New York was like a theme park of dysfunction and chaos in the late 1970s, and blackouts and bankruptcy merely punctuated the sense that this was a empire about to fall.
Times Square was a cesspit of porn, pushers, prostitution and worse. Yet just a few blocks away was the glitz and glamor of Studio 54, where the jetset came to play. And the New York Yankees were the dominant force in professional sports.
But these only added to the deep and abiding dissonance that was New York. And it's within exactly this kind of profound strife and discord that the occult truly thrives.
Nearly like a tulpa came David Berkowitz aka the Son of Sam, a serial killer who claimed he was in league with leftovers from The Process Church, a Scientology spinoff that that included Lucifer and Satan in its Holy Quadrinity along with God and Christ.
It was if an avenging demon had been summoned from the deepest pits of Hell and given human form.
Out of this frothy witch's brew would emerge The Necronomicon, the pseudepigraphal grimoire that drew heavily on tar-black Sumerian texts like The Maqlu. Alongside the occult ferment was the burgeoning punk rock scene on the Bowery, which was a no man's land of junkies and homeless, many of whom were damaged Viet Nam vets.
"The Magickal Childe was ground zero for the occult explosion in New York City in the 1970s." - Jon, Magickal CriticThe Magickal Childe- the occult shop that would publish the initial editions of The Necronomicon- acted as the focal point for the more apparent occult activity taking place in the city.
The Childe was founded by a gay couple who began their career operating a small store called The Warlock Shop. With interest in witchcraft swelling, the duo raised enough cash to move from Brooklyn to Manhattan, specifically the midtown neighborhood known as Chelsea:
At the Magickal Childe, there was enough space to dramatically increase the merchandise offered, and since Herman had the cash and the connections, the new store became, in effect, the one-stop-shop for any and all conjuring needs.
In addition to herbs, oils, candles, books, robes, swords and other accoutrements of the Art, one could find human skulls, dried bats, mummified cat’s paws and a wide variety of unusual jewelry, a large portion of which was created by Bonnie, my ex-wife-to-be. A room in the back of the store served as a temple and classroom for the various strains of wicca that began to gravitate to the place.The Necronomicon was rumored to have been found during a book heist of rare manuscripts and presented to Slater for publication by translator Peter Levenda. It was credited to one "Simon" and readers and scenesters immediately began to speculate on who Simon really was.
Who was Sandy Pearlman?
Sandy Pearlman, a producer, lyricist, manager, executive and college professor who was a herald of developments from heavy metal and punk to the digital distribution of music, died on Tuesday in Novato, Calif. He was 72.
He had suffered a debilitating cerebral hemorrhage in December, and died of pneumonia and other complications, Robert Duncan, his longtime friend and conservator, said.
Mr. Pearlman was one of the first serious rock critics, writing and editing for the pioneering rock-culture magazine Crawdaddy. He claimed to have been the first writer to use the phrase “heavy metal” to describe music.
But he was best known as the producer, manager and lyricist for Blue Öyster Cult. He produced and co-produced albums for the band from 1972-1988.
Pearlman entered the cultural lexicon through the now-ubiquitous SNL skit (where he was misidentified as reissue producer Bruce Dickinson), "More Cowbell":
He was described by the Billboard Producer’s Directory as “the Hunter Thompson of rock, a gonzo producer of searing intellect and vast vision” and was gonzo enough to be played by Christopher Walken in Saturday Night Live’s infamous skit on the making of (Don't Fear) The Reaper (which Pearlman produced for Blue Oyster Cult).Pearlman didn't just manage the Oysters, he managed a number of other prominent acts:
Mr. Pearlman was Black Sabbath’s manager from 1979-1983, and he also managed other bands, among them the Dictators and Romeo Void.But Pearlman didn't just manage and produce Blue Oyster Cult, he essentially created them:
Mr. Pearlman met musicians in Stony Brook, N.Y., who, he decided, could become his idea of a rock band.. after some personnel changes, Mr. Pearlman renamed them Blue Oyster Cult.
Blue Öyster Cult combined hard rock with concepts out of science-fiction and apocalyptic fantasy and a hint of tongue-in-cheek humor, with songs like “Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll.” Its collaborators on lyrics would eventually include not only Mr. Pearlman, but also (Patti) Smith and the novelists Michael Moorcock and Eric Van Lustbader.Speaking of Christopher Walken (who portrayed Whitley Streiber in Communion), one of Pearlman's best-known lyrics for the Oysters was "E.T.I. (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence)", a personal favorite of mine in junior high school:
I hear the music, daylight disc
Three men in black said, "Don't report this"
"Ascension," and that's all they said
Sickness now, the hour's dread
He's found the awful truth, Balthazar
He's found the saucer news
I'm in fairy rings and tower beds
"Don't report this," three men said
Books by the blameless and by the dead
King in Yellow, queen in red
From daylight discs to fairy rings to The King in Yellow. Are you still wondering why I'm writing about this guy?
