Top 50 Music List of 2013, Mixtape 1!

December 31, 2013 at 1:16 pm (Best-of lists, Music Mixes)


Grab the mix by clicking this text, and then let’s get to the Devil’s Music.

1. The Future Of the Left, “Singing Of The Bonesaws”

This song made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it. Like early Art Brut, only crankier. Taken from their album How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident. Band webpage here:

2. Mazes, “Hayfever Wristband”

I just discovered Mazes this past year, and all their records are outstanding. I like this song for especially feeling sorta like what you’d get if Michael Quercio of the Three O’Clock was the lead singer of the Volcano Suns. From their album Better Ghosts. Band webpage here:

3. Dutch Barn, “Come Down”

If there’s a trend to 2013 I stand firmly in favor of, it’s a return to the amazing music and style of the 1990’s. Dutch Barn are a UK band who totally nail a sound that feels like late-period Feelies covering Pale Saints. This is a great song to drive/play air drums to as well, just saying. Band website here:

4. Mark Mulcahy, “She Makes The World Turn Backwards”

Mulcahy was the leader of the great 1980s band Miracle Legion. The tragic loss of his wife a few years back seems to have pushed him back to making music, and his 2013 record Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You might be the best thing he’s ever done, which is saying something. Website here:

5. Youth Lagoon, “Mute”

There are some Youth Lagoon songs that don’t do much for me, but on this track when the that weird synthy fanfare kicks in (is that a mellotron?) it’s so woozy and swoony that it makes my heart catch. From the evocatively titled album Wondrous Bughouse, webpage here:

6. Sam Phillips, “Pretty Timebomb”

Every few years Sam Phillips makes an album, and since divorcing herself literally and figuratively from the over-blandness of former husband T-Bone Burnett’s production, her records are unfailingly interesting and excellent. From her latest album, Push Any Button. Her web site is here:

7. British Sea Power, “Guillemot Girls”

I’ve always liked the idea of this UK band more than I’ve liked their records, but in 2013 they did the soundtrack to a film called From The Sea To The Land Beyond and it all just clicked perfectly. The album has the same title as the film, the webpage is here:

8. Sweet Apple “I Wish You Could Stay (A Little Longer)”

Sweet Apple is the collaboration of some old school indie vets, notably John Petkovic of Cobra Verde and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.  Their previous record was a bit hit or miss, but this single, a preview track from a forthcoming 2014 album, is one of the best songs I heard all year. Just a brilliant job of pop song craftsmanship, where everything is just PERFECT…including the guest duet vocal from Mark Lanegan. Band Website (with the single) is here:

9. The Resonars “Tomorrow Gears”

God bless Matt Rendon and his band The Resonars. As you can tell by listening, The Resonars live in a world where The Creation, The Action, and The Move still rule and 1967 loops back on itself again and again. From their excellent 2013 album Crummy Desert Sound (one of my favorite album titles in recent memory, that.) Available here:

10. The Limiñanas, “La Meloncolie”

A great Francopop cut of sheer Gainsbourg-ian genius, this is the slinky seductive catsuit beat you’ve been looking for. From the album Costa Brava, website here:

11. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Secret Xtians”

As great as UMO’s debut album was, the follow-up seemed destined to disappoint. It’s actually very solid, and this track rules. The record is called II, and the band’s site is here:

12. Ex Cops “You Are Lion I Am Lamb”

The teaser singles for this NY-area dreampop band in 2012 hinted at great promise, and their January record delivered. This is one of the most gorgeous hooks of the year, period. Don’t trust Spotify’s year date on this, it’s 2013, from the outstanding album True Hallucinations. Trust me on this. Web page is here:

13. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, “Nightwater Girlfriend”

Every year it feels like SSLYBY puts out a great record that deserves to be a hit. These folks from my old home state of Missouri are just amazingly, consistently excellent. Dig the way they sway and swing the beat here halfway through. From the 2013 album Fly By Wire, the band page is here:

14. Minor Alps, “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands”

2013’s “Had me at hello” moment was finding out that this band was a collaborative project of Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws (of the excellent Nada Surf). All over this record I kept feeling like “They should’ve done this years ago”, so perfectly do their voices and writing styles blend into a glorious whole. From their album Get There, here’s hoping they do this again. Band’s hub is right here:

