Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of friends who are always out experiencing the best of entertainment. Be it plays, films, concerts, exhibits, or games, they’ve learned that the arts are best when experienced together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Just before Spook-tober ends, the Girls investigate the origin of the Internet’s favorite Halloween anthem. Let’s listen in on their conversation…
“Spooky, scary, skeletons / speak with such a shriek…”
Eleanor hummed as she adjusted the edges of her dress. They had to hang just so, off the shoulder but not too far down the arm. They should float, was the thought. She glanced over herself again in the mirror, adjusted the thin hairband, and grabbed the worn book sitting on her desk.
In the center of the apartment, the scent of pumpkin floated through the air, and she could hear Gwen rummaging in the kitchen. Bats hung from the walls, mini pumpkins crowded the coffee table, and an orange die-cut tabby cat stared down from above the front door.
“It’s eyes are the worst part,” said Eleanor, clutching the book.
“Best part, you mean,” came Dania’s reply. She was hunched over a laptop, her wizard robes draped onto the keyboard and her white beard tossed over the armrest. She peered at the screen through plastic spectacles, and pondered about the playlist for the evening.
“Any songs you want during the party?” Dania inquired. “I’ve got most of the obvious stuff: ‘Thriller,’ ‘Monster Mash…'”
“Spooky, Scary Skeletons,” Eleanor quickly replied.
“Got it,” Dania said. “‘This Is Halloween,’ ‘Disturbia,’ ‘I Put A Spell On You…'”
“No, but…” Eleanor continued. “It should just be ‘Spooky, Scary Skeletons’ on loop. The whole night.”
“No,” came Gwen’s emphatic reply.
“Maybe not,” Dania said. “I wish, though.”
“Did you do the remix version, or the original?”
“The remix. Who listens to the original?”
“Have you never listened to it?” Eleanor asked.
Dania looked up. Short of answering, she saw Eleanor. “What are you?”
Eleanor struck a pose, holding the worn book in front of her. “Mary Shelley.”
Scowling, Eleanor opened the book to the first page – FRANKENSTEIN, OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS was hand-written over the cover page.
“Oh, she wrote Frankenstein,” Dania said. “Cool.”
“Um, yes. It’s cool.” Eleanor sat elegantly, holding the book on her lap. “What are you, a wizard?”
“Yeah,” Dania said, disinterestedly lifting the beard up and setting it down on the armrest. “Just a wizard.”
“Um, yes, it’s cool,” Dania repeated. Her devious smile peeked over the laptop edge, meeting Eleanor’s rolling eyes.
“But have you really never heard the original ‘Spooky, Scary Skeletons?'”
“No,” Dania said. “I imagine it sounds like the remix version, but without the thumping bass.”
“Sort of,” Eleanor shrugged. She indicated the computer – “may I?”
“Take it, the playlist is done,” Dania said. As she leaned back in the chair, Eleanor quickly found the full album on YouTube.
“So it’s from this album for kids, called ‘Halloween Howls.'”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Gwen responded from the kitchen. “The synthesizer gives that away.”
“But there are, like, eight original Halloween carols here. You could add a few of them to the playlist. Not all of them, but…”
“From a kids’ Halloween CD?” Dania said. “It’s like, playlists are supposed to fade into the background, not be ‘so-bad-it’s-good.'”
“Okay, true, but some of them are just…good.”
“Not ‘great,’ but…I mean, how many Halloween carols are there, really?”
“She has a point,” Gwen said.
“You’re defending this?” Dania said. “You were the one trying to get ‘Night At Bald Mountain’ onto the playlist and all this other classical stuff.”
“True,” Gwen said. She entered the room, not wearing a costume. “Then again, if we’re all contributing to the playlist…”
“Ugh, fine.” Dania sat up. “How long is the CD?”
“42 minutes, about,” Eleanor said. “With, one two three…twelve songs.”
“All right, let’s hear it.”
“What, right now?”
“Sure,” Dania said. “The party isn’t for four hours, let’s listen while we prep.”
Eleanor began the album. A blowing wind segued into a MIDI organ playing the famous Bach Toccaca and Fugue, before being interrupted by a distorted voice:
“Hello, boys and girlsss.”
Gwen covered her mouth to keep from laughing.
“Welcome to my Halloween…HOWLS.”
“I immediately regret nothing about deciding to listen,” Dania said.
“It’s time to go…Trick Or Treating,” the narrator continued. “So be sure to light your pumpkins!”
Before anyone could ask aloud what that sentence meant, the voice broke into a devilish cackle, bending upward in pitch. Reaching its zenith at the same time as Bach’s toccata, it burst into an impish “Wheeeeeeeee!” and faded away.
“Oh my God,” Dania said. Eleanor, staring at the table, felt her eyes widen. This was going to be a hell of a 42 minutes.
– – –
No one talked much as the CD played out: Gwen worked on food, Eleanor finished the decorations, and Dania sat, contemplative, focusing all her energy on the music. As Andrew Gold’s halfway-decent cover of “Monster Mash” played, she nodded her head in time to the beat. The humorous lyrics of “Gimme A Smile” got an audible chuckle from her.
