Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Why Keep A Hellhound And Bark Yourself?

After the comprehensive collapse of my clever plan to have a couple of generative AIs do all my work for me this year by getting one to write a script for another to illustrate, I decided to let them play to their strengths instead by getting one to create some seasonally-appropriate spot illos (As we used to call the pictures we added to break up the text back in my 'zine days.), while another found me some suitably spooky musical selections to accompany them. Granted, I'd have to paste the damn thing together but it would still be a lot easier than writing the whole blasted post myself.

I asked ChatGPT 

Please give me ten prompts suitable for generating images using an AI text-to-image Image generator like Midjourney. They should all be themed for Halloween and be suitable for use on a gaming/music/entertainment blog with a literate and educated readership.

You can preen now.

If anyone's doubting just how lazy I can be, there's the evidence right in front of you. I have never used Midjourney. It's just the best-known AI of its kind and I couldn't be bothered to check the exact name of any of the ones I do use. Also I wanted to be sure ChatGPT knew what I meant and it seemed a fair bet it would have heard of Midjourney, although now I come to think of it, ChatGPT 3.5 uses a training set that only goes to September 2021 and Midjourney wasn't created until July 2022. 

Not to derail my own post (Bit late for that now...) but as this reddit thread explains, there are other operations going on behind the scenes that mean the AI can access more current data. It has access to something called "knowledge graphs", which are updated daily. Or failing that, as one redditor succinctly and accurately puts it, " it will confidently make shit up". Which, as we're about to find out, is just what one of them did. 

Of course, is also something people on reddit were doing long before we had generative AI to do it for us so that's another thing to consider. Primary research, guys. It's the only way. Bummer!

With ten somewhat lengthy descriptive prompts in hand, I moved across to NightCafe, where for some reason, most probably extreme laziness again, (I'd have had to scroll the page down to get to DreamShaper.) I opted for good old Stable Diffusion. I did at least stump up the credits for SDXL 1.0 rather than using the older, free option of SD 1.5. I may be lazy but I'm not mean. Well, not with imaginary money, anyway.

I was fully expecting the long prompts to result in barely recognizeable results. I was sort of hoping for it, actually. I thought it might be amusing. The AIs' ability to understand complex instructions is improving at an alarming pace, though, so I was both impressed and slightly disappointed to find the ten images largely matched the prompts pretty closely.

This turned out to be a pretty long introduction. Better have some art to break it up.

You can judge for yourself how well SDXL 1.0 did. I've used the exact prompts as captions. Well, except for the image directly above, which I just generated on the fly as I did the edit. The prompt for that one was ""There's a helhound on my trail" Robert Johnson. Blues. Crossroads. Midnight. 1960s album cover art." for those taking notes. Great job on Robert Johnson, the blues and album cover art but that's the prissiest hellhound I ever saw. Is he wearing a cravat?!

The image  I've used for the header came from the prompt "a dark, enchanted forest with twisted, gnarled trees and glowing jack-o'-lanterns illuminating the path of a lost traveler encountering supernatural creatures." You'll notice there are no supernatural creatures and no lost traveler, but it has managed to include every salient point up to and including "path", which is pretty good going, if you ask me. All of them are about on a par with that.

As I was considering what kind of post I could make out of the results and how I might best manage something halfway entertaining for the minimum effort on my part, it occurred to me I might liven up an otherwise static set of images with a few choice Halloween-themed tunes. I briefly considered going to YouTube to search for them myself until I realised it would be a lot easier to let Bard do it for me.

For some reason I prefer Bard for anything pop-culture related. Somehow I seem to have anthropomorphized the various leading AIs without ever meaning to and now I'm stuck with their imaginary personalities in my head. Bard is the younger, marginally hipper, slightly less nerdy one; ChatGPT is the pedantic, school-masterly one who's never really comfortable with anything you wouldn't hear discussed at High Table, and Bing is that one uncle everyone tries to avoid at family gatherings.

I asked Bard

Please give me a list of ten odd or unusual pop, rock or indie songs that reference Halloween.
I wasn't expecting much but at first sight the resulting list didn't look at all bad:

Here is a list of ten odd or unusual pop, rock, or indie songs that reference Halloween:

  • "Halloween Parade" by the Louvin Brothers (1959) - A haunting country ballad about a couple who attend a Halloween parade, only to find that the other revelers are ghosts.
  • "Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett & the Crypt-Kickers (1962) - A campy novelty song about a mad scientist who creates a monster that becomes a dance craze.
  • "Transylvania Twist" by Allan Sherman (1962) - A parody of the "Twist" dance craze with a spooky Halloween theme.
  • "Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley (1962) - A novelty song about a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater that terrorizes a small town on Halloween.
  • "Screaming Lord Sutch" by Screaming Lord Sutch (1964) - A proto-goth rock song about a vampire who rises from the grave on Halloween night.
  • "Witches' Brew" by Cream (1967) - A psychedelic rock song about a witch's potion that turns people into strange creatures.
  • "Season of the Witch" by Donovan (1966) - A folk-rock song about the dark magic of Halloween night.
  • "Halloween" by the Misfits (1977) - A punk rock song about the night when "the dead and the living collide."
  • "Halloween Man" by Yello (1982) - A synthpop song about a mysterious figure who appears on Halloween night.
  • "Jack o' Lantern" by The Residents (1983) - An avant-garde rock song about a pumpkin that comes to life.
  • "Halloween" by Sonic Youth (1988) - A noise rock song about the dark and dangerous side of Halloween.

I hope you enjoy this list of odd and unusual Halloween songs!

A few are a bit on the nose - Monster Mash especially - but most of the rest look more than promising. Until you run a sanity check, that is. 

I can't find any evidence the Louvin Brothers ever recorded a song called Halloween Parade, although Lou Reed did, on his New York album. It'd be hard to think of two musical acts further apart on just about every imaginable spectrum than Lou Reed and the god-fearin' Louvins. 

I asked ChatGPT to tell me what song matched Bard's description and it told me with complete confidence "The song you're describing is "Halloween Parade" by Lou Reed. It's a haunting and melancholic song that tells the story of a couple attending a Halloween parade where they discover that the other parade-goers are the ghosts of their friends and loved ones who have passed away. It's a poignant and eerie take on the theme of Halloween and loss." I ran that past lyrics.com. It's a complete misreading although I can see how you'd get there.

No-one's going to question the Bobby "Boris" Pickett classic so we'll let that pass. I confess I was completely ready to believe Allan Sherman had recorded a version of Transylvania Twist, but sadly he didn't. He recorded Bla Bla Bla Bla says Count Dracula aka My Son (Count Dracula) aka My Son, The Vampire. No-one seems able to agree on the exact title. Whatever you call it, it's terrible.

Transylvania Twist is actually by Baron Daemon and the Vampires. It's not bad, especially when set to clips from The Addams Family.

Purple People Eater is by Shep Wooley but contrary to what Bard claims, has nothing to do with Halloween. It's contestable whether the creature ever threatened anyone  - it just wanted to be a rock 'n' roll star - but even if it did, there's no evidence it happened on October 31. 
Perennial parliamentary wannabe Screamin' Lord Sutch released plenty of records suitable for a kitsch Halloween party (Aren't Halloween parties kitsch by definition? Ed.) but he never recorded one with his own name as the title.
Sixties supergroup Cream never recorded a song called Witches' Brew, either. They did record one called Strange Brew, which is about a witch, in as much as it's about anything. There are a few songs called Witches Brew (Apostrophes optional.) by other people, including Katy B and somewhat incredibly, Janie Jones, the self-same underworld entertainer celebrated by The Clash on their first album.

Season of the Witch is, of course, by Donovan as Bard says as well as a host of others. I thought I'd done a post of covers of that song but search tells me I haven't so there's one for the draft folder. Halloween by The Misfits is also real and pretty good in a Ramones pastiche kind of way. 

Swiss synth-pop duo Yello made an astonishing fourteen albums but as far as Google can tell me, they never recorded a song called Halloween Man. A couple of people did but the results are so obscure no-one's thought to upload them to YouTube. Spotify can help you if you're that interested but I can't. Similarly, situationist smart-arses The Residents do not appear to have included anything called "Jack o' Lantern" in their satirical repertoire. Shame. I was looking forward to hearing that one.

Last and most definitely not least, Sonic Youth and Halloween. It's real. Here it is. Worth the wait, I think.

I make that evens for Bard making up its answers. Less than evens if you include the descriptions of what the songs are about. If you ever find yourself in need of an object lesson in why you should never trust a generative AI to pick a party playlist, feel free to link to this post.

We seem to be an awfully long way down the page without any of those Halloween pictures I promised, don't we? I guess I'd better fix that now or next thing you know it'll be Bonfire Night. (Go look it up. Or ask Bard. Wait... don't do that.)
A hauntingly beautiful scene of a Victorian mansion surrounded by an eerie, mist-covered forest under the light of a full moon. A lone figure stands on the mansion's porch, holding a flickering lantern.


A spectral symphony orchestra performing in a decaying, overgrown amphitheater deep within a haunted cemetery. The musicians are ghostly figures, and their instruments emit an otherworldly glow.

A witch's apothecary filled with rows of ancient, dusty bottles containing mystical potions and ingredients. A black cat with piercing green eyes perches on the counter.

A chilling moment in a Gothic cathedral as a hooded figure in a crimson robe conducts a ritual with a mysterious, ancient grimoire while a swarm of bats spirals overhead.

A masquerade ball held in a forgotten, cobweb-covered ballroom. Elegant and eerie masks conceal the faces of phantom dancers gliding through the night.

A spooky carnival at midnight, with dilapidated rides and game booths shrouded in fog. A grinning, skeletal ringmaster beckons visitors to the eerie attractions.

A haunted pirate ship emerging from the ghostly fog, its tattered sails billowing as spectral pirates prepare to unearth their cursed treasure.

An abandoned, ivy-covered library in an ancient, cursed castle. Dusty spellbooks and scrolls are strewn about, and the ghostly librarian hovers nearby, ready to share forgotten knowledge.

A spectral ballroom where phantom dancers waltz to the eerie strains of a spectral orchestra. Their gowns and suits are adorned with spiderwebs, and the atmosphere exudes a macabre elegance.

And there we go. My favorites are the pumpkins at the top, the deserted library and - predictably - the cat. They're all pretty good, though. They'd make a nice Halloween slideshow. A lot better than Bard's ideas for the soundtrack, that's for sure.

As for saving me time, if anything it's taken longer than it would have if I'd gone into a game and taken some screenshots before hitting up YouTube for some keyword searches. We seem to be a good ways off the combined reliable research assistant, photographer, sketch artist and general helpmeet I was hoping for. 

Let's meet back here this time next year and see if the Halloween 2024 is the year the AIs write the post without any help from me. 
Now that really would be scary.


  1. Those are some pretty great images, and I must say the AI probably enjoys your poetical prompts. Atheren

    1. I'd love to take credit for the poesy but it was all ChatGPT!


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