15. David Bowie “Valentine’s Day”

A bittersweet discovery, as I’ve not given many latter-day Bowie projects the time of day. Upon the tragic death of Scott Miller, however, I discovered that his favorite record of the year to that point was this astonishing return to form here. And so here it is:  Bowie’s record, The Next Day, really is terrific and has some of his best songs in decades. Website here:

16. Smith Westerns, “Glossed” and “XIII”

I started out loving these Chicago suburb wiseacres, and then I sort of got tired of them equally quickly. Imagine my surprise at discovering their growth and evolution on their 2013 album Soft Will. This track is absolutely gorgeous with a monstrous melodic hook that should’ve made it a massive hit. Better still, “Glossed” flows seamlessly into “XIII” on the record, giving this mix a delirious two-fer to close out the first tape. Band’s website is here:

Tomorrow, Mix Tape 2, which is all Arcade Fire songs in a loop.

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The Very Best Music of 2013. Period.

December 31, 2013 at 1:15 pm (Best-of lists, Music Mixes)

2013 best of

In the past whenever I’ve scraped enough time to do a year-end list of the best music from the previous 12 months, I’ve always presented it with a sort of  genial “Aw shucks-ness”, saying that a particular grouping of songs or albums were just my personal choices for my favorites, but that there were other just-as-worthy lists out there.

Every year I’ve done that, I get the feeling that folks who read my list tousle its hair, cluck it on the chin and say “Aw, that’s a nice list.”

Hell with that.

This year’s list is the definitive list of the best songs representing the best albums and/or artists of 2013. Period. End of story. There’s no equivocating here.  You might see other lists out there, polluted by crappy artists who have no business being under such consideration. For instance, if you put Haim on your list, I at least hope the damn check cleared for you. (As radio fodder/vacuous pop crap, Haim are fine. Wonderful in fact. If they’re in the same list as Kurt Vile, though, you’re trying too hard.) Don’t call this a bias against being popular, either. Some of the best songs of 2013 were exceedingly popular, and they’re represented here.  We got your back, in other words, and yeah, I’m aware that this is one of a gajillion lists of best music of 2013 out there. What I’m saying is this: my list is the one that matters, that won’t fail you, that actually really is the best music of 2013.

So there.

What I did last year I’m doing this year. Instead of blathering on and on and boring everyone with a wall of words, I’m instead doing a mix of the best of the year in songs. What I did was select 50 songs from the year. They’re either the best songs, or the songs I think are most representative of what the album they’re on is about, or are the best way for someone unfamiliar to find their way into an artist or album they might not know. That’s the criteria: outstanding song, representative song, and/or easiest access into the rest of the record or artist.  Most of the time, it’s a mix of all three of those things.

Thus, I have for you the Top 50 of 2013. You know why this Top 50 is better than anyone else’s Top 50? Here’s why: THERE ARE 52 SONGS IN MY TOP 50! Rolling Stone or Pitchfork will give you a Top 20 or Top 100 or whatever…but you know how many records or songs will be in their lists? Yeah, exactly. 100 or 20 or however many they say.  Are they unfamiliar with the concept of a lagniappe? A baker’s dozen? I’m promising 50 songs, but delivering 52. That’s clearly better. Empirically, even.

Even better, with 52 songs, I broke them into 3 separate mixes, each about 60 minutes long. The songs are absolutely positively in no order of quality. Instead, I picked songs out that flow together, and put them in an order that makes for a great listen while, say, you walk from the National Gallery Of Art to the Jefferson Memorial and back to the train station…or drive from Virginia to Vermont to ski and back. There’s an ebb and flow and back and forth here.

What I am going to do here though is live blog listening to the tunes here to tell a bit about why they’re here and why I picked ’em. Nothing huge, just a sentence or two. We’ll do Tape Numero Uno today, Tape #2 tomorrow, and Tape #3 on Thursday.  Let this page be the placeholder for all that, with cross links to the other mixes.

First up, Mix Tape #1!

Mix Tape #2!

Mix Tape #3!

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Me And You And Obamacare.

December 21, 2013 at 9:33 am (Uncategorized)

Since today is a traveling day for me, I thought I’d bang out a blog post or two to pass the time. In fact, having just paid my first new premium for my Anthem/BCBS insurance policy bought through, I thought I’d maybe say a few words about the ACA. You know. Obamacare.

