brendan halpin

We begin with a Phil Spector wall of sound type drumbeat, like it’s going to be “Be My Baby” or something.

And then Roky launches into the song, whose lyrics follow in their entirety:

I walked with a zombie

I walked with a zombie

I walked with a zombie

Last night

There’s no chorus. Or maybe there are no verses. In any case, the song is just repeating this over and over. The guitar leads change, there is a solo, and sometimes there are backing vocals going “he walked with a zombie.”

Though most of Roky’s songs are nowhere near this simple, this is kind of a quintessential Roky Erickson song. It’s a joke, and it’s also not a joke. The backing vocals let us know Roky sees the humor in the whole thing, but also, it’s creepy.

I like to resist biographical interpretations of art because it needs to make sense whether you know someone’s life story or not. But I heard once (and it’s impossible to confirm this info in the internet, so it may be bullshit) that Roky wrote this about spending the night on a locked ward shuffling around with someone zombified by psych meds.

Whether this is true or not, the repetition does manage to creep me out—this isn’t a run-for-your-life adrenaline scenario. The horror here is the mindless repetition.

I will just add that there’s some science to suggest that chanting is good for your mental and physical health, and so perhaps there’s an element of that here too.

Or maybe I’m overthinking.

The song shares a title with a very good black-and-white Val Lewton horror movie but seems otherwise unrelated. Unlike the next one we’ll listen to.

Here’s the studio version on Spotify. Here’s a live version from 2007 on youtube. There are multiple live recordings of the song, so if you want to get all zen with it and just hear these words repeated over and over for like 20 minutes, you can totally do that.

Let’s start with the opening track of Roky’s masterpiece album, The Evil One.

I guess garage rock is the best way to characterize the music, though I struggle to find an example of another artist whose music sounds like this. It’s surprisingly dense, as in addition to the lead guitar there’s some kind of screeching guitar sound going on in the background. There are also credits on the album for electric autoharp (!), so I guess that’s on here somewhere too.

Anyway, Roky asserts that he’s been working in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog. I used to think this was just some weird EC-Comics-fueled fantasy, but of course there was an actual animal torturer in the USSR who made such a monstrosity. Apparently it lived for 4 days.

Some of the lyrics are pretty inscrutable, even by rock lyrics standards, which is to say they are English words (mostly) but don’t actually follow the conventions of English language usage. So we get, for example, “Relaxed be nyet brought back,” and “pain does not look our hell” which, like, I dunno. Still, the more I listen to this, the more coherent it gets. It’s a meditation on cruelty.

So we get images like “children nailed to the cross” and “sickening sweet sight left and right”—basically the verses come at the idea of the fundamental wrongness of the experiment and the fact that it inflicted tremendous suffering on innocent creatures.

In other hands, this song might be unbearably depressing, but the hard rockin’ nature (even with the presumably guitar-generated dog howl at the end) makes it feel more angry than despairing.

This is the kind of interesting tonal high-wire act Roky pulls off throughout this album. “working in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog” sounds absurd and even funny, and it is, but it’s also a real-life horror. Play it loud.

Here’s the song on Spotify. Here’s a YouTube video of a live performance from 1980.

Happy Spooky Season, everyone! The most wonderful time of the year! (No, we don’t have to wait for October 1. I try to keep Halloween in my heart year round, but also, the candy is on the shelves in CVS, kids, so it’s Halloween time!)

I’d love to do one of those 30 horror movies in 30 days challenges, but I’ve tried that before and usually crapped out before I got to 10.

So this spooky season, I’m launching a new feature here: Roky Erickson Song of the Day*!

* I probably won’t actually do one every day. Just warning you ahead of time.

Anyway, if you’re not familiar with Roky Erickson, he was the lead singer of The 13th Floor Elevators in the 60’s, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a drug charge and spent a few years in a locked facility. He then got back into music, but, for a while anyway, his music took a dark detour into demons, vampires, gremlins, and zombies.

He also wrote a couple of absolutely brilliant Buddy Holly pastiches. Then he took a break from recording and touring, at least partly due to his mental illness, and he came back in the 90s with a far less spooky focus. He toured right up until his death in 2019.

I saw him on his final tour—he was clearly not well physically, sat the entire time holding a guitar he didn’t play, and he seemed to get lost in some of the verses of his songs. But the band was absolutely on fire and he still had one of my favorite rock and roll voices and it was a great night.

His lyrics are often semi-coherent, but what I love about his music, apart from the aformentioned rockin’ and his excellent voice, is that he was able to use it to give us glimpses into the nightmare world he lived in for a few years and to break down, at least partially, the barriers between us and him.

