follow us in feedly
Xerox Ferox and the Lost Art of the Horror Film Fanzine
11:20 am



Guest post by David Kerekes, co-author of Killing For Culture and See No Evil, and author of Mezzogiorno

In the introduction to a new book on the subject of horror film fanzines and the culture they spawned, author John Szpunar deliberates on the place of the zine next to mainstream media. There is a difference, he says, in that the zines had nothing to lose.

I can think of no better example to illustrate this point than a Myra Hindley cut out doll. It’s a pen and ink drawing gracing the back cover of Subhuman #4 (January 1987), which shows one half of the Moors Murderers wearing nothing but her fearsome peroxide bouffant and black panties. A change of dress includes a Nazi uniform along with a bloodstained kitchen knife as accessory.

Art: Jason Knight
The Myra doll isn’t trying to sell anything. It doesn’t relate to a film, nor bear any relation to the content of the zine in question. Its simple purpose is to glower with gentle contempt. In the town I once lived, a short bus ride from the moors of the Moors Murderers, this sort of jape could get you lynched. Who in their right mind would conjure up something as disturbing, disposable and quite as brilliant as a Myra Hindley cut out doll? Disposable is a clue, in deference to the type of horror fanzine one might find in John Szpunar’s book.

To paraphrase the jacket blurb, Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine is a book that covers a scene that has influenced generations of writers, filmmakers and fans (myself included; I published it). Fanzines with lurid titles like Gore Gazette, Violent Leisure, Sleazoid Express and Subhuman expressed a sense of freak camaraderie at a time when technology was yet to arrive for its wholesale delivery of freak. Theirs was a literary DIY ethos, not dissimilar to that of punk rock a decade or so earlier (which incidentally often borrowed from film, particularly cult and horror film).

Psychoholic Slag. Issue 5 (USA). Argento! Argento? Editor: Dave Kosanke.
One zine usually opened the door to other zines. Writes John Szpunar of his own education in this respect:

Before long, I was a part of a network of zine and tape traders, and the goods kept rolling in […] I was coming of age with the help of a new generation, and I was having the time of my life.

Avoiding reference to literary content for the moment (irreverent… informed… typo laden), the thing most striking about the horror film zines is, of course, the visual aesthetic. Although some were designed to a comparatively high standard—i.e., pro-zines like CineFan, Little Shoppe of Horrors and Bizarre —many more were low key efforts of short runs that were perhaps given away for the price of postage. The layouts were urgent and witty, overloaded with elements seemingly vying for space before the page ran out. And defining these products was the photocopier, the Xerox of Xerox Ferox, creating an arresting visual dynamic of harsh black and white contrasts that robbed any image of superfluous detail.

It is reassuring to discover that, in the age of the Internet, a small place still exists for the zine practitioner and the horror film culture of the printed page. Examples are out there, being transmitted through the postal network in a matter of days to defy the blogosphere (a term so abhorrent we are destined to use it). For now, however, a random collection of horror fanzine covers rescued from the mailboxes of old and made suitable for framing…

Get a special hardback edition of the remarkable Xerox Ferox here. 800 fully illustrated pages, about $72 plus a couple more to post. Pre-release paperback available here.

Killer Kung Fu Enema Nurses On Crack Issue 3 (NZ). A genuine Garbage Pail Kids sticker adorns the cover. Image depicts a police raid on the New Zealand home of editor/publisher Peter Hassall, confiscating books, zines and porn.

Subhuman Issue 5, March/April 1987 (USA). Design: Dawn Doyle. Editor: Cecil Doyle.

Trash Compactor Volume 2 Issue 4, Winter 1990 (CAN). Design: The Trash Compactor.

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Discussion
Langley Schools Music Project: Children’s choruses sing Beach Boys, Bowie, Fleetwood Mac
09:38 am



langley lp
What is it about children’s choruses in pop music? Is it a nostalgic response? Is it a nod to ephemerality, an awareness on some level that the exact same kids a year later would have totally different voices? Whatever impulse drives producers (cough cough Bob Ezrin) to deploy that move, it’s enough of a cliché that when it’s used, it’d better be done effectively, like in “School’s Out,” or hit the unsuspecting listener like a bomb as in “Another Brick In The Wall Part II.” If it’s treacle like “Toy Soldiers,” you’re making the world a worse place. (I’m not going to link that one. If you don’t know it, count your blessings and move on. If you do know it and I just earwormed you, I am sincerely sorry for that.)

