Growing up, there were two very important libraries in my life. The first was the Nappanee Public Library. This was not my local library, but it was where my grandma Hubner worked. Every week my dad would go over to visit my grandma and do whatever work needed done around the house. He’d pay her bills, cut the lawn, shovel snow, and they would sit at her small kitchen table, share a cigarette, and just talk.
My grandma wasn’t a very pleasant person even before my grandpa died, but after he passed in November of 1986 she was even worse. She was a reclusive old woman that would only listen to talk radio, smoke incessantly, eat frozen cuisine, and throw her own misery onto everyone and everything around her. Her only true friend, the one that completely got her through and through, was an ancient Siamese cat named Cookie. Cookie would make a noise that sounded like a constipated duck. Cookie looked as annoyed at the world as my grandma, which is what made them such perfect roommates.
But in 1989 an opportunity came up for her to work at the library just down the street from her house on Walnut Street. She could even walk to work(which is what the doctors told her she needed to do more of.) That job opened her back up to conversations with people, as opposed to speaking to a transistor radio in the kitchen about weak-kneed liberals and putting “faith back in family.” It allowed her to help and feel useful and not be locked up in a smokey, cat hair-filled tomb the rest of her days.
It also allowed her to help her 15-year old grandson to discover Kurt Vonnegut. Every Thursday after those visits with my grandma, my dad would come home with a stack of biographies, war books, and classic fiction. I’d heard the name Vonnegut in school and was intrigued, so I put a request in for Breakfast Of Champions on the next literature run and my adoration of, in my opinion the greatest Hoosier to live, had begun(you can keep your Mellencamp, Michael Jackson and your Larry Bird, thank you very much.)
The second most important library in my life was located in my mom and dad’s closet. My dad had a collection of horror novels that pretty much planted the seed, watered the seed, and gave that seed sunlight that blossomed into my love of horror. On the top shelf of their closet, next to his fancy leather shoes and long out-of-fashion printed 70s collared button ups were massive stacks of Stephen King and Peter Straub books. By the time I’d hit 7th grade I’d already read Salem’s Lot, Cujo, Christine, Pet Sematary and his collection of short stories Skeleton Key and Four Seasons. I can remember reading Pet Sematary in the study hall of Warsaw Middle School and feeling a chill come over me(turns out it was just Mrs. McCoy’s glare of disapproval.) Peter Straub’s Floating Dragon, Koko, Ghost Story, and especially Shadowland made huge impressions on my youthful and malleable Midwestern mind.
During those early-to-mid 80s I recalled my dad talking about an author named Richard Harris and his book Red Dragon. It was the story of an FBI profiler named Will Graham that had caught but was gravely wounded by a serial killer named Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. He’s pulled out of retirement to help hunt and track down another serial killer who’s targeting upper middle class families, murdering them as they sleep at night. His trademark? A bite on their bodies, hence his nickname “The Tooth Fairy”.
This was a book my dad owned, but strangely it never made its way home to the Hubner closet library. It sat for years in his locker at work. I did eventually read it as an adult, along with all of the Hannibal-based books that followed as I bought them myself. But for years that book was this strange little mystery to me.
Of course, my first taste of Richard Harris came with 1986s Manhunter. Still fairly early in the days of home video, watching Manhunter at an early age(9 or 10 I think) had a huge impact on me. From director Michael Mann’s look of the film(saturated colors and quick edits) to the great acting of Tom Noonan as serial killer Francis Dolarhyde and Stephen Lang’s sleazy Freddy Lounds, to Brian Cox as the incarcerated Hannibal Lecter, everything about the movie stuck with me. It had a very unique feel that was very 1980s. Mann made films that felt very modern(even his 1950s-based cop show Crime Story felt modern.) The idea of a serial killer preying on unsuspecting families while they sleep in their supposed safe and comfortable beds really got to me. Someone spying on families from a distance in a nearby woods, sitting in a tree with binoculars felt very visceral to me. We lived in a woods. There were plenty of trees surrounding us…..
Of course, one of the most infamous scenes in the film was the end and the use of Iron Butterfly’s”In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. A track sort of left in the late 60s/early 70s that was chuckled at as much as it was revered, the use in Manhunter gave it a creepy undertone and a relevance I don’t think it ever had(though disc jockeys throughout the world loved its run time as it gave them plenty of time to burn one outside the studio doors.)
Manhunter has remained one of my favorite Michael Mann films and overall great film memories from the 80s, and somewhere in the back of my mind the soundtrack remained a highlight. It was a perfect audio shot of 1980s gothic electro pop. So of course a couple Fridays ago as I was perusing the interweb on my second beer I saw an ad for Waxwork Records recent release of the Manhunter Soundtrack with amazing art design by Midnight Marauder and some amazing colored splash vinyl. Under the influence of hops and a high ABV %, I caved and instantly ordered.
After a week of mild buyer’s remorse, I came home Friday after work to a Waxwork Records box on the kitchen table. As soon as I opened the box all that guilt melted away. The album sounds absolutely amazing, and as I haven’t watched Manhunter in years I completely forgot how good these songs were. Shriekback, Red 7, and The Reds all play a huge role in defining the sound of the film. A mix of 80s pop radio and darker, more alternative fare in the vein of Depeche Mode and Love and Rockets. At 45rpm, the album as a whole sounds absolutely exquisite. “Heartbeat” is a great pop song, and Shriekback’s “The Big Hush” is dark and alluring.
For me, one of the true highlights is the inclusion of Kitaro’s “Seiun + Hikari No Sono” and Klaus Schulze’s “Freeze”. Mann collaborating with Tangerine Dream, first with Thief and then with The Keep, including Klaus Schulze feels like a pretty natural fit. They go a long way in solidifying this soundtrack as one of the best to come out of 1980s cinema.
Thanks to the Dewey Decimal system, closet libraries, small town libraries, cool parents, spur of the moment Friday night purchases, and last but not least grandma Hubner, may she rest in peace.