Popdose Conceptual Theater: Ghost Story
I’ve always been a big fan of concept albums. More specifically, I’ve always loved albums that try to craft an actual story – a true beginning-to-end narrative. Classics like “Tommy”, “The Wall”, and “Ziggy Stardust”, have always been among my favorite albums, and more recent records like “Tallahassee” by Mountain Goats, “Deltron 3030″, and even “American Idiot” by Greenday have hit the right spot for me. We’ll be dealing with concept albums on a more general level with an upcoming Popdose 100, but I’m thrilled to introduce a new feature here at Popdose where we’re going to do more than just celebrate the conceptual adventures that artists have put together for us to enjoy – we’re going to build our own.
A few years ago, in honor of the anniversary of Douglas Adams’ passing, I put together an “Ultimate Mixtape” for the books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. It was a lot of work, consisting of three (and eventually four) albums worth of material, plus plenty of outtakes. The songs were originally chosen based on their titles, rather than how they necessarily fit together. But as some brilliant suggestions came in from my fellow Popdose writers, and I started assembling the tapes, things started to get a little more abstract. It became less about songs that shared the same name as a chapter title or whose lyrics contained some catchy phrase of dialogue from the book, and more about capturing the essence of the story itself.
I’m very proud of the HG2G Mixtapes and the Ultimate Dubliners Mixtape that followed some time later – they’re some of my favorite things I’ve ever produced for this site. But I wanted to do something a bit more abstract with these tapes. Once Spotify became available here in the U.S., I started assembling a new mix for one of my all-time favorite novels (and in my opinion, a novel that inaugurated the entire cyberpunk genre), William Gibson’s “Neuromancer.” At around the same time I was putting the finishing touches on it, Jack Feerick shared with the staff and incredible delight: an epic series of mixtapes based on the Harry Potter series of books. In the time since then, we’ve assembled some more. I think it’s time to share them.
Every two weeks, we’ll be featuring a mixtape that’s based on one of our favorite works of literature. And while many of these books have been made into movies that feature their own music, it’s important to understand that these mixtapes are NOT the same as movie soundtracks. They are not intended to consist of background music for the scenes in these stories. Instead, they’re a (very ambitious) attempt to recreate the stories themselves using music. When it’s done right (and it’s not easy to do right), simply listening to the mixtape should make it possible to understand the narrative without having ever read the book. Our hope is that if you do know the story, you’ll have no trouble making the connection between the songs and the scenes.
In celebration of the upcoming Halloween holiday, the very first tape I’ll be sharing is based on the novel “Ghost Story” by Peter Straub. The novel is a tale of revenge sought by a shapeshifting creature against a group of old men for a secret crime they committed in their youth. I read this novel while visiting my mother, who lives in Ithaca – a town that looks and feels very similar to the fictional upstate New York town of Milburn described in the book. For two consecutive nights I stayed up late reading “Ghost Story” in her enclosed porch. Something about the combination of the story and my circumstances of reading it – in the dark of night, in the dead of winter, surrounded by the leafless branches of moonlit trees – made it especially chilling for me. I hope you enjoy this tape, and I hope you enjoy this series. I can’t wait to share these with you.
Stay tuned next week for the first of Jack’s “Harry Potter” tapes.
On Spotify: Ghost Story
“Panama” (excerpt) – Rockabye Baby!
“Galley Chowder” – James Gray
“That Cruel Thimbleful” – Happy Jawbone Family Band
“Long Way Down” – Tom Odell
“Death of a Party” – Blur
“This Charming Man” – Stars
“Ghostwriter” – Flying Horseman
“Crimson and Clover” – Satan’s Cheerleaders
“Brother Wolf, Sister Moon” – Dan Barta & Robert Balzar Trio
“Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” – Hal Lindes
“Nightmare” – The Spring Standards
“Hold Her Down” – Toad the Wet Sprocket
“Down by the Water” – PJ Harvey
“Listen, the Snow Is Falling” – Galaxie 500
“Cabin Fever” – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
“Horrorshow” – Louis the Last
“The Sparrow” – Mastodon
“Suffer the Childern, Come Unto Me” – Brendan Kelly and the Wandering Birds
“Ghost Story” – Breakfast in Fur