A great example of getting it spectacularly right dispenses with the pop singer and producer altogether and just leaves the whole job to the kids. The celebrated Langley Schools Music Project was undertaken by novice music teacher Hans Fenger, who eschewed typical children’s fare for his chorales, favoring instead the recent radio pop of the time - the mid ‘70s, with a lot of British Invasion and Beach Boys in the mix. Two vanity-pressed LPs were made, both recorded live in school gyms. Those albums would have gathered dust on proud parents’ shelves or languished in Vancouver thrift store bins had they not been brought to the attention of WFMU’s longtime champion of outsider music, Irwin Chusid. Chusid arranged for the release of the albums on Bar/None Records, and the CD Innocence & Despair was released to acclaim in 2001.

The temptation to chalk up the kudos to hip irony should be resisted here. These recordings are just flat out incredible. The kids ranged in age from 9-12, and so were recorded before the pressures of adolescence and high school had a chance to stifle their expressiveness. As Fenger put it in the liner notes from Innocence, quoted here from Wikipedia,

I knew virtually nothing about conventional music education, and didn’t know how to teach singing. Above all, I knew nothing of what children’s music was supposed to be. But the kids had a grasp of what they liked: emotion, drama, and making music as a group. Whether the results were good, bad, in tune or out was no big deal—they had élan.

Élan, absolutely, and, it must be added, a seeming total lack of pretension. Though these songs were radio staples of their day, most of the ‘70s tunes have fallen from favor for their hokeyness, bombast, or their reflection of an acutely mid ‘70s complacency. But hearing stripped down arrangements of the songs sung by naifs who just really love to sing them is transformative. Check out the Langley kids’ take on that most eye-rollingly douchey of Eagles songs, “Desperado:”

It’s so much better sung by a novice kid than by a bunch of satisfied, self-mythologizing, dick swinging millionaire Laurel Canyon coke-fiends, is it not? The kids’ version of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” is so emotionally resonant that it could well be the only possible remake that doesn’t fall conspicuously short of Carl Wilson’s golden-voiced canonical performance.

I don’t care how grizzled and jaded a hipster you are—shit, I don’t care if you’re a 400 pound biker who’s killed a half dozen Aryan Brotherhood guys in prison—if you aren’t a little moved by that, you’re a fucking robot.

Can you imagine such a thing happening now? I don’t see it, myself. This was an era during which, aside from the eternal handful of canny nods to Tiger Beat-ish female juvinilia like Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy, et al, there was no massive tween entertainment niche as we know it today. Junior high kids, for the most part, listened to the same pop radio fare as high schoolers and, before the advent of the Adult Contemporary radio format, grownups alike. Can you imagine 9-12 year olds in 2013 opting to sing Blitzen Trapper over Justin Bieber? The band Gomez over Selina Gomez? Mazzy Star over Miley? There’s just no way.

Individual tracks made rounds of the Internet as hey-check-out-this-goofy-cover sharity on some of the more oddity-oriented sites during the mid-oughts’ heyday of MP3 blogs, but Bar/None has recently uploaded the entire album to YouTube as individual tracks. This may well be the first time the entire collection has been legitimately available for free listening. The entire compilation is posted here. In the interest of preserving the CD order, I’ve reposted the two songs already shared above, I hope you’ll pardon that redundancy.

Paul McCartney and Wings, “Venus & Mars/Rock Show” - a good start, but it gets better

Beach Boys, “Good Vibrations” - I love the two-note xylophone solo standing in for the original’s famous theremin freakout.

Beach Boys, “God Only Knows”

David Bowie, “Space Oddity” - shit gets HECTIC at 1:04.

The Beatles, “The Long And Winding Road” - this is lovely, and renders moot the overwrought Phil Spector version on Let It Be.

Paul McCartney and Wings, “Band on the Run” - the most ambitious arrangement here. The percussionist plainly had a fine time.

Beach Boys, “In My Room” - does this song not make much more sense sung by kids than by five grown men?

