Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How the Music Died IV


Welcome to the fourth and final installment in what I'm calling How the Music Died. Broadly speaking this series has focused on the rock 'n' roll usurpation that occurred between 1959 and 1969 by what rogue historian Peter Levenda has dubbed sinister forces and how this has in many ways paralleled a similar transformation in the American political scene. Part one focused on Buddy Holly and the bizarre, ritualistic aspects of his death in 1959. Part two was an examination of the legendary Don McLean song "American Pie" (from which this series gets it name) and how it chronicled the usurpation of rock 'n' roll as well as the American political system from the time of Buddy Holly's death till the Altamont Free Concert of 1969. In part three I explored the origins of the 1970s heavy metal outfit Blue Oyster Cult as a lead up to the following examination of a song they released in 1974 called "Dominance and Submission." The prior post may seem out of keeping with the rest of the series, but I felt it was crucial to look at certain aspects of BoC's background that have rarely been examined before getting to the song, which deals with the transformation the Beatles brought about in 1964 in the wake of the Kennedy assassination.

In part three the reader learned that BoC was not remotely as buffoonish in the early days as they would be during their peak years in the late 1970s. In point of fact, the early vision of the group was largely driven by manager/producer Sandy Pearlman, a man with more than a passing interest in the occult. In the mid 1960s he wrote a series of poems he called The Secret Doctrines of Imaginos which loosely revolved around an extraterrestrial intelligence from the star Sirius that had been attempting to co-opt humanity for centuries through a series of occult orders. As I noted in part three, this story line bears a remarkable similarity to various occult and metaphysical classics released in the 1970s such as The Sirius Mystery, The Magical Revival, and The Cosmic Trigger Volume I, all of which dealt with the so-called 'Sirius Tradition.' Pearlman would incorporate aspects of these poems into BoC's lyrics and image in the early years (BoC recorded a rock opera in the 1980s called Imaginos using Pearlman's Secret Doctrines poems after he had little input in the group).

Sandy Pearlman
We also learned that Pearlman and BoC hailed from Long Island, New York, an era that witnessed a major occult revival in the late 1960s and 1970s as BoC was coming up. If the early lyrics are any indication, BoC was certainly familiar with Long Island's dark side, which featured witch covens, outlaw motorcycle clubs, and even members of the notorious Process Church of Final Judgement. Speaking of the Process, there's seemingly a curious allusion to the cult on the album cover of 1974's Secret Treaties, that album which yielded "Dominance and Submission." BoC frontman Eric Bloom is seen on the album cover sporting a black cape (with a crimson inside) while holding four German shepherds on a leash. For those of you unaware, members of the Process regularly wore black capes and were accompanied by German shepherds when appearing in public in the 1960s. Levenda asserts that the Process was active in Long Island (or at least Brooklyn) in the early 1970s. What's more, Secret Treaties was released after fellow New York rocker Ed Sanders released his study of the Manson clan, called The Family, where he argued that there was a strong link between Manson and the Process. Thus, it seems unlikely that Bloom's attire was a coincidence.

this is a color version of the album cover found in the inner booklet of the CD;  note Eric Bloom (far left)'s cape and German shepherds
Secret Treaties is generally considered by fans to be BoC's finest hour. It featured two tracks, "Subhuman" and "Astronomy," that were adapted directly from Pearlman's Secret Doctrines poems. The album art work featured more allusion to the Secret Doctrines with its references to a fictional book Pearlman envisioned as part of the poems called Origins of a World War. The album title itself was in reference to the treaties human leaders had made with the Sirius aliens. The cover also depicts the band huddling around an ME 262, a Nazi fighter plane employed in he final months of the war. This is an allusion to the Nazi-glorifying single "ME 262" released off of Treaties.

Needless to say, the world Secret Treaties crafts, with its allusions to Sirius, Nazism, and the Process, is quite unique. With all of this in mind, let us now turn our attention to "Dominance and Submission," the third track off Secret Treaties, the final album in their Black and White trilogy. At the time of the album's release BoC had gained some degree of commercial success, but nothing close to what Pearlman and their label had envisioned. Pearlman had attempted to take two underground currents --garage rock and the occult, and wrap them up in mainstream heavy metal. This would theoretically produce something that was both artistic and commercial, yet BoC had come far from achieving either by 1974. Perhaps this produced some degree of bitterness in Pearlman. Increasingly I see the song "Dominance and Submission" as a kind of longing for the earlier, less corporate driven rock scene that would spur so much innovation in the 1950s and 1960s.

