Welcome to part three of my rock 'n' roll series How the Music Died. This series has been a rough attempt at chronicling the profound transformation rock would go through between the years 1959 (when Buddy Holly died) and 1969, the year of Helter Skelter and the infamous Altamont Free Concert. The first two parts of this series, which can be found here and here, examined this transformation through the prism of the great Don McLean's "American Pie," quite possibly the most subversive song to ever become a hit single in this nation's history.
In part one I focused in on Buddy Holly's death, and the rich twilight language surrounding it. In part two I breakdown the lyrics of "American Pie" and explained their meaning with a special emphasis on the world of rock 'n' roll before Buddy Holly's death and after the Beatles rise in 1964. In this installment we're going to move away from McLean and his epic in favor of the 1970s heavy metal act Blue Oyster Cult and an especially curious song they released in 1974 known as "Dominance and Submission." However, before we can get to the song I need to do a rundown of BoC themselves, which will take up the rest of this post.
At this point I'm sure some are asking "How the fuck can you lob the great Don McLean and 'American Pie' in with the epitome of bloated 1970s arena rock" or something along those lines. And to be fair, there's no getting around the overwhelming suckiness of many of the Cult's big 70s singles, to say nothing of the albums they released in that era. After all, there's a reason why this band is most well known in this day and age for an SNL skit revolving around "Don't Fear the Reaper"'s use of the cowbell. If this wasn't embarrassing enough, there's "Godzilla" *shudders*.
By all accounts, BoC should have been awful throughout their entire career. After all, they were essentially nothing more than a biker bar band that was scooped up by a music critic-turned-manager/producer (Sandy Pearlman) who would guide their songwriting and image throughout BoC's heyday. Accounts of the early days I've read note that frontman/rhythm guitarist Eric Bloom could barely even play his instrument. I suspect this was true of most of the group outside of lead guitarist Donald 'Buck Dharma' Roeser (who allegedly played about all the guitars on the early albums), drummer Al Bouchard and maybe keyboardist/guitarist Allen Lainer, all of whom spent half a decade playing biker bars before the self titled debut.
|the classic Black and White albums; mote the hints of sacred geometry in the first two (top)|
For one, they were rather honest. Many rock bands over the years, including the Beatles, have been accused of being talent-less hacks propped up by their producers. BoC openly acknowledge, even celebrated, this state of affairs. Pearlman took songwriting credits on the bulk of their early songs and frequently dominated interviews sessions with the band. This kind of honesty has been one of the more amusing aspects of BoC over the years. When they finally became a full on arena rock band, for instance, they didn't pull any punches: Their sellout album was named Agents of Fortune. If this wasn't blatant enough, just look at the album cover:
What's more, BoC (or at least Pearlman) were rather clever, especially in the early days. This is first evident to many listeners in the sound of the Black and White era. Pearlman is on record as envisioning BoC's sound as the American answer to Black Sabbath. To be sure, BoC could lay down a fuzzy riff with the best of them and could churn out rockers like "Teen Archer" and "Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll" that were as guilty of 1970s hard rock excesses as any band of that age. But their overall sound was far more complex than the bludgeoning sludge of the legendary Birmingham group or even the bluesy stomp of Led Zeppelin.
In the 1990s music geeks would begin to refer to a certain type of music that was released roughly between 1968 and 1974 as 'heavy psych,' a label that may best describe BoC's Black and White sound. Heavy psych derived from the garage rock and psychedelia that rose to prominence in America from about 1965 to 1968. Several well known rock subgernes would emerge from this movement --heavy metal and prog almost immediately, and later punk rock (there was a vibrant 'proto-punk' scene in the intertwining years, especially around Detroit, which yielded acts like the Stooges). However, there were a lot of bands in the early 1970s --groups like Hawkwind, the Groundhogs, Captain Beyond, Atomic Rooster, Sir Lord Baltimore, Leaf Hound, Flower Travellin' Band, etc --that just didn't fit in to any of the after mentioned categories. On the one hand, these groups were just to raw and fond of feedback-laden guitars to pass for being prog. On the other hand, their music was just to trippy and retro to fit in with mainstream heavy metal or even proto-punk.
|Hawkwind (top) and Sir Lord Baltimore (bottom), two great heavy psych outfits from this era|
Pearlman himself would also be involved in the early punk scene: He was also a friend of Patti Smith and briefly considered the punk-poetess for BoC's then-vacant lead singer spot in the very early 1970s. None of the band were too hip on having a chick front the group, but they did ultimately set several of Smith's poems to music beginning with "Baby Ice Dog" on 1973's Tyranny and Mutations album. Smith co-write the hit single "Career of Evil" on the final Black and White album, Secret Treaties. All of this would of course go along way toward launching Smith's legendary solo career. Pearlman also managed and produced the influential proto-punk the Dictators and produced the Clash's second album, Give 'Em Enough Rope. If you're still not feeling BoC's lineage in garage rock and heavy psych and their vastly underrated influence on punk, and subgernes such as New Wave and goth, then dig former The Teardrop Explodes frontman Julian Cope's brilliant take on early BoC.
