Artwork by Cap Blackard
Our own fatalistic tendencies get the best of us time to time. We’ve seen enough horror movies and read too many headlines to meddle with the dark corners and stuffy basements — yet, somehow we always do. There’s a hidden, deep-seeded love for the darkness in all of us, whether we’re screaming as it stalks us or laughing in its presence. It comes down to thrills, the ol’ fire at the bottom of our souls that burns brighter and tougher with each jump or scare.
Sometimes that experience is enhanced by music; sometimes that experience is music. So, in light of Halloween, aka the greatest holiday of the year, Consequence of Sound asked its staff to digress on some of their most frightening listening experiences to date. We were impressed with the stories, too: One took place overseas, another involved a spectre, and all sent jolts to the heart, like any good scary story should.
Don’t let the tales stop here, though. Spin your own spooky legends in the comments below. We’re dying to hear them.
Rage Against The Machine – “Ashes In The Fall”
I have no idea what “Ashes In The Fall” is about. It’s a Rage song, so I’m sure it’s something specifically political and angry, but every time I hear it, I think of something that has nothing to do with the band: Michael Myers.
It’s that intro. Tom Morello is famous for creating a spectrum of complicated sounds on his guitar, and yet here he plays John Carpenter’s overly simple theme from Halloween, albeit in a different key. I’m almost sure this wasn’t intentional, but that didn’t matter when I first heard the song in tenth grade.
I had just gotten The Battle for Los Angeles for Christmas and decided to pop it in my Discman on the bus ride to school. At that point, I had only listened to the first half of the album since it contained all the singles. When “Ashes In The Fall” began and Morello’s scratchy 10/8 signature blared through my tinny headphone speakers, I dug my nails into the seat in front of me, thinking that if I clutched the cracked brown faux leather long enough, I would realize this was all a joke and someone had somehow switched out the album with the Halloween soundtrack.
But once Zach de la Rocha started rapping and Morello diverted into his usual spacey playing, I knew that this was still RATM and that I was still scared out of my wits. How could they do this to a poor, innocent high schooler? Didn’t they know that playing any incarnation of the Halloween theme would cause Michael Myers’ blank white face to materialize out of thin air? Even just writing about such a thing could conjure his presence. Shit, I better go lock my doors… -Dan Caffrey
Spacemen 3 – Sound of Confusion
After the tube clenches its midnight doors, the infamous London nightbus becomes the only transportation from King’s Cross to Hammersmith unless you’re willing to shell out for a cab. On the disarmingly quiet ride toward my aunt’s flat, which I was housesitting for a week, I slipped on my headphones. Soon the oscillating drones of “Hey Man” and schizophrenic gasps of “Mary Anne” lulled me into a slumber, head pressed against the frigid window. The “2:35” demo resounded in my ears when I awoke, delirious, unaware that I had even fallen asleep. The bus was now entirely empty save for the disgruntled driver. We had reached the end of the line, past the outer stretches of west London. At four in the morning, alone, I climbed gingerly out of the nightbus. Onward into the unfamiliar night, I hazily recall praying to the gods I didn’t believe in (even J Spaceman) that wherever I was walking towards was the way I was supposed to be going. -Paula Mejia
M83 – “Car Chase Terror”
Two in the morning. The interstate is deserted. Raging Florida thunderstorms keep the more sensible drivers indoors. It’s just me, wet asphalt, and M83 banging as loud as the factory-stock Hyundai speakers will allow. Anthony Gonzalez’s haunting construction creeps, churns, and then builds a nervous pace. My right foot makes the car do the same. The rain is cascading sideways now. White cracks streak wild across the sky. But I’m more concerned about two women describing the man with the monstrous eyes. He’s all dressed in green. Dark green. And that’s when I see a different color: Red. Flashing red lights, sitting atop a car driven by a man dressed in blue. My stomach clenches in a fevered pain, like it’s about to drop down the apex of a broken roller coaster at some cheap county fair. The intense moment of mind-killing fear soon gives way to anger. Fuck. I know I’m caught. A speeding ticket. But at least the girls got away. -Dan Pfleegor
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “Radio Nowhere”
I don’t know whether the ghost in my old Lincoln Park apartment was equal parts coincidence and imagination or the actual spirit of a former Civil War soldier that a couple of friends claimed to see (myself included). The latter would explain the lights or fans that flicked on themselves, the objects that were tossed off my shelves, the sudden cold compresses behind my neck, the pacing shadow that would appear in my closet at times, or the figure that walked through my bed one evening. If it really was some sort of spectre, then they certainly had an affinity for Springsteeen.
My first experience with the ghost occurred one afternoon in the fall of 2007. I had just picked up Magic on vinyl, and played the record while cleaning dishes. About a minute or so in, I noticed the song was skipping, so I took off the LP, looked for scratches and put it back on. The same thing happened again, only this time I skipped ahead a track. Sure enough, it started skipping once more, but that’s when it hit me: it was skipping on the same line, on the same opening track, again and again. “Is there anybody alive out there? Is there anybody alive out there?” I turned it off, put on something else, and went about my business with a slight chill in my spin.
To date, the vinyl works without a hitch. -Michael Roffman
Can – “Aumngn”
Scan to 37:28.