Pearlman wasn't just a music industry figure, he was a true renaissance man.
In the 21st century, he became a consultant and professor, exploring how the music business could adapt to the digital era. He was a professor at McGill University in Montreal and then at the University of Toronto. There, he taught and created courses in the departments of music, English, religious studies, law and management.
Pearlman with Jones and Strummer
But we're not done with his music career yet.
Pearlman was also involved with the punk and new wave movements early on (indeed, the Oysters were part of that twilight generation of underground rock bands that bridged the old wave and the new, bands like The Stooges in the US and The Pink Fairies in the UK).
With his longtime business partner Murray Krugman, he produced one of the earliest albums considered to be punk rock, “The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!” released in 1975, and he produced the second album by the Clash, “Give ’Em Enough Rope,” in 1978.Now this bears further analysis. I found out about Sandy Pearlman's death only on Sunday, when researching the death of boy band impressario Lou Pearlman (Sandy's opposite in every conceivable way).
But his death ties into my Stranger Things series, since it was Pearlman who produced the album that first introduced me to The Clash. And that begins to tie some of these strands together:
A strange confluence of events entered my life at the same time as The Clash: my (divorced) mother was teaching at a public school and befriended a Wiccan art teacher, my first exposure to this lifestyle.
Then I got sick. Really, really sick. Some kind of bacterial infection. I was running 105/106º fevers for more than a week, couldn't move from the couch and I'm not exactly sure how I didn't die.
And then as longtime Secret Sun readers may remember, my own living room became a doorway to another dimension.
And I had a ...visitor.
I didn't realize it but there was also a UFO flap going on in the area at the time. I'd only find that out in the past couple years.
The Clash, by future
Backstreet Boys photographer Andre Csillag, 1978
It was Pearlman's version of The Clash- an auditory encapsulation of the Dadaism, dystopian sci-fi and delusional radical politics that animated the band- that remained my definitive Clash.
Pearlman understood the antecedents behind their music --as well as the work of authors like Anthony Burgess and JG Ballard-- far better than the band did themselves, who in fact never again seemed able to get their sound on record after Rope:
On Rope, Pearlman did nothing less than light a barrel full of audio TNT underneath the Clash, adding stagger-producing sheets of radiant, radioactive guitars to the Clash’s previously shoebox-sized sound; he also introduced them to the verby, springy drum sound that was to become one of their trademarks.
Give ‘Em Enough Rope is the Clash’s second best album, and still an absolute stunner to listen to; virtually never before—or again—in the history of rock would recorded guitars sound so much like a weapon (if you don’t think Pearlman harnessed the Clash’s potential to add maximum sonic impact to their hoarse and heartfelt preaching, listen to anything the Clash released prior to November 10, 1978..)Indeed, it was Pearlman's makeover that redefined The Clash and it was his sound that they'd put out onstage (literally- he replaced the band's rag 'n bone punk gear with all new equipment and taught them how to use it) until the bitter end, even if they could never get it together in the studio (compare this with the studio forgery).
It was Pearlman's vision of The Clash that I saw in concert on the London Calling tour, not the Stonesy simulacrum you hear on that album (my ears rang for a week). It was Pearlman's Clash (effects-drenched flamethrower guitars, gate-reverbed drums, everything played at peak intensity) that blew my brains out in 1983 with the Casbah Club live set (and all the cowbell you could ever ask for).
It would be Pearlman's Clash that I'd spend the next 25 years or so chasing after in the form of bootlegs, not the mellow, stoner Clash of the studio albums. It would be Pearlman's Clash that would haunt my dreams ( I mean, just the other night I dreamed that he produced Combat Rock and it actually sounded like The Clash, not Adam Ant covering The Police).
Little did I realize- until today- how much sense this all begins to make.
The parallels are just too rich: just as Clash manager Bernie Rhodes created that band to fulfill his vision of the perfect rock band, so too did Pearlman create the Oysters. And just as Rhodes oversaw an ersatz Clash album featuring Joe Strummer and a bunch of studio musicians, so too did Pearlman instigate an ersatz Oysters album with a member of that band.
