I wanted to do something special for this 700th edition of Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). When I realized that it would fall on Halloween, I knew exactly what I wanted it to be.
An infinite number of rockin’ pop records can be the greatest record ever made, as long as they take turns. Today, on Halloween, for Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do) # 700, this is THE GREATEST RECORD EVER MADE!
BARON DAEMON & THE VAMPIRES: “Transylvania Twist”
The Slayer slipped quietly into the darkened television studio, unnoticed, unseen. Her stealthy entry would have been accomplished with ease even without her own supernatural abilities. The place seemed to have been abandoned. It seemed…like it wasn’t really there, at least not anymore. Its presence on the physical plane was out of sync, out of time. A faint odor of charred wood suggested it had burned, long ago. But she was there now, her blond hair glistening in a dim spotlight. It was Halloween night. She wished she were back home in California, not shivering in some place that wasn’t there, stuck somehow on the wrong coast, at the wrong dreary, dismal time. The chills she felt were not born of fear–she was The Slayer after all, The Chosen One–but a result of this unfamiliar environment. Outside, falling leaves mixed with a threat of falling snow. Damn!, The Slayer thought to herself, It’s cold in Syracuse!
A rustle in the shadows caught her senses, and she gripped the stake, ever at the ready. He appeared before her: an aging man in dated formal attire and black cape, a long-ago Hollywood fantasy of a vampire. He spoke in what was supposed to be an accent tinged with Transylvanian origin; she suspected it came instead from right here in Syracuse. He did not seem threatening. He seemed…friendly.
“Ah, you’re here!” The stranger greeted The Slayer. “Velcome, velcome! I am Baron Daemon, and I bid you velcome. I’m so glad you could come, Buff…”
The Slayer cut him short. “No names.” She approached him slowly. “This is not an official visit. But how about you make with the ‘splainey, and maybe I won’t have to make with the stabby?”
The Baron chuckled. “Of course! Of course! I’m such a gimble-brain sometimes. But velcome to Syracuse, and velcome to my humble abode….”
“‘Humble’ ain’t the half of it, mister. What’s a TV studio doing in the basement of an empty shopping mall?”
“Ah, it vasn’t alvays an empty shopping mall. It used to be a shopping center! A shopping town! Ha-ha-ha-haaa…!”
The Slayer thought that was supposed to be a joke, but she really, really didn’t care whether or not she got the reference. “Just let me hear this record, okay? Let’s get this over with already.”
“Of course, of course.” The Baron chuckled again. He chuckled more than any other vampire The Slayer had ever met, and she’d met many of them. Usually briefly. That’s what the stake’s for, after all. “My apologies, Buff…er, young lady. I’m an old, old vampire. Sometimes I vant to spin tales. I don’t alvays get to things right off the bat. Bat! Get it? Ha-ha-ha-haaa..!”
The Slayer rolled her eyes, and resisted the temptation to stake the Baron right then and there. But the aging vampire settled in, and handed her an old 45 to examine. The Slayer turned it over in her hands, taking in the blood-red label, the “WNYS-TV” logo, and the songs on each side. “Ghost Guitars” on the flip. The A-side was what she’d come for. The Slayer was in Syracuse to hear “The Transylvania Twist” by Baron Daemon & the Vampires.
“This is it, then?,” The Slayer asked. “This is the mystic talisman?”
“Ha-ha-ha-haaa! Have a listen and see vhat you think.”
The Baron clapped his hands. A spotlight fell on a jukebox, previously unseen and ignored. No, not a jukebox–a cool spookbox! It lit up eerily, and the music began to play.
Guitar. Drums. Vocals. Magic.
Grab a hold of your baby, and hold her tight
‘Cause Baron Daemon is flying tonight
If you see a weird shadow
Or hear a strange sound
Scream your little heads off
The Baron’s around!
As The Slayer and The Baron listen, we pause now for these important messages:
Product. It was only supposed to be product, promotion. It was just publicity for a childrens’ TV program.
Mike Price had been with Syracuse’s Channel 9 from the beginning. He was already on staff when WNYS first began broadcasting in 1962. If Channel 9 needed a vampire to host its cheesy Saturday night horror movies, Price would be that vampire. He donned black cape and Dracula makeup, affected a Bela Lugosi voice, and he capered and wisecracked his way into the hearts of Central New York viewers as Baron Daemon.
The Baron’s success was immediate and overflowing, prompting an expansion of his role. The Baron added afternoon kids’ show host to his resume, and made personal appearances before crowds of giddy, adoring fans. In 1963, the national success of a novelty hit called “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett (with its throwaway line of Dracula muttering Vhatever happened to my Transylvania Tvist?) inspired visions of a copycat record, sung by The Baron. Product. Promotion.
However prosaic the motivation, however simple its goals, the talent involved made it transcendent.
The instrumental backing was provided by Sam & the Twisters, a popular local rock ‘n’ roll group who’d recently released a fabulous single called “Fooba Wooba John;” the music for “The Transylvania Twist” would be virtually the same as “Fooba Wooba John.” The Bigtree Sisters chipped in exquisite girl-group vocals, and Mike Price’s Baron was right up front, chewing the scenery like a bat outta Vaudeville. The record was released in 1964, and it was a smash hit in the ol’ home town. To this day, it remains the biggest-selling local record in Syracuse history.