Gwen, meanwhile, made it through most of the songs before finally speaking, halfway through “Witches, Witches, Witches.” “Oh, God!” she cried from the kitchen. “Make this one stop!”
“We’re listening to all of it!” Dania responded.
Eleanor gulped. It was unclear whether or not Dania was loving or despising the CD. She could easily name the worst songs on the list – the coy immaturity of “Creature From The Tub,” the repetitive spiraling of “Trick Or Treat,” or the vapid vapidness of “Halloween Party,” the last of which sounded like a rejected bop from the 1950s. But Eleanor was also prepared to defend the more enjoyable numbers – “It Must Be Halloween,” or the obvious bone-rattler that got them there to begin with.
As the final strains of the overlong “In Our Haunted House” faded away, Dania exhaled audibly, taking in the CD in its entirety. “Wow,” she added. Gwen, meanwhile, walked directly to grab her phone.
“What’s the CD called?” she asked, as she walked to look at the computer.
“Halloween Howls, by Andrew Gold,” Eleanor answered.
“Okay, cool.” Gwen snapped a photo of the album art, and texted rapidly. “I’m sending this to my mom, who can show it to Hazel, because this is perfect for her.”
“Well, duh,” Dania said. “She’s what, five?”
“Six,” Gwen said. “But yes, she is the target demographic for this sort of CD. She’s going as Wonder Woman this year, the Gal Gadot version.”
“Nice,” Eleanor said.
“Well!” Dania said. “I know what to include on the playlist, for certain.”
“Right,” Eleanor said. “Every single one.”
“Nnnnnnnnnnwell actually…” Dania reversed.
“No, don’t do that, don’t,” Eleanor pressed. “At least don’t include, like, the second half. ‘Skeletons,’ plus ‘It Must Be Halloween,’ plus the ‘Smile’ song, maybe.”
“Tbh,” Dania continued, “I kind of did like all of it.”
“You’re not serious.”
“Okay, it’s not good, but it’s not so-bad-it’s-good either. It’s fun!”
“This is not the reaction I expected,” Eleanor said. “I don’t know what reaction I expected.”
“Well, like you said. How many Halloween songs are there, really?” Dania glanced over the tracklist again. “Hell, he even covered three of the most significant songs anyway, with Ghostbusters, Addams Family, and Monster Mash. This is essentially a ‘best of’ for Halloween.”
“Pushed through a lens of MIDI and synth,” Eleanor said. “For the lil’ spook demographic.”
Dania chuckled at “lil’ spook.” “Sure,” she added. “But I’m not the kind of person who uses Halloween as a dark bloodfest. It’s all about pumpkin spice and that Charlie Brown special for me. The fun, colorful Halloween. And this is precisely that. It’s jaunty and upbeat.”
“It’s a little too silly for my taste,” Eleanor said. “I suggested it sort of as a joke.”
“Well, it’s sort of good,” Dania said. “Don’t get me wrong, there’s some trash on here – I mean, that tub song?”
“It’s so weird and slow!” Eleanor said. “Or the ‘Don’t Scream’ one, with like four lyrics.”
“I will say,” Gwen added, “I appreciate the orchestrations. Yes, It’s MIDI and sounds cheap, but it does effectively call to mind Halloween. The harpsichord and organ are pretty obvious, plus the xylophone additions to ‘Spooky, Scary Skeletons.’ Even the drum work – I don’t know why Halloween sounds to me like a 50s rock song, but they clearly felt so too.”
“I do definitely see why ‘Spooky, Scary Skeletons’ is the one that got famous,” Dania continued, as Gwen returned to the kitchen. “Xylophone aside, it’s got the best lyrics and style to it. But taken for what it is, just a novelty CD, it’s not bad.”
“Hm.” Eleanor turned the computer. It was imperfect – far from that, it was straight-up childish. But she knew the divide between “childish” and “amateur.” It was still well-produced, with eight original songs and what seemed like real grains of passion sprinkled through it. Sure, that child’s voice in “Creature From The Tub” did grate after more than a few seconds. And that overlong final trio of songs…
“I think I’ll stick to Nightmare Before Christmas for my spooky tunes, for now,” Eleanor said. “But, you know, I’ll keep ‘Spooky, Scary Skeletons’ in mind too. Maybe the first song.”
Gwen came barrelling back into the room.
“You said Andrew Gold, right?” she asked. “Like, the songwriter Andrew Gold?”
“I assume the Andrew Gold who wrote these songs is a songwriter,” Eleanor clarified, confusedly.
“Okay, get what else he also wrote.” Gwen pressed play on her phone. A string of instantly recognizable piano chords rolled out.
“Are you serious?”
“Thank you for being a friend / traveled down the road and back again”
“Are you trying to tell me,” Eleanor said, standing clutching her book, “that the guy who wrote the theme song to Golden Girls also wrote Spooky, Scary SKELETONS?”
“Andrew Gold,” Gwen said, with a smile. “He gets around.”
“That…I just…I…” Eleanor fractured off sentences, before simply walking out of the room.
“That’s the scariest thing of all!” Dania laughed.
“I can’t take that,” came Eleanor’s voice. “I just can’t. I mean…what?”
Image Credit: YouTube