Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Lord is My Happening: Pastor John Rydgren


I posted a documentary awhile back about the Jesus Freak movement, that incongruous and amusing marriage of hip counterculture and Christian revivalism that flourished in the late 60s and early 70s.  Before Jesus Freakdom, however, there was Pastor John Rydgren, a straight-laced Lutheran minister and radio deejay who felt that the Christian message needed to be translated into the slang of the Now Generation, circa 1967:


Over time, Rydgren's Silhouette radio spots would become cult items among curio hunters and potheads, finding an audience more inclined towards a cosmic fit of giggles than any resurgence of piety or religious sentiment.  Then again, if the Almighty were anything like the figure that emerges in Rydgren's gonzo baritone rhapsodies, then He might dig where that scene is coming from too:

Man, that stuff gives me the giggles.  May the Big Cat forgive me.  Anyway, if you still feel like grooving behind the Sacrament, here's a track from Mass in F Minor, the third record from the Electric Prunes, largely a showcase for the Godlike production and arrangement of David Axelrod:


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Libra: The Libartarian Utopia in the Sky (1978)

An interesting piece of ideological ephemera: produced and distributed by a San Diego-based free market think tank called World Research Incorporated in 1978, Libra posits a 2003 in which an over-regulated World Government has stifled innovation and enterprise to such an extent that libertarians have gone into near-earth orbit to form a space colony utopia of free market "freeponsibility":

Those curious (or baked) enough can watch the full 40 minute film here.

Via disinfo

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tomorrow Never Knows: The Coming of the Mansonoids. Conclusion

Behind the initials was a metaphor, a delirium tremens, a trembling unfurrowing of the mind’s ploughshare.  The saint whose water can light lamps, the clairvoyant whose lapse in recall is the breath of god, the true paranoid for whom all is organised in spheres joyful or threatening about the central pulse of himself, the dreamer whose puns probe ancient foetid shafts and tunnels of truth all act in the same special relevance to the word, or whatever it is the word is there, buffering, to protect us from.
                Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49.
The name is an anagram.
                Rosemary’s Baby.
Investigation revealed that the singing group the Beatles’ most recent album, No. SWBO 101, has songs titled ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Piggies’ and ‘Blackbird’.  The words in the song ‘Blackbird’ frequently say ‘Arise, arise’ which might be the meaning of ‘Rise’ near the front door.
                from the LAPD’s “First Homicide Investigation Progress Report – LaBianca”, compiled in late august ’69, while the Tate and LaBianca murders were still considered separate investigations.            
Mirror mirror my mirror my my mirror.
                Sirhan Sirhan.

Live Freaky, Die Freaky.

                The White Album was released in November of 1968.  One of its most contentious tracks will prove to be Revolution 9, John Lennon’s eight-minute, Stockhausen-inspired sound collage.  Lennon described the piece as a “painting in sound; a picture of revolution” and “an unconscious picture of what I actually think will happen when it happens, just like a drawing of revolution.”  The number 9 was a lifelong obsession of Lennon’s – he was born on the 9th of October, 1940, and throughout his career recorded several 9 centric songs, including One after 909 and Revolution 9 with the Beatles, and #9 Dream as a solo artist.  While the aural chaos of Revolution 9 may have proved enervating to the average listener, it fitted right into the fraying mindscape of Charles Manson.  Manson apparently saw the White Album as folding into the Biblical Book of Revelation to produce a blueprint for an apocalyptic race war which was about to engulf the US, and in which Manson and his followers were destined to play a crucial role.  Manson associated Revolution 9 with the 9th chapter of Revelation, which begins with the following:

1.       And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key to the bottomless pit. 
2.       And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose smoke out of the bottomless pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.
3.       And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth; and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.

To understand how Manson interpreted these lines, we turn to one of the most peculiar aspects of the belief system which most sources ascribe to the Family.  The idea of a hidden society of ascended masters dwelling in an underground cavern is a recurring motif in the occult revival of the 19th century.  The notion of a hollow earth and of underground cities is one of the many points of intersection in the histories of fantastic literature, contemporary occultism, and pseudo-scientific speculation.  Madame Blavatsky occasionally wrote about the Buddhist myth of the underground kingdom and Pure Land of Shambhala; when the world had finally reached the brink of utter destruction through greed and war, one version of the myth asserts, the Lord Maitreya will emerge from Shambhala to usher in a Golden Age.  The French occultist Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre claimed that in 1885 he initiated a series of telepathic contacts with the ascended masters who dwell in a subterranean cavern world called Agartha.  As in the Buddhist myth of Shambhala, Agartha is the location of the world’s enlightened guardians and future rulers.  Bizarrely, Manson seems to have developed a very similar eschatological myth while hanging around in Death Valley in 1968.
According to Saunders in The Family:
In Hopi legend there was a myth called the Emergence from the Third World wherein there was a reference to a large underground world from which the Hopi nation emerged to dwell on Earth’s surface.  Manson believed that here was some geological possibility for the existence of The Hole.
Sometime in the fall of 1968, Manson grew zealous about The Hole.  He thought The Hole was a large underground city where he could live with his family and escape from the profligacies of the mother culture.
Manson’s eschatological narrative basically went as follows.  A fierce and bloody race war erupts between the whites and blacks.  The Mansonoids avoid the bloodshed by escaping, via a large pit somewhere in Death Valley, to an underground city of milk and honey.  The blacks win the race war, but find themselves unfit to govern post-Skelter America; Charlie and the Mansonoids then emerge triumphantly from The Hole to take the reins.  The weirdest part of the whole lunatic scenario remains the underground kingdom, which the Family seem to have ardently believed in.  According to Charles “Tex” Watson, “it was exciting, amazing stuff Charlie was teaching, and we’d sit around for hours as he told us about the land of milk and honey we’d find under the desert and enjoy while the world above us was soaked in blood.”  In the above passage quoted from Revelations, Charlie interpreted himself to be the “star which had fallen from heaven unto the earth”, and who had been given the “key to the bottomless pit.”  Sanders remained baffled as to where precisely Manson got the idea from:  “It is not known who or what inspired him to believe that a subterranean paradise was waiting for him and his followers.  Perhaps it was a vision on an acid trip.  Who knows?”  What is also peculiar about Manson’s scenario is its similarity in general outline to the cavern world myth going back to Shambhala; Manson becomes the ascended master, the future ruler of a world which has descended into anarchy, who emerges finally from the cavern world to initiate a Golden Age of prosperity and proper governance.  Perhaps Manson had encountered these ideas during his period of occult and scientological study in Terminal Island; or perhaps, tripping on acid in the desert, he’d received a garbled download from the same loop of the Akashic Record that zapped  Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre in 1885.

