Listen Here is a monthly playlist picked and curated by members of the Deadshirt staff around a certain theme. This month’s theme is Stephen King, with a playlist selected by Mike Pfeiffer.
It’s October, baby, and you know what that means: time to read exactly one scary story and call 911. I’ve been a huge fan of Stephen King since tentatively investigating my father’s collection of first-edition tomes which lived just out of reach of my grasping hands. There’s no bigger name in contemporary horror, and so for the designated “spooky” month of the year I took it upon myself to pair a few of my favorite Kings with some of my favorite songs.
1. “The Wizard” – Black Sabbath
(Inspired by The Gunslinger)
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” The Gunslinger: Roland Deschain. The Man in Black: Marten Broadcloak, a.k.a. Walter O’Dim, a.k.a. Randall Flagg. First introduced in The Stand, Randall Flagg is one of my favorite King characters—a perpetual instigator and hellraiser sitting at the right hand of the devil and wearing a Canadian tuxedo and cowboy boots to the end of the world. My dad gave me the first Black Sabbath album around the time I started reading his worn-down copy of The Gunslinger, and “The Wizard” kicks off the album with a sinister, smirking western-tinged fantasy piece that just happens to encapsulate everything I love about The Walkin’ Dude.
2. “Born in the U.S.A. (18 Tracks Version)” – Bruce Springsteen
(Inspired by It)
King’s longer works are replete with foreboding epigraphs, and if I felt like slacking off I could have put together a playlist just of the single lines of songs he manages to pluck out and twist into new forms, making a shadow puppet of the morsel. It is preceded by a line from “Born in the U.S.A.” that Young Michael had to verify was actually in what I naively believed to be a fist-pumper of a patriotic jam: “Born down in a dead man’s town.” The nature of the shapeshifting monster of It lets Pennywise the Clown be a metaphor for the rites involved in growing up as well as a cutting indictment of small-town complacency. This demo version meets in the middle with King like skullfaced mourning echoing off of gravestones, all synthesizer artifice stripped away to reveal the rusted iron pain at the song’s center much as the evil of It forms the secret heart of Derry, Maine.
3. “Teenagers” – My Chemical Romance
(Inspired by Carrie)
Carrie’s pseudo-documentarian approach to a teenage girl’s telekinetic massacre of her high school includes a stinging depiction of high school classism and the sort of puberty-writ-large superpower story that forms the backbone of everything from the X-Men to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Nobody dumped blood on me at my high school prom, but in my own secret heart there’s a vengeful ember of childhood bullying that I find fanned every time I see someone get swirlied on film. I grew up and dropped the idea that I was a victimized nerd at some point, but my course correction can stray into petty territory that occasionally hurts the feelings of people I care about. Carrie White suffers the same fate in the grande guignol of Carrie and executes exactly the same kind of bloody pubescent retribution described in My Chemical Romance’s “Teenagers,” a band whose CDs would no doubt be pilfered from Carrie’s room by her religious zealot mother in a more canny modern film adaptation than the one we got a couple years ago.
4. “Ballrooms of Mars” – T.Rex
(Inspired by The Mist)
When the titular Mist falls in this 1980 novella, the unbearable tension of the unknown is heightened by the romantic imagery of a translucent and shadowy world held at bay by the front window of a supermarket in (no points will be awarded for guessing) rural Maine. Then there is the turn, and the blood, and the screaming. “Ballrooms of Mars” takes the same turn, dreamily spinning line after line of saccharine space fantasy, lulling you right into “The arms of the changeless madman,” and the “Things in night that are better not to behold.” The Mist is thick with these things, Marc Bolan’s monsters who call out the names of men, and they were realized perfectly by artist Berni Wrightson in Frank Darabont’s film adaptation.
5. “Hello Hello, I’m Back Again” – Shivaree
(Inspired by “The Boogeyman”)
It may be cheating to include this creepy Gary Glitter cover that I used in my Halloween mix from last year, but the drastic style change from glam stomp to strange serenade works far better than it should, and so does this story of a man hunted and haunted by the impossible thing that we all fear, student loan collectors the closet monster. Lead singer Ambrosia Parsley’s breathy “It’s good to be back” is never quite the come-on that it should be on paper. It’s hissed and strange, whispered instead of purred. It’s just an inch from the refrain of the slavering beast that menaces the protagonist of The Boogeyman at wild intervals for his whole life, showing up to shred his sanity to tatters—“So nice…. So nice.”
6. “The Only Way To My Heart” – Foxy Shazam
(Inspired by The Shining)
Jack Nicholson splintering a bathroom door with a fire axe as Shelley Duvall wails like an American McGee adaptation of Popeye is one of horror cinema’s most enduring images, so it’s too bad that in the book he’s using a croquet mallet. I don’t give a shit if you don’t, though, and even if you did it’s still hard to deny that “The Only Way To My Heart (Is with an Axe)” is the internal monologue of haunted hotel caretaker and telepathic-child-haver Jack Torrance to a T. It’s a lurching and drunken burlesque of a song, building in swagger and insanity until its final minute splits open and floods you with barrelhouse piano and mayhem. “I can only wait so long, I’m losing my mind,” says Foxy Shazam lead man Eric Nally, and for a moment the song shudders and stops and you think that maybe the storm has passed. But Wendy. Darling. Light of my life. It hasn’t.
