Episode 605: The Crazy World

“Now, the background of the Collins shipping interests is, in many ways, even more fascinating than the family history.”

I’m going to be honest with you, because there are no secrets between us: I don’t have a damn thing to say about today’s episode. It’s all about a secret plot between Barnabas, Julia and Professor Stokes to invite Nicholas over for the most boring dinner party of all time. The first half is basically just describing what’s going to happen in the second half, and then the second half is doing what they said they were going to do in the first half.  I can’t even discuss it.

If only there was something unusual happening in October 1968, which would provide some context for the period, shedding light on Dark Shadows’ pop cultural environment. That would give me something to write about. I just wish I could think of something.

Oh, well there’s this, I suppose.

This is “Fire”, the one hit created by one-hit wonder The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. It’s a psychedelic shock-rock number about the imminent destruction of civilization, performed by a spooky-looking dude in a helmet that is actually currently en flambé.

605 dark shadows god of hellfire

The song begins with a screech: “I am the GOD of HELLFIRE! And I bring you — ” and then it sort of develops the theme from there.

I’ll take you to burn
I’ll take you to learn
I’ll see you BURN!

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this song before, but if this was October 1968, you sure would have. “Fire” was on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 13 weeks, peaking at #2 on the week of today’s episode. The only thing that kept it from being the number-one single in America was the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”.

Think about that. There’s “Hey Jude”, and there’s “Fire”, and then there’s everything else.

605 dark shadows arthur brown

So here’s Arthur Brown, wearing spooky black and white makeup, a loose white robe and a flaming hat. I hope you’ve watched the video, because I don’t think that I can adequately describe how extraordinary he is.

He dances in this serpentine way that’s just mesmerizing — nobody else moves like that. He’s a true eccentric, an artist who’s aware that he’s doing something deeply strange, and committing to it one hundred percent.

605 dark shadows doors arthur brown

He’s backed up by a Hammond organ, bass and drums, a sound that’s not that far from the Doors’ “Light My Fire”, which we talked about last month. But where Jim Morrison’s “fire” was a metaphor for his brooding sexuality, Arthur Brown’s is intentionally destructive and all-consuming.

You fought hard, and you saved and earned
But all of it’s going to burn
And your mind, your tiny mind,
You know you’ve really been so blind,
Now’s your time, burn your mind,
You’ve fallen far too far behind

He’s a prophet of destruction, cackling “I’ll see you burn, burn, BURN!” And then halfway through the song, he has to take off the hat, because it’s not insulated and it really is hurting quite a bit.

605 dark shadows arthur brown dance

He also strips off the robe, revealing his bare torso, which shows off his unique, loose-limbed approach to dancing.

To destroy all you’ve done
To end all you’ve begun
I’ll feel you BURN!

So you have to ask, I think, what is the appeal of a singer who wants to throw everything into a furnace? I mean, it’s obvious why “Light My Fire” struck a chord with the public, because everybody — you, me, and the entire population of the world — wants to have sex with 1967 Jim Morrison. It’s a universal constant. But that’s clearly not what’s going on here.

605 dark shadows arthur brown burn

This is an early example of shock rock, a genre that was pioneered by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in 1956, who started his live show by coming out of a coffin amid billowing smoke, crooning “I Put a Spell on You” into a skull-shaped microphone. He was followed in the 1960s by Screaming Lord Sutch, who dressed like Jack the Ripper and menaced the audience with knives and daggers.

People think of 1960s music as being dominated by “All You Need Is Love” and other LSD-fueled hippie tunes, but there was also an angry, destructive streak — the Who smashing their instruments mid-concert, Iggy Pop rolling in broken glass, and Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire at the Monterey Pop Festival. They really had a thing for fire in the late 60s.

605 dark shadows arthur brown rebel

The teenagers of the 1960s became a universal symbol for youthful rebellion because they discovered two mutually exclusive ways to drive their parents insane — loving everybody, and hating everybody. You could transform the world by retuning your mind to the Age of Aquarius, or you could tear down everything that exists, just for the sheer joy of watching it burn. It was a one-two punch that had adults on the ropes, and frankly, they’ve never really recovered.

It’ll be a little while before we see any stargazing hippies in Dark Shadows, but the gleefully destructive rage of shock rock has arrived. The woman they call “Eve” is inhabited by a psychopath who enjoys killing for its own sake, and the malevolent Nicholas Blair is engineering the end of the human race.

In fact, pretty soon Dark Shadows will literally go to Hell. Better hold on to your hats — except for Arthur Brown’s, obviously. It’s probably best if we leave that one where it is.