Pearlman co-wrote the song with drummer Al Bouchard and frontman Bloom, who had taken on a more prominent role in the songwriting at this point. It's actually Bouchard, probably BoC's most underrated songwriter (if BoC went into perpetual decline when Pearlman's influence waned, they turned into total shit when Bouchard was fired after the Fire of Unknown Origin album), who sings "Dominance and Submission" and its easily his best lead vocal performance with the group (despite Bloom being officially listed as the lead singer, every member of the group sang lead at some point, though Bloom and Buck Dharma usually got the call). According to this website Pearlman meant the lyrics to be an examination of the effects music, specifically the Beatles, had on higher consciousness.   Along these lines, Pearlman allegedly told NME:
"In 1963 I was being driven back from a New Year's Eve party when The Beatles came over the airwaves for the first time. It seemed so revolutionary in terms of consciousness that what is represented was a new factor in mass culture and '63 was the watershed. The song reflects the parallelism between revolutionary consciousness in the mass and how it affects the individual. The sublimated heat of rock 'n' roll, so, long suppressed, and driven underground, was being revealed and no one could stop it."
the arrival of the Beatles at JFK Airport for their first US visit in 1964
Pearlman seems to take a far more cynical view of the Beatles in the actual lyrics, however. The first verse of the song goes:
Oh yeah!
I spent ten years, half my life
Just getting ready, then it was time
Warpage in my fingers, radios appear
Midnight was the barrier, back in 1963
Each night the covers were unfolded
Each night it's Susie's turn to ride
While Charles, the one they call her brother
Covers on his eyes
Murmurs in the background
It will be time
Warpage is usually pronounced as warp-age, i.e. the act of warping. I suspect the narrator's fingers have been warped because he's taken up the guitar --hence, they've been warped into the hands of a musician. The narrator's fingers are being warped because radios have appeared every where and there's lots of good rock 'n' roll coming out of them.

The line "Midnight was the barrier, back in 1963" could be in reference to numerous things. The transition from 1963 to 1964 represented one of the pivotal cultural charges in the history of the United States. JFK was assassinated on November 22, 1963. A little more than two months later --February 1, 1964 to be exact --the Beatles had their first number one single with "I Want to Hold Your Hand" (With the Beatles, the group's second album, was actually released in the UK the day Kennedy was murdered). This represented a profound shift in the national consciousness --Before the public had been focused on the Kennedy administration's modern day Camelot. Now the Beatles and the British Invasion would take center stage. I've already written a bit about this transformation in part two of this series and shall address it further a little bit later. For now, I would like to consider another alleged change 1964 represented.


The Age of Aquarius is a concept that has gained much traction in the US since the rise of the counterculture and New Age movements in the 1960s. This concept holds that every 2150 years or so a new astrological age begins and with it comes profound changes in religion, philosophy and culture. The present astrological age is in Pisces and was defined by the rise of Christianity. The new age --the  Aquariun age --has supposedly been upon us for a century or more. Many now see it beginning this year, 2012 (due to the end of the Mayan calender), but various mystics have been hailing its dawning in one form or another since the beginning of the twentieth century.

