Song: “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult
Impressions: appealing riff, widespread death, too-tight ’70s shirt, cowbell
Elbow: Bruce Dickinson needed “more cowbell.” What do you need more of? How likely are you to get it?
I certainly remember Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” but I don’t have any strong feelings or memories associated with it from when it was popular in 1976. I liked it, but it didn’t strike me as Gothic or sinister. I thought it was simply saying “don’t be afraid of death,” which apparently was the message the composer intended, not “Let’s fall in love and kill ourselves.”
Then I watched Stephen King’s “The Stand” on television. From then on, I associated “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” with the opening credits with the camera panning back and forth over the dead strewn up and down and all around, with the promise of more to come. (I didn’t remember hearing this before, but according to Wikipedia, Stephen King actually was inspired to write “The Stand” by this song.) From then on, just hearing that guitar riff and those low, crooning harmonies froze my heart and put me in a morbid frame of mind. (Okay, see how you feel about this opening, if you’ve never seen it. Just watch the video above.)
Therefore, I was very happy when Will Ferrell gave me a new association that automatically lifts my heart whenever I hear the song: The cowbell skit from “Saturday Night Live.” I loved it on first sight and watched broadcasts of Will Ferrell collections just to see that skit. Now, instead of death and mayhem when I hear “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” I think of the goon in the too-tight ’70s-ugly shirt and his belly flab jiggling around his navel as he cavorts and beats the crap out of that cowbell, often off beat. (And I can’t overlook Christopher Walken and his “I got a feevah–and the only prescription is more cowbell!”)
On this last day of February in a long, dreary winter, with more snow and ice on the way over the weekend, I need more cowbell. Lots and lots of cowbell! (If only SNL allowed the complete skit on YouTube. Embedding is even disabled on this short sample, but click through. I recommend it for whatever ails you, “feevah” or no.)