No sense makes sense.
Charles Manson.

What we do know, however, is that the only “bottomless pit” Manson succeeded in opening was the abyss of sadism and violence submerged in the minds of his own followers.  The Family’s gathering momentum of apocalyptic violence had already resulted in a drug-related shooting and the prolonged harassment, torture, and eventual murder of music teacher Gary Hinman.  The door into the abyss was finally opened wide on the weekend beginning August 9th, 1969.  Crimes are in one sense like works of art: there are always a multitude being perpetuated, and only a small few in which a certain confluence of elements work in harmony so as to haunt the imagination, and thus become memorialized by history.  Crimes and acts of terrorism are like negative art-works that generate unease instead of catharsis, and influence the collective imagination in an often subliminal fashion, like flashes of half-remembered dreams.  The killings at 10050 Cielo Drive had perhaps the most potent impact on the American psyche since the assassination of JFK in 1962.  As the Cielo killings involved famous people related to the movie industry they were instantly a communal experience, since a great part of the function of fame and the movies is to gather the experience of the collective and refine it down into archetypes which can be exchanged and preserved for posterity (similar, in a sense, to the function of the polytheistic pantheons, which were so often found to be ourselves, only immortalized and on a far more lavish scale.)  Both the Kennedy and Tate murders registered subliminally as a sacrifice of youthful sexual energy and fertility, JFK embodying an idea of profligate masculine virility, and the heavily pregnant Tate a contrary image of idealized young motherhood.

Other elements conspired to lend the events of that weekend their eerie, morbid and enduring fascination.  Coupled with a considerable brutality, the activities of the Family seem at first chaotic and random; under closer scrutiny, however, so many odd coincidences and linkages accrue around them so as to suggest not so much an organised conspiracy, as a bleeding out of the Family’s own schizoid thought processes into their surroundings.  The real meaning of helter skelter, unbeknownst to Manson, may have been the moment where the paranoiac can no longer distinguish between the world at large and the world as it is reflected through his own nervous system and thought processes; the two become one.  Something like this seems to have happened to the Mansonoids: Susan Atkins told her cellmate Virginia Graham that in order to kill Sharon Tate she had to kill a part of herself; when asked by a shrink why he hated his father, Steve “Clem” Grogan responded: “I’m my father and I don’t hate myself”.  Manson speaks to this day of his consciousness, in panpsychic or pantheistic terms, as existing in all things, as partaking in universal consciousness.  The moral of the story, or one of them at any rate, might be that you should probably burn off any violent or homicidal tendencies before turning off your mind to groove in the Godhead.