One of the most curious individuals to take up the mantle of Aquarius was the legendary Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. Jung became fascinated with the rise of flying saucer sightings in the twentieth century. He believed that they were a modern manifestations of mandalas and that they represented the dawning of a new global consciousness that was fast approaching.
"In the late fifties the Cold War was at its most frigid, with the massive glaciers of the USA and USSR ready to defrost in a nuclear meltdown. The schizophrenic planetary split between East and West sent the world's population into a global neurosis. In his patients, Jung discovered the mandala emerging from the unconscious as a sign of, and stimulus to, a new wholeness. Now the global unconscious was projecting these strange circular shapes. These flying mandalas were both an expression of the need for wholeness, and an aid in achieving it --meditation on the mandalas helped fuse the psyche into a new state of unity. 
"And just as the mandalas of Jung's patients presaged a new development in the process of individuation, the flying saucers seen across the globe were a sign that a massive change in human consciousness was on its way. Ten years before the Fifth Dimension had a number 1 hit with it, Jung was talking about the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. UFOs, he argued, were an archetype heralding a great shift in human history."
(Turn Off Your Mind, Gary Lachman, pg. 138) 
Carl Jung
Miguel Serrano, the Chilean mystic that combined strands of gnosticism and Nazism, met Jung toward the end of the psychologist's life. According to Serrano, Jung believed that the Age of Aquarius would arrive in full in 1964. Jung also allegedly had a dream that was eerily prophetic of the rise of the Beatles and the profound change they would bring about.
"Jung, we remember, believed 1964 would be the start. He didn't live to see it, but that was the year Beatlemania went worldwide. The Beatles themselves never officially adopted the banner of Aquarius, but if anyone was the counterculture's vanguard for the new world order, it was them... Strangely, there's another odd connection between Jung and the Beatles. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections Jung recounts a dream involving Liverpool --home, of course, of the Fab Four. In a dark, dirty city, which he knew to be Liverpool, Jung saw a round pool in the centre of a broad square. In the middle of the pool was a small island, ablaze with sunlight. On it stood a magnolia tree, full of fresh, red blossoms. Jung believed the dream represented his own situation. His break with Freud cast him into a dark, dangerous confusion. But he had been given a vision of beauty lying in the centre. Liverpool, he mused, is the 'pool of life.' 'The liver', he said, 'according to an old view, is the seat of life, that which 'makes to live'.' Through this dream Jung arrived at his notion of the Self as the archetype of meaning. Jung had his dream in 1927. Forty years later his face was on the cover of Sergeant Pepper's..."
(ibid, pgs. 335-336)
Jung on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's
Jung's views jive rather neatly with Sandy Pearlman's proclamation that "Dominance and Submission" revolves around a change in consciousness. Pearlman saw the Beatles as the trigger. Perhaps Jung did as well, after a fashion. Some may question whether Pearlman would have been aware of such a notion at the time, but according to Lachman Jung enjoyed a bit of a Renaissance in the 1960s and 70s with the rise of the counterculture. Certainly it wouldn't have been out of character for someone from that era with an interest in the occult, as Pearlman certainly had, to have read up a little bit on Jung.

"Dominance and Submission" features the character of 'Susie' prominently. Susie is a major enigma to BoC fans. She is referenced in several songs, but her significance has never been explained. She was a creation of Pearlman, who claimed that she was former girlfriend and later referred to her as "some mean bitch."

Her first appearance was in the song "Before the Kiss a Redcap," which appeared on BoC's self-titled debut. The lyrics to this song were supposedly inspired by real events that occurred at a biker bar called Conry's in Long Island where BoC was the house band for a time (the title apparently comes from an incident at Conry's when a biker stuck out his tongue, featuring a barbiturate at the tip, and asked Pearlman if he wanted a kiss). Susie also appears in another song on Secret Treaties, the breathtaking album closer "Astronomy." "Astronomy" was one of the poems from Pearlman's The Secret Doctrines of Imaginos, of which I've written more on in the prior installment in this series.

Whether Susie is actually meant to represent a real person is impossible to tell. The name Susie does have a strange link to Crowleyian sex magic, however. Susie is another variation on Susan, a name that apparently has its origins in the Middle Egyptian word "ssn," meaning lotus flower. Crowley and his disciples regularly used the lotus as a symbol for the vagina.
"The flower-strewn yoni of the woman participating in the mystical worship of the Chakras is symbolized by the lotus of 8. 16. 32 or 64 petals (the number of petals indicates the nature of the rite performed), and is emblematic of the First Flow-er or Ritu... 
"The symbolic correspondences are as follows: 
"Rtu=Blood (red, black)=Rite=the first Rite performed when a girl attains puberty and becomes the Flow-er. The Flower=Lotus=Yoni=the Cremation Ground where desire is finally extinguished, i.e. satisfied. Satisfied because, as Crowley observes: 'a perfect organism should leave no lust; if one wants to go on, it simply shows that one has failed to collect every element of the personality, and discharge it utterly in a single explosion.' The Cremation Ground is to be compared with the Cup of Babalon, the Red or Scarlet Woman into which the Adept expresses the last drop of his blood."
(The Magical Revival, Kenneth Grant, pg. 143) 

Some may object to Susie being a metaphor for the tantric possibilities of the vagina, but the character of Susie has typically shown up in songs describing bizarre sexual acts. I already gave an example from "Before the Kiss a Redcap." The song "Astronomy" has been interpreted by some fans to account for this character's first lesbian experience. The song "Dominance and Submission" itself has strong undercurrents of gay S & M, as shall be addressed a bit later.