7. “Cruiser” – The Cars
(Inspired by Christine)
The image of Christine the Killer Car is among King’s most iconic. The headlights opening like demon eyes in a dark alley. The car without a driver, popping out dents and reinflating tires and clanging back to life in an industrial repurposing of the painful transformation sequence from An American Werewolf in London. The novel’s copious epigraphs from classic rock ‘n roll songs underline the precious nostalgia at work that would later be put to better use in It, but The Cars managed to evoke the chromo-sexual thrill of a cherry ride with some haunting and modern flair in this underappreciated track from 1981’s Shake it Up. “Is he going to fuck the car?” you find yourself asking for the entire length of Christine, and “Cruiser” lives in that same place where one’s motovirility is measured salaciously in cubic centimeters.
8. “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us” – Siouxsie and the Banshees
(Inspired by ‘Salem’s Lot)
When you get to the last act of ‘Salem’s Lot, it’s a high-midnight showdown between writer Ben Mears and master vampire Kurt Barlow for the soul of a small town in rural Maine, our country’s most precious natural resource. Siouxsie Sioux manages to split the difference between Nico and Bryan Ferry to imbue this odd baroque fight song by Sparks with a gothic edge that makes “This Town” the perfect backing for King’s modern-day Dracula riff.
9. “Under My Wheels” – Alice Cooper
(Inspired by “Trucks”)
Stephen King killed AC/DC in his pills-fueled directorial debut Maximum Overdrive, an adaptation of his short story “Trucks.” This is a dick move considering that they wrote a song for the movie called “Who Made Who,” a fitting theme for the pinnacle of the classic narrative conflict type “All Humans Versus All Cars,” so in tribute to their brave sacrifice I decided to go with Alice Cooper’s grinding nutjob psych-out tribute to vehicular slaughter.
10. “Every Day Is Halloween” – Ministry
(Inspired by “The Ten O’Clock People”)
The idea of “The Ten O’Clock People” is kissing-cousins to They Live: if you consume just the right amount of nicotine while quitting cigarettes then your mind adjusts to a special perceptive level that exposes the fact that the People In Charge are secretly grotesque creatures from another world. Synthesizer fan and horror master John Carpenter directed the film adaptation of Christine, so it seemed appropriate to use Ministry’s atmospheric goth tribute to daily masquerade in homage to a story so close to one of Carpenter’s best movies.
11. “Dirty Mind” – The Pipettes
(Inspired by “I Know What You Need”)
“I Know” is another short from the knockout collection that includes “Trucks” and “The Boogeyman,” and it’s not far from a King version of a Lifetime original movie. Originally published in Cosmopolitan, it’s a supernatural thriller about the romance between college girl Elizabeth Rogan and gawky Ed Hamner Jr. who somehow intuits Elizabeth’s every need. The moral of The Pipette’s bouncy wall-of-sound “Dirty Mind” is that a squeaky clean exterior doesn’t guarantee a mind free of filth, and Elizabeth would definitely agree.
12. “Dead Man’s Party” – Oingo Boingo
(Inspired by The Stand: “Captain Trips”)
Each of the vastly different three acts of The Stand deserves its own song. The start of King’s attempt at an American Lord Of The Rings-style epic is the death of 99.4% of the world’s population due to a weaponized superflu, and it’s a tough act to follow. The spread of the flu and the breakdown of society is one of the most amazing feats of the sustained macabre in fiction. The aforementioned Randall Flagg is in attendance for the end of the world, grinning as humanity cedes to chaos, and “Dead Man’s Party” puts you right there in a New York inhabited by eight million corpses, capturing the horror of the fatalities and the manic excitement of a suddenly abandoned civilization for the taking.
13. “The Weight” – The Band
(Inspired by The Stand: “The Dreams”)
Take a deep breath. We’ve been going pretty hard. The second act of The Stand is where the chess board for the final battle between Flagg’s legion and a coalition of the Decent under centenarian Metatron Mother Abigail is moved piece by piece to its final configuration, but it’s also a momentary respite for the reader after a few hundred pages of everybody that anyone ever loved choking to death on their own snot in a sick bed. The Good Guys lay their heads down in Boulder, Colorado, and I’ve no shame in cribbing from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes when it comes to the utility of “The Weight” to express that feeling of camaraderie and exhaustion when the disparate players of the ensemble finally find a brief period of rest.
14. “Demolition Man” – The Police
(Inspired by The Stand: “The Stand”)
The final act of The Stand is probably the most Lord of the Rings-y bit, as a little fellowship walks their way across the American west to confront a dark lord who has made Las Vegas the seat of his power, and features some of the most interesting theological and philosophical discussions in King’s oeuvre. Ultimately, the deciding factor is Donald Merwin Elbert, a pyromaniac in the service of Randall Flagg who people call The Trashcan Man. While “Demolition Man” could also easily describe Flagg, there’s something Trashcan Man in the line “You say that this wasn’t in your plan, you don’t mess around with the demolition man.”
15. “Time is On My Side” – The Rolling Stones
(Inspired by “One For The Road”)
Last one, and it wouldn’t be Stephen King without the Rolling Stones. “One For The Road” (Included in Night Shift, along with half the stories from this list) is a little epilogue to ‘Salem’s Lot, as a family accidentally bumbles into the dead patch of Maine where “The Lot” now stands as a crypt full of vampires after the events of the book. It embodies my favorite quality of Stephen King’s work—the sense that horror isn’t just an event that suddenly happens and passes, but that it, like menacing Mick Jagger in this oddly gloomy track, is always there in every dark corner and twisting road. And all it has to do is wait.