid, I thought, “This is the wittiest song ever!” One grows up, but that doesn’t mean youthful hyperbole can’t contain an element of truth. I’ve heard “Monster Mash”—which turns sixty this Halloween—many times since. We all have. The song is to Halloween as “Feliz Navidad” is to Christmas. Chances are you either hear it and think, “Yes, it’s back!” or else “Good God, make it stop!”


But there is more to “Monster Mash” than meets the still, dead eye. A piece of music becomes ubiquitous, and it’s as if we’ve never heard it—carefully heard it—paradoxically. The song can be “Stairway to Heaven”—with a guitar solo that is always fresh and astounding—or this spooktastic number conceived by Pickett as a goof, a chance to trot out his Bela Lugosi imitation on stage for some laughs before friends prevailed upon him to cut what has become America’s Halloween anthem.


Halloween owes a lot of its appeal to how it encourages us take what lives on the inside of us and send it outwards. Fear is this way. We spend much time trying to deny or hide our fears, though we end up feeling better when we admit that they’re there. Halloween is a celebration of fear. We’re talking fun fear, but there’s enough thematic overlap with the other kind, as if Halloween wants us to be amenable to getting that out in the open throughout the rest of the year.

What makes “Monster Mash” masterful and why you should pay a little more attention to it during this season of the witch is its indomitable, proud interiority. A mad scientist has brought the Frankenstein monster to life, and all of the ghosts and ghouls are digging this. We could even call these entities the nerds and geeks of this eldritch strata of society. In the 1960s, one was encouraged to fly their freak flag. I think people were healthier then as a result. And that’s exactly what the scientist and the ghouls do in “Monster Mash.” They have a swinging party, no shame.


The song is a send-up and pastiche, but it’s a pretty rocking rhythm and blues. Leon Russell played piano in the band dubbed the Crypt-Kickers, so these weren’t slouches. The tune has swing, a sepulchral whiff of Ellingtonia, and the polyrhythms the girl group-influenced backing vocals generate with Pickett’s wind-gust of a narrative is as delicious as any Halloween candy.


I love that Dracula is jealous of this new dance crazy in-the-making, bemoaning the fate of his “Transylvania Twist.” The twist was huge at the time, and the meta-nature of “Monster Mash” would have struck people as borderline brilliant, even if they didn’t fess up. What’s more brilliant is that though we might not get all of the references now, the song hasn’t dated. No more than a werewolf does. They are out there, we presume, or may be. “Monster Mash” is the same.


I’d suggest looking less at “Monster Mash” like the novelty number fiend you wish to kill, and instead as an annual visitant with some cool nuance. Dissect this bad boy. Do a little vivisection and weave it into your own life. Rock out with those fears and anxieties. They won’t vanish, but they’re so much more manageable when they’re out there. It’s the graveyard smash of life, not just the charts of Monsterland. So throw aside that coffin lid, let the ghosts out—if not the dogs—and jive.