In this context, Susie could also be a stand in for Crowley's Scarlet Woman. The Scarlet Woman or Babalon was itself frequently used a metaphor for both the mystical uses of the vagina as well as the practice of sacred prostitution. In the ancient world temple prostitute were said to be able to induce altered states and consciousness with their arts.
"The hieros gamos was the ultimate expression of what is termed 'temple prostitution', where a man visited a priestess in order to receive gnosis --to experience the divine for himself through the act of lovemaking... Moreover, this temple servant is, unlike the secular prostitute, acknowledged to be in control of both the situation and the man who visits her, and both of them receive benefits in terms of physical, spiritual and magical empowerment. The body of the priestess had become... literally and metaphorically a gateway to the gods."
(The Templar Revelation, Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince, pg. 257)

Finally, Susie (at least in this song) could also be seen as a metaphor for the vibrant rock scene that was currently unfolding across the United States, hence "Each night the covers were unfolded." I tend to lean more toward this explanation, for reasons that shall be explained in a bit. For now, let us move on to the figure of Charles.

Of course the name Charles has a lot of associations with royalty. Probably the first major Charles was Charlemange, which means "Charles the Great." Other notables kings barring this name include Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, who oversaw much of the early Spanish expansion in the Americas, and Charles I of England, the suspected Catholic king that was beheaded in 1649 by the English Parliament. In some strands of Masonic tradition, especially among the French lodges, both Charles I and his ancestor, Charles Edward Stuart, are very important.
"The first officially recognized Masonic lodges in France were established in the 1720s, under the control of Grand Lodge of England. However, at this time there were already lodges in France, which owed their origins to the (predominantly Scottish) supporters of Charles I who fled to France around 1650. The history of Freemasonry in France has therefore been one of two distinct streams, those descended from the English lodges (which formed their own Grand Lodge in Paris in 1735) and those descended from the Scottish Lodges, with periods of mutual hostility alternating with attempts at reconciliation. The foundation of the Grand Lodge of France in 1735 represented a break with the English Grand lodge, the source of friction being precisely London's objections to 'their' lodges entertaining good relations with the Scottish lodges. 
 "Baron von Hund's creation of the Strict Templar Observance in the late 1740s represented a new development within Scottish Freemasonry. Von Hund claimed his authority derived from members of the exiled Stuart supporters in Paris, a circle centered around Charles Edward Stuart (1720-1788), the 'Young Pretender'. If true --and recent research tends to support his claims --his system would derive from the same circles as the already existing Scottish system."
(ibid, pgs. 366-367)