I guess upstate New York’s early morning winters weren’t cold and desolate enough for me. As insult to barren-winter-injury, my 4-6 a.m. Thursday morning, psychedelic radio show at Skidmore College put me alone in a one-window radio room, barely brightened by a dim corner-lamp. The temperature would drop and the snow would fall outside, while I hibernated there, warming up along to some of the strangest sounds ever deliberately set to tape–shiver-inducing ones. They crawled out from antiquated speakers in between outdated PSAs about tobacco and child-rearing.
One particular morning, Can’s “Aumngn” came up as the playlist prescribed it to. At first, it was background music to whatever task I was vaguely tackling. But then, once fully engulfed by the 17 minute song, I realized that I was listening to Damo Suzuki and Irmin Schmidt’s recorded, tape-looped nightmares. At 7:30, Schmidt’s shamanistic yelps pierced my consciousness, yelling me into a fit of fear I hadn’t experienced since hiding under the covers from the dark in my childhood bedroom. Except for me, I had no choice but to stay there till the show ended. When the show finally did, I sprinted to my dorm room and dove into my bunk-bed’s blankets. -Drew Litowitz
Unidentifiable Widespread Panic song being distantly played on the Bonnaroo main stage
2011, Manchester, TN: The members of our lawn-chair circle flailed to the ground as the flames and sparks to our fireworks careened toward us. Slow motion eclipsed my vision, and I army-crawled toward the outskirts of our current home — over beer cans and cigarette butts and the general mayhem that a campsite becomes after four nights at Bonnaroo.
A cinematic war scene cocooned the warm-and-fuzzy festival haze as I questioned whether or not we all survived the blast. When the initial shock wore off, I looked to see the rest of my friends had pulled the same duck-and-roll move as me (aside from one immobile member of the group, who sat in the darkness, sunglasses-clad and unaffected by the literal flames shooting swiftly toward his body).
As we rose above the ashes, uncontrollable laugher infected a group of people in no state to make the short trek into Centeroo for the final headliner let alone deal with the fireworks that had just been shot horizontally into the center of their peaceful abode. Fellow skippers-of-the-last-band ran toward us to confirm a lack of casualties, and as Widespread Panic played on in the distance, ours slowly subsided. -Amanda Koellner
Tom Waits – “What’s He Building?”
The late night walk home through Quincy’s sleepy streets was bumpier than usual, coerced by an evening’s worth of cheap beer and Maker’s Mark. Stumbling side to side down the street, up the stairs and through my bedroom door, I crash landed on my bed, earbuds still securely situated. The room spun around as I began to drift off; that is, when my iPod played the devilish trick of selecting Tom Waits’ cryptic spoken word entry “What’s He Building?”.
What had been a festive drunken stupor quickly turned into an eerie creepshow full of odd clanking, low baritone vocal musings, and messy percussive clatter, sounds that married the image of my swaying bedroom door, left slightly ajar to bang to and fro with the aid of a sharp autumn breeze. This scene brought the hazy, booze-induced nightmare closer to the light of reality. When I awoke all was quiet, peaceful even, and the man in the fedora was nowhere to be found. -Ryan Bray
The Real Spirit of Radio
For five days, the ghost of a rape victim lived in my guitar amp.
When I bought my first guitar– a 1984 cream-colored Fender Stratocaster that I drool over to this day– I played it obsessively. I played as many late 90s alt-rock guitar solos as I could, while steadfastly refusing to actually practice what my instructor had explicitly requested I learn. Instead, I would rush home from school, crank my inexpensive but loud Fender solid state amp, and perform some hilariously bad rendititions of “Mayonaise” or “Just”. This, after all, is what 17-year-old “alt” kids do.
It was some idle Monday in the very bud of Midwestern spring, where it’s just warm enough to go out without a jacket but snow still litters the ground. I ran up the stairs of my house, and ran quickly through an amateur-ish rendition of “Here Is No Why” by the Smashing Pumpkins.
When I finished, I heard crying.
The crying wasn’t gentle or restrained. It was filled with deep, shuddering sobs. The kind that engenders the ugly, jerking, toy soldier motion of the shoulders, that snaps the neck back and forth in the whiplash of grief. For about five seconds, I thought it was my mom, but I couldn’t figure out spatially where the noise was coming from.
Then, clearly and plainly coming through the speakers of my amplifier, the voice composed itself long enough to say, “Then he touched me between my legs.”
I shut off the amp; the voice went away.
For the next four days, I played guitar with this terrifying cloud over my head. The voice slipped in and out of my noodlings, revealing more information over time– it was my father; he would come into my room at night; it went on for years. Always, it was accompanied by those full-body sobs. No one else ever heard it and I started to believe I was going crazy.
That Friday, I studiously avoided the guitar. It was to the point where I was actually considering giving it up, or at least selling the amp for one less haunted. But I came downstairs to visit with my mom, who was home early for the weekend. As I descended the stairs that led to my room, I heard it unmistakably: the sobs.
My first thought was that the ghost had escaped my amplifier, had found corporeal form in the house, and was planning on murdering me for somehow reminding her of her father. This of course should not have been my first thought, but I had been living with a ghost for a week, and I was seventeen. Reason is not a natural partner of these circumstances.
What I found, however, was my mother in the kitchen, listening to the radio. “I’ve been listening to this all week,” she said, her voice solemn with empathy. “This whole week, this poor woman has been telling the story of how her father abused her and how it’s affected her faith in God. It’s been just heartbreaking.”
And so. No ghost. No attempted murder. No supernatural posession. Just the random, unintended reception of haphazard radio signals.
I still sold the amp. -Chris Bosman