There was also the particular context and timing of the killings, which came as a stark interruption of Hollywood’s eager enjoyment of the hedonistic experimentation of the 60s.  When the frailty and seriousness of life intrudes upon prolonged frivolity and play, it can easily assume the superstitious proportion of a kind of judgement from on high.  The fresh-faced and glassy eyed Mansonoids crept into Hollywood’s day-glo free-for-all like the mysterious robed figure in Poe’s Masque of the Red Death; like the emergence of the AIDS virus at the end of the 70s, the killings fell on the popular imagination like a thunderclap of divine retribution.  In the Hollywood enclave itself, a major freakout erupted; in Ed Sanders expression, fear swept the poolsides.  People directly linked with the Polanski set were shell-shocked.  Friends of Jay Sebring employed the famous psychic and Andrija Puharich protégée Peter Hurkos to perform a reading on the crime scene.   Others, caught up in the intricate webs of their own shenanigans and peccadillos, feared that the Red Death might creep through their driveways next.  According to Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter, Frank Sinatra was in hiding, and Mia Farrow wouldn’t attend Tate’s funeral, fearing that she would be next.  Steve McQueen fled briefly to England (according to Paul Kastner) and began carrying firearms at all times.  Lee Marvin was afraid.  In the popular press, the killings were often subtly presented as the unavoidable consequence of the victims themselves playing with fire: Frykowski, Folger, and Sebring were keen recreational drug users, and it was noted that Sebring had a penchant for tying up and lightly whipping many of his paramours.  Hence, much of the media coverage implied that the doom that fell on 10050 Cielo Drive could not have been entirely uninvited:
As Steven Roberts, Los Angeles bureau chief for the New York Times, later put it, “All the stories had a common thread – that somehow the victims had brought the murders on themselves….The attitude was summed up in the epigram: ‘Live freaky, die freaky.’”  (Helter Skelter, Bugliosi.)
Live freaky, die freaky.  In some respects, this could serve as an epigram for the whole mythic idea which was later woven around the Manson killings – the idea that they were somehow an inevitable consequence of the 60s counterculture, rather than simply a brutal and shambolic crime spree that netted their perpetrators 72 dollars in change and convictions as a foregone conclusion.  However, if the Manson murders weren’t the hand of vengeful god smiting down the excesses of Hollywood, or the Lord of the Flies kill-cult that the flower-children had, sooner or later, to degenerate into, they nevertheless remain a strange attractor for bizarre coincidences and dreamlike weirdness.  A couple of examples: during the early stages of the investigation, when drugs were considered the primary motivation, the LAPD hunted down a drug associate of Frykowski named Jeffrey “Pic” Pickett.  Although Pickett came to nothing as a suspect, he provided the detectives with a video tape of Frykowski and Abigail Folger in the house on Cielo Drive while the Polanski’s were away.  (Why Pickett had this tape in the first place remains a little mysterious.)  The tape showed little of consequence; Frykowski is drunk, and Folger upbraids him for his habit of drinking heavily during drug come-downs.  The detectives were unnerved by the very prominent sound of a knife grating on bone while Abigail Folger carves the couples roast supper.  Stranger still, at another point Folger gently mocks Frykowski for a time when he ran to get his camera after seeing a vision in the fireplace.  The vision was of a blazing pig’s head.  (The Mansonoids called their victims piggies, of course, and some variation of the word was written in blood at the three main Manson crime sites.)  When Susan Atkins was incarcerated in Sybil Brand for her participation in the Hinman killing, she very promptly (and unwisely) confided the whole narrative of the Tate/LaBianca murders to a cellmate called Virginia Graham.  That this Virginia Graham would coincidentally happen to have known Jay Sebring on a casual basis is bizarre enough, but dig this: in 1962, when Graham and her husband were looking at properties around LA, they actually visited 10050 Cielo Drive.  The algorithmic strings of figures or terms that weave together reality generally follow a pattern of wide and random dispersal; occasionally, they come closely bunched together in a peculiar fashion more suggestive of the associative logic of the unconscious or creative mind.  The Manson saga, for whatever reason, abounds in these glitches.  Even Manson’s tireless and straight-shooting prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi wasn’t immune to occasional spasms of the Fear:
Midway through the arraignment I looked at my watch.  It had stopped.  Odd.  It was the first time I could remember that happening.  Then I noticed that Manson was staring at me, a slight grin on his face.
It was, I told myself, simply a coincidence.
(Helter Skelter.)

I’ll Be Your Mirror: John Frankenheimer, Bobby Kennedy, and Sirhan Sirhan.

Back to 1968, the year of peace, love, and political assassinations, and the summer of Rosemary’s Baby.  The eccentric feminist and would-be playwright Valerie Solanas procured a gun that summer, having fallen into a paranoid reality tunnel wherein Olympia Press honcho Maurice Girodias and chic vampire Andy Warhol were conspiring to steal her artistic endeavours for their own personal aggrandisement.  On June 3, Solanas wandered into the Factory at around noon and shot Andy Warhol, sending shockwaves through the national media, and particularly among the amphetamine gobbling ghouls who converged around the Factory.  A couple of years earlier, Warhol had produced, so to speak, the seminal debut record by the Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground and Nico.  The album alternates between moods of pent-up violence and delicate sensitivity, between raucous nights and melancholy mornings.  One of the most memorable of its quieter moments is the remarkably  beautiful love song I’ll Be Your Mirror, written by Lou Reed for the group's striking German chanteuse Nico.  Although it was deemed ultimately impractical, Warhol proposed that the record be produced with a deliberate scratch at the end of this track, so that Nico’s singing of I’ll be your mirror would repeat into infinity, or however long it took the listener to get up and change the damn record.  Which could in some instances have been a very long time indeed, considering the foibles of the era.  But the scratch was better left out.   The song suggests a fraying and broken mind which might be saved by the pure affirmation of love, or by a mirror that showed the light in the image rather than the dark; the crack in the record, on the other hand, would have suggested the mind unravelling, and the mirror breaking into shards.

Meanwhile, in a bungalow in Pasadena, Sirhan Sirhan had been spending hours gazing at his reflection in a candlelit mirror, trying to increase his powers of concentration.  Like the Mansonoids, his sense of the boundary between the world and his own mind is dissolving.  He believes at times that he can move objects with his thoughts, and his reading has shades of Manson’s itinerary on Terminal Island: self-hypnosis, Rosicrucianism, and a pamphlet entitled Mental Projection – You Can Project Things Metaphysically Right Into Being.  That he developed the capacity to hypnotize himself seems scarcely in doubt – after long sessions gazing into the mirror, Sirhan fills a notebook with automatic writing which he later has no recollection of composing.  The notebook provides ample evidence that Sirhan was a lone fruitcake, or a crudely set-up patsy, depending on which side of the rainbow you sit on:
My determination to eliminate R.F.K. is becoming more the more of an unshakeable obsession…R.F.K. must die – RFK must be killed Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated R.F.K. must be assassinated – Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated before 5 June 68 Robert F Kennedy must be assassinated I have never heard please pay to the order of of of..
Later asked under hypnosis if he was hypnotized when he wrote the notebook entries, Sirhan Sirhan relied yes, yes, yes.  Asked by whom, Sirhan writes Mirror mirror my mirror my my mirror.  Like Warhol’s scratch, repeating into infinity.  Even if there is no truth to the various conspiracy theories, Sirhan Sirhan must be regarded as a kind of Manchurian Candidate, insofar as he may have been programmed by his own reflection in the mirror, an idea which seems almost punned upon in his name.