Breaking down barriers is something great art does, and, to me, Roky was a great artist. His scary songs are actually scary because he was completely sincere. There’s artifice there, sure, but the horror wasn’t a joke to him, and it’s not to me either.

I return to his music every Spooky Season. This year, I’m taking you with me.

Addendum: special shoutout to the clerk in the basement of Philadelphia’s 3rd Street Jazz and Rock, an absolutely fantastic record store, who answered my questions about Roky Erickson and got me to buy Don’t Slander Me back in 1987.

Today’s Globe has an article about how bathroom renovations in Boston Public Schools are behind schedule. It quotes Vernee Wilkinson of School Facts Boston, “a parent advocacy organization.”

But here’s the thing about School Facts Boston. It’s not a parent advocacy organization. In fact, it’s unclear exactly what it is.

Here’s what we know: it was founded in 2019 by failed mayoral candidate/anti-public education activist John Connolly. According to Maurice Cunningham, who knows about such things, it was initially funded by The Barr Foundation, a “philanthropy” that funds a lot of education privatization initiatives.

On its website, School Facts Boston says it is a nonprofit. (It was incorporated as such with the Massachusetts Secretary of State). But it has not filed a form 990 with the IRS. It has a “family advisory board” but does not seem to have a board of directors. It lists no employees.

But on John Connolly’s LinkedIn, School Facts Boston is listed as his only job since 2018. I doubt he’s been volunteering this whole time. So who does he work for? For that matter, who at the group is a paid employee, and who’s a volunteer? How much money do the highest paid employees make? At legitimate nonprofits, this info is all on the Form 990. Here, it’s a mystery, despite School Facts Boston’s assertion on their website that they are “committed to transparency.”

So, okay, this whole organization is shady as hell. Who cares? The education privatization space is riddled with astroturf organizations funded by big pro-privatization donors: Democrats for Education Reform, National Parents Union, Latinos for Education, etc. School Facts Boston is just one more.

But here’s the thing—Vernee Wilkinson, who may or may not be an employee of School Facts Boston, was quoted in an article in the Boston Globe today about school bathrooms. The article, written by James Vaznis, identifies her as being “of School Facts Boston, a parent advocacy organization.”

A quick search for Vernee Wilkinson’s name on the Globe website shows she has been quoted in stories about the Boston Public Schools fourteen times in the last three years. Is there any other parent advocate who gets a call from the Globe once per quarter?

So this is why it matters. This organization has an outsized voice in issues of Boston Public Schools, and we don’t even know who they really are. We don’t know who signs the checks. We don’t know how many employees they have or how many actual BPS parents they represent.

(I suspect it’s not that many. A Wayback Machine archive of their website from 2020 says they’ll be expanding their Family Advisory Board to 40 members within a year. It still says that today, and there are only 13 members)

The Globe’s education coverage was bought—oh, sorry, funded—by The Barr Foundation a few years ago, so it’s pretty unlikely they’ll unmask who School Facts Boston really is. But if you know, feel free to tell me!

#Boston #education #BosPoli

Alter ego Seamus Cooper penned this five years ago. There were more parts planned, (and promised in the foreword!) but they never came to pass. Cooper tells me he needs time to fully recover his sanity before diving back into the depictions of eldritch horrors therein. So here’s part one: “Something Fishy!” Read at your own risk!


            I fully expect questions. How did you come across these manuscripts? Are we but meaningless specks of dust adrift in an uncaring universe? Can a dog really talk?

            Unfortunately I have no answers, or at least no satisfactory ones. One day, the first manuscript appeared, quite literally, on my doorstep, typed on an actual typewriter and wrapped in twine. Curiosity compelled me to begin reading, and the writer’s skill compelled me to finish.

            I should reveal, in the spirit of  honesty, but also as a warning, that I did not sleep for three nights after reading the first manuscript. Months later, a second appeared, and, the process—read, shudder, lie awake for three nights in feverish contemplation of the horrors I had just read—repeated. Manuscripts continued to arrive on my doorstep at irregular intervals afterwards.  Have the deliveries ceased?

            O God! I pray that they have.

            I share these with you now for purely selfish motives. For one of the things that has been most difficult about being the recipient, caretaker, and only reader of these tales is the terrible weight of being the only person alive, outside of the four (or, depending on your definition of person, five) who are the subjects of these tales, who knows the terrible truth about the world in which we live.

            I warn you, therefore, that the secrets contained in these tales, once they have settled into your brain, can never be un-known. I’m sure some of you will say, “Very well, then! Let the scales fall from my eyes!” I encourage you to reconsider. For the scales that obscure the true nature of our world provide comfort enough that you can go about your mundane routines and fall into the sweet embrace of Morpheus at days’ end, and after you read this, these simple pleasures may be denied you.


