Wusician, writer and visual artist; Bobby BeauSoleil is also serving a life sentence in prison. His tale is one of being condemned to die, of cultivating spirituality in nightmarish surroundings, and drawing upon the arcane to survive hell.
n the spring of 2013, Bobby Beausoleil released this as a download, a single 18+ minute piece of music originally written and recorded for his wife of 30+ years, Barbara, who had planned to choreograph a dance to the music to perform with her dance troupe, a full fledged music and dance collaboration.
very so often I have come under fire for the path I've chosen around expressing in the creative arts and publishing my work through an online presence. There are people, perhaps well-intentioned, who are adamant in their stance that prison is for punishment, and that people who are doing time for a crime should not be permitted to engage in activities that do not strictly conform to this narrow definition. Since my ability to produce and publish my work in a reasonably meaningful way are occasionally influenced by controversies of this sort, I am taking this opportunity to address the issues head-on and describe what drives the kinds of activities that sometimes put me in the line of fire.
Hello Bobby! Thank you very much for taking your time and effort to discuss about your music. You were born in Santa Barbara, CA. What would you say were some of the early influences on you as far as music goes and at what age did you start playing an instrument?
When I was growing up in the 1950s, my hometown was said to be a place for the newly wed and nearly dead. The local radio station played only cloying, stodgy fare for the most part, though I liked some of the instrumentals. The music in the old horror movies I watched on TV appealed to me much more. When I was 11 years old, I found an old Silvertone guitar in the attic of my grandmother’s house. My parents couldn’t afford to get me guitar lessons so I began inventing my own music on that old guitar. R&B, which was popular in Los Angeles, barely penetrated the local radio play list but finally, in the early ‘60s, surf and hot rod music insinuated itself into my consciousness. The first popular song I learned to play was Link Wray’s “Rumble”.
hen I arrived at San Quentin in 1970, it was with a tortured conscience, confused thoughts, and a malnourished body. After two trials, a conviction for murder and a sentence of death, I was a perfect wreck and bitterly resentful of the travesty that passed for justice in America at that time. My friends had abandoned me and, so it seemed, had God. I was at ground zero in the self-wrought devastation of my life.
he following is an interview with Bobby BeauSoleil. To some of you who are Current 93 fans, the name might ring a bell, and of course, there are those grim and splendourous years known simply as The Sixties. But, this is 1999. If you want to know more about where Bobby BeauSoleil has been in his lifetime, what he's seen, and what he's done, there are ample histories available regarding the tragedy that lead Bobby to prison in the first place. It is not my intention to discuss those things here, and there is no discussion of them in the following interview. This interview is about who Bobby BeauSoleil is TODAY, and about the music he's been making for most of his life. It's an interview full of joy, and grief, and wonder, and longing, but above all, hope. I can honestly say that I've never interviewed another human being in my life, which was more gentle, more sincere, and more full of colourful joy than Bobby BeauSoleil. His music is just as profound.
ith the advent of the conformist nightmare that consumed most of America in the 1950s, something eventually had to break. By the middle of the following decade, it most certainly had—and the shattered evidence was plain to see. Under a California sun, the shards and splinters of what had been a monochrome world now glinted in Technicolor brilliance, dazzling the eyes of those who dared to look toward new frontiers. The old rules were dispensed with, scorned and abandoned as anachronistic restraints. Dividing lines between art and life melted away, and for a few fleeting moments—or even years—anything seemed possible.
Once the dark mirror reflecting status-quo culture had been shattered and the floodgate opened to an alternate stream of consciousness, there was little controlling what came through it. Those hardier souls possessed of stamina and vision could ride the cresting wave and even channel its rushing forces as a means to propel their own creations. But as one wave rolled in, another was right on its heels—sometimes more disorienting than its predecessor. Many who immersed themselves in this tumultuous tide were soon lost at sea or drowned in unfamiliar waters.
"But the bridge resounds no less under just you, and you do not have the colour of dead men. Why are you riding here on the road to Hel?"
he music of Lucifer Rising reverberates with all the pathos and raw emotive energy of an ageless archetype. Like the film itself, the symbols evoked in sound are at once timeless and yet strangely born of a very specific time and place, a frozen moment that has been sealed to us forever. Something emerges from the grooves of this vinyl collection that we can only hope to borrow for a short while and ride like a solar disk to places yet unknown. In the Old Norse tale concerning Thor's missing hammer, Loki borrows the goddess Freyja's cloak to make haste to the Land of Giants. In an altogether more somber Viking-age dirge involving mistletoe and funeral pyres, Hermod borrows Odin's eight-legged steed to ride into the underworld and request that Hel bid their beloved Shining God's return to the living. The borrowed vehicle is a recurring mythic theme throughout the world, and I am reminded of this archetype as I pull onto Interstate 5, in a van that clearly does not belong to me, heading south toward Interstate 84.
an Francisco in the spring of 1967, it was, and the grand cultural experiment, that great hoax of freedom unfettered, was in full swing. Social forces swirled in dangerous eddies and crosscurrents, wreaking havoc and destruction and creative splendor by turns. Some of the people swept up in them became intoxicated with their belief that it was their role to usher in a bright new world. They were beautiful, and incredibly naïve.
Perfectly in keeping with the delirious spirit of those times in that city was the axiom of The Invisible Circus. This event was a neo-pagan free-for-all “happening” staged by The Diggers and their counter-culture cohorts in the inner sanctums of Glide Memorial Church. It would prove to be a pivotal point in my life.
an Francisco, 1966. Narrow Victorian façade houses, gaunt and quaint, squeezed together side-by-side like musty books in the library of a lunatic. The roller-coaster streets arranged with about as much apparent forethought as a casual toss in a child’s game of pixie sticks, each hilltop offering up its own unique vista, each vale a haunt of subtle intrigue. Elegant old theaters, dilapidated warehouses, eateries and clubs and coffee houses, places of commerce, places of worship, houses of the holy and the unholy, all gracefully suffering the same kind of slow decay that time and salty sea mists inflict on coastal communities. The noise, the din, an ever-present song: machines and voices, music from windows and doorways, in clubs and concert halls; wavelets lapping at the piers on a wharf, the deep bellow of distant fog horns. Twinkling spires supporting colossal bridges spanning the placid waterways, countless city lights sparkling their reflections on the bay like diamonds, like the stars of galaxies. The fairyland gardens of Golden Gate Park, a living testimonial to the vision and determination of one man, and the wisdom of city fathers who allowed him a free hand to create them out of the wasteland. Cops walking their beat on Haight Street, dressed for another era in dark blue double-breasted coats adorned with rows of shiny brass buttons. Unruly traffic on a confusing disarray of highways and byways; the buzzing hustle of an electric streetcar, the more stately bustle of a clanking trolley. And the people—young and old, rich and poor, sane and senseless, revered and misunderstood, fastidious and unwashed, drunk and sober, stoic and passionate, godless and born again—of every kind and color; a port city’s rich and pungent brew of diverse cultures.
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