“Here, let’s try this one,” my friend Bob said as he withdrew an old, dog-eared chord chart from his song folder. “This is one you’ll appreciate; it tells a true North Carolina UFO story.”
My meetings over the years with Bob and Bill often produced little gems like this, since both of the gentlemen are long-time enthusiasts of all-things-weird. Bob Ashmore, an engineer by trade who obtained his master’s degree in concert piano, met Bill Fox when the two were just kids, playing in bands together throughout their teens and twenties. When they went to work for Bell Laboratories a few years later, it was their entry into this line of work that got them interested in stories about Nikola Tesla, flying saucers, and yes, another of those “true North Carolina UFO stories”: that of the famous Brown Mountain Lights.
A few years ago, Bob and Bill had been attending a MUFON sponsored observation of the Brown Mountain area, which I had also agreed to attend at the request of my friend, Don Cooper. In lieu of our mutual interest, I decided to keep in touch with “the boys from Pennsylvania”, who still make it down to the Carolinas every summer or so for a bit of Brown Mountain viewing, which usually is followed by a trip back up the mountain to Asheville, where we enjoy good beer, bad jokes, and weird stories.
Such was the case as the three of us sat strumming guitars in my living room last summer, on the night Bob decided to alert me to a local bit of UFO lore which, up until that time, I hadn’t heard.
“Betcha didn’t know a Fleetwood Mac song had been written about a UFO, did ya?” Bob’s eyes held a playful, if not peculiar glare as he said this.
“Bob, I’m not even sure that I knew that!” Bill said, sitting across from us with my Les Paul in his lap. And so it happened that, rather than just telling the story, Bob proceeded to sing the song, strumming his Ibanez acoustic as Bill and I followed along with the chord chart he handed me, at the top of which read the song’s title: Hypnotized.
This song is actually from Fleetwood Mac’s earlier catalog, dating back to 1973, which fell prior to the more famous group featuring then-power couple Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham that would emerge in the late 1970s. Bob Welch was the man who wrote and performed “Hypnotized”, which appeared on the group’s album Mystery to Me, and was subsequently featured as a B-side for the single “For Your Love”, although in years since many have cited “Hypnotized” as being perhaps the strongest cut on the entire album.
Admittedly, the story Bob told about the song has always stuck in mind, which actually seemed to have more to do with a mysterious pond, and its equally mysterious disappearance, than a “UFO” (although there is the opening line that refers to something observed passing quickly by the window as two friends are enjoying coffee one afternoon). Yet apart from Bob’s inference that the song was inspired by some manner of local strangeness, I was able to learn little more about it’s alleged supernatural origins.
That changed recently, however, when a listener of my podcast named Tony emailed me asking if I, having lived in North Carolina all my life, had been aware of a particularly strange bit of folklore about the town of Winston Salem. He linked to an article from 2012 that referenced a previous post that appeared at Above Top Secret, which told a story about an “unusual lake” and a man who, along with three friends, had found it while riding dirt bikes in a forest nearby.
The path the bikers were traveling was familiar to them; however, on this particular visit, something very out-of-place appeared before them:
“Deep in the middle of the forest was a large clearing. They had ridden their bikes there many times before, but on this day, when they reached the clearing, they were shocked to see a huge, perfectly round depression in the ground that was probably 80 – 100 feet in diameter . He said it was as if a giant iron ball had been pressed into the ground, buried halfway, and then lifted out. The dirt in the indentation was ‘smooth as glass’. There was not a bump or a ripple anywhere. Of course they thought that it had somehow been man-made…dug out with bulldozers or something. But there was no machinery anywhere. There was no way to get any machinery there! There were no roads, just bike trails. They got really spooked and got the hell out of there. From what the guy said, all four of them were pretty spooked.”
Soon afterward, others began to travel into the forest to observe the strange, rounded impression, with some even claiming there were photos taken of it by one of the Winston Salem locals. However, according to the story, within just a few days of the smooth crater’s discovery it had vanished again, and the clearing in the woods returned to its previous appearance, as though no disturbance had ever occurred there.
Altogether, this certainly does sound like the story described in “Hypnotized”. Which, as it turns out, Bob Welch actually did seem to have confirmed as being the inspiration behind the tune, during a Q&A at FleetwoodMac.net website that appeared back in 2003.
Welch recalled the story as follows:
“A guy that I used to work with from Winston-Salem told me the story of he and some friends riding dirt bikes 20 miles or so out in the woods when they came upon a strange “crater” in the ground with smooth sides like melted glass. It was a “pond” in the sense that there was some rainwater in it I guess.There were no access roads or caterpillar tracks so it wasn’t a construction site. I think the location must have been near Winston-Salem. They all immediately got the feeling they should get out of there. Maybe it was a meteor impact ? I just liked the imagery for the song.”
Though it’s a bit more obscure than other Fleetwood Mac songs, “Hypnotized” has a number of interesting qualities that make it memorable (apart from being inspired by UFOs and disappearing ponds). Its unique rhythm, Welch’s lyrical performance, and the song’s overall slinky style have all helped it rank as one of the band’s best songs on a number of lists over the years. While it’s a groovy little tune, the story behind it does actually add to its allure… who knows what the hell had actually been going on in the Winston Salem wilderness several decades ago (a sinkhole? A private construction project? A giant, inverted anthill? A flying saucer landing spot?). Your guess is as good as mind.
Finally, in case you’ve never heard it, it’s worth sampling “Hypnotized”, which we’ve included via the YouTube window below: