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It's Halloween, So Be of Good Cheer

Pumpkins are on doorsteps. Movie screens are aglow with zombies and torture devices. Virtually every show on television has a Halloween theme. For one last day, Halloween is everywhere.

But where's the Halloween music?

In the classical world, many works evoke a shadowy underworld of supernatural terror. But in popular music, the season just comes and goes.

The holiday itself is all about demystifying our darkest fears: violent death; a tortured afterlife; the menaces that lurk in the dark, unseen. Halloween takes those things and makes them silly. It takes vicious killers and gives us "The Monster Mash."

Today, only a few brave souls still pay musical tribute to Oct. 31. For example, a band called The Evangelicals has a free download called "Halloween Song." It's a lovely little track that captures the season's mystery while bathing it in a nice, warm autumn glow.

Still, music is a footnote in most Halloween celebrations, in part because the two are so easily separated.

Holiday music works best for occasions driven by big plans and high expectations. In the days before Christmas, music is there for the big stuff — there's love and joy, but also stress and melancholy, even disappointment.

Halloween, on the other hand, is a holiday of low stakes and small rituals. These days, I mostly spend Halloween night lugging my kids around the neighborhood and then eating their candy after they go to bed. That's it.

Halloween is lighthearted escapism, a celebration of make-believe conflict — fears so unrealistic that it's safe to mock them. And in that way, the songs of Halloween show why it's the happiest holiday of all.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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