|Patti Smith, regular BoC collaborator|
And this brings me to BoC's image and lyrical content. Anyone remotely familiar with the band is well aware of their widespread use of the occult in both. This was also largely due to producer/manger Sandy Pearlman, who by all accounts was quite interested in the occult. In 1966 Pearlman allegedly wrote a series of poems he dubbed The Secret Doctrines of Imaginos which were based upon his studies in anthropology and sociology, as well as his interests in science fiction and conspiracy theories. Wikipedia describes the story line thus:
"Although often referred to as a dream, the concept behind Imaginos is what Pearlman described as 'an interpretation of history – an explanation for the onset of World War I, or a revelation of the occult origins of it', which he crafted on elements of mythology, sociology, alchemy, science and occultism. This "combination of horror story and fairy tale" cites historical facts and characters, and is filled with literate references to ancient civilizations in a conspiracy theory of epic proportions, the subject of which is the manipulation of the course of human history.
"Central to this story are Les Invisibles (The Invisible Ones), a group of seven beings worshipped by the natives of Mexico and Haiti prior to the arrival of Spanish colonists in the 16th century, identified by some fans as the Loa of the Voodoo religion. The nature of Les Invisibles is left unclear, though it is hinted that they may be extraterrestrials, or beings akin to the Great Old Ones in the works of H. P. Lovecraft. An interpretation of the lyrics of the song "Astronomy" by some fans suggests that the star Sirius is of particular astrological significance to Les Invisibles, with clues identifying it as their place of origin; it is during the so-called Dog Days of August, when Sirius is in conjunction with the Sun that their influence over mankind is at its apex. By subtly influencing the minds of men, the beings are said to be "playing with our history as if it's a game", affecting events in world history over the course of centuries. For the three centuries after European discovery of the New World, this game plays out as the desire for gold is used to transform Spain into the dominant power in Europe, only to be usurped by England in the 17th century and later, through technology, by other nations ('Les Invisibles')."Veteran conspiracy buffs will note that Pearlman's Secret Doctrines bear a remarkable resemblance to various occult and metaphysical classics released in the 1970s such as Robert Temple's The Sirius Mystery, Kenneth Grant's The Magical Revival, and Robert Anton Wilson's The Cosmic Trigger Volume I (to say nothing of Wilson and co-writer Robert Shea's conspiracy satire The Illuminatus! Trilogy). All three works revolve around the concept of an extraterrestrial intelligence from or near the star Sirius that has been guiding humanity's development for thousands of years via various secret societies and occult orders. For more information on the so-called Sirius Tradition, check here and here.
|Several major works of 1970s conspiracy culture Sandy Pearlman's vision predated|
The name Blue Oyster Cult itself came from Secret Doctrines. In the Imaginos story line the Blue Oyster Cult were the servants of the 'Les Invisibles' (the extraterrestrials), a cult bent on helping their overlords achieve world domination throughout the ages. With such a pedigree, Blue Oyster Cult the band was given a rather apt logo (but not by Pearlman): a variation on Saturn's celestial symbol. The Roman god Saturn and his Greek counterpart Cronos have been linked to the Sirius Tradition that came to prominence in the 1970s.
"The Star of Horus is also the Star of Babalon --the seven-rayed star of the palnet Saturn (or Set) which rules Aquarius, the eleventh house of the Zodiac. Aquarius is the constellation through which the influence of Horus (the Sun) reaches man during thep resent Aeon. Saturn, therefore, is the power behind Venus, as Sirius is the power behind the Sun. These two great Stars (Set and Horus) are therefore symbolically identical, and in this way also is Venus transcended in Sirius, in a celestrial sense."
(The Magical Revival, Kenneth Grant, pgs. 51-52)
|BoC's logo (top) and Saturn's celestial symbol (bottom)|
Blue Oyster Cult's self-titled debut took the occult out of the fantasy realms it had generally occupied in 1960s rock and placed it in a modern New York awash with amphetamines, motorcycle gangs and kinky sex. In point of fact, BoC's early image and lyrics would hint at several strands of modern conspiracy culture that would rise to prominence as the 1970s wore on. This of course begs the question of whether Pearlman's lyrics were purely coincidental, and if not, how informed he was by scenes happening around him in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Pearlman, along with the rest of BoC, famously hailed from Long Island. Long Island was actually the birthplace of the modern Wicca movement in America, at least officially. It occurred in 1969 when two followers of the legendary warlock Gerald Gardner would establish a coven there.