My initial impressions were a bit mixed. I got through online somehow back in October. Yes, really. My experience playing Day One in MMO games served me well, here. Getting in was no more difficult than playing Guild Wars 2 on a beta weekend in 2012…except, of course, that no one is legally mandated to have tried to get into a GW2 beta weekend, and we’re all mandated to have health coverage. Because of that, yeah, I get the frustration folks had.

For me, though, I felt like I was ahead of the curve. Got online, did some comparison shopping. Before I pulled the trigger on buying a policy, I decided to do some research about which policy to buy by checking some satisfaction rates and also to see which nearby doctors are more likely to be in which networks around me. I logged off that day in October, and my email informed me I had three messages waiting at that I’d need to respond to. Fine and dandy. Given the time frame, I didn’t try to log back in for weeks. I knew they were fixing the site to make it work better. I’d wait it out.

I decided to check back and finish my application process around November, but when I did, I ran into roadblocks. Those three notices I’d received an email about? Yeah, the system forced me to read them or respond to them before I could proceed. Problem: there was no way–none–to read the notices. I could temporarily dismiss the notifications that I had messages, but I couldn’t read the actual messages themselves! The system forced me to read them first before I could continue with setting up my policy, too. It was kind of Kafka-esque, and very frustrating. A person on the phone I spoke with was little help. We went around in circles. It became clear to me that to apply for my policy by phone, I’d have to start over from scratch and spell out everything phonetically and that would be an awful chore.

I should also mention feeling a bit under the gun now, too. My individual policy would be cancelled by the ACA in January because it failed to offer a prescription benefit or the necessary preventative care stuff required by the new law. It also was costing me an arm and a leg to pay for this nonsense, awful coverage. Even as bad as it was, though, the thought of having NO health insurance was worse. I needed to get my Obamacare on, and stat. And so every few days from Thanksgiving onward, I’d check in with to see if they’d rectified the glitch I was experiencing. It didn’t seem too hopeful. I couldn’t log in with Firefox, for one thing, only the Chrome browser. I was getting worried.

This past Tuesday was the most recent time I decided to give it a try. I’d forgotten to use Chrome, and didn’t realize until I was logged in that it had actually worked again for me in Firefox. Well. That was a promising start. Even so, once I was in, there were the three notifications of messages awaiting me…and there was still no way to see the messages themselves. Nuts. Before I logged off and figured out a way to budget an entire day on my phone setting up my insurance, I decided to go to the part of my online application that was blocked until I responded to the messages I couldn’t read…the stuff I’d started back in October.

It was like a Christmas miracle. The system let me proceed with my application. I nearly jumped out of my office chair fetching my nearly 6-week-old notes on which coverage to buy. I found the policy I was seeking out quickly. I clicked it. I clicked through a few more pages. I confirmed I was ready to buy. I got a notice that I’d be contacted by my new carrier ASAP….and then a screen message telling me I was good to go and all signed up. It took, honestly, about 10 minutes total from the point I logged back in to the point I was done.

The upshot of all of that goes like this. I have health insurance, and pretty decent health insurance going forward now. I’m also paying about $12 less per month to get it than I was for my previous policy. More stuff is covered for me, too, including prescriptions and copays. It was a bit messy, a bit vexing, and not a little bit frustrating from October to December getting signed up, but from my personal experience I can tell you the damn website works 100 percent better in December than it did in October or even November.

I also feel happy and relieved about having good coverage again in my life. This is a wonderful feeling. I see that, according to the government, about two million folks have signed up for coverage either through Medicare expansions or through private carriers now. I also see a few people–including people I follow in social media or who are people who I’m friends with–skeptically posting up doubts as to the extended viability of the ACA and still talking nonsense about repeal.

This is silliness. It’s here. It isn’t going away. There are two million of us signed up now. There are going to be millions more by the close of Open Enrollment in March. You thought there were media “horror stories” ginned up about cancelled coverages in November? Imagine the stories out there if they tried to yank back a useful thing like health insurance from millions of people like me who were able to finally get good coverage. The political reality is that the votes simply do not exist to repeal the ACA in the near or perhaps even longterm future. It’s a dumb point.

