LUCIFER RISING:

A Song to Herald the Dawn

 

 

 

Whe genesis of my extended musical production for the film Lucifer Rising occurred in the spring of 1967, the evening I met the filmmaker Kenneth Anger for the first time. I had just finished playing a set with my psychedelic instrumental band The Orkustra during a counterculture event called The Invisible Circus staged at San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Church. The event may have taken place on hallowed ground but there was nothing much sanctified in what went on there that night.

 

Something about my antics during my band's performance moved Kenneth to approach me afterward and ask me if I would be willing to play the lead role as the rebel angel in his newly conceived film, an antithetical follow-up to his previous film Scorpio Rising. The proposal took me by surprise. Before having time to give it much thought I told Kenneth, in a half-joking way, that I would consider taking on the acting role in his film if he would agree to allowing me to create its musical soundtrack.

 

A few days later I met with Kenneth at his apartment in the Westerfeld House, whereupon we firmed up an agreement for our collaboration. It seemed to me that Kenneth was somewhat dubious about my ability to produce a suitable music score for a film. I was only nineteen years old, after all. Just a kid. And the music I was making with my band at the time was experimental and strange. For nearly all of his earlier films Kenneth had made music beds by copying pop songs by well-known artists. Back in those days an underground filmmaker could get away with that sort of thing. What I had in mind for Lucifer Rising from the very beginning was music much more exotic, complex and otherworldly. Kenneth was so keen to have me act as the visual subject for his film he was willing to overlook, at least for the time being, my lack of experience as a composer for cinema, taking it on faith that I could produce a suitable score. My enthusiasm and bravado probably helped to secure our bargain.

 

A couple of weeks later I moved into the parlor room of the Westerfeld House, located in the frontage section of the old Victorian-styled mansion. The ornate mansion was a propitious site for such an ambitious undertaking as the Lucifer Rising film project. Kenneth had rented the entire first floor and had appropriated the study at the rear of the structure to use as his personal living quarters and work rooms. Built in the late 1800s, the Westerfeld House was moldering and in disrepair at that time, but with its three stories topped by an observation tower crouched on the top of a hill, with its frontage overlooking Alamo Park, the mansion struck an imposing profile that aptly complimented its colorful history. During the Roaring Twenties the mansion had served as a brothel frequented by Russian aristocrats and dignitaries, prompting the locals to refer to it as “the Russian Embassy”–which is the name I knew it by during the time I resided there. Painted on the ceiling of the parlor, my room during my residency in the house, were frescoes depicting frolicking naked cherubs, doubtless artifacts harking back to the mansion’s period as a bordello. There was also evidence within the structure indicating it as a locus for magickal energies. When I began assembling a new band of street musicians to contribute to the creation of the film soundtrack, I named it The Magick Powerhouse of Oz.

 

The Lucifer Rising project became the central focus in my personal Summer of Love experience. I was still performing gigs with The Orkustra every so often but most of my attention had turned to working with Kenneth on the film. While most of my friends in San Francisco’s counterculture community were trying to figure out how to navigate amidst the overwhelming crowds of young people and tourists who came to the city that summer looking for the hippy mecca they had heard rumors about, I was exploring new sonic territories for the soundtrack, helping with the making of props and set paraphernalia for the film, occasionally taking direction in front of the camera during infrequent film shoots, and perusing Kenneth’s small eclectic library of books. I scoured the arcane literature I found there for clues into the Lucifer mythology that might help me find inspiration and flesh out the creative concepts for my contributions to the project.

 

From the beginning it was clear to me that the film would not be oriented in the sphere of what is popularly thought to be satanism. Lucifer Rising would not be a movie about the Devil, as some people would assume from the title. In my research I was unable to find any direct references in early texts that identify Lucifer as being synonymous with Satan. Nothing of the sort is to be found in biblical origin stories. Turns out that the myth of a beautiful angel who led a rebellion in Heaven, only to be defeated and cast out for his pride and disobedience to the Highest Authority, is actually a fairly recent contrivance. The Lucifer myth we know and love was codified in ‘Paradise Lost’, an epic poem written by English poet John Milton in the 17th Century. My musical interpretation for the film soundtrack would eventually be an extrapolation from this work.

