Yet by the end of the decade, Lennon had tired of Leary’s rap, as he had of the Maharishi, although he agreed to pen a tune for Leary’s ludicrous
California gubernatorial campaign: Come Together’s goo-goo lyrics are a late entry in Lennon’s war against sense, rooted in Lewis Carroll and fuelled by Doctor Leary’s medicine. “Nonsense” is a potent tool for stimulating altered states of consciousness—just ask Andre Breton and the surrealists. “Toe jam football,” “spinal cracker” and other jabberwockery create a weird sense of unspecific menace, the shadows closing around the Aquarian Age. By the time of his first solo album in 1970, Lennon was finished with magic altogether. In “God,” his consciousness flushed out to a bare minimum by his latest obsession, Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream Therapy, Lennon renounced the entire pantheon of ’60s ideology. “I don’t believe in magic,” he sang. I Ching, Tarot, Buddha, Jesus—even The Beatles didn’t survive his austere renunciation. The dream and the decade were over.
By the autumn of ’69, the Beatle myth had descended into the ghoul-ish hysteria surrounding the “Paul is dead” hoax, and not too long after The Beatles themselves were a thing of the past. Their old rivals, meanwhile, were only just getting into their devilish stride.
Paul Devereux, author of The Long Trip: A Prehistory Of Psychedelia, recalls a “white-suited Mick Jagger” breezing into Watkins Bookshop off London’s Charing Cross Road and carrying out “a stack of occult books.” The prime literary influence on the Stones’ seminal 1968 song Sympathy For The Devil was, in fact, a novel, a copy of which was a gift to Mick from girlfriend Marianne Faithfull: The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, in which the devil causes havoc in Stalinist Moscow. Jagger takes Bulgakov’s smarmy prince of darkness and gives him a mic stand, linking a smoking- jacketed Satan to such archetypal bloodlettings as the Crucifixion and the Kennedy assassination. Whether Jagger and Richards were artists tapping into the Zeitgeist or merely pandering to the love generation’s latent violence is debatable. Legend has it that a year later at Altamont the Stones were just kicking into Sympathy as Meredith Hunter was knifed, while the Midnight Rambler is chums with the Boston Strangler and Gimme Shelter reeks of impending apocalypse. It all started three years earlier at a chic, bohemian address in Kensington, West London.
Home to Rolling Stone Brian Jones and his actress-model-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, 1 Courtfield Road was, according to regular visitor and Mick Jagger’s then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull:
“A veritable witches’ coven of decadent illuminati, rock princelings and hip aristos,” including art dealer Robert Fraser; designer Michael Rainey; and Stash Klossowski, son of the painter Balthus and author of works on alchemy and hermeticism. “In my mind’s eye I open the door,” she recalls. “Peeling paint, clothes, newspapers, and magazines strewn everywhere. A grotesque little stuffed goat standing on an amp, a Moroccan tambourine, lamps draped with scarves, a pictograph painting of demons. There’s Brian in his finest Plantagenet satins. On the battered couch, an artfully reclining Keith is perfecting his gorgeous slouch. At the center, like a phoenix on her nest of flames, the wicked Anita. Desultory intellectual chitchat, drugs, hip aristocrats, languid dilettantes and high naughtiness. I knew I was on my path.”
Faithfull’s self-titled autobiography, a saga of sexual and pharmaceutical excess, is littered with mystical rhetoric—and a few close encounters. Like her prophecy of Brian Jones’ death through a toss of the I Ching (“Death by Water,” she called it, although the I Ching has no such hexagram) and her own visitation by a deceased Brian as she lay unconscious in Sydney, her stomach full of Tuinals. Jones himself was a devotee of the Master Musicians of Joujouka of Morocco, whose hypnotic drone is dedicated to the Great God Pan; on a visit to Tangiers to record them, the decaying pop star had a vision of himself as a sacrificial goat. During a kif binge, while watching a goat being prepared for its dispatch, Jones whispered continually to an amused Brion Gysin, “That’s me, that’s me.” Out in LA in 1968 to mix Beggars Banquet, Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg (who was reputed to own a collection of human relics, including a voodoo doll of Brian Jones, for use against those who incurred her displeasure) would head out to the weird landscape of Joshua Tree in the Southern California desert with LA country- rocker Gram Parsons and various supplies, looking for UFOs. “It was a great spot,” Richards recalled of their night at Cap Rock. “There was a kind of barber’s chair right on top, where Leary used to sit. We rustled up some mescaline and peyote and tried to talk with the local Indians.” Anita Pallenberg remembers “binoculars, loads of blankets, and a big stash of coke.” But did they really believe in UFOs? “Well, it was all part of that period. We were just looking for something.”