Monday: The Late Mrs. Collins.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Barnabas says, “Julia, I’m surprised at you. I’m hardly a psychologist, but obviously, the — your dream was — well, it was perfectly obvious.”

When Stokes and Nicholas come downstairs at the start of act 2, the bannister wobbles alarmingly.

Julia has a terrible cough in this episode. In act 2, she coughs as Barnabas crosses the Old House drawing room to answer the door. In act 3, she coughs while Barnabas explains Liz’s condition to Nicholas, and again as Barnabas is leaving the house.

As Barnabas folds up the map of Nicholas’ house, he says, “I’ll take this with me, and I’ll review it earlier — later this evening.”

Behind the Scenes:

Arthur Brown is still around and making music, by the way. Check out Arthur-brown.com for his latest work. Also, Blues.gr has a 2012 interview with him, and he is apparently the sweetest guy in the entire world.

Monday: The Late Mrs. Collins.

605 dark shadows arthur brown enlightenment

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

25 thoughts on “Episode 605: The Crazy World

  1. This episode’s big plan is absurd. What happens when they kill Eve? (In cold blood, as she’s done nothing criminal other than exist.) Nicholas, through Adam, would just force them to conduct the experiment again and create another Eve. Nicholas could also bring Eve back to life as he did Carolyn. They have no reason to think otherwise. And all their attempts to provide an alibi so that Nicholas won’t suspect it’s them ignores the fact that Adam is dangerously unstable and if Eve just ups and dies, he will immediately blame Barnabas. They have met Adam, right?

    So, three people forming a plan that a three-year-old child could expose as flawed. Barnabas on his own is not the best planner, but I did expect more from Stokes, who I’d think would realize the true problem is Nicholas and have great theories on how to fight him, as we saw hints of when he went after Cassandra during the Dream Curse.

  2. Excellent observation, that it wasn’t all about All You Need Is Love. Even that song is not quite as simple as it seems. It has kind of a funny, stoned feel to it, but it doesn’t mean The Beatles were oblivious to the reality of the times. I think the song acknowledges that Love was falling out of vogue and it’s almost a plea to hold on to it. Eventually, even The Beatles got pissed off enough to do Helter Skelter.

    In 1969, I remember thinking it seemed like the whole world was on fire. Was probably just as true in ’68. So many unprecedented things happening so quickly. “Fire” was such a great song, I remember it well. And yes, the word “fire” was appearing in many songs of the time, because it best described what was happening. The old world was burning away, and a new world rising, from the ashes of the old.
    Laura Collins comes to mind.

    The war in Vietnam inspired a lot of darkness and in 1968, things were really getting ugly. At the same time, it was a great time to be alive.
    The only way I can think of to get it across is through a handful of songs from that time. Fire by TCWOAB, Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones, Run Through The Jungle by CCR, and from 1970, Lay Down (Candles In The Rain) by Melanie.
    It’s a very incomplete list, but these songs probably capture the feel of the times as well as anything. The Beatles Hey Jude was the beginning of their goodbye. It was a sign that they had gone about as far as they could, with the love, and all. The seeds of darkness had been sown, Arthur Brown soon led to Alice Cooper.

    You know, Arthur Brown made those burning hats himself, and they weren’t very well insulated. He used to burn his head, all the time.

    1. Oh, good — I’m glad this post struck a chord. I was born in 1971, so I’m approaching the late 60s as history. I should probably be paying more attention to Vietnam, but it’s easier to search for psychedelic music on YouTube.

      1. The thing about Vietnam is not so much the details of the war itself, but how people FELT about it. The World Wars brought America together. Vietnam tore it apart. Buffalo Springfield had a relevant little song called “For What it’s Worth”. Even The Monkees had a little bolero called “Zor and Zam”, which I highly recommend. If you study the music of the time, you’ll learn a lot, about the war, about everything.
        And then there was “Sugar, Sugar” by The Archies, from 1969. It has nothing to do with anything, but it’s a fun little song.

        1. And it should be noted that “Sugar, Sugar” came free when you bought specially marked boxes of Sugar Smacks (which I begged my mom to do); you cut the record out of the back of the box and then played it on your portable 45 record player…which it sort of did, although mine was a little bent (being from the back of a cardboard cereal box of course) and the needle would bounce and I got very disappointed, although the cereal did not disappoint!

    2. 1968 was a seriously turbulent and fascinating time in history. Drugs, sex and rock and roll was the name of the game, along with militancy against the vietnam war. I loved the music at that time as I grew up with classic rock and songs of that time. I was in junior high in 1968.