In 1981, he began collaborating with Blue Öyster Cult’s drummer, Albert Bouchard, on what was originally supposed to be a concept-album trilogy based on “The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos.” After years of work it emerged as a Blue Öyster Cult album, “Imaginos,” in 1988.
That's where the similarities come to a dead stop, however.
The pseudo-Clash's Cut the Crap is a moronic disaster filled with rudimentary beatbox blips, farting synths and scuzzy barre-chord guitar filth and the Blue Oyster Cult's Imaginos is a posh, symphonic, prog-metal cult classic with one of the most remarkable backstories this side of a Grant Morrison graphic novel.
Which it may well have influenced. Read on:
Although often referred to as a dream, the concept behind Imaginos is what Pearlman described as "an interpretation of history – an explanation for the onset of World War I, or a revelation of the occult origins of it", which he crafted on elements of mythology, sociology, alchemy, science and occultism.OK, now we know we're dealing with something entirely different here. "E.T.I" was not a fluke.
This "combination of horror story and fairy tale" cites historical facts and characters, and is filled with literate references to ancient civilizations in a conspiracy theory of epic proportions, the subject of which is the manipulation of the course of human history.OK, now the Grant Morrison bit? Yeah:
Central to this story are Les Invisibles (The Invisible Ones), a group of seven beings worshipped by the natives of Mexico and Haiti prior to the arrival of Spanish colonists in the 16th century, identified by some fans as the Loa of the Voodoo religion. The nature of Les Invisibles is left unclear, though it is hinted that they may be extraterrestrials, or beings akin to the Great Old Ones in the works of H. P. Lovecraft.
An interpretation of the lyrics of the song "Astronomy" by some fans suggests that the star Sirius is of particular astrological significance to Les Invisibles, with clues identifying it as their place of origin; it is during the so-called Dog Days of August, when Sirius is in conjunction with the Sun that their influence over mankind is at its apex.Astonishing.
Getting back to the Morrison angle- this sounds vaguely familiar:
By subtly influencing the minds of men, the beings are said to be "playing with our history as if it's a game", affecting events in world history over the course of centuries. For the three centuries after European discovery of the New World, this game plays out as the desire for gold is used to transform Spain into the dominant power in Europe, only to be usurped by England in the 17th century and later, through technology, by other nations ("Les Invisibles").As does this:
The principal story begins in August 1804, with the birth of a "modified child" called Imaginos, in the American state of New Hampshire. Because of the astrological significance of the place and time of his birth, Imaginos is of particular interest to Les Invisibles, who begin investing him with superhuman abilities while he is young.Then the story moves from Morrison territory to Alan Moore's neck of the Northhamptonian woods:
Having by this time spent several decades studying mysticism and astrology, Imaginos discovers that Elizabethan England's rise as a superpower coincided with John Dee's acquisition of a magic obsidian mirror from Mexico, which serves as a bridge between Les Invisibles' alien world and ours, and the means to spread their influence on Earth.Apparently, the lyrics to this album have set off a cottage industry of speculation:
Some fans see Les Invisibles' actions in favour of England against Spain as a sort of vengeance for the extermination by the conquistadores of their worshippers in Central America, while others view their intervention as only part of the mysterious scheme carried on by the alien entities through the centuries ("In the Presence of Another World").Now, I had no idea of any of this. I just knew that Pearlman's work with The Clash (not just Rope but also the epic "Gates of the West") seared itself into my brain in 1979 and changed my life thereafter.
Now I understand that conjunction of witchcraft, UFOs, and The Clash wasn't as random as it seemed to be for oh-so-many years.
Brian Eno often chafed at the relentless focus rock critics put on lyrics, arguing that guitar and keyboard parts were meaningful too. Now I understand the mind behind that sound that made such an incalculable impression on me a lot better and understand that the sound itself is drenched in meaning.
And now Sandy Pearlman's name is written into the Book of the Dead. Here's an fitting epitaph:
There have been—and will be—many great rock producers. Some are musical geniuses, like George Martin, or startling conceptualists, like Brian Eno or Dan Lanois; others, like Steve Lillywhite or Nile Godrich, are astounding collaborators who make magic out of band performances and magicians out of bands.
But few rock producers are visionaries, fewer believe that a part of their job description is to act as a cultural instigator, and fewer still take it upon themselves to completely envision a new kind of rock, a new role for rock in the minds and hearts of its audience, and then figure out how to encode that hypothesis masterfully and vibrantly onto audio tape.