One of the Stones’ occult-dabbling playmates was the avant-garde filmmaker,
Kenneth Anger, a self-styled warlock and devotee of Aleister Crowley (Of the “magicians” fashionable in the mystic ’60s, Crowley had the most appeal; his appetite for weird sex and heavy drugs made him the perfect prophet of the “repressionless” decade.) Kenneth Anger was one of the “crazy West Coast Magus types” who popped up in Swinging London (he claimed to have seen Brian Jones’s “supernumary witch’s tit”—Keith and Mick were supposed to have them too).
In 1967 Anger lived in San Francisco with actor-cum-singer Bobby Beausoleil in an old house called the Russian Embassy. There they devoted themselves to some hands-on experience of Crowley’s so-called “magick”—a practice Beausoleil may have put to unsavory use as a henchman for Charles Manson, when he murdered Gary Hinman at the start of the Family’s spree. Beausoleil played the lead in an ongoing film project of Anger’s, Lucifer Rising, telling him he believed he was the Devil. At the time, 1967, Beausoleil, like Charlie later, was getting into rock music, playing lead guitar and sitar for The Magick Powerhouse Of Oz, an 11-piece rock ensemble formed by Beausoleil to create the soundtrack to Anger’s occult film. (In Crowley’s qabalistic system, 11 is a powerful number, symbolizing the double phallus of homoerotic sex magic.) He would also have a brief stint as guitarist with Arthur Lee’s Love. During one performance Anger flipped and smashed a caduceus-headed cane that supposedly had belonged to The Great Beast, Crowley himself. Beausoleil and Anger fell out, and Bobby split with Anger’s car, camera equipment and some footage of Lucifer Rising. He rode into the future and a murder rap.
One of the Stones’ occult-dabbling playmates was the avant- garde filmmaker, Kenneth Anger, a self-styled warlock and devotee of Aleister Crowley.
Anger thought the Stones’ concerts were demonic invocations, calling on powers that Crowley and other magi had tapped. Their music, he said, was the perfect accompaniment for sex magic—“music to fuck to.” Besotted with the androgynous Mick, Anger saw him as Lucifer, and Keith as his familiar, Beelzebub. He wanted them for his still unfinished epic, with Jagger now in the lead (apparently Beausoleil had skipped with his own scenes).
John Michel, author of The View Over Atlantis (1969), the book that put Glastonbury and ley lines on the countercultural map, dallied with the
Courtfield Road set (they all loved his 1967 tome The Flying Saucer Vision). Michel remembers a trip in Keith’s Bentley to a church in Hereford where Anger did something “unmentionable.” There was other weirdness too: late night acid runs to Stonehenge, or to Primrose Hill, to join up the ley lines. “Keith and Anita decided to have a pagan marriage ceremony at dawn on Hampstead Heath. Kenneth Anger would be the priest,” Keith’s biographer Victor Bockris alleges. “They planned all this out, then one day Keith came downstairs and found that the front doors at Redlands (his Sussex house) had been taken off their hinges overnight and been painted gold, a symbolic color to do with invasion by black magic, then replaced on their hinges. He had the most sophisticated lock system possible and there was no way to explain how this had been done without anyone hearing it. So he flipped out completely. He said to Anita, ‘I don’t care what Kenneth says, I don’t want any more to do with this.”’
Eventually, according to Faithfull, both Keith and Mick tired of Anger’s eccentricities. When Anger, peeved at Jagger’s lack of response, took to tossing copies of William Blake through Mick’s window at his home in Chelsea’s Cheyne Walk, the spell was broken. Jagger threw his stack of occult books from Watkins on the fire, but not before Anger squeezed the soundtrack for his film Invocation Of My Demon Brother out of Jagger and his new Moog synthesizer. (In a 1976 interview in Crawdaddy magazine, Anger remarked of Jagger: “At the time I asked him he could still have just been able to play the part (of Lucifer), but not now; he’s into too much of a performance now in every sense of the word. After Altamont he got scared of becoming too closely identified with that whole Satanic Majesties thing. I noticed that when he married Bianca, he was wearing a prominent cross…”)
In the film, dosed with mushrooms, Chas undergoes a personality change, metamorphosing into Turner. In reality, the stoned Chas on the screen is Fox, unknowingly spiked with acid by Cammell, Pallenberg and Jagger—or so the story goes.