  3. The curious thing about these “dinner” parties given by Barnabas at the Old House is that there never seems to be an actual dinner involved. Instead, the guests merely sit about the drawing room sipping drinks. It was that way in 1967 when Barnabas gave a costume party shortly after moving in, but at least then they did something interesting, like hold a seance.

    The closest thing to an actual dinner at the Old House was when Barnabas was holding Maggie Evans there and had arranged for a dinner for him and his “Josette”. But this, too, was held in the drawing room with a table arranged in the middle of the room. If there even was a dining room at the Old House then surely we’ve never seen it.

    1. Yes, it was more a (very late) cocktail party. Perhaps the assumption is that Willie prepared the food, but any culinary skills he picked up (most likely in prison) is more suited for a position as a diner’s short order cook — not quite up to Barnabas’s 18th Century standards.

      It’s hard to tell from just the exterior but at least from Barnabas’s descriptions of the construction of the Old House, you think it is more like the Biltmore Estate rather than the more “modest” (but still impressive) homes like Mercer House in Savannah. However, the set design seems to imply the latter.

    2. Exactly. And in a few months Barnabas “invites” Chris Jennings to a “dinner party” at the Old House on the night of a full moon, suspecting Chris will decline because he’ll be too busy turning into a werewolf. When Chris does decline, Barnabas gets that smug look on his face (you know the one), implying his suspicion is accurate. And all I could think is “Buddy, I’ve seen your dinner parties and I wouldn’t go near one, and I’m no werewolf. You’re a bore.”

  4. As I watched Dark Shadows as it originally aired, I always thought the show was fairly devoid of humor, but now I realize that’s not true. I find the machinations of this episode to be more than a little amusing.
    It begins with a fairly dry scene where Julia warns Barnabas that their plan to kill Eve is not such a good idea, but he doesn’t want to listen. Barnabas is from a time before the sinking of the Titanic, where Wealthy Aristocrats made up their minds about things, and icebergs were obliged to get out of the way, or else.
    Despite Julia’s warnings of disaster, Barnabas clings to the idea that their plan has to work. It just HAS to.

    Cut to Nicholas Blair’s bachelor pad, and something I never noticed before. With a bottle of sherry in one hand and two glasses in the other, we see Nicky stroll over to his table and set these things down, just in time to hear a knock at his door. He checks his watch, (a Patek Philippe, just guessing). Right on time, as expected. Apparently, Nicky uses the magic mirror even when we aren’t using ours to spy on him.
    He saunters to the door to welcome the expected Professor Stokes. Feigning surprise, and his usual joie de vivre, he welcomes his guest and offers him the sherry, which of course, Stokes cannot resist.
    After a few pleasantries, the professor extends the invitation to dinner at the Old House for later that evening. Nicholas pretends to be baffled, as if he has not already made up his mind to accept the invitation, and asks Stokes “Why?” Stokes explains that he is only the messenger, he’ll have to ask Barnabas himself, which leads to the next question, why did Barnabas send Stokes, instead of using the phone? That’s an easy one, Barnabas still thinks it’s 1795 and has no telephone. Nicholas finds this altogether fascinating and confesses he is now beginning to admire Mr Collins for his eccentricities. This makes a perfect excuse to accept the invitation for an evening of charades. It’s a fun little game they are playing.

    Later, Professor Stokes arrives at the old house to work out the remaining details of the mad scheme with Barnabas and Julia. When asked if he thinks Nicholas is suspicious of them in any way, Stokes comes back with one of my favorite lines of dialogue from the entire run of the show “My dear Barnabas, aside from whatever supernatural powers he may posses, the man is an insufferable egotist! I don’t think he believes that ordinary people like us would DARE to plot against him!” and Nicholas’s bedroom is “depressingly overdecorated”
    And so, they plot on, with Nicholas watching them on his little mirror at home. That mirror is so magical it has “sound” as well as image. I bet it’s in stereo, too.

    Later that night at the old house, Nicholas has arrived and is listening politely to more history lessons from Stokes. Julia arrives late, with news that Elizabeth has taken a turn for the worse and that she must see Barnabas immediately. Barnabas doesn’t want to be rude and abandon his guest, but Nicholas says “Don’t worry about it”, so off he goes to extinguish Eve.
    A little later, Nicholas decides to have a little fun with Stokes and Julia by pretending that, maybe, he should go to Collinwood himself, just to make sure everything is OK. This nearly sends Julia into a tizzy. She has to do some quick lying on her feet, but it’s enough to get Nicholas to sit back down.
    He wasn’t planning on leaving yet, anyhow. He knows where Barnabas is, and what he’s going to find. Nicholas doesn’t mind in the least that they have plotted against him, because he has plotted as well, better actually.
    Barnabas arrives at Blair house and sneaks upstairs to Eve’s bedroom, only to find that she has mysteriously turned into a pile of pillows.
    Then a familiar voice from the past whispers “Hello, Barnabas.” He turns, and in horror realizes he’s been had. Dressed in deathly white, it’s Fangelique!

