Mr. Mixtape-ptlk, Track #6: "Halloweenhead" by Ryan Adams (2007)

Here is where I lose some of you, those of you who are not partial to Ryan Adams or his rather diverse take on popular music, or are easily misled by celebrity gossip, or think he is nothing more than a spoiled brat who needs to grow up (he pretty much has by this point), or just don't care to hear an interesting song from a nearly always (at least) intriguing singer-songwriter-producer because you have already made up your mind on the guy. Or maybe you simply have never heard of him, which wouldn't surprise me in some cases.

Or you just might think that I am talking about Bryan Adams instead, in which case, you are a goddamned bonehead.

I am not going to get too deep into the particulars of Ryan Adams' career here, nor his much written about life as the ex-husband of a pop star. (He recently split from wife Mandy Moore this year.) I just like a lot of his music; not all of it, but like any artist, he has highs and lows, and I have made my own list of highs from his shockingly prolific catalogue. I am OK with his stuff from his days in Whiskeytown, but I have been more a fan of his solo work, having nine of his albums in my collection, as well as a couple dozen live shows that I found on archive.org (that he has approved for sharing on there, mind you). It is, in fact, his live work where he is most appealing, both in his rapport with most of his loyal audience (he has gained some notoriety for getting in people's faces when they cross or upset him) and his quite remarkable ability to write freshly improvised songs on the spot with full lyrics. (This ability rules his life; he has shown up to recording sessions with a hundred new songs in tow).

The song at hand, Halloweenhead, might seem like a novelty throwaway song tied to a certain time of year, but while the lyrics are filled with talk of tricks, treats, black cats, candy, and costumes, this is not greasy kids' stuff. The song is a man, presumably Adams himself, a self-reformed user of cocaine, heroin, and other narcotics (he still smokes medicinal marijuana to deal with Ménière's Disease) with a history of alcohol abuse in his family, who is haunted by his own mind.

The official (and hilarious) video for the single release of the song and the lyrics:



"Here comes that shit again
I got a Halloween head
Head full of tricks and treats
It leads me through the nighttime streets
Black cats and fallen trees
Under ladders, always walkin'
Salt shaker spills, just throw it over your shoulder, babe

I got a bad idea again

I got a Halloweenhead
Halloweenhead

Head full of candy bags

costume shops and punks in drag
Head full of tricks and treats
Places where junkies meet
And it leads me through the streets at night
That's alright I just watch, I don't go inside
It's all the same old shit again
I got a Halloweenhead
I got a Halloweenhead
Lord, I got a Halloween head

Guitar solo!


I got a Halloweenhead

Lord, I got a Halloweenhead
I got a Halloweenhead
Oh Lord, I got a Halloweenhead

Here comes that shit again

I got a Halloweenhead
Head full of tricks and treats
It leads me through the nighttime streets
Downtown, downtown, downtown

I got a Halloweenhead

I got a Halloweenhead
Lord, I got a Halloweenhead
What the fuck's wrong with me?
God, I'm a Halloween head"

Written by Ryan Adams • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, BMG Rights Management US, LLC

The chorus starts off with "I got a bad idea again," like this is something that happens every single day, not just on October 31st, or at least quite regularly. And yet, the song is coated in images of the greatest holiday. He speaks of the ideas in his head "full of tricks and treats" leading him once more "through the nighttime streets". We  In the second verse, we get a taste of how his life has changed, when he mentions "places where junkies meet" and he shrugs off his visit with "That's alright, I just watch, I don't go inside". Adams recognizes the nearness of the danger, and how easy it would be for him to give in to the temptation: "It's all the same old shit again." By the song's close, he cries out, "What the fuck's wrong with me?"

But lest you think this is all maudlin navel-gazing and self-indulgent "woe is me" whining, Adams is blessed with a nervy sense of humor. He purposefully throws the song off-kilter halfway through with a gag involving the instrumental break. Following the second chorus, perhaps to offset the bleakness of the material, he yells out "Guitar solo!"... and then we hear a nice approximation of a guitar solo for a few bars... played on the keyboards. We don't get anywhere close to a actual guitar solo, and then the song returns to a reprise of the chorus.

It's not the first or last time that Adams' flirts with Halloween imagery in a song. His 2003 song Halloween is not actually about Halloween, and only uses the word once within the lyrics, but its inclusion is necessary to the metaphor within the bridge between the verses. In 2014, the official video for his Grammy-nominated song Gimme Something Good not only starts off with a traditional haunted house, pans through its corridors and rooms, candles being lit in the gloom, and atmospheric black and white cinematography, but also has Elvira herself hanging out and draping herself over the furniture. The selection is interesting, because the lyrics of Gimme Something Good have nothing to do with the surrounding video, not that this is anything new to the music video world.

In the past few months, Adams revealed a new song called Haunted House on his tour that once more employs traditional imagery associated with Gothic horrors within the lyrics to get across his more emotional content. Given the premiere of the song in his shows, it is very likely that Haunted House is planned to be part of an upcoming album release. 

Then again, if Adams has another 99 songs in tow when he enters the studio, Haunted House may never make it out of the studio alive.

RTJ

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