Goodnight, Whatever You Are

Back in the olden days, before the internets, I loved horror movies but seldom had access to them. The only video store nearby had a pretty good horror section that I gradually worked my way through. Unfortunately, a new owner acquired the video store, chucked out all the interesting stuff and replaced it with deer hunting videos and other assorted bullshit.

Needless to say, this represented a seismic upheaval in my young life. All those amazing VHS boxes with carnage and monsters were gone, replaced by videos of beaming, camoflagued, moustachioed retards in the woods. Goodbye Phantasm II and Taste the Blood of Dracula, hello Bow Hunting Tips. I was inconsolable.

We didn’t have cable out in the hinterlands, and digital satellite TV hadn’t been invented. Actually, I take that back. For four easy payments of a kazillion dollars, a team of specialists with union suits reading “Quasar TeleStar 3000” or something would come install this gigantic death ray-looking thing in your back yard. The whole thing would rotate when the channel changed, and certain satellites hosted certain channels, and this huge guide was needed to figure it all out. I think one family in town had one of these things, which dwarfed their little modular house. But they were old, and didn’t want to watch horror movies with a sniveling little shit like myself.

With many years to go before I’d be old enough to get a driver’s license, I began pestering my father to recount the plots of old horror movies to me, which he could sometimes remember, but usually not.

The thing about horror movies is that, usually, there isn’t much of a plot to remember. At all. For instance, I have seen the movie Creature From the Black Lagoon a whole bunch of times, but all I remember is . . . there’s this awesome-looking Creature who . . . lives in the Black Lagoon, and something happens . . . there are people there, and this girl he tries to carry underwater, and—do they harpoon him or blow up the lagoon or what? It’s a mystery. I can watch that movie again, but I’ll just re-forget.

Who cares? No one can remember the plots of horror movies. They’re like murders that never get solved because no one gives a shit about the victim.

“What happened here?”
“I don’t know, he’s dead, there’s a lot of blood and shit —the perpetrator probably—hey man, fuck it. Let’s do something else.”
“Yeah. Coming here was stupid. Case closed.”

However, my father did speak of his admiration of Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul. Back in the day, it was popular for local television stations to feature horror movies late at night, hosted by various and sundry horror personalities. Vampira, who palled around with James Dean and famously appeared in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space, broadcast out of Los Angeles.

On television screens across Ohio, Ghoulardi exhorted his fans (including future members of Pere Ubu, the Cramps, and the Electric Eels) to “turn blue” and “stay sick.”

The East Coast had Zacherley.

It seems that Zacherley was a skinny guy dressed like an undertaker who lived in a castle. His dead wife was interred in a coffin, and their shapeless son Gasport lived in a canvas sack. Zacherley himself stumbled around, told stupid jokes in his basso profundo voice, and sometimes inserted himself into the films. The movies were usually crummy, but Zacherley was hilarious, so people tuned in. Unbelievably, he was friends with Dick Clark, and would host American Bandstand when the Ageless Wonder couldn’t make it.

Back to our story. Time passes. I’m twenty-five years old and looking through CDs at Mondo Kims. To be specific, I was looking through the Spoken Word section. That’s where the comedy CDs are, but also some things that the staff of Kim’s doesn’t really know what to do with. And suddenly I came across a CD that said “Spook Along with Zacherley.”

I hadn’t thought about Zacherley in over a decade. I snatched it up and brought it home and plopped it into the CD player. It was hilarious.

There’s two kinds of songs on Spook Along with Zacherley. The first (and more common) kind of song was a kind of goofy monster a go-go tune. The second kind of song is pretty much the same, but maybe more of a spoken-word piece with musical accompaniment. Either way, there are a lot of stupid puns, lotsa goofy horror imagery, and frequent outbursts of demented Zacherley laughter. Whenever he signed off, he yelled “Good night, Whatever you are!”

There is a whole genre of monster a go-go music, and it’s mostly shitty but great. I’ve heard a lot of this stuff, and here’s the formula—write a generic rhythm and blues or surf tune, add some ghoulish cackling or the odd lyric about . . . you know, horror and stuff, and call it “The Mummy’s Finger” or “Swamp Zombie” or something. Modern attempts at doing this sort of thing are execrable at best, but it was popular back in the day. The most famous, of course, is Bobby “Boris” Pickett, who made his name by singing the Monster Mash.

For a couple of years in the early 1960s, monsters were the shit. Famous Monsters, a periodical devoted to famous monsters, printed issue after issue of monster content. The Munsters and the Addams Family ruled the airwaves. Teenagers flocked to horror movies, still expecting to see more than one movie. Hollywood ground out B-movies to show before the main feature. They didn’t always make a ton of sense, but there was usually a guy in a rubber suit. Thanks to modern technology, a lot of these are preserved to this day. And just like psych bands used to put their weird freak-out stuff on the B-side of 7” singles, B-movies were often brief and nearly incomprehensible.