Herman’s Hermits, “I’m Into Something Good” - you just know if this were today, some dick parent would sue the school over the “one night stand” line.

Bay City Rollers, “Saturday Night” - it’s fun to hear the kids keeping up the chanting between 2:30 and the end, though it strikes me that the fade-out may have been cover for encroaching sloppiness.

Beach Boys, “I Get Around” - yay, more Beach Boys…

Barry Manilow, “Mandy” - see, his songs have capabilities when you strip out the Broadway/Vegas chintz.

Beach Boys, “Help Me, Rhonda” - how much money did Mike Love get from this album?

The Eagles, “Desperado”

Beach Boys, “You’re So Good To Me” - last Beach Boys song. If you’re not a fan you can relax now.

Neil Diamond, “Sweet Caroline” - why couldn’t this have had six Neil Diamond songs instead of six Beach Boys songs? I want to hear them do “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show!”

Teddy Bears, “To Know Him Is To Love Him” - speaking of Phil Spector.

Fleetwood Mac, “Rhiannon” - another one I didn’t know I liked until I heard someone other than the original artist singing it.

Michael Martin Murphy, “Wildfire” - one of the more acutely ‘70s songs here. I went back to listen to the original on this one, as I haven’t actually heard this song since I was a kid in the ‘70s. I expected it to hold up poorly, but to my surprise, it sounds a lot like the current Texas band Midlake, whom I’ve quite liked. Still, the kids again crush the original here.

The Carpenters, “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” - this is probably the finishing move for a reason. It’s the most whatthefuckishly lysergic song choice, but it turned out REALLY great. I’d like to think the kids knew this was originally a Klaatu song, but that strikes me as doubtful.

A documentary on how Innocence & Despair was made, discovered, and released.

More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
The decadent marquis, Michael Des Barres, and the legacy of Silverhead
02:35 pm




If Rodney Bingenheimer is the Mayor of Sunset Strip, then Michael Des Barres is the Strip’s Lord Chamberlain, Knight of the Garter, and Poet Laureate. He is what would result if you combined the DNA of a young Rod Stewart, Marc Bolan, Lord Byron, Percy B. Shelley, Heathcliff, Lothario, and every aristocratic hero (he is a marquis) from every Barbara Cartland romance novel.

Michael Des Barres started out his professional life as a young actor. He attended drama school at sixteen after years at elite British private boarding schools. He appeared on television in the U.K.  (Whack-O!, The Bruce Forsyth Show, Mrs. Thursday), West End theatre (The Dirtiest Show in Town, performing in the nude), and in the film To Sir, With Love. Most Americans recognize him from his acting roles here: Mulholland Drive, Roseanne, NCIS, Ellen, Melrose Place, and MacGyver.

Some of us caught an early glimpse of him in 1978 as a punk rocker on WKRP in Cincinnati. Musically his vampy joie de vivre as Robert Palmer’s replacement as lead singer for The Power Station at Live Aid in 1985 was legendary. A diminuitive friend of mine who saw Des Barres for the first time at Live Aid immediately went about studying and desperately copping his stage moves.

Those stage moves were carefully honed in three short-lived bands: Silverhead, Detective, and Chequered Past (which also featured Steve Jones). The British glam-rock band Silverhead, consisting of Michael, bassist Nigel Harrison (who later joined Blondie), guitarist Rod “The Rook” Davies, drummer Pete “Tommo” Thompson, and guitarist Steve Forest (replaced by Robbie Blunt), formed in 1972. They were young, glamorous, and skinny, so scrawny that Michael once joked  that their collective weight was about 150 pounds. They released two studio albums, Silverhead (1972) and 16 and Savaged (1973), and one live album, Live at the Rainbow (1975), on Purple Records, Deep Purple’s label. They were dirty, raunchy (“More Than Your Mouth Can Hold,” for example), and fun, a hard-partying, kohl-wearing feature of the burgeoning glitter scene, where Michael befriended, among others, Marc Bolan. They toured extensively throughout the U.K., Europe, Japan, and the U.S., opening for Kiss, Nazareth, Osibisa, Fleetwood Mac, Uriah Heep, and Deep Purple. When Michael fell offstage and broke his arm in the U.S, it did not slow him down. His cast was spray-painted silver to match his hair, and they kept the party going.



