OCT08 – 2014

GUEST POST: DEAD MAN’S BONES

bones

Did you know Ryan Gosling put out an album of spooky songs about ghosts, monsters, dead things, and love? And that he and his pal Zach Shields played all the instruments (including the ones they’d never picked up before) and wrote all the music themselves?

Well, he did, and they did. Five years ago. And I’m always surprised when people don’t know about it.

The album is called Dead Man’s Bones. Gosling and Shields allowed themselves only a few takes per track in an attempt to guarantee it a roughness around the edges. They also hired the Silverlake Children’s Choir to assist with the vocals.

Perfect choices.

In the years since its release in October 2009, Dead Man’s Bones has become a perennial favorite of mine. When the leaves start to fall, back into the rotation goes Dead Man’s Bones. It’s the kind of music I want around Halloween, instead of the Day Glo plastic cheesiness of songs like “The Monster Mash” and “The Purple People Eater” — two songs I feel undermine the creepiness I want from this holiday far more than they celebrate it.

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Dead Man’s Bones is music to stroll slowly through dead leaves to. Don’t believe me? Check out the first video they ever released.

Is that how to stroll through a graveyard or what? I feel a touch of the Pied Piper in Gosling’s gait there. And his voice! Unexpected! Is it me, or is there something about Gosling’s face and demeanor that recalls more the aliens from Communion than a fully-compassionate human being? Like he’s always a bit surprised to find himself in human form.

Or then there’s this fun video they released, featuring a heroic wishbone:

The Dead Man’s Bones album is not something I expected to love. Whenever a Hollywood actor releases a music album, I feel a bit like Obi-Wan Kenobi sensing the destruction of Alderaan: “It’s as if millions of professional musicians cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” Because what can they say? All words fail in the face of the enormity of Scarlett Johansson covering Tom Waits songs (though points to her for having good taste, at least).

But sometimes people are creative geniuses, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Part of the charm of Dead Man’s Bones is how proudly it embraces its imperfections. It’s got the rickety mechanics and charm of a cheap ride at the fair — one where you’re not quite sure how everything stays operational until closing time.

Some of these songs are better than others, and there is one clear standout winner — one song that, if it were the only worthwhile track on the album would still justify the whole entire experiment. “My Body’s A Zombie For You” is fun, poetic, and irresistible.

Here’s a version with some classic zombie clips edited together to amuse you while you enjoy the song itself:

Give the album a try this October. It’s a delightfully morbid, playful collection, and like the best of the old horror films — it’s imperfect in all the right ways.

But seriously, fuck The Notebook.

* * *

Kristopher Kelly grew up in Maine, but now lives in New York City where he works as a librarian. He’s the author of a collection of dark short stories, I Held My Breath as Long as I Could, as well as the novella Abraham Road, which he describes as “what might happen if H. P. Lovecraft tried to re-write Of Mice and Men.” You of can find him on Twitter as @daukherville, or on his blog at www.daukherville.com.

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