Charles I (top) and Charles Edward Stuart (bottom), two members of the legendary Stuart dynasty that has long been associated with Scottish Freemasonry
It should be noted that many branches of Freemasonry strongly dispute the Stuart dynasty's links to Freemasonry. Regardless, there's another curious phrase in this verse that could be read as an allusion to Masonry. Charles is described as having "covers on his eyes." This phrase reminds me of the Masonic concept of the hoodwink. Broadly speaking, the hoodwink is symbolic of the darkness an initiate into Masonry is suspended in until he 'receives the light' (i.e. the blindfold he is wearing is removed). On the other hand hoodwink can be seen as symbolic of the state of the uninitiated. The above link notes:
"Like the manner in which the candidate finds himself clothed, and the way whereby he finds himself rendered helpless and utterly dependent on his guides, the Hoodwink may be considered as a symbol of the weakness and destitution of the uninitiated. Initiation is a process of birth into a new world, or into a new relation, or into a new order of experience: relative to that new world into which he is about to enter, the candidate is like the babe unborn, a helpless creature lying bound in its mother's womb. Accordingly he is in darkness: not yet born he has no use of his eyes, and no light whereby to see if he could use them."
a Masonic hoodwink
Thus, Charles can be seen as a kind of initiate into the new world that is being ushered in. Perhaps this is why he is murmuring "It will be time." With this in mind, let us turn our attention to the second verse:
Susan and her brother, Charles the grinning boy
Put me in the back seat, and they took me for a ride
Yeah, the radio was on --can't you dig the locomotion
Kingdoms of the radio, 45 RPM
Too much revolution, then
Each night the covers were unfolded
Each night it's Susie's turn to ride
While Charles, the one they call her brother
Covers over his eyes
Murmurs in the background
It will be time
The description of Charles as grinning is most curious. When I started thinking of esoteric associations with grinning I kept coming back to the Cheshire cat of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The Cheshire cat and the expression "grinning like the Cheshire cat" predate Carroll, however. The early Celts had cults based around around cat-gods. The Cheshire cat is thought to perhaps be a modern link to these cults. For instance, the Medieval St. Wilfrid's Church displays an image remarkably like Carroll's conception of the Cheshire cat. The Cheshire cat's grin is thought to have an especially grim origin as the Cheshire smile:
"In a similar sacrificial vein the 'Cheshire Smile' or 'Cheshire Grin' was a term once widely used in the area for death by the cutting of the throat from ear to ear or by hanging. The first instance of the 'smile' surviving in Cheshire is probably represented by the garrotted remains of Lindow Man or 'Pete Marsh', the Celtic sacrificial peat bog body thought to have been sacrificed in about 61 AD by local Druids in an attempt to avert the impending Roman attack on Anglesey (which came in 63 AD). Two other bodies have also been recovered, one on Lindow moss and a head on Worsley moss, both killed in the same way at about the same time. However, the term, as it survives today, comes entirely from the days of capital punishment and execution by hanging."

Carroll's Cheshire cat (top) and the grinning Cheshire cat of the Medieval St. Wilfrid's Church (bottom)
Is Charles the grinning boy thus a sacrificial victim? We shall see. For the time being, let us consider the state of rock 'n' roll the song is describing in this part ("Kingdoms of the radio/45 RPM/To much revolution then"). Another thing about the year 1963 is that it was the last year of relative anonymity rock 'n' roll had before it became such a pop phenomenon. Of course, most people don't associate the years of 1959-1963 with rock 'n' roll. Conventional accounts make it seem like rock had all but disappeared before the arrival of the Beatles, who resurrected it from the grave. Certainly rock did not generate the same type of national attention that it had before Buddy Holly's death in 1959, but it was still very much a focal point of youth culture.
"Grass roots rock persisted, laying the bedrock for what came next. There is no name for the local music of this period, roughly 1959-63, but some have called it 'protopunk.' It was very much a regional phenomenon: a band from Kansas or Minnesota might be popular over a nine-state area and have substantial hits that never made the national charts. The music was mostly instrumental --simplistic blues shuffles, often amped-up to murderous voltage and performed at frat houses and armories. The rare band with a vocalist usually featured raunchy R & B or maybe a Gene Vincent oldie. In California 'surf music' came along in the wake of Dick Dale. Again instrumental (the vocal harmonies came later), for some crazy reason surf music caught on in the Midwest, too, leading to rowdy milestones such as The Trashmen's 1963 anthem "Surfin' Bird." 
"I've often speculated about what might have happened if The Beatles had not come along, because by 1963 there was a raging regional rock scene in America that contained the seeds of a fantastic punk movement... 
"...1963 was a great year in American rock. In The Trashmen's home of Minneapolis, hundreds of local bands were knocking out brilliant, goofy novelty records, from "Liar Liar" by the Castaways to "Action Woman" by The Litter. In the Pacific Northwest, the Wailers were blasting audiences out of their skulls, and the first versions of "Louie Louie" were hitting the airwaves. John Fred & His Playboy Band were knocking 'em out in Louisiana with "Boogie Chillun" and the like. Down in Texas, Sam the Sham was getting ready to write "Wooly Bully." In fact, wherever you looked, the country was in ferment. 
"Why should this be so? Demographics, mainly. The baby boomers were in high school. The economy was thriving. Families were moving out to the suburbs, and Mom and Dad were buying their kids a guitar and drum kit and giving them a garage, where the could practice their Play Guitar With The Ventures
"The rock 'n' roll culture of the '50s, impromptu and short-lived as it had been, still taught the next generation that they could define their own idea of cool, and that they could do it through music. In fact, teen culture was thriving, with hot rod races, surfing competitions, slot cars, go-carts, teen fairs, and, for the precocious few, a glimpse into the tantalizing world of the Beatniks."
(Nuggets Volume I box set booklet, "Sic Transit Gloria... The Story of Punk Rock on the '60s," Greg Shaw, pgs. 18-19)

Needless to say, this was not a pleasing state of affairs for the record labels. Rock music was also a big part of youth culture --In fact, many kids preferred their own local music scene to the big acts of the day (a state of affairs that would continue throughout the 1960s). This only inspired even more kids to learn an instrument. And this led to more bands, and more records. And this meant that the figurative pie of the music market place was further and further divided up between the national and regional music scenes. Hence the reason why there was to much revolution then.