What isn’t a dumb point is talking about ways to make this new system better. It isn’t dumb to talk about Medicare expansion for states that stupidly didn’t accept it but need to. It isn’t stupid to talk about ways to make the application process better. It isn’t stupid to talk about ways to continue to change and alter the system for the better. It isn’t a dumb thing at all to critique the way things lie right now, and to talk about useful ways to continue to evolve our broken healthcare delivery system into something better. I’m willing to read and listen to pundits and politicians and friends who have realistic and legitimate ideas or means to help build on the ACA’s foundation and make it better, and I really don’t care who’s name is attached to it. If Louie Gohmert and John Cornyn come up with a bill that makes the system work better, I’ve no problem with calling those improvements LouieCare. I still think it’s ridiculous that I’m paying hundreds of dollars a month for health insurance, for instance. My income hardly qualifies me for any sort of subsidy. I personally do not believe that healthcare is a benefit, but more of a right. Maybe. I’m probably on the fence enough to listen to arguments either way.

That being said, here’s where I’m going to get fairly irrational. When I see people I know–people whom I’ve been friends with, had a beer with, commiserated with–still polluting my timelines and news feeds in social media with nonsense about trying to do away with the ACA, I can’t help but read such things with a different set of eyes now. If you’re one of those folks, realize this:  when you talk about repeal and doing away with the ACA, what I’m reading is that you’re wishing upon me ill health and poverty. If someone wishes upon me ill health and poverty, I tend to take such things rather personally, as you will. I tend to respond by telling the ill-wisher how I feel about that, and it very likely would be using language one normally only hears from angry sailors.  It isn’t a “cloak of the internet” thing, either. I’m perfectly happy to tell someone who’s wished me ill health how I feel about them in person, as well. Not in a threatening manner, mind you, just in a “Hey, you’re being a jerk” kind of way.

The point? The ACA is here. It’s real. It probably isn’t going away for a long time, if ever. Do you hate it? Ask yourself why, and try to divorce political agenda from it. Realize and understand that people you know, and perhaps people you care about, will be depending on the protections and provisions of the ACA for health insurance. Understand that these people–regardless of political affiliation–may be very grateful that this flawed, hopefully work-in-progress system now exists, and that for some of us who pay for things like cholesterol meds every month that it represents one hell of a benefit (and one that allows us to sock more money away into the economy in a perfectly capitalist, trickle-down libertarian sort of way.) Think about those things, and think about urging political forces that tilt quixotically against Obamacare to maybe channel that energy into making those windmills work better instead.

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Mary I’m Tryin’ To Be Cool. (Holiday Music Mix 2013)

December 20, 2013 at 11:46 am (Uncategorized)

Ok, so not the latest I’ve finally posted a holiday mix, but close to it. Sorry! The older I get, the more I understand how easily and readily people will trade money for time. You can always make more money, but time? Time vanishes, and I am always wanting more of it!

At any rate, this mix has gone through about 17 different modifications over the last week alone. Some of you may have gotten a CD with an earlier mix. Sorry about that. This one’s better.

This was a weird year. In some ways it was just awful. I lost people I loved, folks dear to me who I admired. There were good things, too, though. Lots of them. I won’t bore you with details like one of those Christmas letters, (which I really like, but apparently I’m in the minority!) I’ll just say that overall I’m ending 2013 being cool with it as far as years go.

All that said then, no agenda to this year’s mix, besides being music I want to hear this time of year, I mean. It occurs to me that more than any other year, the ladies are well represented this year, moreso than any other mix I’ve done. For instance, there’s a terrific song by Amelia Fletcher, a twee-pop founding light from Tallulah Gosh and Heavenly. If you’ve not paid attention, since ramping down her music career a bit, Ms. Fletcher got her Ph.D in Economics from Oxford and is now a professor in the subject. Which is awesome.

What always strikes me this time of year, too is how many sad songs there are at Christmas. I think I know why that is: it’s just easier for an artist to do a cheapie cash-in holiday single and try to maintain artistic cred by faking their way through it all by playing it off as a chance to do another Taylor Swift hurt feeling wallow. That’s why I’m so happy I started listing to so much Lisa Mychols in the last few months. Lisa’s been a fixture in the L. A. guitar pop scene for a while now. One of the first things she ever released was a record of Christmas songs, and she’s redone it with better equipment. It’s called Lost Winter’s Dream, and it’s fantastic. When she sings songs of happiness or sadness on that record that revolve around the holidays, she’s not fooling around, or playing it off for a cheapie cash-in. The song I picked this year (and it was tough deciding on just one) is so sincere about being in love and loving this season that it’s heartbreaking and pure. (Seriously, world at large, you should be listening to way more Lisa Mychols than you currently are.