On the day that Valerie Solanas shot Andy Warhol, an exhausted Robert Kennedy was staying in the Malibu home of Manchurian Candidate director John Frankenheimer.  Kennedy was an admirer of Frankenheimer’s movies, and Frankenheimer had directed all the promotional material for RFK’s presidential campaign.  The pair had become close friends, and Frankenheimer claims that they even discussed Bobby’s suspicions regarding his brother’s death, although the issue of the mafia was strictly off-limits.  Kennedy’s time in the Malibu house was laden with portents of the coming assassination, however.  Two weeks previously, Pierre Salinger had thrown a lavish lunch for Kennedy in the Malibu beach house, which was attended by Warren Beatty, Burt Bacharach, Angie Dickenson, and various other luminaries.  The actress Jean Seberg, perhaps the originator of the pixie haircut worn by Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, was there with her husband, the French writer Romain Gary.  At one point in the evening, a shirtless RFK sat cross-legged on the floor, drinking orange juice after a surf.  Gary was immediately struck by the Kennedy mystique of athleticism, handsomeness, and affluence, and shocked the gathering by announcing “You know that somebody is going to try to shoot you?”  (Seberg would later commit suicide at age 40, a victim of FBI blacklisting and slander for her support of the Black Panthers and other causes.)  On the night of June 3rd, Frankenheimer and Kennedy discussed the Warhol shooting.  “The country is gone mad”, said an exasperated Kennedy, “absolutely mad.”

The next day, Robert Kennedy won the California Democratic primary and was shot and fatally wounded by Sirhan Sirhan after midnight in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel.  Kennedy had been driven to the Ambassador by John Frankenheimer.  (Some sources place Polanski, Sharon Tate, and Mama Cass Eliot at the Malibu beach-house on June 5th, which would be a true conspiranoid bonanza, but I can’t confirm this from reputable or non-conspiranoid sources.)  That it should have been Frankenheimer, of all people, that drove RFK to his fatal encounter with Sirhan Sirhan in the Ambassador is surely an extremely bizarre coincidence.  Frankenheimer’s ‘62 classic The Manchurian Candidate effectively created the pop culture mythos of the programmed, brainwashed political assassin, with handlers and specific triggers.  That there was a legitimate drive to create real Manchurian candidates by Mk-Ultra and other clandestine programmes stresses the degree to which the movie walked a fine line between fantasy and some of the elusive and shadowy realities of the Cold War period, as did its prescience of the conspiracy theories that would later emerge surrounding the figures of Lee Harvey Oswald, and perhaps to an even greater degree, Sirhan Sirhan.  Adding to the weirdness, Sirhan claimed at one point that his sudden desire to assassinate Robert Kennedy was triggered during his viewing of The Story of Robert Kennedy, a half-hour campaign documentary which had been directed by Frankenheimer.  As Frankenheimer later described the scene in the Ambassador prior to the shooting, "Bobby said, 'When I say, "Let's win it in Chicago", go and get the car.  I'll come right out.'  I was standing there in an archway, feeling like someone in The Manchurian Candidate; I can see Bobby's face on a big television monitor in the ballroom and I can see his back for real. As I stood there a figure went by me and it was as if there was electricity coming out of his body. I've never felt anything like it before or since. Of course, it was Sirhan Sirhan.”  The director went to wait in the car, and of course, Bobby never came out to join him.  Had he not been shot, the plan was for Frankenheimer to drive Kennedy on to a victory celebration in the Factory nightclub.  Not the Factory in New York where Warhol had been shot, but the LA Factory where, as described in Part 3, Sammy Davis Junior met some actors with painted fingernails who turned him on to the Church of Satan.

Grail Marcus wrote the following, regarding the weird vibes surrounding The Manchurian Candidate:  “Then it (the film) went missing.  Certainly, among those who remembered it, as year after year people continued to tell others about it, about how they had to see it, only to discover that they couldn't, there was a feeling that the film might be part of the inexplicable cycle of assassinations that followed it - a feeling that went far beyond anything in, say, Richard Condon's Manchurian Candidate in Dallas, published in the December 28 1963 edition of the Nation (an article by the author of the source novel); Rather it was a feeling that the film was part of the supposedly scattered but obviously whole, complete, singular event that the cycle of assassinations comprised: its transformation of what in the United States had been taken as open, public life into private crime or hidden conspiracy.  And there must have been a feeling, as the film itself stayed hidden, that the country's real history, history as it is lived out every day, its fundamental premises of work and leisure, love and death, might be a kind of awful secret that no one would ever understand.”

The Last Salvo of the Rosemary’s Baby Curse: John Lennon, Aliens and the Dakota.

                                   Lennon and Uri Geller Probe the Mysteries in 70s New York.

No one I think is in my tree
I mean it must be high or low
That is you can’t you know tune in
but it’s alright
Strawberry Fields Forever.