"...Raymond and Rowen Buckland, an English couple who emigrated to the suburbia of Long Island, New York, and brought the craft with them... To celebrate the move, the couple invited journalists from the Long Island Press and Newsday to witness a genuine Halloween Witches Sabbath. Dressed in black robes trimmed with gold, the couple led the reporters to their basement, fitted out with velvet drapes, candles and the inevitable pentagram. Then, stripping out of their robes, the Bucklands invoked the spirit of the autumnal equinox sky-clad."
(Turn Off Your Mind, Gary Lachman, pgs. 243-244)
|Raymond Buckland, a major player in them odern Wicca movement and former Long Island resident|
"...I was friendly with Herman Slater, the proprietor of the store, and had known him since the days when he ran the Warlock Shoppe in Brooklyn Heights where I lived. As the fame and notoriety of his establishment grew --being covered extensively in the overseas press as well as by local newspapers and television shows --he began to attract an equally notorious clientele. The Process would hang out at the Warlock Shop, as well as the odd Satanist and witches of various denominations. The Shop is alluded to several times in Maury Terry's The Ultimate Evil as a hangout for people who knew more about the Son of Sam murders than they were telling."
(Sinister Forces Book II, Peter Levenda, pg. 253)
|Herman Slater (right)|
"Much ink has been spilled on the subject of the Process; Ed Sanders in the first edition of The Family links the Process with an amoebic network of death cults in California and from there Charles Manson; investigative journalist Maury Terry has linked them to Charles Manson as well as to the Son of Sam killings. The problem is that the linkages are there, but not enough to put a smoking gun in the hands of the Process itself."
(Sinister Forces Book I, Peter Levenda, pg. 298)
|a Process altar|
Another strange overlap between the Process and BoC is the fixation both had with motorcycle gangs. In the case of the Process, this fixation extended to individuals associated with them. The after mentioned film producer, Roy Radin, was said to regularly entertain outlaw motorcycle clubs at his Southampton, Long Island residency, dubbed the 'Ocean Castle.' The Process apparently saw them as storm troopers of a coming apocalypse.
"In California, through the 1960s, leaders of the Process Church of Final Judgement actively recruited from the ranks of Hell's Angels and Gypsy Jokers, calling the bikers 'agents of Satan.' One Processean, known to the faithful as 'Brother Ely,' actively rode with the Jokers for two years, before a rumble with Angels drove him out of San Francisco during 1969."Charles Manson also recruited from the ranks of various LA-based motorcycle clubs. BoC was famously the house band for a biker bar named Conry's, located along the Hempstead Turnpike, a road that stretches all the way from Queens Village to the Suffolk County town of Babylon. Historically, the major motorcycle club along the East Coast was an outfit known as the Pagans (though they've apparently lost some territory to the Hell's Angels in the North East in recent years). The Pagans were long considered one of the 'Big 4' among motorcycle clubs, along with the Angels, the Bandidos and the Outlaws. The Pagans have apparently always had a heavy presence in Long Island. According to this website, the Pagans have generally kept their headquarters in Long Island, alternating between Suffolk and Nassau counties.
(Raising Hell, Michael Newton, pg. 261)
Pearlman would perfectly capture the world Sanders would present to the public a few months later and which Terry would take to new levels in the 1980s: a world teetering on the edge, being driven mad by strange drugs, Satanic cults and bikers of the apocalypse. The opening track off of BoC's self-titled debut, "Transmaniacon MC," with its allusions to the highly ritualistic Altamont Free Concert, the Hell's Angels, and it's proclamation of "Those who did resign their souls/Transmaniacon MC," captured this world as well as anything ever released, including the works of Sanders and Terry. Of course, Sanders was also a resident of New York and a member of the rock group the Fugs, so perhaps he and Pearlman had a meeting of the minds before BoC released their debut... though I've found nothing online indicating that Sanders or Pearlman knew each other.
And so that was the state of affairs BoC found themselves in 1972 at the onset of the Black and White albums. They hailed from Long Island, an area with any number of strange individuals and groups about --Gardnerian witch covens, outlaw motorcycles clubs, the Warlock Shoppe clique, even the Process. They had a manager with a unique vision --one that fused 1960s garage rock and heavy psych with commercial heavy metal sonically; and serious occult imagery with the decadent side of Long Island lyrically. It would all come together over the course of the Black and White albums, climaxing with 1974's Secret Treaties, long considered by fans to be BoC's definitive work. It was this album that contained the great "Dominance and Submission," of which we shall finally examine in the next installment.