--Seamus Cooper

Providence, RI, September 2018


I missed this when it came out, probably due to having a small child at the time. But I saw that it was Stuart Gordon adapting Lovecraft and thought it might have some of the wonderful over the top gonzo comic energy of Re-Animator or From Beyond. It didn’t, but it was still pretty good!

It’s essentially an adaptation of The Shadow over Innsmouth, inexplicably moved to Spain, where the town in question is called Inboca. Get it? The effects are mostly practical, which is good because the few bits of low-budget 2001 CGI are…really horrible!

But what’s really captured well here is the horror of the whole town being comprised of people slowly transforming into horrors from the deep. This could be done very comically (as it was by me in my Scooby-Doo fanfic The Velmanomicon!), but Gordon manages to make it genuinely disturbing and completely devoid of The Incredible Mister Limpet references, a feat I was incapable of!

There’s some gratuitous nudity, and the big reveal and the ending didn’t quite work for me, but overall a nice, creepy diversion!

If the title has you singing the song already, you can skip ahead. For everybody else, this is a kids’ song where you kind of almost swear a few times, so, you know, it’s delightfully naughty when you’re like 8. It goes like this:

Miss Lucy had a steamboat

The steamboat had a bell

Miss Lucy went to heaven

The steamboat went to

Hello operator…

There’s more, but you get the idea.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the theology of this song. So, like, for one, the song posits that steamboats have souls. Is this true of all inanimate objects? Or just boats? Is this like a Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel situation? In other words, are all steamboats imbued with souls, or is it just this one?

This will remain a mystery, but I do believe I’ve solved the second theological conundrum inherent in this little ditty. If Miss Lucy goes to heaven, why does the steamboat, which, presumably, only acts on Miss Lucy’s commands, go to hell? What could the steamboat possibly have done?

I pondered this for a while and then realized I was simply not looking at the song through a Calvinist framework. Calvinism posits the existence of “the elect,” people who are predestined to go to heaven while the rest of us are predestined to go to hell. Cheery theology!

But also a handy theology if you believe you’re part of the elect, because then you can do literally anything you want on earth and be assured of your place in heaven! This is the basis of James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, a 19th-century novel about a guy who realizes that, as a member of the elect, he can totally be a serial killer!

But back to Miss Lucy. Why does she go to heaven while the steamboat goes to hell? Well, because she is one of the elect, obviously! She was born destined for heaven, while the poor steamboat was damned from the get go!

You can probably tell how well Calvinism fits in to capitalism and how it influenced prosperity gospel: if you’ve got a lot (say, for example, you own a steamboat), it’s because you’re chosen by God! If you don’t, well, too bad for you that God didn’t pick you. The elect have no moral obligation to help you—they’re going to heaven anyway, and you’re probably suffering because you’re bad!

So there you have it folks—harmless childhood ditty or Calvinist/capitalist indoctrination? You decide!

Trenchant analyses like these brought to you by my liberal arts education! Tune in next time when we’ll examine the problematic “Slidin’ into third” verse of the diarrhea song!

I’m a huge fan of Matt Berry and loved the chronicles of egotistical, always on the cusp of both failure and success actor Steven Toast in Toast of London.

Toast of Tinseltown, though…you know when you get the new album by a band you like, and, like, some of the old magic is there, but it just doesn’t hit the same way? Yeah, it’s like that.

While Toast of London was always over the top, Toast of Tinseltown goes all the way to surreal, and the results are mixed. I’m tempted to blame the whole thing on the casting of Fred Armisen, that pioneer of the Comedy Without Laughs genre, who here, once again, delivers a performance that I understand to be comic but that inspires no laughter. (Perhaps this is because he’s actually a little too good at playing a prickly, unpredictable guy with a dark secret?). Rashida Jones is charming as usual, but I still haven’t forgiven her for pulling out of the film adaptation of one of my novels and thus denying me a sweet payday. She’s also not particularly funny in this.

To return to my album analogy, think of this as Billy Bragg’s Don’t Try This at Home, or X’s Ain’t Love Grand, or whatever version of that album a band you really like put out. There’s still some good stuff here, and if you liked the other stuff, you’ll still find stuff to like here, but you’re not going to reach for it first and you definitely wouldn’t recommend it as a starting place.

I’ve been feeling frustrated that leadership at every level of government isn’t responding to the obvious climate emergency with any increased sense of urgency.