    1. …lol…@ Fangelique…See Barnabas was hard headed last time when Julia warned him about the dream and that it was too easy and sure enough when Barnabas went outside, a bat bit him. So again, he has to eat crow and be sorry he did not listen to Julia! And he said he should have known better…c’mon Barnabas. Julia told you!

  5. What amused me about this cunning plan, was it involved Stokes leaving his car with the keys in it for Barnabas. All I could think was: “Professor Stokes is letting Barnabas use his car? When did Barnabas get a license to drive? “

  6. With as many moments lately of a character saying or thinking, “I’ve gotta get outta here!”,

    It might be the time when Alice Cooper is writing “Ballad of Dwight Fry”.

  7. As an 8-year-old in 1968, my friends and I found “Fire” by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown absolutely hilarious. But 1968 was also an upsetting time. I remember thinking that the world was coming apart at the seams, what with the M. L. King & Bobby Kennedy assassinations and the horrific nightly news coverage of Vietnam.

    I watched Star Trek back then. Star Trek was relevant (at least in part) because it latched onto the spirit and fears of the time with episodes about hippies (This Side of Paradise, The Way to Eden) and the cost of war (A Taste of Armageddon, The Doomsday Machine). But I wasn’t watching DS (even though we all talked about Barnabas Collins during recess). So now I’m watching DS for the first time so many years later. I can definitely see that DS is also a product of its time. The darkness in DS definitely resonates with some of my memories of the time.

  8. I’ve loved a version of this song for several years and never knew it was a cover. I would encourage you to find the version by Lizzy Descloux.

  9. There is also, oddly enough, a version of “Fire” by The Who, which appears on Pete Townshend’s album, “The Iron Man”.

  10. When Stokes (always one of my favorite characters) is telling Blair about the history of the Collins family, I could see that actually being of some interest to Nicholas. But the Professor, perhaps indulging in a bit of passive aggression, also apparently launches into a (detailed) chronicle of the Collins Cannery, clearly enjoying the gentle torture of piling the tedium on, but also risking having Blair bolt for the door!

    An intentional bit of comedy, for once, in this episode.

  11. Hey, has anybody seen my copy of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida? You guys better not be playing it or I’ll tell Mom!

    Didn’t Angelique pull that “pillows under the blanket” trick on Barnabas in 1795 too? He never learns!

    So the “party” is supposed to start at 10 and Barnabas tells Julia to leave Collinwood at 10:15 so she’ll arrive 30 or 35 minutes late. That implies it takes 15 – 20 minutes to get from Collinwood to the Old House, on foot I presume. The series is so inconsistent with time and distance that I supposed it doesn’t matter but I always assumed the two houses were no more than a 5 or 6 minute walk from each other.

  12. I remember Fire. It was an antidote to Hey, Jude. I love the Beatles but Hey, Jude was inescapable. It played on the radio so much that even the radio djs had enough. I remember being on the bus to school. The radio was on and the dj announced, “I know everyone is sick of this song so I’m going to play it REALLY low.” It took many years before I was able to appreciate it again.

  13. This episode is a favorite of mine, too. But I love Danny’s intermission, here, listening to this song (that I had never heard before), watching its unforgettably stunning video, and knowing it was a top-playing hit at the time when this DS episode first aired.

    I am now having fun picturing Mr. and Mrs. Brown, raised in the thirties and forties, likely attending church every Sunday and requesting their parents’ permission before socializing with their friends, drinking vanilla malts in clean little diners listening to a jukebox playing songs by the Andrew Sisters and Tommy Dorsey.

    Imagine how Mr. and Mrs. Brown must’ve felt in 1968, responding to questions from their concerned acquaintances about troubled young Arthur.

    “Is it your intent to permit him to create more of those televised musical videos in which he dons a devil costume and lights himself on fire before wickedly gyrating around in his unmentionables? Should I beg Pastor Richard to lead the congregation in praying for your family?”

    Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled entertainment of watching our dear Julia confess her scary dream to an affectionately tolerant Barnabas before two of our other top favorites, Prof Stokes and Nicholas Blair, intellectually analyze a dinner invitation.

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