The Beatles changed all of that. They were the first true rock 'n roll superstars (yeah, Elvis had come before them, but much of Elvis' commercial success happened when he moved away from his early rock sound), the first in a series of mega-acts that would grab the public's imagination. And when this happened, people began to shift their focus away from their own local bands and back to the artists the big record labels wanted them to focus on.

This of course begs a lot of questions about the Beatles themselves. It is an article of faith among most Americans nowadays that the Beatles were a revolutionary force that permanently changed the cultural landscape. This is true of course, but not necessarily in the way that many believe. The Beatles are generally credited with inspiring the vast rock scene that developed in the US in the 1960s, but clearly that was not the case as the above quote makes clear. There were already dozens of successful regional bands across the country and more kids were taking up an instrument everyday.

There are of course any number of conspiracy theories on the web revolving around the Beatles. A common one is to present the Fab Four as a creation of the Tavistock Institute, for instance. An examination of the driving forces behind the Beatles' sudden rise to super stardom is well beyond the scope of this post, but I trust my readers known how to do a Google search on such topics. Be warned though: While there are a lot of suspect elements surrounding the Beatles, there's also a lot of bullshit attached to them by the modern conspiracy culture. The whole Tavistock angle is in itself highly questionable as the primary source for such theories seems to be the former MI6 officer John Coleman who comes off as a Bircher agent provocateur in his writings.


I will however make a few observations about the Beatles here that few would debate. For one, producer George Martin, who produced virtually everything the Beatles ever released except parts of Let It Be, is universally acknowledged to have made an enormous contribution to the sound of the Beatles. His arrangements and production techniques were instrumental in some of the Fabs' biggest hits, such "Strawberry Fields Forever." Over the course of this post and especially the prior installment, I've chronicled the massive influence that producer/manager Sandy Pearlman had over BoC's sound and image. Surely its not outside the realm of possibility that Martin also exercised such an influence over the Beatles. To their credit BoC was at least far more honest about the place of their producer in the songwriting process.

'Fifth Beatle' George Martin
The Beatles are generally credited with bringing a certain seriousness to rock that was lacking in the pre-1964 days. To some extent this was true --lots of pre-1964 rock didn't even have vocals, and certainly not 'serious' lyrics. On the other hand, America also had a vibrant folk scene breaking out regionally at the same time as the rock scene. Much of the folk scene in this era was very socially conscious. There was already a growing overlap between the folk and rock scenes even before the Byrds covered Dylan and Dylan himself went electric. It's quite possible that rock would have gone in more socially conscious direction, especially as the Vietnam conflict grew increasingly unpopular, even without the Beatles.

Finally, the Beatles are credited with bringing an experimental edge to rock music in no small part due to their use of psychedelic drugs. While the Beatles were certainly one of the pioneers in the field of psychedelic rock, a gerne that would eventually birth many of rocks most experimental subgernes, they were not the first to try and capture the psychedelic experience on record. On the flip side to a 1962 single released by a group called the Gamblers was a track called "LSD-25," which likely holds this honor. In general psychedelics had gradually being discovered by the American public since the 1950s and bands were already trying to capture the experience in music since the early 1960s. Again, I must ask: Did the Beatles inspire this wave, or merely ride it? By all accounts the psychedelic revolution was already well underway by the time the Beatles had their first number one hit in the US.


