I’m a sleeping dog, but you can’t tell / When I’m on the prowl, you’d better run like hell.” So sings the Velvet Underground’s John Cale in “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend,” an assertion that few dogs or psychiatrists would likely agree with.
Be that as it may, Cale deserves credit for embracing his fears. And for all we know, there may be some other lost soul out there who, at this very moment, is taking comfort in lyrics like ‘We’re already dead, just not yet in the ground / Take my helping hand, I’ll show you around.”
But let’s leave all of that vague and tedious dread for Election Day. Right now, we’ve got Halloween lurking right around the corner, and there are plenty of more seasonally specific phobias to fixate on. So fire up your home security system, double-check the deadbolts, and settle back for an evening of samhainophobic odes to black cats and hoot owls, gospel-singing skeletons, and the crucifixion of Peter Pumpkinhead.
Fear of Insects (Entomophobia)
“I am the Fly” by Wire
Few men have faced down their fear of insects as bravely as Mike Pence. During his recent vice presidential debate, the soft-spoken Tea Party graduate displayed the courage of his convictions by allowing a black housefly to take up residence on his perfectly coiffed hair for a full two minutes and nine seconds. So the least we can do in return is to honor his sacrifice by putting the YouTube clip on infinite repeat, while listening to Wire’s “I Am the Fly,” a suitably dirgey track with hopeful lyrics like “I am the fly in the ointment / I shake you down to say please / As you accept the next dose of disease.”
Fear of Skeletons (Ostiophobia)
“Dem Bones” by the Famous Myers Jubilee Singers
Sure, those Halloween decorations make skeletons look all cute and harmless, but those of us who’ve had real skeletons dance around on our lawns and porches while singing “Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around, now hear the word of the Lord” know better. A gospel spiritual inspired by the prophet Ezekiel’s visit to the Valley of Dry Bones, “Dem Bones” was first recorded in 1928 by the Famous Myers Jubilee Singers and subsequently popularized by the Delta Rhythm Kings. White people have recorded it too, including The Kingsmen, Rosemary Clooney, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Phish.
Fear of Turning Into a Pumpkin (Apocolocynposis)
“The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” by XTC
“Peter Pumpkinhead was too good,” sings XTC’s Andy Partridge, “had him nailed to a chunk of wood.” It’s a fate best avoided, if at all possible. But that didn’t prevent this follow-up to XTC’s “Mayor of Simpleton” from climbing to No. 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. In fact, most critics agree that “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead” is one of the best songs about apocolocynposis ever recorded.
Fear of Black Cats (Ailurophobia)
“Black Cat Hoot Owl Blues” by Ma Rainey
Few musical experiences are as sublime as hearing the Mother of the Blues singing “Black cat on my doorstep / Black cat on my windowsill / If one black cat don’t cross me / Another black cat will.” But what Ma and her husband Will, who wrote the song lyrics, fail to recognize is the fact that black cats are every bit as sweet and cuddly as any other cat. (Which is to say, not at all.) Over the course of a five-year period, Ma Rainey would go on to release nearly a hundred singles, the vast majority of them with titles ending in the word blues. “Louisiana Hoodoo Blues” is perfect for the rhabdophobes in your household, “Night Time Blues” will calm the chronic nyctophobe, and Dead Drunk Blues will let necrophobes know they are not forgotten.
Fear of Music (Phonophobia)
Fear of Music by the Talking Heads
Phonophobia is such a debilitating condition that it deserved a full album of its own. Thankfully, the Talking Heads filled that void with Fear of Music, an impressively awkward album highlighted by the traumatophobic “Life During Wartime” and the ancraophobic “Air” which includes the lyric “Some people say not to worry about the air / Some people never had experience with air” and haunting refrain “Air can hurt you too.” What was once considered David Byrne’s playful paranoia now sounds like the official soundtrack to 2020.
Fear of Vampires (Sanguivoriphobia)
Three-way Tie: “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus, “Dracula’s Wedding” by Outkast, “Making Love to a Vampire With a Monkey on My Knee” by Captain Beefheart
Although typically associated with Halloween, vampire songs are surprisingly versatile. These three, for example, can also be used to set the mood for weddings, funerals and those special nights at the zoo. And there’s more where those came from. Here, for your holiday enjoyment, are 13 more tracks that are suitable for all occasions.
1. Chino X1’s “Ghetto Vampire”
2. Marilyn Manson’s “If I Was Your Vampire”
3. Alcatraz’s “Vampire State Building”
4. Jad Fair & Yo La Tengo’s “Ohio Town Saved From Killer Bees by Hungry Vampire Bats”
5. Annie Lennox’s “Love Song for a Vampire”
6. Dr. Israel’s “Brooklyn Jungle Soundsystem vs. The Psychic Vampire”
7. Jimmy Buffett’s “Vampires, Mummies and the Holy Ghost”
8. Demon Skull’s “Vampire Convent”
9. Old Time Relijun’s “Vampire Sushi”
10. J Church’s “Vampire Girl Prefers Me Alive”
11. Inkubus Sukkubus’ “Vampire Erotica”
12. Superdrag’s “Do the Vampire”
13. Anything by Vampire Weekend
Disclaimer: These songs are in no way intended to serve as a substitute for professional psychiatric advice, diagnosis or treatment. Except for “Black Cat Hoot Owl Blues.” That song will cure anything.