I was awakened at 3:18 in the morning on October 30 by a collect call from Jackie, who I’ve never met. He identified himself as a member of the Snowman Electrical Band, a mysterious Bay Area group that exclusively records Halloween and Christmas music. Jackie said they had finally finished this year’s Halloween recording, of which they are all very proud. He said the band was leaving town and everything else after that was indeterminate. The recording was a frenzied process that left nerves and rented electrical gear in tatters. The band was under the gun to get finished, figuratively by the landlord demanding that they vacate the premises, and literally by the Slavic hoodlum that rented out the likely stolen and now useless gear. He was demanding an exorbitant amount of money and threatening violence. Jackie told me this from a pay phone at the bus station. “Slavic?” I asked. I could barely hear anything he said over the roar of departing buses on the other end, but none of it sounded like an apology for sending me on a vicious snipe hunt through a dangerous slum.
“Room Service at the Witch’s Suite,” is a cover of Funkadelic’s “March to the Witch’s Castle” bookended by deranged movements of pastiche and performance that describe political phantoms doomed to haunt us all into extinction and a tape getting caught in the VCR. I was told that it was recorded in an East Oakland basement, and I should go over while the band was there to meet everyone and take pictures. That sounded normal enough. But when I followed the directions sent to me from an Italian email account that has since been disabled, I ended up at a crack den and loosely organized brothel at the far end of a long industrial road. Nobody there had heard of the Snowman Electrical Band, and I realized I had been duped.
My phone call with Jackie ended when it was time for him to board the bus. “To where?” I said. But he had hung up. If the pattern of the last few years holds, the Snowman Electrical Band will sneak back to town at Christmas time trailing psychedelic fumes and bad checks, spirits aloft.
Listen to “Room Service at the Witch’s Suite” below.