                To double-up for the “Bramford” (named for Bram Stoker) apartment house in Ira Levin’s novel, Roman Polanski chose to use the Dakota, a 19th century co-op apartment building with a vaguely gothic air, for the exterior shots in Rosemary’s Baby.  Located near Central Park in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the building had a long history of housing notable artistic and cinematic figures, including, aptly enough, Boris Karloff.  John Lennon moved into the Dakota in 1973.  He was at this point struggling to finalize his green card, and under considerable scrutiny form the whole alphabet soup of the US National Security Apparatus.  Also in ’73, Lennon separated from Yoko Ono, and began an 18 month relationship with her personal assistant May Pang, a period which Lennon subsequently referred to as his “Lost Weekend”.  A year later, on the 23rd of August 1974, Lennon and Pang witnessed what they believed to be a flying saucer over New York.  That this experience should occur during a year and a half long “Lost Weekend” may engender a degree of scepticism, but it certainly had a profound effect on Lennon, prompting him to note the following on the sleeve of the “Walls and Bridges” album: “On 23 August 1974 I saw a UFO JL”.  Perhaps Magic Alex had finally succeeded in constructing his UFO with the engines of John and George’s cars, but this seems unlikely.  I’m not certain, but I don’t think the ’74 sighting took place at the Dakota, but there is a stranger story regarding Lennon, UFOs, and the Dakota which is worth noting briefly.  The Israeli silverware trickster Uri Geller, who was a close friend of Lennon during his New York years, tells us that Lennon confided in him that he experienced a classic alien abduction encounter one night in the Dakota.  I’ve blogged about this before, in the spectacularly titled I am the Eggman: The Geller/Lennon UFO Connection, so I’m not going to go into the details of the story this time around.  As irresistible as this yarn is, I’d always taken it to be most likely an invention out of whole cloth from Geller, but it actually turns to have some corroborative evidence in its favour (in the sense, that is, that Lennon may actually have believed the incident to have occurred, and confided it in Geller.)  In a separate interview, when asked whether Lennon had any experience of UFOs prior to the ’74 sighting, May Pang said that yes, Lennon told her that he believed he may have been abducted as a child in Liverpool, and he sometimes suspected that this was why he felt so different from other people.  Curiouser and bloody curiouser.

                During a screening of one of his films in Hawaii in 1980, Kenneth Anger was approached by peculiar young man who kept asking if he knew Anita Pallenberg and Mick Jagger, or John Lennon and Yoko Ono.  Anger tried to get away from the youth, and when they finally shook hands, he was given two 38-caliber bullets.  On the 7th of December of that year, the same youth accosted James Taylor at the 72nd Street Subway Station, laying what Taylor labelled “some freak speak” on him about John Lennon.  The youth was of course David Mark Chapman, and the next day he shot John Lennon dead outside the archway entrance of the Dakota.  Here, many of the threads of our somewhat loose narrative converge for one last time: The White Album, Rosemary’s Baby, the cycle of assassinations of iconic 60s figures which cast such a pall of unease over Americans of that generation, the related myth of the Manchurian candidate (in whose number many conspiracy theorists placed Chapman), and the obsessive influence of specific works of art on seemingly senseless crimes (the White Album on the Tate/LaBianca murders, and JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye on the shooting of John Lennon.)  Chapman told the police a few hours later “I’m sure the large part of me is Holden Caulfield, who is the main person in this book.  The small part of me must be the devil.”  The small part obviously won.  William Castle, who’d died three years earlier, would have lost his mind.

                In 1997, Ira Levin wrote a sequel to Rosemary’s Baby called Son of Rosemary.  The novel begins in 1999, with Rosemary waking from a coma she has been in since 1973, apparently a result of a spell cast by the coven.  There is a great deal of plot which is not worth rehashing here, but the book has a peculiar metafictional twist.  After being brought down into Hell by Satan, Rosemary awakes to find herself in bed with her husband Guy… 1965.  All of the events of Baby and its sequel transpire to have been a dream.  1966, Anno Satanis, the first year of the Age of Satan has not happened yet.  But Rosemary and Guy are looking for an apartment (the Bramford of her dream having been inspired by her reading of Dracula) and her friend Edward Hutchins offers them an apartment rent-free for a year in the Dakota.  Rosemary experiences a strange unease related to her dream, and turns down the offer.  In the fictional universe of Levin’s novels, then, whatever rough beast it was that crawled its way through a maddening collage of song-lyrics and movies and Indian sages and desert psychopaths and Hollywood orgies never made it as far as the fictional Bramford of 1966 to be born, to say nothing of the real Dakota and Hollywood of 1968 to be born again in a swelter of assassinations and paranoia and weird scenes which were about to look very strange in the glare of the morning, and the scrutiny of a thousand flashbulbs.  Perhaps Levin realized on some level that art, as the great mediator between the worlds within and the world without, was no idle make-believe, as we have seen countless times in this narrative, be it in Seconds frying Brian Wilson’s brain, or The White Album and The Catcher in the Rye crystalizing and giving shape to the fraying psyches of Charles Manson and David Mark Chapman, or in the peculiar sense that The Manchurian Candidate and Rosemary’s Baby acted as reverse mirrors to events which followed after them.  Despite many theories to the contrary, it seems most likely that the tangled web of intentions underlying the Tate/LaBianca murders was primarily motivated not by the people who were killed, but by the locations where they happened to be on those nights.  The killings traced a psycho-geography of Los Angeles which was rooted in Manson's experience of the city, and in so doing created a pattern, a web of connections, which have baffled and fascinated ever since, owing to that mixture, so beloved of conspiranoids, of the appearance of randomness and the suggestion of occulted order.   The foregoing essays have attempted to trace the rich, disjointed map of postwar culture which emerges in this pattern; by routes alternatively eerie and tenuous, it has pointed us to some strange places.

 An trove of Manson-related archive footage: The Manson Family Definitive.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Material + William Burroughs: Seven Souls

The text is from The Western Lands, my personal favorite from Burroughs. I always had it in the back of my head to look for this track, which was utilized very memorably in the first episode of the final season of The Sopranos.  I remember the hairs standing up on the back of my neck during that sequence - I felt that if they started out with Burroughs rapping about the Western Lands, they must really mean business.  And they did.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Quasi at the Quackadero and Make Me Psychic: Two Cartoons by Sally Cruikshank.

