27 Sep THE PEABODY ESSEX MUSEUM AND MUCH, MUCH MORE…
Hi everyone, I’m baaaaaack! Sorry, it’s been a crazy time, between Metallica’s WorldWired tour and The Peabody Essex Museum exhibition, but I did manage to find time to get to PEM (obviously!) and truth be told, I was very nervous when I made the trip out right after our last North American Summer tour date in Edmonton. Why was I nervous? Because I’d put a ton of time and effort into making sure this exhibition could be the best it could be. The moment I landed and made my way to the museum, seeing the signage and the various promotions all over Salem, which exclaimed that some favorite treasures from The Kirk Hammett Horror & Sci-fi Collection were at PEM, I felt even more nervous for a little bit! It was almost like stage-fright –which is weird because I don’t normally suffer from stage fright but that’s what this felt like. But once I actually saw how much effort PEM had put into the production side of things, and how every detail had been meticulously thought of, then I started to breathe! As I walked into the actual museum, the first thing I saw was a Nosferatu scarf in the gift shop and strangely, that was the thing that told me everything was going to be alright.
I went for a quick walkthrough of the exhibition before it opened, and I have to say my posters have never looked better anywhere outside my house. The way they lit the posters, presented and organized them really made my collection look like it was in some very important, fancy museum or something!
People have asked me why I was scared about the PEM show before I saw it, and truthfully, a lot of it comes down to me not trusting that the collection would be properly represented, because a lot of the time, they do. They’ll say a poster from the ‘30s is from the ‘50s, and that can lead to a whole chain of errors down the line, from mislabeling a re-release which might’ve come out in the ‘50s to just continuing to get other associated information wrong. Stuff does happen, and I mean, it’s even happened at Fear FestEvil before, but you don’t expect it to happen at museums because museums work with meticulous standards and practices. I knew all that, but still the worrier in me couldn’t let go of feeling a little scared. Because I didn’t want this –the first major exhibition in the world about movie posters- to have any gaffes in it. And of course, after I did the rounds and made sure everything looked well and right, it was obvious that my fears had been absolutely unnecessary. The guy who did the lighting? He did a surgical job, really great, because the posters had no glare at all. Which is amazing. No glare at all, and that requires some very specific angles, 45 degrees, 35 degrees, it’s a difficult thing to achieve and I know this from some instances in my own house, so that was really really cool to see.
I also wrote a musical accompaniment, which for several reasons was both time-consuming and nerve-wracking in it’s own right. I ended up delivering the complete piece a few days late! PEM still had enough time to prepare the piece, and it can be heard right at the end of the exhibit in a space where you have the chance to reflect on the exhibition with this ‘soundtrack’ I created. Initially when I’d suggested that maybe I could do this 6 or 8 months ago, I’d envisioned something of 2-3 minutes which was atmospheric and primarily maybe ‘background’ music.But once we got down to work on it, suddenly there was 12 minutes of music, which was both surprising and very cool. I wrote the piece with my wife Lani –she helped me with several parts – and that was also really exciting. Lani and our engineer Mike Gillies sat down to edit the demo, and the piece came in at around 7 ½ minutes…thank God they did the editing because if I’d been involved, we’d still be at 12 minutes for sure! So we recorded the track, mainly in Hawaii with some recording in LA, and I had my friend Blake Neely do some orchestration on it. We met during the S&M album we did with Michael Kamen, and he does a lot of TV and movies as a composer and arranger. It turned out a lot better than any of us expected, and I think it was even better than the museum expected too. It was initially conceived to be played as you wandered around the exhibition, but because it became an epic thing which developed beyond background music into more of a musical horror story (something Lani and I discussed) it came into a life of it’s own. It’s called “The Maiden & The Monster” and you can hear which musical parts are the the maiden or the monster, and it tells the story of their engagement and dynamic with each other before a hero comes in to rescue her. But everyone will have their own idea of what story it tells. I think besides the exhibit, a major motivator for the piece was the question I always get, which is whether horror influences my music. To which the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, albeit in a very subtle way. So this piece was a horror story but also to answer that question. And the museum thought it was fantastic.
The first event at PEM which was closed to the public, was for the trustees. I showed up, took people on a walk through tour, I did a little presentation, I did some Q&As including one with the curator… then I performed “The Maiden & The Monster” which I played to a tape that had all guitar parts taken out so as I could play live. And the next night, which was open to the public, sold-out and streamed live, we did another discussion and Q&A where I was super excited to be able to frame and present my collection in my own words and with my own music. It was a truly great time, and what was icing on the whole cake was how many older people who had no interest in horror were telling me how much they enjoyed the exhibition and how surprised they were that they did!!! And it feels as though maybe this exhibition will open up wider interest in movie posters generally – put it this way, the same week I was in Salem, somewhere in Wales there was a huge discovery of posters, the biggest ever in the country’s history, and it made the daily news! This type of poster news has always been underground, and never in the public eye or the press until that weekend. They took up some guy’s carpet, and old theatre owner, and found these amazing, super rare three sheets and six sheets! And for me, it helped prove that whatever we’re doing with the collection and PEM is helping to elevate attention and interest in these amazing artefacts beyond ‘nerdy’ collecting (by the way, yes, I am getting a list of what was found in that Welsh house). I hope that in the future the exhibit can travel and be enjoyed by others, that is aim, but it feels like the chances are strong because to me, PEM is a roaring success!
I know it’s been many weeks now, but I wanted to make sure I said right here that George Romero’s sad passing certainly hit me as hard as it did you.