 

Almost from the outset the visual film and the musical score were destined to be on distinctly different trajectories, conceptually speaking. They are actually independent works, though in the end they would compliment one another quite well.

 

Lucifer, as conceived by Kenneth for the film, is an archetype representing the rebellious spirit of the artist, whose role it is to shine light into culture to promote the evolution of consciousness. It is the artist's job to vandalize mindless obedience to the status quo, to defy the tyranny of social stagnation that contributes to cultural dystrophy; failing that, there would never be anything new in the world, never a fresh perspective. In this, the thematic intention, both visual and aural parts of the film project are conceptually united.

 

As in all of his films, Kenneth would aim to portray his subject, and the underlying notions, through metaphorical symbolism and dance-like gesture, as in a shadow play. Using this technique, his film would be an invocation to and celebration of his subject. Kenneth’s approach to his film craft was always that of the silent movie-maker, with music added later, usually after the visual film had already been edited. Employing serendipity in the process of joining recorded music to his motion pictures highlights his genius as a filmmaker.  The music, however, must be more than mere incidental accompaniment.

 

In a film without spoken word dialogue or narration, the music provides the linear narrative thread, a story of sorts, to support and move the film forward. I have long admired classical works like ‘The Nutcracker Suite’, ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and ‘Flight of the Valkyries’ for their ability to successfully tell a story in instrumental music. Early in the creative process I determined that I would compose an extended epilogue to ‘Paradise Lost’ in the form of rock symphony.

 

But it was not to be, not then. The way things turned out, that period during the spring and summer of 1967 was meant for conceptualizing the Lucifer Rising project, not for actually making the film, or its music.  Our collaboration began to fray and come apart in proportion to the drying up of funding needed to continue developing the project combined with pressures deriving from social shifts within the counterculture world.

 

The high energies of exuberance so many of us had felt building since 1965 reached a peak in the Summer of Love, then declined to a whimper in the autumn of ‘67. It had been laid low and exhausted by the weight of political realities. We got a glimpse, then we got hit by the truth, by the responsibilities and challenges that would have to be dealt with before a world solidly grounded in love and peace could grow from the seeds we had planted.

 

That fall the souring of the counterculture scene in San Francisco seemed to conspire with the financial pressures and some personal difficulties, fracturing my creative partnership with Kenneth. We parted ways. Kenneth returned to New York City to recover from the setback. I returned to the Los Angeles area in the hope of finding some new direction for my aspirations to succeed as an artist. The failure seemed like a tragedy at the time, and maybe it was. What it was not was a final end to our creative collaboration. Lucifer Rising had developed a will of its own in spite of our frailties, as it turned out.

 

What film was shot during the time Kenneth and I worked together in San Francisco did not go to waste. Kenneth turned it into a short film entitled Invocation of My Demon Brother, with a repetitive synthesizer soundtrack performed by Mick Jagger. Only one recording was made of The Magick Powerhouse of Oz performing music themes for the soundtrack. It was recorded in September of 1967 at the Straight Theater (formerly Haight Theater) on Haight Street, and was engineered by Brent Dangerfield, the theater’s sound system technician.

It is included in my project recordings archive under the title ‘Lucifer Rising, 1967’.

 

When I returned to Los Angeles at the end of ‘67 I found that the music scene there was in a state of confusion. There was good music being made but the AR people and music producers, for the most part, didn't know what to do with it. They were all looking for the next Beatles instead of working with what was actually there. Most of them were unable to appreciate what the local musicians wanted to play, and didn't seem to have much of a clue about what music the people wanted to hear. I played a few recording gigs as a session guitarist but there wasn't enough work to live on doing that. So I took to the road in a truck, occasionally playing gigs in pubs, coffee houses and eateries as a roving solo artist.

