Saturday, November 03, 2007

Kenneth Anger, Jimmy Page and Lucifer Rising

This is my original pitch for the 2006 Classic Rock piece on Lucifer Rising. The story featured interviews with Jimmy Page, Kenneth Anger and Bobby Beausoleil. The piece was reprinted in Guitar World in December of 2006.

1969 was the year the utopian dreams of the 60’s Generation came crashing down to Earth. The false dawn of the Woodstock festival was book-ended by the horrific Manson Family Tate-LoBianco murders in Los Angeles and the Rolling Stones catastrophic free concert at the Altamount Speedway outside of San Francisco. And a new band called Led Zeppelin, sporting a harsh new sound and dark, occultic worldview crashed the Peace and Love party setting the stage for a parade of quasi-satanic imitators.

Like a demonic sprite summoned to chronicle his master’s handiwork upon the earth, underground film-maker Kenneth Anger released his landmark short film, Invocation of My Demon Brother, a work dedicated to his hero, British occultist Alexander “Aleister” Crowley. The piece used jump-cut editing, unleashing a montage of black magic ritual imagery along with footage of the Rolling Stones’ free concert in Hyde Park, commemorating the death of Brian Jones, who died July 3 of that year. Anger had inserted himself into the Stones’ malign orbit, just as Mick Jagger’s ego had mushroomed to such mammoth proportions that he imagined himself as the earthly incarnation of Lucifer, the rebel angel of Christian mythology. Jagger was commisioned by Anger to create the soundtrack for Invocation and constructed a 12 minute suite of tape loops, primitive synthesizers, detuned accordions and driving drums and bass. The music is completely unlike anything the Stones or Jagger had ever performed. Even today, it sounds dangerously avant-garde.

The history of Invocation of My Demon Brother was nearly as malevolent as the film itself. The project started life in 1966 as “Lucifer Rising”, Anger’s paean to the spirit of Lucifer which he saw manifested in the social unrest and violence of the time. Anger cast Bobby Beausoleil, one-time guitarist with legendary LA Rock band Love, as Lucifer. A row would result in Beausoleil fleeing LA with the 1600 feet of film shot for the project and a curse put upon him by Anger would result in Beausoleil falling into the clutches of Charles Manson and his desert-dwelling family. Manson and Beausoleil would hold the film hostage, but destiny had other plans for them.

Following the success of Invocation, Anger set to work re-conceptualizing Lucifer rising. Ejected from the Stones’ orbit after Jagger renounced the devil and all his works in the wake of Altamount, Anger had the good fortune of meeting Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin at a auction of Crowley’s possesions. A three-year drama would follow with Page agreeing to compose the soundtrack to Lucifer Rising, only to have face Anger’s wrath after only 28 minutes of music had been recorded. Like Jagger’s work on Invocation, Page’s soundtrack sounded utterly unlike anything Led Zeppelin had recorded. Using his guitar run through and ARP synthesizer, Page composed a series of nightmarish dirges, portions of which were used for the intro of “In the Evening” from Led Zeppelin’s final album. Following a break with Page, Anger would reconcile with Beausoleil, who was now serving time for his role in the Manson killings. Beausoleil eventually composed the soundtrack for Lucifer Rising, from his prison cell, possibly an historic first.

"Symphony for the Devil" will explore the complex relationships and coincidences connecting the nightmares of the Love Generation, everything Charlie Manson to Altamount to John Lennon’s murder. The flirtation with the Dark Side that made the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin so controversial and the influence that Anger’s pioneering work had on Rock video and occult-inspired artists like Black Sabbath and David Bowie will be explored. The connection of Anger’s work to Jagger’s notorious film debut Performance will also be touched upon.