So perhaps it's not much of a stretch to say that the Beatles co-opted such strands, rather than inspiring them. This certainly seems to be the mentality of Sandy Pearlman in the context of "Dominance and Submission." With this in mind, let us now move on to the final verse:
It's past midnight said Charles the grinning boy
And looking at me greedily, said it's 1964
In Times Square now people do the polka
Dominance! Submission. Radios appear.
This New Year's Eve was the final barrier
Dominance! Submission. Radios appear.
We took you up and we put you in the back seat
Dominance! Submission. Radios appear.
From year to year we looked out for the venture
Dominance! Submission. Radios appears.
As noted above, I think Charles is a stand in for the Beatles and the British Invasion. Hence, he greedily ushers in 1964, 'the final barrier.' As noted above grinning, specifically the 'Cheshire grin or smile,' is associated with death by execution. Charles is thus greeting the death of the underground American rock scene, which is putting out to much revolution. The change is already taking place: In the prior verse kids were doing the locomotion, a reference to the oldie "Loco-Motion." Now the kids are doing the polka, which I suspect is a way of saying the kids are taking up the lame pop crap their parents listen to. The part about being put in the backseat is likely an allusion to how major record labels would control the music industry from there on out. The line "looked out for the venture" is about how the record labels periodically sign bands from a new scene, thus commercializing and co-opting it in the process. A venture implies risk, thus bands in such an endeavor are likely playing music outside the mainstream.

The song ends with a call and response section where singer Al Bouchard frantically proclaims "Submission" while the rest of the band chants "Dominance." The whole section has more than a hint of gay S & M, especially in Bouchard's rather flamboyant vocal performance. Superficially at least this section is meant to be symbolic of the record industry's rape of their artists. Fans of the Celtic Rebel, however, will undoubtedly take a more literal view of this section. For those of you unfamiliar with the Rebel's work, he has compelling argued that much of the entertainment industry is run by a homosexual cartel. At times, even mainstream publications have have alluded to such a state of affairs. Consider this 1995 Spy article (beginning on page 44) by Mark Ebner that outlines the influence several powerful homosexuals have on the entertainment industry.


Such a notion would certainly play into the Beatles context much of "Dominance and Submission" revolves around. At the time when the Beatles rose to prominence several of the major power brokers within the British music industry, such as producer Joe Meek (whose curious connections with Buddy Holly I wrote of in part one of this series) and manager Robert Stigwood, were homosexuals. According to this article from the South Florida Gay News the British music industry was littered with homosexuals in the 1960s, maybe even earlier:
"However, as much as American pop music has its roots in black culture, British pop music has always had its roots in gay culture. In England, pop was not just about catchy tunes, it was about sexuality, which, more often than not, meant gay sexuality. Forty five years ago, that was part of the Beatles' allure too. They had a gay manager. 
"That man, Brian Epstein, was the backbone of the Beatles. He was ever present wherever they went- a gay man who was a part of the most visible phenomenon the world has ever experienced. Back then, just being gay was illegal, but it didn't seem to matter too much anymore. Very quickly, on the heels of such stratospheric popularity, Her Majesty's government moved forward on legalizing homosexuality. Unintentionally perhaps, that could have been one of The Beatles’ greatest contributions and gifts to modern society. 
"By1966, the music business had acquired a very strong gay presence. The Beatles, The Who, and The Yardbirds had openly gay managers, and The Rolling Stones had one that seemed to be rolling both ways. In addition, Billy Preston often performed with them. Pop had become populated by gays. There were gay songwriters, producers, directors, and especially managers: Robert Stigwood with the Bee Gees, Vic Billings with the "Soul Diva"', and gay icon, Dusty Springfield, to name a few."


Joe Meek (top), Robert Stigwood (middle), and Beatle manager Brian Epstein (bottom) whom John Lennon reportedly 'experimented' with
In this context, the Dominance/Submission call and response may be symbolic of the price the Beatles paid for their rise to fame... Or perhaps the price BoC was about to pay themselves on their next album, the commercial breakthrough Agents of Fortune.

Can you say sellout?
Or did they pay the price? For the past 20 plus years BoC has been reduced to nonstop touring, playing any number dives across this country to keep going. Several buddies of mine actually saw BoC play the lobby of a Holiday Inn a few years ago down here for Bike Week. That's quite a fall for a band that was selling out arenas in the 1970s. Certainly it happens, but how can a group like Uriah Heep still sell out arenas (in Germany at least) while BoC is down to the Holiday Inn lobby? Maybe Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma simply need to get in touch with their inner neocon --It was certainly a wise career move for other 'rebellious' 1970s heavy rockers like Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Gene Simmons of Kiss and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.