 

A year later, in early 1969, I again took up residence in Los Angeles. Like many of the major cities in America, L.A. had become something a lot like a war zone. In keeping with newly elected President Nixon's hostile attitude toward the counterculture and those involved in the anti-war and civil rights movements, the backlash from law enforcement was harsh in the extreme. The cops had taken to harassing anyone in the youth movement with a vengeance, showing little restraint in using their billy clubs to crack heads.

 

Platoons of Army and National Guard troopers were being sent into many urban neighborhoods and college campuses to suppress demonstrations and uprisings. Men who wore their hair long or who dressed wildly, along with anyone with dark complexioned skin, became a potential target for an increasingly hostile policing culture. The once vibrant street scene in West Los Angeles had become ugly in my absence. Many who had been involved in the counterculture had retreated into drug addiction. Former hippy girls were prostituting on the street for money to buy food to eat and support their habits.

 

I tried to keep my head down and maintain a low profile, but I got caught up in the tumult and chaos anyway. That was hard to avoid when everyone I knew was so apprehensive and on edge, and any sense of real safety was so difficult to find.

 

By mid-summer of 1969 I had fallen in with some people I would have been wise to steer clear of, and wound up getting myself into serious trouble. The deepest, most serious kind of trouble. Before I could figure out how to remove myself from a bad situation I seemed to be trapped in, I killed a man who should have lived a much longer life. The following year I was tried and sentenced to death for the crime. I could never have foreseen that I would be brought down so low, to feel totally lost and abandoned in the darkest place imaginable, suffocating on my own regrets and shame. I spent the next two years on Death Row. Then, in 1972, my death sentence was commuted to life with consideration of parole after seven years, and I was put into the general prison population at San Quentin. At that point I was desperate to find some sort of path back to the light.

 

While on Death Row I had received a couple of cards from Kenneth. The messages were short, meant to be encouraging. Through a mutual friend and the occasional magazine article I was able to keep tabs on Kenneth and his work, to some extent. I was happy for him when I learned that he had moved to London, where he had connected with a financial backer that enabled him to resurrect the Lucifer Rising project. A bit later I learned that he had brought in Jimmy Page to create the soundtrack for the film. He could have done a lot worse, I thought, though I couldn’t help feeling a little envious. I was nonetheless happy to learn of Kenneth’s good fortune.

 

A couple of years or so later I read in an interview article that Kenneth had been dissatisfied with the recording Jimmy Page had made for the soundtrack, and that a quarrel ensued. Kenneth had left London, returning to New York with roughly 21-minutes of edited film, including some great location footage shot in Egypt and Stonehenge, and appearances by singer Marianne Faithful and actor Donald Cammel, among others.  I obtained Kenneth's address and phone number from our mutual friend and got in touch with him. Through a series of telephone conversations and an exchange of letters I was able to convince Kenneth that I could likely get approval from the warden to create and record the film soundtrack in prison. Most people would have thought the very idea to be preposterous. Not Kenneth. Someone as naturally resourceful as he would have developed the ability to recognize resourcefulness in another. We renewed our collaboration.

 

I made Kenneth a solemn pledge that I would deliver a compelling soundtrack for the film come hell or high water. No way I could I have known at the time that it would take me the better part of five years to fulfill that promise.

 

An advance promotional poster for the film was published. It featured an illustration by science fiction illustration artist Virgil Finley and was emblazoned with the announcement that I would be composing the film score, with the tag line, “Recorded Live In Prison!”. There was also a brief blurb in the Random Notes section of Rolling Stone magazine saying that I had replaced Jimmy Page as the film's music composer. The poster and press helped to expedite the process of recruiting musicians for my new band. I had named it, somewhat ironically, The Freedom Orchestra. Though bodily imprisoned, we would be free in spirit.

 

After I had secured the required approval from the warden to create music for the project, Kenneth provided me with a modest amount of money to buy some recording equipment. I purchased a 4-track recorder for tracking instrument parts and a 2-track recorder for mixing the multitrack recordings to stereo. I also bought a small audio mixer and a single  microphone of good quality. I had to hustle and scrape, beg and borrow to obtain the rest of the equipment and instruments I would need for the project.

