copyright 2008 by Gary L. Pullman
As we saw, in an earlier post, the lyrics to The Doors’ songs can be suggestive of horror stories. We imagined, based upon the following words, to “L‘america,” the coming of apparently “friendly strangers”--perhaps aliens disguised as humans--to a small town for the purpose of abducting the village’s women so that the abductors might ravish them, thereby perpetuating a hybrid version of their own race, the men of the town seeking, in vain, to prevent the women’s abductions and rape:
Friendly strangers came to town
All the people put them down
But the women loved their ways
Come again some other day
Like the gentle rain
Like the gentle rain that falls. . . .
The lyrics to the band’s song “The End,” with their obviously Freudian undertone, could easily be the basis of a horror story in which a killer kills because of unresolved Oedipal feelings:
The killer awoke before dawn
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on the down the hall
He went into the room where his sister lived
And then he
Paid a visit to his brother
And then he
He walked on down the hall, and
And he came to a door
And he looked inside
Father. Yes, son? I want to kill you
Mother, I want to [epithet deleted] you
Oooh, all last night. . . .
Couldn’t the following words, from “Riders on the Storm,” have inspired a movie like The Hitcher or even Flannery O‘Connor’s short story, “A Good man Is Hard To Find”?
There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirming like a toad
Take a long holiday
Let your children play
Give this man a ride
Sweet family will die
In fact, as Songfacts explains, “‘killer on the road’ is a reference to a screenplay” that Jim Morrison “wrote called The Hitchhiker (An American Pastoral),” in which he “was going to play the part of a hitchhiker who goes on a murder spree.”
The words to songs like these stir the creative juices in writers, especially horror writers, because they are evocative and because they touch upon macabre subject matter. At the same time, they are vague or ambiguous, open-ended enough to allow one to place his or her own interpretations upon their possible meanings and to develop even a single block of verse or an entire song’s body of lyrics into not merely one, but several, possible plots. As Morrison said, concerning “The End,“ the song’s meaning “could be almost anything you want it to be” (Songfacts).
The Doors’ songs are especially rich in evoking images of horror that could be developed into complete stories, but other bands’ songs also can inspire horror story ideas. Take this line, for example, from The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus”:
Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye. . . .
As Songfacts indicates, John Lennon, who wrote this particular song, said he penned these lyrics to vex scholars who might attempt explications of the song’s lyrics, some lines of which, by Lennon’s own admission, were inspired by his ingestion of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). (As Songfacts indicates, there are many other sources for the lines of this song as well.)
If Stephen King’s Desperation starts to get creepy with a family’s spotting of a dead cat nailed to a highway sign, where might King be led by such an image as The Beatles have created? Such images can lead any writer of horror down a similar highway.
Not only can song lyrics inspire horror stories, but, in some cases, the opposite is also true: horror stories have also occasioned songs. An example? The title of The Jam’s song, “The Dreams of Children,” was inspired, Songfacts explains, by Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden,” in which the villainous Candyman “kills to preserve his reputation, so he can haunt ‘The Dreams of Children,’” and the song itself was inspired, in part, by The Beatles’ “Revolver”:
Prior to writing the song Paul Weller had been listening to his favourite album, The Beatles “Revolver.” Weller recalls in the book 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, “After we'd finished recording the album Setting Sons, I asked the engineer if he could record the album backwards and put it on cassette. When I listened to it there was one piece of vocal that I really liked and wrote "The Dreams Of Children" around it.”
Musicians tell us that music is an expression of emotion; as the name by which the genre is known indicates, so is horror fiction. The emotion, horror (or one of its close relatives, such as anxiety, fear, or revulsion), is evoked by many of the same images and sentiments that music with a macabre theme expresses. Therefore, music and fiction, including horror fiction, are natural complements to one another, at times, at least, and the writer should not overlook the millions of possibilities for inspiration that exist in music. (In fact, Stephen King often listens to rock and roll as he writes his novels, and many of his books contain excerpts of song lyrics or acknowledgments to various musical artist’s works.)