Multi-year plans and modest emissions reductions are insufficient. We need emergency action to combat the climate emergency.

Now, there are a lot of things we can and should do that will require time to put together. Center lane busways on every 4+ lane street in Boston, for example, while far less expensive than new rail lines, will still take time to put into place.

But there are two things that Massachusetts can do right now in order to help respond to the climate emergency. The first is to free the MBTA. Bus, subway, ferry, commuter rail—make the whole thing free. Denver saw ridership increase 22% when it made public transportation free for a month in 2022. Making the T (and, for that matter, every other form of public transportation in MA) free will ease traffic and reduce carbon emissions and make the entire Greater Boston area more liveable.

“But how are you gonna pay for it?” Same way we paid for throwing millions of dollars at GE to not build a headquarters in the Seaport, I guess. But also, eliminating fares will save tons of money on fare collection. No more machines, no more server farms running the fare system, and far less stress on bus drivers, so less turnover. (Also, going fare-free helps improve bus efficiency, since all doors can open at every stop. This saves on fuel costs.)

The second instant emergency climate change-fighting measure is such a no-brainer I can’t believe nobody’s even proposed it yet: close Hanscom Field.

Hanscom Field is an airport in Bedford, Massachusetts, that is the primary airport for private jets in Massachusetts. In fact, it’s almost exclusively dedicated to private aviation.

Even in the best of times, the idea that Massachusetts taxpayers should fund a landing strip for the 1%’s private jets is pretty onerous, but during a climate emergency, it’s inexcusable. No one needs to travel by private jet.

I believe private aviation should be banned altogether, but that’s something that needs to happen at the federal level. The least Massachusetts can do is shut down the airfield that makes this an attractive place to fly private jets in and out of.

Maybe there are better ideas. If so, I’d love to hear them. More than that, though, I’d love to have someone acknowledge that the situation we’re in is an emergency.

#Massachusetts #ClimateChange #MBTA #Transportation

Went to the Castle Island brewery in Norwood, MA last night for a Chaotic Wrestling show. It did not disappoint!

One match featured the Hispanic Mechanics, Jos A and Jos B, vs. two members of The Unit, Trigga the OG and…um, the other guy. The Hispanic Mechanics delivered the dance moves, the charisma, and the victory. I’ve seen Trigga the OG at every event I’ve been to, and he works really hard and is a great heel, and I’d like to see him get more attention.

God’s Greatest Creation was another tag team that won. The gimmick seems to be that they’re militant Christians who are also gay? (one of their opponents, I’m sorry I don’t remember the name because they were also really great, was sporting a Pride flag armband. I will say again that Chaotic does a great job of being an inclusive promotion that manages to put larger-than-life characters together without relying on lazy, hateful stereotypes.) Anyway, great match.

Paris Van Dale defended her championship in typical style—by complaining that she wasn’t getting sufficient respect, attempting to walk out of the match, and ultimately winning due to an illegal eye poke. Great stuff—I think she’s the best heel in the promotion.

Brad Cashew defeated hockey-themed newcomer Stan Copley in a “hockey rules” match. Copley did use the hockey stick against Cashew, but of course good prevailed. I would like to say that Cashew’s preening confidence only needs to be kicked up one notch to preening arrogance to make him a heel. Praying for a heel turn, but, as you can probably tell, I mostly like the heels.

High-flying Shannon Levangie defeated Che Long in a very entertaining match. I feel like Shannon has really grown into her persona and is now my favorite face. Also fun to see Che Long, who did his first match with Chaotic in May, find a great heel character and really embrace the dark side. Also he complained of an injury that left his back “construed” and that his opponent from the previous night had ruined his spray tan.

In an “international match,” a new guy representing Puerto Rico (lost the name—sorry!) took on The Israeli Action figure, who proved a very sore loser! Fortunately Flip Gordon came out to stop the post-match beatdown!

The main event featured Flip Gordon vs. sneering heel Ricky Smokes. Here’s how good Smokes is—when he did his entrance schtick, he walked around the outside of the ring and passed three ten-year-olds who were wearing his merch, looked at their outstretched hand, and said, “Like I would even think of high-fiving you!” Great stuff. Gordon, a charismatic face with absolute tree trunks for legs prevailed with an assist from Shannon Levangie, who stopped Ricky Smokes from kicking Flip into unconsciousness outside the ring.

If that sounds like a lot of entertainment, it was! And if you catch Chaotic at one of their bigger venues, like the Sons of Italy in Watertown, you’ll get another full hour of wrestling goodness.

Non-corporate wrestling is punk as fuck and an amazing entertainment bargain besides. Support your local indie promotion!

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