When I first saw Night of the Living Dead in I was a wee lad of 6 or 7 years old in 1968/69 or whenever exactly, it was one of the scariest movies I had seen for a long time. In fact, until 1974 when The Exorcist came out, for me Night of the Living Dead was the de facto scariest movie that I had ever seen. Seriously. And completely! And over the years, my perspective of it, my opinion of it, has changed, and that’s all good. You see, when I first saw Night of the Living Dead, I had no idea that it was actually the ground-breaking film that it turned out to be. The fact that it was shot in black and white, the fact that there were day scenes as well as night time scenes to me was just really unique. And there were all these images planted throughout that were just misplaced and off kilter, out of synch with everyday human life, or what we knew of it. One zombie is a little girl! And there’s the naked zombie too, the zombie who’s hanging out by a tree just gnawing on a piece of flesh, there’s disfigured faces and disfigured bodies… you didn’t see a whole lot of that in many films up to that point. And to see so much of it was so overwhelming for my young mind. In fact, I have to say that when we look back over his career, George Romero was a real pioneer in that he took a genre that was basically, no pun intended, dead and brought it back to life! I mean, you had White Zombie, you had Zombies of Mora Tau, you had maybe a handful of other zombie movies, and that was it.
You know, that was literally it over the course of three or four decades, there was maybe only a handful of zombie movies. Romero singlehandedly snatched on the concept and, again (no pun intended) gave it life. Before Romero got in there, the zombies were kinda like glossy-eyed, mindless sort of automatons who were told to do whatever the bidding, or the task, was. A perfect example of that is I Walked With a Zombie, from the 1940s. What Romero did was add a level of danger, add a level of malice, add a level of terror and support it all with sheer hopelessness for the zombie character and, for want of a better term, the concept of a zombie invasion. He colloquialized zombies and gave them context in our world.
Romero also gets a lot of credit for casting an African American guy as the lead, and there’s even an undercurrent that his love interest is a white woman! It doesn’t really pan out, but there’s a slight undercurrent of that. Back then it was risky, but he didn’t care. In fact, Romero did a lot in a very clandestine way. Let’s face it. Hollywood racial stereotypes? Guilty as charged! And he was obviously working outside the Hollywood machine because in the ’60’s, Hollywood would never in a million years have touched a movie like Night of the Living Dead.
Then, moving over to Dawn of the Dead, we had George Romero taking advantage of all the newest technology and all the new pioneering special effects that were being done in the ‘80s, courtesy of people like Tom Savini. Incidentally, my pal Greg Nicotero (who is now ironically the executive producer of The Walking Dead) was in Day of the Dead…he gets ripped apart in one scene! Anyway, back to Dawn Of The Dead, which ushered in the concept of full-on zombie invasions, something else which hadn’t been done. This was also a movie that also had a very subtle yet strong sense of black humor at it’s core thanks to Romero. I think that Dawn Of The Dead was made as a comedy because there’s so much humor throughout. Much like The Bride of Frankenstein and Evil Dead II were comedies, I think this is the case with Dawn Of The Dead. Cliff Burton and I used to watch Dawn of the Dead all the time on the bus during the Ride the Lightning tour, and one of our favorite scenes was the guy walking near the helicopter and the top of the head gets chopped off by the helicopter! I mean, come on! There’s humor in that, all but, you know, dark and grotesque and violent but you know, there is a current of humor in it. You’re constantly told to keep your head down when you’re around a helicopter, and there’s dumb zombie who does exactly what he’s not supposed to do! Romero was always into the incongruency with characters, I think it was something that he played around with starting from Night of the Living Dead and having the African American guy as the lead. You know, the Krishna character turned zombie, come on, that’s just a total about face. A total paradox. And you know, it’s great.
I met him about ten years ago or so and he was a very quiet, but he loved to talk about his work, you know? Overall, I found him to just be quiet and a bit reserved. A true horror nerd! And the day Romero died, I tweeted that he’s the founding father of the modern horror film. We all know how huge zombies are in our culture right now. They represent a lot of our insecurities and worries, they also represent a fear of unknown people. It’s a perfect analogy of how our lives are right now, you know? That sense of uncertainty, whether you are gonna become a zombie eventually or not. And with all the uncertainty in the world right now, I’m not surprised that the zombie genre is as huge as it is. And it bears re-emphasizing that if it wasn’t for George Romero, zombies would probably have remained where their birthplace is, in Haiti under a voodoo spell, because the whole zombie thing started with voodoo, a real religion! So let’s just say here again, that if it hadn’t been for George Romero, the zombie would’ve probably been still stuck within the confines of the voodoo story. George Romero’s influence could be seen even in films like The Believers and The Serpent & The Rainbow which were stories based more on the voodoo religion. He brought zombies from voodoo to everyone’s (world). He brought them to a whole new world of public acceptance and enjoyment, which has culminated in the zombie being a vital part of modern pop culture. Again, without George A. Romero, it simply would not be; we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
As I was about to send this blog off for publishing, the horror genre lost yet another of it’s great auteurs, the late, great Basil Gogos. It seems like he came out of nowhere with these incredible paintings of all those monsters and creatures that we all knew and loved. His visual perspective was profound and highly unique; example. Before the word or technique ‘colorization’ even existed, he was already fully integrating that process into his paintings. We all knew he was working off those black and white stills, yet he was creating incredible paintings of these images, marvelous symphonies of light, color and texture that I know have burned themselves into the back of our collective monster minds. There’s a huge void there, and I wonder if it will ever be filled again. A true genius, Basil Gogos will be missed.
Until next time, be well!