Horror films shifted over time from stuff like Dracula to films about giant atomic creatures. By the 1960s, American society was pretty fucking precocious, and the Hollywoodoids holding the purse strings understood they were out of touch. They started throwing money at filmmakers, saying “look, we don’t know what the fuck is happening, just make some hippie shit on the cheap, all right?” American horror began shrinking. In England, Hammer Horror began reviving monsters in films like Lust for a Vampire and Frankenstein Created Woman, featuring far-out dudes and groovy chicks in period costume. Horror films gradually became very different.

Against all odds, Zacherley still makes appearances today. He’s in his early eighties, but seems to be doing all right. Let’s hope he’s still having a good time. I listen to his album every Halloween. I recommend that you do so as well.


The Nightcrawlers: The Little Black Egg

[Editor's Note: Dear Reader, this was the first post I ever wrote on this blog. I didn't really think too hard about it—I just really liked the song and wanted to write something about it. Since then, a good portion of traffic to my website has been related to this tune. If you're interested in "The Little Black Egg," I strenuously urge you to pick up Big Beat Records' excellent Nightcrawlers' retrospective, which contains that song and much more. Also, if you have any memories of the Nightcrawlers from back in the day, feel free to post them in the comments section below.]

My favorite song in the entire world was written by a band of cryptic Floridians called the Nightcrawlers. Somewhere, information exists about the Nightcrawlers. A quick search through the internets reveals that their one and only album (plus bonus tracks) was reissued by Big Beat Records in 2000, but I don't own it.

Consequently, I don’t know anything about the Nightcrawlers, it doesn’t matter, who cares. I don’t want to know anything about them. All I know is that this lovely song was released in 1965 and eventually became a minor hit. My first exposure to it came via the Lenny Kaye-compiled Nuggets collection, which caused an invisible third eye to open in the center of my forehead.

Starting off with a jangly guitar riff, “Little Black Egg” manages to lurch along for three and a half minutes. It’s propelled by a weirdly precise drummer, who sounds like he just learned how to play. Almost as if he hasn’t yet figured out how hard the drums should be hit—sometimes he sneaks out an arm to hit the crash cymbal, but it’s rare. A close listen reveals that the poor guy’s squeaky kick drum pedal is sorely in need of some WD-40. The squeak cuts through the distinctive “sorry but we could only spare one mic for the drums” drum sound. It sounds really dogged, you know? Like he's just making do with what he has, and it ain't easy, so count your blessings.

The singer, on the other hand, sounds like a drawling lobotomy outpatient with nasal congestion to whom someone handed a tambourine before pushing him in front of a microphone and hitting the record button. It just so happens he’s got some very ineffable psychedelic problems that he’s gonna lay on you.

In a blissful, deadpan voice with occasional deadpan harmony, he informs the listener that:

1.) He's found a little black egg with little white specks
2.) People want to look at it, but he doesn’t want them to
3.) The whole situation is really fucking stressing him out

It’s the most perfectly paranoid psych-pop song ever.

Have you ever been hanging out with a friend who’s cataclysmically stoned and trying to impress something important upon you? Let’s say he's trying to describe how going to the DMV is all fucked up. However, he's really high, so he keeps adding all these details about what it’s like to be there, describing some woman who kept giving him funny looks, and she had a blue Bic ballpoint pen, and one sort of lazy eye, and your friend just keeps repeating himself, and keeps droning on at exactly one speed, and don’t seem to necessarily have any emotions connected to anything he's saying, except the DMV you know, it’s fucked up in this one particular way, and that woman there with the pen is . . . and then he trails off . . . until you say something like "yeah" . . . and he starts over again. If you've ever been stuck in a conversation like that, well, you have a pretty good idea of what this song feels like.

Here are some of the actual words:

I don’t care what they say
I’m gonna keep it anyway
I won’t let them stretch their necks
To see my little black egg with the little white specks

I found it in a tree
Just the other day
Now it’s mine all mine
They won’t take away

Here comes Mary here comes Lee
I’ll bet what they want to see
I won’t let them stretch their necks
To see my little black egg with the little white specks

Yeah, you heard the man. “Stretch their necks.” As if Mary and Lee could see the egg, if only they craned their heads a little, but he’s somehow keeping them from doing that. It’s clearly implied that Mary and Lee may want to steal the egg, which is valuable. To three people, at least.

The Nightcrawlers had twenty or so other songs, but nothing that can really touch this. My questions about the song just keep piling up. Do birds actually lay black eggs? Are the white specks, you know, bird shit? What kind of bird would even hatch? Or is it a turtle egg? A dinosaur egg? Does this guy have to be really careful with the egg? Will it start to smell, or does it already? How could he tell the egg was special in the first place?

The only thing I know is that I’m rooting for the crazy bastard. Hang onto the little black egg, and don't let it go. It's yours.