Come In

It feels good.  To be invited, that is.  Like many people I know how rare it can be.  When teaching at Nashotah House, invitations were scarce.  It’s a small seminary, not widely known.  Besides, the internet was in its infancy then and a great many people (including the seminary dean) were suspicious of it.  Few invitations came.  None for peer review opportunities, none for interviews.  I was invited to the Ugaritic Tablets Digital Edition project (for which I wrote a successful grant application) but that was because I met one of the lead editors while my wife was studying at the University of Illinois.  It’s strange, but nice, to be invited to things now.  It still happens rarely, but when it does it has two things in common: the invitations come closely spaced in time, and they have to do with horror.

Photo by Stella de Smit on Unsplash

This past week two invitations came.  One was to review an independent horror movie for Horror Homeroom and the other was to have an interview on the New Books Network.  Since this is the internet and since the internet’s endlessly self-referential, I’ll be writing about them both in more detail, directing you to the end results when they arrive.  It just feels good to be included.  I didn’t have many academic mentors at Nashotah House.  I’m a first-generation college-student; I didn’t know what academia would try to do to a person.  I had no idea what a “post-doc” was.  I did publish an article a year and write a second book which, I understood, was the key to getting hired by a “real school.”  I had a few interviews, but I’m demographically challenged, I guess.

Weathering the Psalms was written at Nashotah House but it has only led to one weekend church program.  My books on horror, written post-academe, have managed to get some small measure of attention.  It always struck me as ironic that, although raised among the theology crowd I never really found acceptance among them.  Those who know there’s something to horror, however, are a welcoming crowd.  The other day I was listening to Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare and realized, whether intentional or not, the invitation was sincere.  It remains one of the formative albums of my life.  As a child the only invitations I had were altar calls.  I responded to many.  As an adult I’m still inclined to say “yes” when someone invites me in.  Rarity only adds value.


Childhood Music

I recently happened to hear the Alice Cooper song “Desperado.”  If you’re thinking of the Eagles’ song, think again.  Cooper’s song is from his 1971 album Killer.  I came to know it as a child from his Greatest Hits album, and I came to know it very well.  Although I’ve not heard the song for probably two decades, I remembered every beat, every word.  In fact, anticipating music videos, as I child I penned a comic-strip rendition of the song.  Although it is long gone, I vividly recall every panel and how poorly they were drawn.  I’m not sure why that particular song spoke to me so intensely, but it is quite clear that Alice Cooper was a major childhood influence.  This was strange because I was an evangelical Christian as well.

Image credit: Hunter Desportes, via Wikimedia Commons

Vincent Furnier has had a tremendous impact on rock music.  When I went to see him in concert on his Along Came a Spider release tour most of the other people there in Atlantic City were guys my age.  I’d probably’ve been afraid of most of them if I’d met them on the street at night, but this wasn’t exactly a sell-out stadium event.  In fact the room for the show wasn’t that large and we could get fairly close to the stage.  You had to have tickets for the after-party, but Cooper was standing outside the room where it was being held, and we passed within mere feet of him on our way back to the car.  I wanted to let him know just how much he’d shaped my identity, primarily through his first solo album Welcome to My Nightmare, but I could barely hear after the show, and besides, I didn’t have a ticket.

I know Nightmares with the Bible isn’t being marketed or sold as a trade book but anyone curious about the title might consider Alice Cooper as an inspiration.  During seventh grade I missed a lot of school due to sickness (I was a sickly child).  During those days off I listened to Welcome to My Nightmare over and over, thinking about death.  Pretty intense for a thirteen-year old, but then I’ve always been that way.  Even at a young age I realized we all die.  It therefore made (and makes) sense to think about it.  That’s something my religion and fascination with horror tropes have in common.  Alice Cooper seemed to be able to blend these things, in his own way.  And that’s a lot to come out of a song last heard decades ago.


Man’s Best Fiend

While reading the Hull Daily Mail (don’t ask), I came across an article entitled “Rock legend Alice Cooper ask questions about the Beast of Barmston Drain.” Apart from that lovable Britishism of making groups into grammatical plurals, this brief article gave me much to wonder about. After all, Paul Simon’s most recent album features a song entitled “The Werewolf,” (about which I recently wrote) and here is another rock performer from my youth raising the question about a similar beastie. According to the piece by Amy Nicholson, the Beast of Barmston Drain is a new urban legend about a creature half-man and half-dog. No doubt, werewolf reported sightings have been in the ascendent over the past few years, but how such an insignificant beast drew the attention of Alice remains unknown.

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Many who know me—and those are few—are shocked to learn that I grew up listening to Alice Cooper. A fundie kid listening religiously to the father of shock rock? Songs about monsters, spiders, female maturation, and necrophilia? Perhaps it was because Welcome to My Nightmare just summed my childhood up rather nicely. Whatever the reason, to this day Alice Cooper is the only big name rock act I’ve even seen in concert. And that was only about six years ago, when I was still teaching at Rutgers. I had trouble hearing student’s questions in class on the next Monday night. Alice and werewolves in the same headline feels so much like yesteryear that it makes me want to believe in shapeshifters all over again. No wonder Hull is set to be the City of Culture. (Hey, Glasgow had it’s turn, so fair’s fair.)

To me, werewolves reveal much about a culture that strives to be far too civilized. We suppress our inner animal to become tie-wearing, wine-swilling sophisticates only to wonder where the wonder’s gone. And we start seeing werewolves lurking in culverts and drainage ditches. At least people are getting out at night. I’ve followed American tales of the dogman for years now, reading all of Linda Godfrey’s books on the subject. Even if it doesn’t exist, we stand to learn much of the creature that just won’t go away. Of all the transformations people talk about, that to the wolf is the most compelling, and among the most ancient. It may only be a dogman that people are seeing at the moment, but given some time it will evolve back into the wolf from which the story had its very beginnings. The answers, as always, probably lie in our childhood.