Ok, so what else? I finally got a chance to use the Aztec Camera song I’d been wanting to. Any time you can put Roddy Frame into a music mix, you really ought to do it. There’s also a traditional Welsh Christmas carol here, “Hwiangerdd Mair”, sung by Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci’s Euros Childs the way only people who were raised speaking that amazing language can do it. (The title translates as “Mary’s Lullaby”.) There’s an amazing rocker by The Bellrays, who always just knock my doors off–think Tina Turner fronting a garage rock band if you’re not familiar. There’s some jazz, some rockabilly, some serious, some silly.

Merry Christmas, y’all! Hit that eggnog hard!

Mary I’m Trying To Be Cool


Track List:

1. Velocity Girl “Merry Christmas, I Love You”
2. Big Star “Jesus Christ”
3. The Ping Pongs “Don’t Wanna Wait Till Christmas”
4. Amelia Fletcher & Hit Parade “Christmas Tears”
5. The J’s With Jamie “Cool Yule”
6. Aztec Camera “Walk Out To Winter”
7. The New Pornographers “Joseph Who Understood”
8. Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci “Hwiangerdd Mair”
9. The Bellrays “Merry Christmas Baby”
10.Debbie Dabney “I Want To Spend Christmas With Elvis (Heartbreak Noel)”
11.The White Stripes “Candy Cane Children”
12.Dressy Bessy “All The Right Reasons”
13.Charlie Parker “White Christmas”
14.The Ettes “Stars In The Sky”
15.Cheap Trick “Come On Christmas”
16.The School “Kiss Me In The Snow”
17.I Am The World Trade Center “Rockefeller Tree”
18.Eric Matthews “Have Yourself A Merry Christmas”
19.Lisa Mychols “Listen To The Bells Ring”
20.Solomon Burke “Presents For Christmas”
21.Combustible Edison “Christmas Time Is Here”
22.Ella Fitzgerald “The Christmas Song”
23.Kathy & Jimmy Zee “Santa Claus Rock and Roll”
24.Kurt Vile “Snowflakes Are Dancing”
25.Still making with that song here.

(If you didn’t figure out to click the title of the mix, you can also just click this.)

(Other than that familiar final song, whole thing is fairly work and kid safe.)

(As with every year, everything’s in one big mp3, about 70 minutes worth of music. If you hear something you like, spend some of that Christmas loot on an artist!)

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Christmas Mix Eve!

December 19, 2013 at 2:39 pm (Uncategorized)

Ok, originally I’d meant for this to actually be me posting up my annual Holiday Music mix, but there have been a few complications this year which are currently resolved…but instead of getting this posted today, it’ll have to be tomorrow. There’s still a wee bit o’ tinkering I’d like to do to the version I post here.

So yeah. It’s coming! Promise!

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Oh Yeah, 30 Days Of Horror Has Been Underway

October 16, 2013 at 9:34 pm (Uncategorized)


It’s a measure of my fairly hectic schedule (hectic schedules are a good thing, by the way) that I’ve been remiss in mentioning that the 30-day tour of horror movies I’d talked about has been underway since October 1st. The best hub for catching up (if my tweeting about it a bit has missed you) can be found here:

Thirty Days Of Horror In 30 Years.

That page updates with each review as they’re posted. Right now, you’ve mostly missed what Tom calls “Grampa Movies”, although there have been a few gems, too. I enjoyed the 1960 film Peeping Tom a whole lot, for instance. Don’t watch Psycho that instead. Tom did some amazing writing in our review of Rosemary’s Baby.  We both had fun tearing up The Texas Chainsaw Massacre yesterday. In just a bit we both gush about Jaws.

Stop by, check ’em out, and feel free to watch something and let us know whether you agree or disagree in the comments!

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Why I’ve Never Seen A Slasher Movie.