Sally Cruikshank is an American cartoonist and animator who worked on Sesame Street, and developed a very distinctive psychedelic aesthetic in her own animated shorts and painting.  I'm posting some of her artwork here, as well as two films, 1975's Quasi at the Quackadero (inducted into the National Film Registry) and 1978's Make Me Psychic.  These cartoons are wonderful; they really move in a very surreal, psychedelic style all of their own.  I'd love to see them in higher quality.


DVDs available here.

Sally Cruikshank gallery here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tomorrow Never Knows: The Coming of the Mansonoids. (Part 4)

Mia Farrow’s relationship with Sinatra had always been tempestuous and difficult.  At one point, an intimate dance she shared with Bobby Kennedy precipitated an intense jealousy freakout from Frank.  (The whole Sinatra/Monroe/Kennedy nexus is of course another strange attractor in the secretive and doom-laden Greek mythos of postwar American culture.)  In the aftermath of Rosemary’s Baby and her divorce from Frank, Farrow quickly found herself in the midst of another culturally seminal event.  Along with her sister Prudence and brother John, Farrow joined a star-studded Transcendental Meditation training course which was taking place in the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the foothills of the Himalayas.   The group in attendance included Mike Love from the Beach Boys (whose cousin Dennis would enter the Mansonoid web a couple of months later), the Scottish troubadour and latter day Atlantean prophet Donovan Leitch, and the flautist and New Age pioneer Paul Horn, who would sneak a tape-recorder into the Taj Mahal during the ’68 trip, and later pull the same stunt in the Great Pyramid of Giza.  In February, the Beatles started to arrive with an entourage of girlfriends, associates, and associated press. 

A variety of circumstances had led the Beatles to briefly embrace the teachings of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  The first step in the journey had occurred during the making of the film Help! in 1965, in which the Beatles battled a parodic version of the Indian Thugee cult.  A restaurant scene involved some Indian musicians playing the sitar; George Harrison became immediately mesmerized by the sound.  He later discovered the music of Ravi Shankar:  “I put it on and it hit a certain spot in me that I can't explain, but it seemed very familiar to me. The only way I could describe it was: my intellect didn't know what was going on and yet this other part of me identified with it. It just called on me….”  Following in the footsteps of Theosophists in the 19th century, and the Beats in the previous decade, large sections of the youth culture were then turning eastward in the hope of finding something which their intellects couldn’t fathom, but their souls could instantly grok; something utterly alien and instantly familiar at the same time.  Another influential figure in the Beatles turning on to the Maharishi (also present at the ashram in ’68) was “Magic Alex” Madras, the Svengali-like electronics dabbler whom the Fab Four later made the head of Apple’s electronics department.  Madras had created a small plastic box with an assembly of randomly blinking lights called the Nothing Box which Lennon used to gaze into for eons during LSD trips.  (Madras is said to have bedazzled the Beatles with a variety of prospective electronic inventions, including sound-speakers worked into wall-paper, colour-changing electrical paint, and a hovering house supported by an invisible force field.  He is also said to have asked for the V-12 engines of John’s Rolls-Royce and George’s Ferrari in order to build a flying saucer.)

Into the Mystic: The Beatles at the Maharishi's Ashram, Rishikesh, 1968.

The Rishikesh Transcendental Meditation seminars of ’68 were a seminal event for a couple of reasons.  First of all, they represented or concretized an important cultural turning point: the effective end of Christian monotheism’s stranglehold on the spiritual life of the West.  The fact that the most deified and influential emblems of postwar youth were kneeling at the feet of an Indian guru was a significant sign of things to come, however brief the honeymoon would ultimately prove to be.  The Beatles’ period at the ashram was also highly significant in the evolution of their Manson-triggering White Album; Back in the USSR, Wild Honey Pie, Rocky Racoon, Dear Prudence, and Sexy Sadie were all written during or inspired by the Indian experience.  Hence Mia Farrow was coincidentally at the centre of two Manson precursors: Rosemary’s Baby and the White Album.  The song Sexy Sadie was Lennon’s sardonic and somewhat vitriolic riposte to the Maharishi.  The Beatles break with the Maharishi had resulted from a spate of rumours regarding the guru’s supposedly lascivious conduct toward some of the young female students at the ashram, most notably the suggestion that he had attempted to rape Mia Farrow.  The rumours probably didn’t have too much substance; some have suggested that the whole thing was a jealous headtrip composed by Magic Alex, who liked to be at the centre of Lennon’s attention.  One way or another, Lennon and Harrison began to believe the rumours, and on the 12th of April they flew back to London, the last of the Beatles party to leave the Rishikesh compound.  The song Sexy Sadie had a particular resonance for the Manson Family.  Key member Susan Atkins, whom we last met trembling her knockers (Saunders’ expression, not mine!) in Anton Szandor LaVey’s all nude witch revue, had earlier been given the nick-name “Sadie May Glutz” by Manson.  This coincidence helped to solidify the Family’s acid-fried conviction that their exploits were somehow mystically and synchronistically linked to the White Album.

Mia Farrow and Friend at Rishikesh.

The other Farrow-related song on The White Album was Dear Prudence.  Mia’s sister Prudence had taken to mediation with an almost fanatical zeal, becoming a near-recluse in her cottage every evening while the others let their Samadhi-seeking hair down a little.  Lennon wrote the song as an exhortation to Prudence to come out and smell the roses, and not get unhealthily wrapped up in the Great Work of attaining spiritual enlightenment.  (She later became a TM instructor and tutored Andy Kaufman for a time.)  Mansonoid Connection (a little strained, depending on how many joints you have on board):  One of the less heralded victims of the Rosemary’s Baby curse was Sharon Tate’s beloved Yorkshire terrier Dr. Sapirstein; Voytek Frykowski accidentally ran over the dog while pulling out of Cielo Drive on July 14, 1969.  (Dr. Sapirstein was named after the sinister doctor and coven-member in Rosemary’s Baby.)  Roman Polanski immediately bought Sharon a replacement terrier which was named Prudence.  

