Category Archives: music

Review: Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall (2015)

Wylding Hall

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the land before time, I taught Audio Engineering with a focus on film sound. Consequently, I have a particular fondness for fiction in the “manager locks up band in a secluded location to record an album & mayhem ensues” genre, which intersects in interesting ways with the “ghost hunters bite off more than they can chew in a secluded house” and the related “student filmmakers set up shop in a haunted house and mayhem ensues” genres. Much like the actual entertainment industry, in horror fiction it’s all fun and games in the haunted house, until its not. Then it’s still fun and games for the reader, and doubly so for those of us who feel like we’ve lived some of these scenes in real-life, albeit with less bloodshed and more substance abuse.

But I digress.

Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall (2015) is a novella structured in a sort of behind-the-music-esque epistolary form. It’s got band drama, a creepy house, a mystery, and enough similarity to actual events to create a frisson of reality for readers who know a bit of English folk music history. Plus, it has a potentially colorful cast of characters wistfully trying to recount events from a time when they were all young, beautiful, and wasted. Hand weaves this all together in an intriguing manner and this is a fast, fun, eerie read.

Forty years after the mysterious disappearance of their lead guitarist, the surviving members of the fictional acid-folk band Windhollow Faire, their manager, and one band member’s ex-girlfriend (now a professional psychic) sit for individual interviews with a documentarian. The narrative unfolds as we jump from interview snippet to interview snippet. Although I feel that Hand did a brilliant job of creating and maintaining mystery and suspense using this technique, and each character is well-realized, their voices are too similar and I often found myself skipping back a page to remind myself who is supposed to be speaking. In less-skillful hands, this would sink the book, but the story is intriguing enough to put up with this minor annoyance.

So, the plot, without spoilers: After (fictional) acid-folk band Windhollow Faire releases their first album, their lead singer dies at the apartment of lead guitarist, Julian Drake. A new lead lead singer is recruited to replace dearly departed but not especially talented Annabelle. Their manager rents a medieval country house in Hampshire and stashes them away for 3 months to write, rehearse, and recover from the tragedy.

Hand was inspired by the true story of the British folk band Fairport Convention, whose manager rented a country house in Hampshire called Farley Chamberlayne so they could regroup after the tragic deaths of their drummer and their lead guitarist’s girlfriend, and record a new album.

I don’t know if Fairport Convention invoked any otherworldly forces during their time in Hampshire. but Windhollow Faire get more than they bargained for when clues emerge that Julian’s brilliant songwriting may be more than metaphorically magical.

In a lengthy interview with Locus, excerpted online on the magazine’s website, Hand talks about her folk-horror vision for Wylding Hall:

‘‘Just because you’re young and really stoned and in a weird creepy place, that doesn’t mean something really weird and creepy isn’t actually happening. I like the notion, too, that you don’t know you’ve seen a ghost until afterward. There’s an Edith Wharton story called ‘Afterward’. Somebody saw something, or they didn’t see something, and then later on they put it together and realized they had seen a ghost. I wanted to play with that, the idea of sunlit horror. Most of Wylding Hall takes place during the day.”

In a recent review of another book by Hand (Waking the Moon), I grumbled a lot about the lengthy insertions of lyrics and incantations. These inclusions are much more effective in Wylding Hall, and they also make more narrative sense as we’re meant to be watching musicians participating in the age-old process of adapting and contemporizing traditional ballads. That process is not only a vital way to keep the art form alive, but also a vital way to conjure dark forces which will allow mayhem to ensue. And at the end of the day, you can’t ask for much more than that from a lively horror story about a group of musicians in a creepy house!

Indiebound lists a full-cast audiobook of Wylding Hall that looks rather tempting, particularly since it might solve the “wait, who’s talking in this part?” problem.

View all my reviews at Goodreads or read the full versions with embedded links here.

Know your place, girlies!

update at the bottom of the post, edits made at 1:53 p.m.

Somehow, through some wrinkle in the space-time continuum, many of my friends have tween or teenagers. Most of them being at least middle class, they play musical instruments.

Some have formed or joined bands.

In addition to learning all the stuff that goes along with being a band, some of them are learning the sad, sexist, body-shaming gender politics of rock and roll.

A friend shared some screenshots of her young teenaged daughter’s facebook wall (with daughter’s permission).

I was saddened by what I saw, but I was also amazed and impressed by what I read. I asked if any of them wanted to write a guest post, but I didn’t get any takers. I did get permission to blog about what happened, as long as I hid all identities and didn’t quote anyone directly.

