The scary truth about good music

SONIC REDUCER If life is a cabaret, disco, or Costco excursion, then what about the sweet or sucky hereafter? Whether one believes in the interminable after-parties of the afterlife or not, one must get into the spirit of the season as a deathly chill breezes through the bones and the night shadows lengthen; try melting into the 15,000-strong crowd crawling down 24th Street and into Garfield Park during the Day of the Dead procession Nov. 2. The doors of perception are swinging wide — might as well stumble through and over a Burning Man–style performance art project, a random garage studio wine-ing passersby, or a shrine that speaks to you.

And what would the dead (not to be confused with RatDog) say? Would they wonder if that's Devendra Banhart striding purposefully up 24th Street — or the ghost of luxuriantly locked Cockettes past? Why are the cash boxes of beloved nightspots like Thee Parkside and 111 Minna Gallery being hit by thieving tricksters? People and possessions come and go, but sometimes, mysteriously, they stick around. I was once terminally creeped out by an overnight stay at the Highland Gardens Hotel in Hollywood, where Janis Joplin slipped from this world into the next. Even otherwise sober arena rockers like those in Maroon 5 get the willies, as I found earlier this fall during a gang conference call on the edge of their current tour.

I asked frontperson Adam Levine why he ended up writing most of the songs on this year's zillion-seller It Won't Be Soon Before Long (Octone/A&M), and he chalked it up to an overflowing creativity inspired by intense solitude. I suppose alleged hookups with tabloid hotties like Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Simpson equal crap songcraft, so I wondered, "It didn't have anything to do with the Rick Rubin house [where Maroon 5 recorded their album] or the ghost in it, supposedly?"

"Well, no," Levine replied. "That definitely kept me away from the house when I was wasn't working, because of the strange spiritual goings-on."

Apparently, guitarist James Valentine, who stayed at the former Harry Houdini residence because he was "homeless at the time," had a solo encounter one night with a female phantom that walked into a room, then vanished. But spookier still is how catchy "Makes Me Wonder," off It Won't Be Soon Before Long, is. One, two, even three hit pop singles don't necessarily add up to the ghost of a chance in today's fickle musical marketplace — and the predictable love-thang lyrical fixations of "This Love" and "She Will Be Loved" don't necessarily appeal to sardonic souls who want to hear songs about vampires, aliens, and their favorite Suicide Girls. ("We're certainly not reinventing the wheel or necessarily putting a flag anywhere," Levine confessed.) Still, one must appreciate the band's attempt at levity with their cover of "Highway to Hell" on 2004's 1.22.03.Acoustic (Octone/J). And AC/DC-style lasting power seemed to be on the minds of the Grammy-winning, multiputf8um group, which name-checked Prince and the Stones.

"I think that we don't want to burn out," Levine said, "and there's definitely this mentality that's very strong these days about cashing in, and we're much more interested in longevity. We're also interested in cashing in to some extent — who wouldn't be?" Valentine snickered as Levine continued, "We want to be taken seriously as a band, and there's things that you need to do in order to make that happen.

"I think those artists that you mentioned have done that in order to stay relevant. I think that we just need to try as hard as we can and make sure that we're not always taking a check just to take a check.

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