September 18, 2013 at 11:33 pm (Uncategorized)

st andrews cine

Confession time: at some point over the next five weeks, I’m going to watch the movie Halloween, the 1978 classic from John Carpenter that also made Jamie Lee Curtis a star. It’s part of the movie project thing I’m working on for I’m really, really looking forward to it, not only because of the excellent reputation of the movie itself, but for a more personal reason as well.

I’ve never actually seen it.

In fact, I’ve never seen any of the Halloween movies, or the Friday The Thirteenth movies, or any of the seemingly endless slasher films of that era.  Movies that were a major part of the cultural lexicon for my peer group weren’t in my vocabulary.

This is the part where I tell why that is.

In the summer of 1979, things were pretty great for me as a kid. I was 12 years old, my widowed mother had recently remarried a wonderful guy who was an amazing father to me. My mom and my stepdad had been married for less than a year, and I guess they wanted to go out with friends and do stuff like dinner parties and whatnot as a couple to make up for lost time–which was always fine with me (as the youngest of four brothers by 13 years, I was basically something of an only child, and had always valued my “alone time” to read, watch tv, or listen to music). The problem was, my Mom was a meticulous housekeeper and I guess at some point she told my stepdad that she simply couldn’t do the active social life thing and maintain the house the way she’d like it kept. They quickly arrived at a compromise solution:  Mom would hire a housekeeper to come in once a week and vacuum, dust, mop the floors in the kitchen and bathrooms and stuff like that.

They hired a girl named Mary to do that.

Mary was amazing. It was the summer before her senior year in high school, which made her five years  older than I was; it might as well have been 20 years, though. She was stunningly beautiful, and that’s not my mind’s eye playing tricks on me. My friends in the neighborhood got in the habit of calling me later that summer to find out if Mary was going to be over to work. If she was, they’d just happen to coincidentally drop by to play Atari. We were 12. We were idiots.

Actually, in reality I should note that I was painfully shy.  Still am, sometimes. In this case, I didn’t even feel like I was the same species as Mary. I was a scrawny doofus and she was this gorgeous girl, five years older than me who obviously had it going on in every way imaginable.

At the start of that summer, Mary would come by, usually dropped off by a friend or family member and she’d work. I’d hide out in my bedroom until it was time to dust and vacuum there, and then I’d scuttle off to somewhere else in the house where she wasn’t. Like I said, awkwardly shy.

That didn’t last long. Mary would have none of that. Maybe she felt obligated, maybe she was bored, but I like to think that it was because she was incredibly kind–on top of her other winning attributes–that Mary would seek me out. She’d corner me and ask pointed conversational questions and make me answer her. It turns out we’d attended the same grade school when I was in first grade (and she in sixth), which made me think that both our fortunes had improved some since then. (That school, Powell Terrace Elementary, was in a pretty hardscrabble neighborhood.) Eventually Mary and I got to the point where we were chatty, and before long I’d wait until she’d finished with the vacuum sweeper and then follow her around while she dusted and we’d just talk one another’s ears off. It was in this way that I learned that Mary was very funny, very smart, and sometimes painfully direct.

For instance, one afternoon, we had this conversation:

“I noticed you have Queen records next to the stereo. They yours?”

Me, feeling cool: “Yeah.”

“You know they’re gay, right?”

Me, feeling…weird and putting puzzle pieces together in my mind about pictures of Freddie Mercury I’d seen: “No they’re not!”

“Hey, I just read it in a magazine that they were, that’s all. Maybe they’re not.”

Silence. Picture me confused.

“Are you gay?”

God. That question. Someday maybe it won’t be a big deal for anyone, but I imagine it’s still a big deal now. It certainly was a taboo, big deal in 1979. If you were a scrawny kid like me, with hair too long and a voice too squeaky, you got that question–or more likely an accusation–long before knowing better that it shouldn’t even be something that is anyone’s business or any source of shame.

“No!” (Talk about awkward; I think I remember wanting to blurt out that I actually liked her in particular…but didn’t.)

“Hey, it’s cool. I mean, it’d be ok if you were. You could say so and I won’t tell.”

“I’m not!”

“Fine, sorry. I just mean though, if you have stuff you want to tell, you can trust me. Everyone needs someone they can tell stuff to.”

She actually said that last part, and I remember it verbatim. I’d learn years later that Mary probably had a tough start to life, but it got better. She was the youngest in a huge family, and likely she had older brothers and sisters she could trust and tell her secrets to. Maybe she felt like I didn’t have that, living by myself with just my parents. I’ve always thought that. I knew Mary didn’t have a father who was much in the picture.  I think she knew my father had died. Maybe she wanted to see if I needed to commiserate. I wish I’d asked.