At this point we’ll take a brief detour into the realm of high luridity and innuendo.  Rumours have always abounded that police investigating the Tate murders confiscated pornographic films from the Cicelo residence which show Hollywood elites engaged in extremely compromising antics.  It has been strongly rumoured through the years that the eye-catching centrepiece of this lurid blackmail trove featured a four-way orgy between Yul Brynner, Peter Sellers, Warren Beatty, and Mama Cass Eliot.  Some of the high-luridity and innuendo surrounding the Tate/Polanski/Sebring set stems from more or less contemporary testimony provided by Dennis Hopper.  Regarding the Cielo Drive scene, Hopper said the following to the L.A. Free Press:

“They had fallen into sadism and masochism and bestiality – and they recorded it all on videotape too.  The L.A. police told me this.  I know that three days before they were killed, twenty-five people were invited to that house to a mass whipping of a dealer from Sunset Strip who’d given them bad dope.”
In a 1991interview with Ronald Reagan’s son (of all people) Manson asserted that Sharon Tate’s clique were the real “cult” and refers to a video featuring Yul Brynner and Peter Sellers “gobbling on each other’s nobs in a closet.”  I don’t necessarily put a great deal of store in the testimony of brains as profoundly pickled as Hopper’s in the early 70s or Manson’s in the early 90s – I just thought you might appreciate the mental images.  (In One Hand Jerking: Reports from an Investigative Satirist, Paul Krassner recounts how Hal Lipset, the legendary private detective on whose career The Conversation was based, told him that elements of the L.A. police force were offering seven straight hours of celebrity skin flick seized from the Polanski residence for a quarter of a millions dollars.)

The Babe in the Egg of Blue.

On June 6th, Bobby Kennedy was shot and fatally wounded in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, by one Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian student of self-hypnosis who had paid four dollars in the mail to join the Rosicrucian Order (AMORC) in 1966.  A week later, Rosemary’s Baby premiered in San Francisco.  A conspiranoid bonanza: during the satanic rape sequence, Rosemary dreams that she is on-board a yacht; though rather obliquely suggested in the movie, the novel makes it clear that the captain of the yacht is none other than John F Kennedy.  Rosemary’s Baby is the second major, culturally resonant movie of ’68 to culminate in a birth, the first being Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  If the Aquarian 60s were really the full flowering of Aleister Crowley’s Aeon of the Crowned and Conquering Child, then its birth throes were being captured in the popular cinema of 1968.  In one of his commentaries to the Book of the Law, Crowley describes Harpocrates as the “Babe in the Egg of Blue…….He represents the Higher Self, the Holy Guardian Angel.  He contains everything in Himself, but is unmanifested.”

Michael Aquino, Sammy Davis Jr, and Anton LaVey.

Present at the premier of Rosemary’s Baby are two would-be spokesmen of the New Aeon: Anton LaVey and his future disciple Michael Aquino.  Aquino was then in the middle of a tour of duty at Fort Brag with the 82nd Airborne Division, and would later be made a PSYOP/Special Forces officer.  His activities in Vietnam will include projecting amplified sound – “demonic screams” and the like – from helicopters in order to disorientate the Vietcong.  In a weird echo of Francis Ford Coppola’s later Vietnam fever-dream Apocalypse Now, Aquino enjoys blasting Jefferson Airplane from the helicopter on return flights, leading to rumours that Uncle Sam is bombarding Charlie with psychedelic rock.  Aquino continues to develop his interest in the Church of Satan and correspond with LaVey while in Vietnam, and bizarrely manages to write a would-be prophetic text of Satanism entitled The Diabolicon while on duty.  But on the evening of the Rosemary’s Baby premier in July of ’68, LaVey and Aquino do not know each other yet, and we will turn our attention instead to the film’s producer William Castle.

William Castle arrived in Hollywood at the age of 23 in 1937, and had been producing, directing, and occasionally acting in pictures since the early 40s.  He worked as an assistant to Orson Welles in ’47 on The Lady from Shanghai, but his reputation was destined to be the opposite of that of a Welles.  Welles everyone regarded as a Great Artist who couldn’t acquiesce to the demands of Hollywood as a commercial business rather than an art-form.  Castle on the other hand was often viewed as a carnival barker who could just about acquiesce to the demands of making some kind of art to go behind the pitch.  Castle was the High Renaissance Master of Gimmick; he seemed enraptured and utterly possessed by gimmickry at its most patent and absurd.  There was just nothing he wouldn’t do to fill seats.  ’59’s The Tingler was filmed in “Percepto”; this meant it was shot the same damn way as every other picture, except some seats were equipped with vibrating motors.  Also in ’59, The House on Haunted Hill was filmed in “Emergo”; this meant it was shot the same damn way as every other picture, except that at a certain point in the movie a doubtless spine-chilling inflatable glow in the dark skeleton floated on a wire over the audience in the theatre.  ‘61’s Homicidal had a “Fright break” and what was called “Coward’s corner”: a “yellow cardboard booth, manned by a bewildered theatre employee in the lobby. When the Fright Break was announced, and you found that you couldn't take it anymore, you had to leave your seat and, in front of the entire audience, follow yellow footsteps up the aisle, bathed in a yellow light. Before you reached Coward's Corner, you crossed yellow lines with the stencilled message: 'Cowards Keep Walking.' You passed a nurse, who would offer a blood-pressure test. All the while a recording was blaring, "'Watch the chicken! Watch him shiver in Coward's Corner'!"

