The Fabulous Alexis recently wrote in yet another must-read article on Josette’s Music Box at http://josettesmusicbox.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/wednesday-whatnot/
Perhaps it’s because, for all its flaws, Dark Shadows has everything. It’s a tragic romance, it’s a horror story, it’s a Bildungsroman, it’s a family saga. It’s a story about second chances and redemption. It’s a story about people who try and fail and sometimes even succeed. It’s both very human and something else entirely.
It’s also where I began. Collinsport is the first fictional world I really explored. It influenced the way I think about stories and, to a lesser extent, the way I tell them. It was the jumping off point for me as A Fan. And perhaps, at the end of the day, like all origins it’s simply the place to which I will always return. Like Modernism. Like Brideshead Revisited. Like home.
That’s certainly what I found. She also asked for why others felt similarly. I’ve written on the subject before, but there’s always more to say. Perhaps that fact says it all. But I’m paying the rent, you’re still reading, and away we go.
January 1982. I’m watching KELLY’S HEROES, desperately hoping that it’s a HOGAN’S HEROES movie that a station manager mistitled, but finding to my dread that it’s Some Boring Clint Eastwood Movie (its own genre). It’s late at night, and I’m with my mother, a teaching colleague of hers, and the colleague’s daughter. A promo for an unknown show came on, announcing that DARK SHADOWS would soon begin in the afternoon. Interesting title. Why had I never heard of it? I was a seasoned man of eleven, after all, a bon vivant, fully able to tie an ascot or select the pithiest Gene Coon zinger as an after dinner bon mot. I then heard great news. “It’s a vampire show.”
And then the worst news that could have followed, “And a soap opera.”
It was like getting a Mr. Spock towel for the holidays. On the plus side, it’s Mr. Spock. On the minus side, it’s just, you know, a towel.
But I was then promised Kate Jackson. Even at that tender age, I knew that she was the Thinking Man’s Angel, so I decided to pry myself away from the homework I wasn’t doing and appreciate Ms. Jackson’s earlier contribution to television. They neglected to tell me that she was hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of episodes away.
So, I tuned in. It was, um, not what I expected. Constipated WASPS sorta vaguely threatened by a sleazy Irishman while a sleazier Southern Wastrel via Queens kept staring at some portrait. Bad news.
But all was well when he went to rob a grave, a hand shot out, and he promptly… strangled? It stopped just when it got good.
I won’t say that I was hooked. In fact, I think I went back and had to get reassurances that things would pick up. Like many, I expected Barnabas to get staked and the story to move on. Like many, I couldn’t help but see Jason as the real bad guy. At least Barnabas was motivated by love.
And so was I. For the show. And I’ll say this for DARK SHADOWS; we’ve never had any arguments or ugly break-ups.
But like many great loves, you’re not aware of it at first. It’s more alien than anything else. But we had patience in those days. No real cable. No home video. No remotes. An eleven year-old kid back then understood the diligent commitment that went into watching an entire half-hour of TV, commercials and all.
Immediately, the show was permeated by references to a larger mythos. I was reminded of that last night, as I watched NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS. This house, like those in so many parts of the country with older neighborhoods, had history. It had hidden stories. It was like a Civil War battlefield. Oddly peaceful, but you knew that intricate battles between Herculean opponents had happened right here. And worse, these threatened to break through into Now. The visitation by Barnabas, and his subsequent haunting by Sarah, made it clear that nothing is over on this show. The pedestrian present was just waiting for forces and foes to extend their battles through time for love, glory, evil, power, and valor into… well, you were always left hoping that it would happen tomorrow.
I had very little interest in much of the present when I was a kid. The future? Of course I loved its promise, but it was taking too long to show up. But the past? Ahhhh! The Ink Spots held dominion over all. Music I could understand. Bad guys who dressed like bad guys and had no moral relativism to shield them. Spiffy clothes. And secrets. Kids spend all their time knowing that a whole, other world exists on the other side of being an adult. You knew that the lives of adults were directly shaped by figures and events that all happened well before you were born. DARK SHADOWS showed me a world where people openly talked about that preexisting time. On DARK SHADOWS, I saw the secrets. I went behind the closed doors. I was obsessed by the unknowable and lost figures with the names of Josette, Jeremiah, and especially, Angelique. A name of delicacy and cut glass, sumptuous and brittle all at once. How could she be the cause of such pain?
And seeing a powerful male figure driven by pain and loss — but not descending into the numb stoicism of a Lucas McCain — was liberating. I was born of that “modern man of the 70’s” model. My heroes were guys like Alan Alda and Phil Donahue. That stereotype was very real. Let’s face it; sports was boring compared to Hawkeye menacing Frank and romancing nurses… while making moving speeches on the futility of fighting. Sign me up for that non-fight. Phil’s on, and he’s gettin’ real with Ayn Rand one day and Gene Siskel the next. Sometimes in a dress. And not at all threatened by that. You want a real man? There ya go. He’s man enough to say that William wants a doll, and that’s okay.
But where was the genre hero in that mold? Enter Barnabas. Years ahead of his time. Pining for girls who are generations away.
Kind of like being eleven.
Then, DARK SHADOWS disappears one week. They kill Mr. Spock the next. Don Rosa gets fed up and quits doing Captain Kentucky a month or so after that.
And they wondered why I flunked the sixth grade the next year. Your honor, I had no other choice. It was a conscientious objection to a System That Allows Such Atrocities.
But 1985 came along about thirty kid-years later, and with it came DARK SHADOWS 2.0… its rerelease on the local, PBS affiliate.
Life after death, after all.
1,225 episodes later, that house still has its secrets. As an adult, you find that the secrets that grownups were keeping hold no glamor or intrigue. But the ones in DARK SHADOWS still do. As a child, it made me feel like and adult, and as an adult, it makes me feel…
And I have to go there and say it…
That there are always possibilities.