That fall my mom was thrilled to find out that Mary’s senior year class schedule allowed her get out early enough to still come over once per week and clean. I’d get home from school by 4:30 or so and Mary would usually be just finishing up, and then most times she’d have to wait for her ride to come pick her up. We’d hang out and watch TV and talk. It was amazing that dorky me was talking to this funny, smart, popular, girl who looked like a model and was a senior in high school. This was a huge deal for a seventh grader. Huge.

One afternoon I know we talked about horror movies. I had these plastic model kits that a company called Aurora made that depicted famous movie monsters. They glowed in the dark. I had Frankenstein’s monster, the wolfman, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. If you’ve seen the movie Super 8, the kid in that film has the same models in his bedroom. Maybe Mary had noticed them from doing the dusting. I think that’s what started the conversation. She asked if I like scary movies.

For me at that point, a scary movie was whatever they were showing on Channel 11 or Channel 30 at the time, on late night creature features. So yeah, I liked scary movies as far as I knew, and told her. She told me that she liked some of them but didn’t seem like a big fan. She said she’d seen The Exorcist and that had really bothered her. She’d snuck to the drive-in to see Texas Chainsaw Massacre. She didn’t think it was very scary.

Two movies she’d seen the past year made an impression on her. She’d seen Last House On The Left with a carful of friends at the Plaza Drive In (which apparently replayed that awful movie a few times per year), and had been terrified watching it. She sternly informed me that I was not to see it. She’d also gotten into St. Andrews Cinema (which I gather was near her home) with some friends to see Halloween, which she also thought was scary.  That latter film I remember her telling me was a pretty good movie though, just that it got to her. She was telling me about the action of the latter film, and I remember her saying, very clearly, “I can’t think of any worse way to die than being cut up with a knife.”

Damn me for remembering that.

Eventually I think Mary’s schedule started to tighten up some, as you’d expect from a popular girl in her senior year in high school. She’d recommended a friend who took her place more and more with the housekeeping. Still, once a month Mary would find some time to come by to do the work, and I was always happy to see her. Even as a hormone-addled 13-year old in the winter and spring of 1980, I’d stopped thinking of Mary as this beautiful creature to desire, and rather more as this cool girl who I could talk to and who would listen and who didn’t make me feel like a dork. I thought of her as a friend.

That summer of 1980 her schedule got even tighter. I think she got a new job, and by May or June she had to finally tell my mom she wouldn’t be able to come by to clean anymore. Mom was bummed, and I remember us running through two or three housekeepers that summer, trying to find someone who worked as conscientiously as Mary did.

Late that same summer, I went off on my first scout camp–my first time a week away from home without other family around. It was kind of scary, and kind of exciting too. I’m not sure what, exactly, I was doing at 11:00 am on Friday, July 25th. Probably working on my canoeing merit badge. I was a terrible canoeist.

At that same time and date back home in St. Charles, Mary found herself at her home, alone except for a stranger who shouldn’t have been there named Anthony Joe LaRette. LaRette was an ex-con and sex offender. No one knew it at the time, but he was also a serial killer who may have had as many as 30 victims. That morning, he later told the cops, he’d snuck into Mary’s apartment to steal some stuff, and she’d surprised him by coming home. What actually probably happened was that Mary stayed home from work with a bad migraine, hiked up to the grocery store nearby, and LaRette spied her there.  He likely followed her home, and then entered the house. He very likely tried to rape her, and Mary fought back. Larette pulled out a knife, and stabbed at her repeatedly, hitting her in the chest and all over her hands and arms as she tried to defend herself. Eventually, he likely got her still enough to cut her throat from ear to ear. He probably thought she was dead, lying in a pool of her blood on her floor, and got distracted. Summoning up all her strength, Mary jumped up, ran out her back door and across the street, trying to scream. A neighbor called 911. The ambulance and cops got there in minutes. It didn’t matter. Mary bled out and died on the neighbor’s porch.

I got back from Scout camp that Sunday. My mom knew how much I liked Mary, and so immediately sat me down and told what had happened. Her killer hadn’t yet been found, and the story was all over the news.  They showed a picture of her on TV–a senior picture maybe–where she looked pretty, but the photo didn’t really do her justice. You had to see her and talk to her to get an idea of just what a stunningly beautiful force of nature Mary was.

They found her killer in a month or so. By 1982 he was on Missouri’s death row, and confessing to dozens of other murders. He was executed in 1995.

Mary was the first person I’d ever known who died at the hands of another person. I remember feeling incredibly sad at the time. I didn’t really understand it. I know I internalized a lot of it. In 1982, one of those lurid “True Detective” style magazines–the ones you used to see on certain newsstands with scantily-clad women depicted in all sorts of unsettling, garish, bondage scenes–did a full feature story on Mary. I wouldn’t have known, but someone at my mom’s office had a copy and xeroxed the article and gave it to my mother, and she screened it before passing it along for me to read. It was surprisingly thoughtful and un-embellished, mostly.  I read things I already knew–that Mary was something of a jock, that Mary was one of the popular kids, that pretty much everyone who knew her shared my high opinion of her. I also read the details of her final day and death, of her flight across the street in St. Charles, streaming blood, mortally wounded. I thought about those details a lot in the years to come.  I could picture it in my mind, like a movie. I would constantly think about how terrified she must have been and how awful her final moments were.

And so it was that I couldn’t help but think of Mary every time I saw a trailer on TV for a film like Happy Birthday To Me, or The Slumber Party Massacre or similar dreck. As I went through high school, friends would eagerly take in the latest Jason movie, but I’d beg off.  It was too soon for me. The thoughts of my friend and the means of her passing were too vivid and real. I couldn’t handle that kind of sickening end being made light of as a plot device.  While everyone else could keep the “It’s only a movie” mantra going, I’m not sure I could. It would all feel too real.

Plus, to a certain extent, it sort of felt like betrayal. I remember Mary kind of giving an involuntary shiver when she scolded me that I was not to see Last House On The Left. In fact, somehow I built up in my mind that all slasher films were that graphic and brutal and depraved. (They’re not, or so I’m led to believe.) I can remember at least once or twice I felt like I would be going against her warning to me if I went to see Sleepaway Camp or Silent Night, Deadly Night. I should also be clear–I was fine (more or less) with gore. I saw both Re-Animator and From Beyond at the theater. That same era I managed to see four David Cronenberg movies, including two of the most squirmy, uncomfortable films I’ve ever watched in Shivers and Dead Ringers.

It wasn’t the blood. It was the vividness of what Roger Ebert called “dead teenager movies” and the knives and the slashing and the screaming.

That being said, it’s been decades since I thought of that overtly. I started writing this when I realized with a shock that I hadn’t ever seen Halloween…or Friday The Thirteenth…or any other films from one of the biggest box office genres of my teenage years. I wondered why that was, and then remembered.  I think that it’s likely that you avoid something for a valid reason at some point in your life when you’re young, and then you keep on avoiding it out of habit, and pretty soon it becomes an aversion where you plug other pieces of sound logic into the matrix and it’s a reflex where you may have forgotten the original trigger. That’s me and slasher films, I think. I had a valid reason to begin with, and then slasher movies continued to get more and more awful, and it got easier and easier to miss them because they were terrible  movies in a terrible sub-genre. Then they gradually stopped making them, and slasher movies gave way to torture porn, and it’s the 21st century and nothing’s shocking anymore and time has done what time will do to soothe the soul.

And so here we are. I actually can’t wait to see Halloween. I know the story and know the tropes by heart already, just by being fairly culturally aware. I know I’ve missed out on the film proper, though, and that I can’t wait to watch. I’m pretty confident I’ll enjoy it a lot. I know I’ll be a sucker for the nostalgia of midwest suburbia in the late 1970’s that the movie will evoke.  I’ll probably think about Mary once or twice, too…but I think having exorcised this demon by writing about it, they won’t be bad memories.  Instead, I think I’ll imagine her and some random boyfriend watching it at St. Andrews Cinema, munching popcorn and having a scary good time.

I think she’d like that.


(By the way, it turns out Mary’s eldest brother, Dennis, is a writer. He wrote a very moving memoir about his kid sister that’s by turns heartbreaking, angry, and quite moving.  I bought it a few days ago and it was a great read. You can find it here )

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