Yet, for all his obvious gusto for theatrical schlock and gimmickry, a part of Castle longed for the gravitas and prestige of making an honest to god real stand on its own merits artistically respectable picture.  Imagine then that you’re William Castle in June ’68; you’ve finally, finally made a great, critically lauded picture…..and then everything starts to go scarily wrong.  William Castle is about to enter a conspiranoid Twilight Zone where Rosemary’s Baby turned out to be shot in….Diabolical Life-Threatening Curso-vision.

First came the angry letters.  A noisy minority of religious lamp-shades didn’t take too kindly to films about the devil, and let Castle know their feelings in print.  “Rosemary’s Baby is filth and YOU will die as a result” went one, “you have unleashed evil on the earth” another.    The most memorable:  "Bastard.  Believer of Witchcraft.  Worshipper at the Shrine of Satanism.  My prediction is you will slowly rot during a long and painful illness which you have brought upon yourself."  Which was all well and good for laughs, except Castle did get sick.  He began to feel sharp and excruciating pains in his groin; which, if you think about it, is a pretty likely location to receive the wrath of a loopy fundamentalist Christian.  Castle eventually collapsed, requiring a spinal tap to remove a blockage from his urinary tract.  Doubtless a little feverish from his illness, Castle started to worry quite a bit about Rosemary’s Baby; "The story of Rosemary's Baby was happening in life. Witches, all of them, were casting their spell, and I was becoming one of the principal players."  The legend has it that Castle yelled out “Rosemary, put down that knife!” during one of this treatments.

But the weirdness was only getting started.  Imagine how Castle must have felt when Krzysztof Komeda, the Polish jazz musician who had composed the score for Rosemary Baby, was rushed to the same hospital, suffering from a mysterious brain trauma.  Accounts as to how Komeda received the injury varied, although it is most widely believed that it was a result of a fall he took during a friendly scuffle with the Polish writer Marek Hlasko in the latter stages of a drinking party.  Hlasko was heard to say “If Krysztof dies, I will go along.”  Komeda died in Warsaw on the 23rd of April, 1969, and on June 14th, Hlasko, whose heroes had been Dostoevsky and Boogie, died of what is assumed to be an accidental overdose of sleeping pills and booze.  Then, of course, on August 9, the attack on Cielo drive happened, with Charles “Tex” Watson reputedly introducing himself: “I am the devil, here to do the devil’s business.”  Castle must have been losing his mind, not even realizing that his leading lady had also been present during the genesis of many of the songs which the killers had turned into their own private Book of Revelations.  He later wrote:  “All my life I had yearned for the applause, approval and recognition of my peers; and when the awards were being passed out, I no longer cared.  I was at home, very frightened of Rosemary’s Baby.”  Castle had scared himself into the Coward’s corner of his own movie.

A Very Weird Aside Starring Steve McQueen

I thought I was going to get this finished up with this post but it looks like running for one more, so I’m just going to throw one last shard of weirdness into the mix to really get the cauldron boiling.  Let’s return to Jay Sebring, whom we last met exchanging nods and winks with Sammy Davis at the LaVeyan grope gallery.  Sebring was a phenomenal presence on the Hollywood social scene during the 60s.  When Sebring was at a party, things tended to run normally enough until about 1 am.  However, once all the straights had left, Sebring would bring out his bag of tricks, and then the party really started.  (I’m paraphrasing Marshall Terrill here, whose book I don’t have to hand.)  One of his very close friends was the legendary Steve McQueen, who availed himself of Sebring’s genius with the scissors, as well his considerable access to high quality drugs and orgy partners.  Rumours abounded regarding Sebring’s satanic activities, but McQueen didn’t really go in for that angle.  Describing himself as a “hip kind of conservative”, he was happy enough with the hard drugs and group sex, thank you very much, without any ritual weirdness on top.  I came across the following story while browsing through Marshall Terrill’s book Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel in a shop.  It may be the weirdest aside to the Manson story I’ve yet encountered.

Steve McQueen was fond of taking walks by himself in the desert near Palm Springs at night.  At some point in 1969, after he had finished up working on The Reivers, McQueen was on one of his nocturnal desert walks when he came upon a campfire.  At the fire, he saw two young women sitting in a meditative trance, and some kind of satanic paraphernalia strewn around the campfire.  He doesn’t seem to have spoken to the girls, but every Friday night after the encounter, at exactly the same time, he suffered an intense migraine, accompanied by a powerful image of the devil.  McQueen was somewhat rattled by all this, so he went to consult a psychic.  The psychic told him that a coven of witches (in England, for some reason) were working to destroy him; they were attacking his mind in order to compel him to take his own life.  (Oddly enough, Krassner tells us in One Hand Jerking that McQueen fled to England for a while in the immediate aftermath of the Tate/LaBianca killings.)  After the Manson Family were arrested, it emerged that they had compiled a gruesome celebrity hit-list, which detailed, in a manner somewhat redolent of Crash-era JG Ballard at his most feverish, precisely how each one was to be done away with.  The Burtons were to be boiled.  Frank Sinatra was to be castrated.  There was some plan for Tom Jones which escapes me at the moment.  (In prison, Susan Atkins told a cellmate that snuffing Tom Jones would have bothered her because “he turns me on.”  Even Mansonoid psychosis couldn’t overrule Tom Jones’ perennial sex appeal.)  Since his company Solar Pictures had turned down some proposed Manson movies, Steve McQueen was on the list.  The Family planned to kidnap McQueen, and just as the psychic had said, force him to take his own life.  Oo-ee-oo.  No wonder Lee Marvin was afraid.

Concluded shortly.

I got the Beatles at the Ashram pictures from an excellent selection here.