But it was only a hit in Syracuse. When it sold through in the 315 area code, its mission was accomplished. There was interest in the record in other markets, far from Central New York, but why would WNYS-TV be interested in spending money to move the record to Cleveland, or Detroit, or (theoretically) Sunnydale, where no one would ever tune into Baron Daemon’s Buddies on Colorful Channel 9? Product. Promotion. “The Transylvania Twist” had already served its purpose.
Was Mike Price disappointed? Possibly; everyone knew that “The Transylvania Twist” could have been a national breakout. Possibly not; Mike Price was an employee, and he’d punched the clock and delivered for his bosses. That’s the job he was paid to do.
In 1967, the WNYS-TV studio, housed since the channel’s inception in the basement of the Shoppingtown shopping center in the Syracuse suburb of DeWitt, was consumed by a fire. The Baron’s sets and wardrobe also fell victim to the flames. Mike Price chose to retire The Baron, the corny old vampire’s fate sealed in a funeral pyre. Price continued to work for Channel 9 for decades thereafter, finally retiring in 2008. He generally resisted requests to reprise the role of Baron Daemon. He relented in the early ’90s, and again a handful of times after that. The Syracuse Music Awards Hall Of Fame convinced The Baron to rise from the grave as one of its inaugural inductees in 1993. It was a magic night, as Baron Daemon returned, in full costume with full schtick intact, a phoenix reborn from the conflagration that consumed Channel 9 nearly a quarter century before. He took the stage at Syracuse’s Landmark Theater, with Sam & the Twisters again by his side, and bellowed the hit that should have been, the hit we all knew it really was:
Grab a hold of your baby, and hold her tight
‘Cause Baron Daemon is lurking tonight!
I was in that audience, transfixed anew as I’d been as a child, when I used to faithfully wriggle into my official “I’m A Real Cool Ghoul” Baron Daemon sweatshirt and watch The Baron’s antics each afternoon in between Flash Gordon serials and Astro Boy cartoons. Stay close to your baby, don’t leave her alone; the joy of Baron Daemon is meant for her, and for you, and for everyone. Product? No. It was a gift to all of us, to The Baron’s Bloody Buddies, and it was The Greatest Record Ever Made.
And now, we return to our story, already in progress:
The Slayer felt the music wash over her, a Baptism unlike any other. She closed her eyes. She could see Sam & the Twisters, with The Bigtree Sisters singing along. She could see the very notes spring visibly into the air from Sam Amato‘s guitar. And she could clearly see The Baron himself, younger, more spry, mugging and frugging and hamming it up, a vision alternately in black and white and unliving color. A feeling gripped her soul. It wasn’t a feeling of dread, no skinprick of horror, no warning sign of danger ahead. It was different. It was welcome. It was…
Pure joy, unaffected and unashamed, without filter, without a burden of self-doubt. Joy.
The record ended. She would have loved to hear it again, and again, but the jukebox–cool spookbox!–disappeared into the shadows. Nonetheless, The Slayer already had what she’d been looking for.
She spoke. “I understand now.” The Slayer looked at The Baron, her expression softer than before, a glow of unexpected gratitude lighting the spark within her eyes. “I know why my friends wanted me to come here. This record. It’s like a weapon against the darkness…”
“Not a veapon,” The Baron corrected her. “A charm.”
“Yes! Exactly! It’s a charm, a channeling of innocence and wonder, of childhood hopes translated into something stronger, even young adulthood–the teen years–forged into something irresistible, unstoppable.” A single tear escaped The Slayer’s eye. “It’s…it’s just joy!“
The Baron was pleased. “I trust you have vhat you came for, then.”
The Slayer nodded. “Yes. This can help my friends and me back home. We can use this to protect everyone from the Hellmouth. I, uh…noticed you have a Hellmouth here in Syracuse, too.”
“Yes, yes. It used to be covered by oil tanks, but some gimble-brain built another shopping mall on top of it. Don’t vorry–ve’re used to it. I’m happy I could help you, young lady.”
The Slayer wrapped her arms around The Baron, and placed one small kiss upon his balding pate. “Call me Buffy.” With that, The Slayer took her leave.
The Baron blushed. For the first time in his long afterlife, Baron Daemon was speechless.
He settled into a comfortable chair, and poured himself a drink. The Baron sipped the bright red liquid from his ornate silver chalice. He reflected upon his life and his adventures, all the people he’d touched, all the young hearts he’d thrilled and fulfilled. The Baron smiled in silence. It had been a good life; it remained so. The Baron was proud. The Baron was satisfied.
The Baron’s reverie was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a brightly-garbed caped crusader, bursting into the studio even as it began to fade again into the long night of memory.
“Baron!,” the intruder cried. “We haven’t a moment to lose! I have to get you back to Gotham City right away!”
“Buzz off, Bruce,” the Baron snapped. “I’m the only Batman around here!”
Yeah yeah, that’s right
He’s loose tonight
Yeah yeah, that’s right
What a sight!
With eternal thanks to The Baron, from one of his buddies.
IMPORTANT NOTE: For the definitive story of “The Transylvania Twist” by Baron Daemon & the Vampires, I urge you to read M. C. Antil‘s 2011 piece about The Best Halloween Song You Never Heard. It should be required reading for all fans of pop music.
“The Transylvania Twist” written by Mike Riposo and Hovey Larrison
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