And it is here that I shall finally wrap things up. My objective when I began writing these series of posts was to examine the importance rock 'n' roll has had in the twentieth century of the United States. As we have seen, the rise of rock 'n' roll was closely linked to the assassination of JFK and the rise of the Beatles. This is a point that two widely different artists, Don McLean and Blue Oyster Cult, have made over the course of two epic songs. Both saw America emerge from this pivotal period profoundly changed. McLean would go a bit deeper and chronicle the change that rock 'n' roll itself would undergo from the time of Buddy Holly's death in 1959 to the notorious Altamont Free Concert of 1969, though BoC also hinted at this. In this time frame rock would transform from a populistic underground current into a kind of corporate-backed religion before finally entering the 1970s as a harmless past time (at least as far as mainstream currents were concerned). The nation itself went through similar change during the same time period. Thus, we are once again confronted with how intertwined rock 'n' roll and this nation are.

images from the Altamont Free Concert, held by many to be the 'death' of the 1960s
I find this especially interesting when I consider the state of the nation and rock 'n' roll in this day and age. Many have written rock off as dead long ago. After all, it doesn't have anywhere the same influence on youth culture that it did 20 years ago. Now hip hop and slut pop are the culture makers, hence the reason thousands of 'truth-telling' blogs dedicate obscene amounts of time to analyzing every aspect of Jay Z and Britney Spears' public life. Certainly there is a reason for this --It goes without saying mainstream rock isn't what it used to be. Many corporate-backed rockers of old at least had some degree of talent. The same cannot be said of their current incarnation. So it begs the question: Has the record industry finally managed to kill rock? Has the music finally died, as McLean proclaimed in 1971?

A few years ago I would have said emphatically yes. But after listening to the Swedish stoner scene and the ever growing heavy psych scene on mainland Europe, I'm not so sure. In point of fact, there may be more great music being recorded now than in many years. Computers and the Internet have changed the game. Any band with a member or two that's relatively tech savvy can record great demos that sound professional. YouTube and various social media have made it easier than ever for a young band to gain exposure. What's more, the vast amount of music available for free on the Internet combined with the vast wealth of knowledge about it now available has turned people onto groups that they would have never taken the time to explore before. If anything, it seems more and more people are coming to the realization that we don't have to keep listening to the crap that the record labels want us to --There are other choices out there, and they're easier to find now than ever before.

And if there's hope for rock 'n' roll in this day and age, then perhaps there's hope for this nation, as well as the rest of the world, as well.


6 comments:

  1. This whole series -much lesst just this one article was superb! I find that one can encounter more creativity and original thinking in an hour on the net than in a week or 2 weeks in coroporate run media etc and you are proof of that! I will come back to this if I have any info to ad about this particular topic -I was a teen in the early 80s and loved BOCs "Burnin for You" -haha I know- I know-but actually I still do- I never realiZed I would see such an interesting run-down on them in the blogosphere-I certainly knew nothing about them besides that one song or so!
    all the best to you my friend-
    Devin

    ReplyDelete
  2. Devin-


    Thanks very much! One of the things I wanted to do with this series was take down a few sacred cows (the Beatles, etc) while introducing my readers to largely unknown (garage rock and heavy psych bands) or marginalized groups (BOC). It seems like I accomplished my goal in your case.:)

    Don't feel bad, the whole "Fire of Unknown Origins" album is a major guilty pleasure of mine... I think it was because I was obsessed with the movie "Heavy Metal" when I was a kid.:) "Burnin' For You" is pretty groovy but it's no "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" or "Joan Crawford.":)


    -Recluse

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very nice interpretation. You might find my series on Jagger, The Rolling Stones and Marianne Faithfull interesting. If you get the time check out Mick Jagger, The Rolling Stones and the Yobbo Revolution Part IV on Wordpress.

    ReplyDelete
  4. R.E.-


    Sorry for taking so long to respond. i'll be sure to check out your series --It seems like there's always something to learned the Jagger/Richards/Faithfull circle in those days.:)


    -Recluse

    ReplyDelete
  5. No problem. Don't forget to include Warhol.

    ReplyDelete
  6. How did I miss this? BOC is my all time fave. I have to agree that the Pearlman/Bouchard Axis was the special sauce. After that, they had some great songs, especially collaborating with various sci-fi authors like Micheal Moorcock.

    ReplyDelete