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Mary Fahl’s voice is the very first thing you notice about October Project. As colorful as the changing trees, as distinctive as the smell of burning leaves, as thick and rich as a venison ragout, and with a bite as bracing as the first frost, the voice grabs you and pulls you into the music. October Project produced two albums in the mid 1990s, and were often compared to other groups emerging at the same time as Indigo Girls, Dido, or Loreena McKennitt. As I see them, though, Mary Fahl and OP were kind of an East Coast yin to the Texas-based Sixpence None The Richer’s yang, but Sixpence road some sort of wave out of the Evangelical youth rally subculture into national prominence. Somehow, they were able to transform their adolescent whimsy into a lot of radio play. I have never heard October Project on commercial radio, and would never have know about them except for the Internet. The similarities between October Project and Sixpence None the Richer end with the jangly ‘nineties guitars and the standout female vocals. October Project explores a more adult emotional landscape than Sixpence, which makes sense seeing that the members of Sixpence were just barely in their twenties when they cut their first self-titled album, whereas the members of October Project were fifteen to twenty years older.
The songs of October Project are, like those of Sixpence None The Richer and nearly every other pop ensemble on the planet, about love, that most troubling and disturbing of emotions. But October Project’s songs are about love in need of grace; love that withdraws from its object because of fear and prior pain, love that is more in need of forgiveness than passion. Because of this, October Project gained something of a reputation as a “gothic” group. I know little about ‘goth’ subculture apart from what my children tell me, but I am surprised at its resilience. Supposedly ‘goth’ subculture reflects on the ‘darker’ elements of our experience; weakness, death, loss, longing, even debauchery, decadence, and terror. I suppose everything can be mined and marketed in our culture, and the ‘goth’ subculture is no exception. October Project’s music didn’t seem to be very amenable to commercialization. Maybe because it was contemplative rather than gloomy. Gloomy sells well in these apocalyptic times, but contemplation, reflection, and reticence, uh, not so much.
And contemplation, thy name is October. If you live in the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere, there seems to be a biological imperative to celebrate something at this time of year. The days are growing longer, the bright feast of summer is past. There is a nip in the air. The Green Man sheds his mantle as the light fades and photosynthesis, the life support system of our planet, shuts down for the year. Old pagan-y Hallowe’en beckons with its witches, goblins, and ghosts. The older customs; the bonfires, the candle divination, the planting of apple seeds have mostly withdrawn into a fleshy bath of candy and carnality, neither of which is either appealing nor particularly seasonal. Since converting to Orthodoxy, I don’t even have the excuse of All Saints Day the following morning, since the translation of Western All Saints Day from its traditional date on the Sunday following Whitsunday to November the 1st appears to have been the politically motivated action of a ninth century Pope who wanted to celebrate the erection of a basilica dedicated to all the saints. So, the traditional ban on Hallowe’en in our household which was instituted when my wife and I were Evangelicals, still stands, but I believe my children are the poorer for it, and I do somewhat regret it.
Nevertheless, I cannot shake the idea that Hallowe’en is itself something of a fraud and a humbug. If it were as ancient a feast as pagan apologists hold it out to be, or as demonic as the Christian alarmists make it out to be, it should be celebrated sometime around St. Martins Day (November 11), according to the old calendar. I cannot believe that pagans, if any existed at the time, would have paid any attention to Pope Gregory in the sixteenth century when he tacked ten days onto the standing calendar, nor would they have cared when King George II added eleven days when the British Empire adopted the Pope’s calendar in 1752. I have found a lot of survivals of “Old Christmas” (Christmas celebrated on the Julian Calendar – January 6) but I have found nothing about “Old Hallowe’en”. It looks like the spooks and spirits of Samhain made the jump without a hitch. Nevertheless I am thinking seriously about resurrecting some old Martinmas customs in my household; lighting a lantern on the lawn, bringing a beggar to a dinner of pork haunch (probably ham), and lifting a glass of red wine in honor of Saint Martin and my Celtic forebears.