“Lucy” is lanky – she’s pretty tall and her mom says she averages a size 2. She’s kindof sortof maybe dating this boy. They know each other from school and extracurricular music activities. In the Fall he joined a rock band with some friends.

One of the mean kids posted this image on Lucy’s facebook wall, along with a note that she’d better do a New Year’s cleanse if she didn’t want him to dump her for a thin(ner) girl.


It’s an image makes the rounds a lot and I know very few female musicians (or women, in general) who think it’s cute, although when male musicians are called out on it they invariably fall back on the the “I know one chick who thinks it’s GREAT, so you all should” cliche.

That’s a post for another day…

I had no idea it was showing up on on twitter or fb as a tool of teenage repression. Lucy’s mom indicated that this wasn’t the first time Lucy had seen the image, it was merely the first time she’d been it’s target.

I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be hurt by this kind of public ridicule and body-shaming. What impressed me was the way Lucy’s friends stepped up and critiqued the hell out of the image and the message, instead of engaging in a flame war with the mean girls, who are apparently experts at wielding “thinspirational” images as weapons.

The primary issues that they called out the image for were:

Depicting males as musicians and girls as groupies.

They discussed at length how the boys in their music classes at school are encouraged to be in bands, but if they express interest they’re discouraged, even by some women they meet in bands who encourage them to be musicians but express ambivalent opinions about band participation.

Depicting male musicians as automatically have a higher status that doesn’t rely on physical appearance, while female musicians are held to different standards.

Lucy decided not to join a band because she hates the way famous female performers (and her female musician friends) are held to such ridiculous physical standards while males are given much more leeway about their appearance. Lucy’s best friend talked about how she sings and plays a number of instruments, but has been told more than once by boys that she should take up the the drums because that would hide her “fat ass.” She’s an extremely slim young woman who is active in several sports.


Fat-shaming the girl on the left.

They called this out, but it didn’t really need any explanation.

Slut-shaming the girl on the right.

They felt sorry for the girl on the right, who they read as seeking an identity based on associations not actual social connections. They also felt sorry for the boy in the picture, because they thought he was dumb to dump the girl who liked him for who he was just to go out with a girl who it’s implied only likes him for the status he confers on her.

I’m impressed that teenagers could offer such sophisticated readings of this image and it’s message(s) in the face of such ugly bullying, but I’m depressed that they need to do so.

I struggled for weeks over whether to include any size information about the girls being bullied. Ultimately, I left “Lucy’s” size to indicate that this kind of body-shaming happens no matter what size the girl is and whether or not she’s happy with her size. I changed the information about her friend to be more vague because her exact height and size were irrelevant to the story. If it matters to you, you’re missing the point altogether.

Original image source: unknown. I’m not linking it to the page it came from in the incident I describe in this post because I want to keep the identifying details to a minimum. I left the original file name, “no fat chicks” because I think it tells it’s own piece of the story.

Jim Croce cover band

When I was a kid, our next door neighbors had a Hammond organ. They used to let me play it but their sheet music selection was pretty limited.

Very limited.

Let’s put it this way: if you ever form a Jim Croce cover band and need some funky organ breaks for “Time in a Bottle,” I’m your girl.

I have no idea how this post was supposed to end because I went down a rabbit hole for a while. I was linking to Jim Croce’s website and the front page link for “dinner reservations” was deeply confusing until I discovered it led to the Croce’s Restaurant site. Croce’s Restaurant is closing in December. It’s in San Diego, I bet Batty has been there.

I should really get back to lecture writing. Or watching shitty movies. Ooh, my lecture is on urban legends, so I could watch the movie Urban Legends and multitask!

American Psycho: the Huey Lewis + Weird Al edition

Mary Harron’s brilliant, disturbing, satirical movie, American Psycho, contains a now-iconic scene where Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) holds forth on Huey Lewis and the News before killing an associate with an axe. Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but there’s really no other way to warn you that this clip contains gratuitous and potentially upsetting scenes of someone dancing to Huey Lewis and the News:

[embedded clip: American Psycho: Huey Lewis]

I mention this because this funny or die clip is probably a bit confounding if you haven’t seen the source:

Yes, I know that in sharing this I’m essentially advertising a Huey Lewis album since this video was created to “celebrate” the 30th anniversary of said Huey Lewis album, but I’m easily amused and can’t help it.