Another familiar face at Courtfield Road (and fellow player in Kenneth Anger’s ongoing magnum opus Lucifer Rising, playing the Egyptian god Osiris opposite Marianne Faithfull’s Lilith) was Donald Cammell. His father, Charles Richard Cammell, had befriended Aleister Crowley and written a book about him (in later life Donald would talk of being bounced on the
ageing mage’s knee). With script unseen and with no film experience, in 1968 Warner Brothers bought Cammell’s idea of a film starring Mick Jagger, thinking they’d be getting a pop-rock romp, along the lines of The Beatles’ “mystic” comedy, Help! (Ringo, remember, is on the run from the murderous devotees of the Hindu goddess Kali.) But what Cammell and co-director Nicholas Roeg delivered was something else again. Shelved and then shamefacedly drip-fed by Warners into the arthouse circuit, Performance today is acclaimed as a classic. It is also an exercise in calculated darkness.
This is the plot: In the London of Reggie and Ronnie Kray, Chas (played by James Fox) is a professional sadist on the run from his gangland boss. Looking for a hideout, he finds the dilapidated Notting Hill mansion of fading rock star Turner (played by Jagger). There he’s caught in a drugged- out web of personality crises and sexual ambiguity, featuring Jagger, Anita Pallenberg and the 16 year-old Michele Breton. When Performance finally premiered in 1971, John Simon, critic for New York magazine, called it “the most loathsome film of all,” while Cammell remarked: “This movie was finished before Altamont and Altamont actualized it.” Warners objected to the cold violence and hot sex; both came across as too real. Both were. Outtakes of some of the sex scenes between Pallenberg and Jagger won first prize at an Amsterdam pornography festival. And some of the cast and crew were “real” gangland characters, like David Litvinoff, an East End chancer. Friend of the Krays as well as of artists Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, Litvinoff was hired as “Director of Authenticity,” and helped the fastidious Fox get into his role.
For Marianne Faithfull, the film was a “psycho-sexual lab run by Cammell, with James Fox the prime experimental animal.” Jagger once told Faithfull that he was “into disturbed states of mind,” with Performance his big opportunity. Allegedly, Mick wanted to “do Fox in,” and throughout shooting would play mind games with the insecure actor. In the film, dosed with mushrooms, Chas undergoes a personality change, metamorphosing into Turner. In reality, the stoned Chas on the screen is Fox, unknowingly spiked with acid by Cammell, Pallenberg and Jagger—or so the story goes. Just as creepily, Cammell was recreating on film a menage a trois between himself, his wife and Michele Breton. He was also recreating a menage a quatre between Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, and Fox and his girlfriend, Andee Cohen. Finally, Jagger’s character, Turner, is based on a composite Brian
Jones and Keith Richards. Like the man said, “I am he as you are he and we are all together.”
Along with Crowley, Cammell’s other major influence was the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who specialized in blurring the boundary between reality and fantasy. Cammell wanted to create a Borgesian world on the set of Performance, and for Fox the experience was traumatic. At the end of filming, a shattered Fox abandoned his career and took to distributing fundamentalist Christian pamphlets door to door. Nor was he the only one to suffer. While Jagger and Anita performed, her boyfriend Keith Richards fumed outside in his car; after the affair, he became a heavy heroin user. Michele Breton, Turner’s androgynous waif, became a heroin addict too, eventually ending up in a psychiatric clinic in Germany. Pallenberg also became a heroin addict, lost Keith, and entered a downward spiral. As for Cammell, he saw Performance as an albatross. He only made two more films before shooting himself in the head in 1996, eerily reprising Performance’s closing shot of the bullet boring through Turner’s brain, arriving at a picture of Borges. Litvinoff likewise later committed suicide. Jagger walked away in one piece, but there was hell to pay later at Altamont.
1963: The world was about to be conquered by those symbols of youth, innocence and optimism, The Beatles. Meanwhile, a darker British invasion was getting underway. From a Church of Scientology premises in the West End, an occult group would emerge that would have links with the pop aristocracy from London to LA: The Process Church of the Final Judgment, commonly known merely as the Process.
Strange reactions follow the mention of their name. Pete Brown, poet, musician and friend of Graham Bond, the legendary ’60s bandleader who became obsessed with Holy Magick and died under a train at Finsbury Park station, remembers them as “the nutters in the black capes.” Novelist Robert Irwin, whose Satan Wants Me takes place against the occult drugscape of Swinging London, recalled the occasional deflowered virgin at Process gatherings, but expresses doubts that there were any virgins in London then. Ed Sanders, of the legendary Fugs and author of The Family, in which he speculates on a connection between the Process and Manson, commented,
“The traces of evil are faint after 30 years. Why revive them?” Advice perhaps taken by Marianne Faithfull who, despite a cheerful lack of reticence about much else in her autobiography, doesn’t even mention her appearance in the infamous “Fear” issue of The Process magazine in 1967, in which she was photographed holding a flower and looking quite dead.
What was it about these guys?