Max Sparber has got one creepy, but very groovy record shelf. Leaving no tombstone unturned, no crypt left unopened, he seeks out new supernatural life in his quest for the morbid, the bizarre, and the ever-lasting bumps in the night-music that lie between the pit of our wildest nightmares, and the summit of our unholy dreams. Cool.
Join us as he dares to speak...
How did your fascination with music that touches on the ghastly and supernatural come about?
A few places. Firstly, like quite a few American children, I had several Halloween records when I was young, including Bobby "Boris" Pickett's The Monster Mash and several collections of Halloween sound effects. As an adult, I started tracking down albums like this to compile Halloween mix tapes for my friends, and began to realize that an enormous amount of music had been written with supernatural themes. That's when I began collecting in earnest.
What is it about supernatural-themed music that makes you seek it out and collect?
Well, I have a notorious need for novelty—I get easily bored with middle-of-the-road culture, and, frankly, how many love songs need to be written? Or, at least, how many love songs that rhyme "June" and "moon"? With supernaturally themed music, you get this marvelous variety of songs, including music in which the singers literally impersonate classic movie monsters, as well as genuinely spooky stuff, and quite a few albums on which actual movie monster stars appear. Trust me—if you can find a recording with Vincent Price or Boris Karloff on it, it's worth getting.
Tell us about your collection: who's in it, your favorites, and how you go about finding those gems?
I have about 1400 unique songs in my collection now, some purchased at flea markets and thrift stores, some simply tracked down on the Internet. I tend to do a lot of reading of online horror blogs, and when they make references to supernaturally themed music, I jot it down and try to chase the song down.
My favorites in my collection are songs that aren't merely novelties or satires of existing songs, but work as unique pieces of music. I remember hearing LaVern Baker's Voodoo Voodoo for the first time, in which she uses a voodoo curse as a metaphor for obsessive love, and being impressed that Baker had created a song that dealt with such kitschy subject matter that still managed to remain a terrific R&B number. A lot of blues songs manage this as well, such as Black Cat Bone by Lightnin' Hopkins and I Ain't Superstitious, by Howlin' Wolf, both of which borrow from folk superstitions and base themselves around spooky guitar parts.
At the same time, I also like songs that are just deliberately ridiculous. I'm a big fan of Nervous Norvus, for example. His be-bopping, ukulele-backed songs are just great, and he has such an oddly morbid sensibility. In Transfusion, for example, he sings of an endless series of car crashes and blood transfusions, while in The Fang he takes on the role of a zoot-suited space alien. And I have been listening to Screamin' Jay Hawkins since I was a boy, and have yet to grow tired of him.
Nervous Norvus aside, what other bizarre or really-out-there music is in your collection?
I have an entire album of spells by a self-proclaimed witch named Louise Huebner. The album is called Seduction Through Witchcraft and was released by Warner Brothers in 1969. They recorded her reading off potions and spells, and then put a very deep echo on her voice, to make it sound spooky I suppose.
Country artist Red Sovine did several ghost stories, all about truckers who either see ghosts or are ghosts. I wrote about one, Phantom 309, on my site, but he has another called Bringing Mary Home in which a child hitchhiker turns out to be the ghost of a little girl killed in a crash, who every year on the anniversary of her death convinces truckers to take her home, whereupon she disappears.
Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster on The Munsters, released a 45rpm single called Whatever Happened to Eddie in the 80s, consisting of him singing over a new wave version of the Munsters, and basically updating people as to his activities. There was a point when you could hire him to appear at parties in his Eddie Munster outfit, despite the fact that he was now an adult—Ben Stiller parodied this once, on Saturday Night Live, if I remember correctly. The flip side of Whatever Happened to Eddie is actually a terrific song called Little Monsters, somewhat reminiscent of the music of Thomas Dolby.
Jack Kittel did a song called Psycho, which has since been covered by Eddie Noack and Elvis Costello, that is a weirdly hysterical country song consisting of a deadpan supper time confession by a young man who admits to mother that he's killed just about everybody he knows, including most of his family members. At the end of the song it becomes obvious that he has also killed his mother and is confessing to her corpse.
What was your monsterkid upbringing like? When did the bug hit?
I watched horror movies as far back as I can remember—I used to wake myself up very late at night to watch monster movies after midnight, with the volume turned very low, sometimes with a sheet thrown over myself and the television to hide the glow, so my parents wouldn't know I was up. I was a huge fan of The Twilight Zone as a boy and similar shows. I remember going down the street to a corner drugstore when I was young and discovering an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland—it had an image of Yul Brynner from Westworld, with his face taken off to reveal a mass of circuits. I convinced my mother to buy it for me and was immediately hooked.
I also purchased a lot of horror-themed comic books when I was young, and built plastic models of the Universal horror monsters that glowed in the dark. It was pretty easy to be a fan of horror when you were a boy growing up in the early 70s—even my grade school library had a large collection of Alfred Hitchcock's ghastly selections of short stories, and a series written explicitly for children called Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.
I just never lost the taste for it. Even now, looking at Dr. Mysterian's collection of DVDs, at least half of them are horror-themes, including a distinct section for zombie films.
What's in that unique collection of zombie films?
I have quite a few—I'll just name two or three. There's George Romero's films, of course—I saw Night of the Living Dead on PBS when I was a boy, and was really shocked and impressed by it. I also have Sugar Hill, a strange Blaxpoitation film from 1974 in which the Voodoo saint, Baron Samedi, raises a group of zombies to help a nightclub owner avenge the death of her boyfriend. And I have King of the Zombies, which is almost entirely about ethnic comedian Mantan Moreland looking frightened. Somehow it managed to get nominated for an Academy Award when it was released, in 1941, for best soundtrack.
Who is the mysterious and bizarre Dr. Quentin Mark Mysterian?
Dr. Mysterian is a pseudonym, borrowed from the band name Question Mark and the Mysterians. The actual Dr. Mysterian is a writer and editor currently living in Minneapolis, formerly of New Orleans, who writes weekly predictions of the future, directly inspired by fraud psychic Criswell, which can be found in the pages of the Omaha Weekly. The official story is that Dr. Mysterian was in a freak accident that gave him the power to forecast the future, including seeing the exact time of his own death; obviously, some of the details of Dr. Mysterian's life are exaggerated or fabricated to protect his true identity.
What question are you dying to be asked, and what's the answer?
What is the grossest song ever written? And the answer is, of course, Screamin' Jay Hawkins song Feast of the Mau Mau, in which he describes, in excruciating detail, a truly reprehensible meal, then gibbers in a faux-African language. When he used to perform the song, members of his audience would flee the theater, sickened.