Terror Tracks Special: John Carpenter Live
I’ve never been to a horror convention. When I was 10 or so I do remember going to an anime and sci-fi convention, one that I’m sure my brother found, in Dallas Texas. I think he was specifically on the hunt for bootleg anime VHS tapes (this was during that wild time when anime really was predominantly relegated to Japan). I, on the other hand, had my sights set on one thing: a Princess Leia action figure that was pulled from the shelves on the behest of Carrie Fisher (seriously, this thing looked BAD), which would complete my 1996 collection of Kenner Star Wars figures. Who doesn’t miss being a kid sometimes?
For the life of me I have no idea what that convention was called, but I remember finding that Leia action figure (and practically breaking the vendor’s heart when I IMMEDIATELY ripped that thing out of its box), but I also remember the guests. This would have have been the first time I had ever been in the presence of a celebrity, much less the actors that played Darth Vader and Boba Fett. It was dope! But when my parents asked if I wanted to meet one of them my ten year old self thought “Nah brah, I’m good.” I just never felt comfortable meeting them. What would I say? Sure a photo is fun, but I know myself enough to understand that I would be moderately miserable the entire time and I would feel strange being one person in a line of hundreds of others for a brief encounter with one person. But that being said, I understand how important these opportunities are for fans and how deeply it means to them, especially when the celebrity is someone like the amiable Adam Green or the jubilant Joe Lynch. Even though I don’t necessarily participate in them, I’m still so glad that they are there.
But I never felt that way about John Carpenter, the director of a formative film for my taste: The Thing. I always felt that if I waited in line for hours or more my timid grumpiness would be met by Carpenter’s signature curmudgeon and we could at the very least bond over that. And basketball. I desperately want to talk to him about basketball. But because of my aversion I don’t even know if he even does signings, it doesn’t seem like his style. But there is a style that fits him perfectly: Rock Star.
At 69 years old, the twilight years for many, JC has been jet setting across the globe with his band made up of his collaborator and son Cody Carpenter (lead synth), and Daniel Davies (lead guitar and son of Dave Davies, guitarist for the legendary band The Kinks). The trio is rounded out by Scott Seiver (Drums), John Spiker (Bass), and John Konesky (Guitar). Fueled by the success of Lost Themes I & II, they recorded an album of JC’s themes spanning his formative career from Dark Star in 1974 through Vampires in 1998 simply titled Anthology.
As I waited with my fiancee in Terminal 5 in New York City, I realized I probably wasn’t going to be dancing that much. You can bop along to “Halloween” and feel twisty with “Porkchop Express”, but it’s hard to cut a rug to “The Fog”. So what was this concert experience going to be like? From everything I had read and heard, if you were a JC fan, you just simply needed to see it. But, outside of past concert photos showing the large multimedia presentation that he had in store, I still didn’t know what to expect. Will it feel like a listening party, just with a sea of people or will this feel like a rock show?
Answer: both. And that’s a good thing.
The hardest part about describing the show is that it truly is the sum of its parts that makes the whole so good. While Davies shreds on guitar, behind him “They Live” is 10-feet-tall, and only mere feet away from you: an old man, decked in black with shades on, boogying the night away with his keyboard center stage. It’s his enthusiasm, his love, his joy for this music that he created that has always been an afterthought to the films he’s directed. Despite a few missed notes, the band was extremely tight and the added visuals of clips from JC’s retrospective really helped sell the music and suck you in. But, honestly? I was most happy because he clearly was so happy. For a director who has a little bit of a reputation for being curt and no-nonsense, it was mindblowing to see the mischievous kid who brought to life The Coroner in Body Bags was still there. It’s a rare thing to get to share in someone’s art who is as heralded as him and really just proof to the power of live performance.
While I may not have met John Carpenter, I don’t know if I’ll ever have an experience that will top an artist, whose work I admire above almost all others, sharing with us his career-long work for the first time ever like this. Seeing JC do a little shimmy shake, command the audience with a horned hand rocking in time with the beat, or semi-conducting with his baton-less hand waving in the air like a 16th century Italian maestro is just simply rare. All of this is rare, and precious. And with how we are slowly losing these masters through the simple passage of time, we need these moments of celebratory positivity, now more so than ever.
I’m not including any set list or discussing the songs or really much about the show in general. You should, like I, go in as fresh as you can. I can tell you it’s a tight 75 minutes, and yes, they will play all the songs you want to hear including choice cuts from Lost Themes. But none of that really matters because—and what I predict the takeaway is for many—is it’s this really special sense of connection as a group as we all come together to love something. That is, in essence, what horror conventions do as well. John Carpenter gave us a platform to leave 2017 at the door and, for a brief moment, be transported somewhere else. A place full of dark corners, terrifying monsters, and crispy autumn evenings.
I’ll leave you with this: if you are a fan of John Carpenter, you just simply need to see him live.