Saturday, May 26, 2018

JERKY READS IT FOR YOU ~ SEASON OF THE WITCH


SEASON OF THE WITCH 
HOW THE OCCULT SAVED ROCK AND ROLL 
By Peter Bebergal 

At a slim 228 pages (plus 20 page introduction), presented in fairly large and generously spaced type, Peter Bebergal’s Season of the Witch was never going to live up to its dust jacket marketing hype, which declares: “This epic cultural and historical odyssey unearths the full influence of occult traditions on rock and roll—from the Beatles to Black Sabbath—and shows how the marriage between mysticism and music changed our world.”

It does, however, serve as a very good introduction and overview, offering a much-needed sober take on subject matter that has heretofore been the domain of evangelical “educational videos” and sub-moronic, anti-Semitic Youtube documentaries by conspiracy hobbyists who have yet to realize that if Lady Gaga and BeyoncĂ© are in the Illuminati, then we truly have nothing to fear from the Illuminati.

I’ve been an admirer of Bebergal’s writing for The New Yorker for a while now—with his extended appreciation of the psychedelic sci-fi maverick Michael Moorcock and his think piece on Thomas Ligotti being particular standouts—so it brings me no pleasure to report that, for such a slim book, Season of the Witch suffers from a touch of undergraduate bloat. It’s almost as though Bebergal was occasionally stretching to meet a mandatory word count. This is particularly true in the early chapters, where he spends far too long leading the reader down already well-trodden paths.

For instance, there is simply no excuse for the amount of space Bebergal devotes to that hoary old blues/rock Ur-myth, the Bargain at the Crossroads, nor to the extended exegeses on the deep anthropological roots of rhythm and blues. This all merits mention, surely, but I can hardly think of anything less “occult” (a synonym for “hidden”) than the fact that rock music is African/African American music. There are literally hundreds of high quality works, for both layman and scholar, exploring these particular subjects. A few pages of summary, directing interested readers to pertinent sources, would have sufficed. Instead, Bebergal’s history lesson drones on for 30 pages; and they’re the first 30 pages of his book, not including the (thankfully, excellent) introduction. It’s a painful, dragging slog that all but dares the reader to continue.

Season of the Witch could also have used at least one more editorial pass, preferably by someone coming in fresh. This would have spared Bebergal the embarrassment of having the phrases “still wading in a bayou of voodoo and Christianity” and “still part of a culture knee-deep in a swamp of superstition” appear in the same paragraph, straddling pages 2 and 3 of his very first chapter.

There are a number of such uncomfortable echoes, all the way to pages 224 and 225, where you find the phrase “this sinister metal, one embracing decay and darkness as an essential part of the human condition” literally rubbing up against the phrase “a new mythology of metal, one that embraced decay and darkness as an essential part of the human condition” on the facing page. Ouch.

Despite these caveats, Season of the Witch serves as an excellent primer on the subject of how multiple strands of the Western Esoteric Tradition have manifested (and continue to manifest) in rock music at every level, from obscure one-hit wonders and niche acts catering to specialist audiences, all the way up to those stadium-straddling demi-gods who have forged the so-called “Classic Rock” legacy that seems destined to be at least as long-lived as those of such immortals as Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Stravinsky, et al. As such, Bebergal’s tome makes a worthy companion to Gary Lachman’s excellent A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult, which is, in actuality, a chronological roll call of significant individuals in the literary, artistic, and (to a lesser extent) political realms, all of whom were deeply influenced by, or were esteemed practitioners of, Western occultism.

And that, dear friends, is why I’ve decided to produce a mini-concordance for Bebergal’s book (with one for Lachman’s coming at some point in the near future). This project will be of a more limited scope compared to what I put together for Eugene Thacker’s In The Dust of This Planet, for which I went way overboard. But I will endeavor to provide a plethora of intriguing multimedia links relating to the acts and artists that Bebergal writes about, as well as to other writings that will help to promote and occasionally flesh out Bebergal’s various theses. These will include links to some intriguing music that I have to assume will be new to you, because I’ve made it one of my life goals to sniff out the most obscure Prog Rock ever created, and Bebergal managed to hip me to some stuff that I’d never even heard of, much less listened to.

So, let us begin at the beginning, with the…


INTRODUCTION – We Are All Initiates Now

I 

After an amusing and relevant epigraph from Euripides’s The Bacchae (“My hair is holy. I grow it long for the God.”), Bebergal regales the reader with a tale that should be familiar to most readers of a certain vintage. It’s the story of how his big brother, upon leaving for college in 1978, gave him access to “the mysteries” of his room. A record collection that was like a lexicon of the Gods (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Arthur Brown, King Crimson, Hawkwind, Yes, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd). A damn fine musical starter kit for a precocious 11-year-old seeker already steeping in the wonders of Tolkien reprints, Dungeons & Dragons, Heavy Metal Magazine, horror comics and the animated films of Ralph Bakshi!

Bebergal was the kind of kid who was obsessed with finding clues as to whether or not Paul was really dead, sought out secret messages like the “Do what thou will” motto etched into the living vinyl of Led Zeppelin III, wondered what exactly David Bowie’s deal was anyway, and lost himself as he gazed into album covers painted by prog rock’s premiere visual fantasist, Roger Dean.
Those days sitting cross-legged on my brother’s floor were an initiation into a mystery cult, where I would become a disciple of rock and roll. Throughout my teenage years, rock was the musical narrative of my inner life. There was always an album that spoke perfectly to whatever inscrutable feelings I was negotiating at the time. Rock’s often sphinxlike truths were the key to not only my own inner life; they could open the door into other mysterious realms. Eventually I stopped searching for esoteric riddles on album covers and in song lyrics, but I never ceased being aware of where the occult imagination was at play. It’s a plot I’ve been following ever since I first opened the gatefold cover to David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album to the grotesquely erotic painting of a caninesque Bowie, half man, half dog. I came to realize that magic cannot exist without a conduit, a means of expression. And even if it can, I am not interested in the metaphysics of the occult. I believe in those horned gods only when I hear them speaking from out of the grooves in the vinyl… And in those moments, they are as real as the music itself. I don’t need the magic to be anywhere else. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

CHILDISH GAMBINO'S INCREDIBLE NEW SONG/VIDEO


This is a goddamned masterpiece.