 

I was faced with the challenge of coming up with a sonic palette broad enough to support a lengthy rock symphony, one with enough complexity and richness of timbre to serve as counterpoint accompaniment to an otherwise silent film. All I had available to me at the time was a basic drum kit of marginal quality, a Fender-Rhodes suitcase piano, a few horns and woodwind instruments I had found in a junk pile and refurbished, and some cheap electric guitars. These were all useful, but the variety was too limited for what I had in mind. It was not really practical under the circumstances to obtain a larger variety of instruments. However, I was certain that I could get a larger variety of sounds by electronically manipulating the sounds made by the instruments I had on hand.

 

With the prison warden having already given his consent to record music for the soundtrack, he was amenable to a supplemental approval allowing me to make some electronic music gadgets within the prison handicraft shop. Once that door had opened a crack, I pushed it wide. Over the next few years I built dozens of audio processing and instrument effects devices, modified and expanded the mixing desk I had purchased for the recordings, built several custom electric guitars and a monstrous modular synthesizer with three keyboard manuals, spring reverb units, speaker systems, and some experimental inventions too quirky to easily describe. I got better at building electronic devices with each one I made, learning from my mistakes. No more than a handful gave up their little lives in a puff of smoke, and even those were rebuilt and resurrected, or they were reincarnated to live again in a new way when the surviving parts were reused in a different kind of circuit.

 

Prior to my beginning the process of composing music for Lucifer Rising, I was provided with a black and white print of the 21-minute film Kenneth had assembled in London. I, along with some of the members of my band, watched it twice. Those were all the viewings I needed to give myself a clear path forward in composing the music themes and marking approximately where they would lay beneath the moving imagery. At that point I began composing, performing and recording themes for the soundtrack in earnest.

 

I was operating on the assumption then that the filming would continue and that more imagery would be added to the section of film I had seen, as Kenneth had projected a total running time of about 45 minutes. With the invaluable help of my bandmates in the Freedom Orchestra, more than two hours of finished themes were produced for the project. From these elements I gleaned the final edit in a process that required months of late-night mixing and tape-splicing sessions. In 1979, when I was satisfied that my part of the work was done, I delivered to Kenneth a 45-minute master tape of the finished soundtrack. Months later, in 1980, Kenneth debuted Lucifer Rising at a special screening event in New York. Only a tiny bit of new footage had been added to the film I had viewed in the work print, with the first half of the music on the master tape I had provided used as the film's soundtrack.

 

This was not the outcome I had anticipated. However, once I had readjusted my mind around it, I came to agree that Kenneth’s creative decision to finalize his cinematic statement in the manner he did was the right one. This is how Lucifer Rising was meant to be: as two mutually independent yet mutually complimentary works of art. Whether conscious of his intention or not, Kenneth had allowed that the latter half of my opus would stand on its own.

 

Inspired by significant passages in Aleister Crowley’s ‘Equinox of the Gods’, the dance of light that is Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising is a Crowley-inspired conjuring, an invocation to the ascension of the Luciferian consciousness in the affairs of the world and humankind. It is also an entreaty to the ancients to usher in, with their primordial cosmic powers, this transformation to a new era of unbound creative expression.

 

My interpretation of the Lucifer Rising theme posits a new chapter to ‘Paradise Lost’. Imagining myself in Lucifer’s place where Milton ended his story–not much of a stretch given that I had, so to speak, fallen from grace in my own life–and extrapolating from there, I composed a series of movements to emotively tell a story in which the Fallen One yearns for reconciliation with the Beloved, without whose near presence existence is the worst kind of Hell, and seeks redemption through reflection, self-discovery, and self-realization. For one such as he, self-determined to a fault, finding a path out of the darkest place imaginable would mean rekindling one's own inner torch and using its light to find the way home. It is for this reason that at various times in my life I have found resonance in the Luciferian archetype: A bringer of light is never truly abandoned in darkness.

 

By any reckoning the music I composed for Lucifer Rising is a song for heralding the dawn. It is a gift I made to the world in the hope that it might be a support to others in need of courage and inspiration for finding a path back to the light. This Work is not in the end merely metaphorical. It is also personal.

 

Summer 2019

 

 

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