Silverhead were supposed to be the Next Big Thing, poised to conquer the American music market. Unfortunately it never happened. Their sales were disappointing, and they did not reach the same sphere of popularity as T. Rex, Slade, or Sweet. Then they imploded, abruptly breaking up in the middle of working on their third album (Brutiful) in 1974. Michael relocated to L.A. permanently and eventually married The GTO’s Miss Pamela, whom he had met on the set of the movie Arizonaslim when he was a last-microsecond replacement for Keith Moon.

Pamela wrote about her first impression of Michael in her first memoir I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie, calling him “a degenerate drug-taking sex-dog toting two bottles of Southern Comfort, wearing two dozen silver bracelets on each arm” and “...a well-bred lunatic with an abundant vocabulary who drank like a school of fish.”

Silverhead has earned a new generation of young fans, thanks to the internet. They reunited last year for a series of concerts in Tokyo and just settled on another reunion scheduled for next year. I talked to Michael this week about the origin of Silverhead and their brief few years of glory. We ended up talking about a lot of other things, including 12 Step programs, drugs, art, and books. He’s read the recent list of David Bowie’s top 100 books and concurs with it, but would add classics like Hemingway, Tolstoy, Twain, Genet, Henry Miller, Rimbaud, Shakespeare, Sartre, Patti Smith, and Serge Gainsbourg. He doesn’t like Bukowski: “I’d rather read Steinbeck.”

He also told me that he prefers real books to Kindles, as does his long-time friend Jimmy Page. “If someone gave Jimmy a Kindle, he’d give it to a member of his staff to start a fire with.”

Dangerous Minds: When did you first get the idea to form Silverhead?

Michael Des Barres: I was doing a huge musical in London called The Dirtiest Show in Town, and Andrew Lloyd Webber came to see it because it was produced by Robert Stigwood, who of course ended up producing Jesus Christ Superstar. I ended up singing on the demos for that in the role of Judas. We got along great, and he said, “You should be a rock and roll star.” I was playing an androgynous sort of character in this musical. I played this angrogynous rock star, which I then became. He said, “You should be in a band. Write some songs immediately.” So I wrote a song called “Will You Finance My Rock and Roll Band?” and he did. He got me a record deal at Purple Records. We put a ad in the Melody Maker, which was the music paper, the de rigueur music source of information in London at that time in 1971. The ad said, “Wanted: erotic relaxed musicians.” These ne’er-do-wells showed up, skinny with floppy hair and eye makeup, and we formed a band called Silverhead.

Within three months we were in Japan playing these gigs, unbelievable response, because we had white faces, it was glamourous, it was kabuki, it was bluesy, it was decadent. Then we came to the states and played to eleven people in Cleveland. You know how it is, “big in Japan.” But fantastic experience, Silverhead, great band. Authentic, degenerate. We led that life. I met Miss Pamela. I left England. I moved in with Miss Pamela in 1974. The band broke up. It was a short-lived, explosive moment. We’re going back in March, funnily enough. That just happened this week. It should be lovely, because that’s closure. It ended in a cloud of hashish and acrimony.

More Michael Des Barres after the jump…

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Discussion
Nina Hagen’s ‘Nunsexmonkrock’: The greatest (and weirdest) unsung masterpiece of the postpunk era
10:21 pm



Nina Hagen’s 1982 Nunsexmonkrock album is one of the single most ground-breaking and far-out things ever recorded and it deserves to be considered a great—perhaps the very greatest—unsung masterpiece of the postpunk era.

There I’ve said it.

I’ll take it even further: To my mind, it’s on the same level as PiL’s Metal Box, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica or Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Or The Dreaming by Kate Bush. Make no mistake about it, artistically it is a monumentally important recording.

It’s also something you can buy used for a single penny on Amazon. There is no mention whatsoever of the album in Simon Reynolds’ definitive book Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. The Allmusic review of Nunsexmonkrock is but a single sentence. The Quietus doesn’t give a shit about it, nor does The Wire. In fact, there is almost nothing of any substance written about the album online anywhere. Hardly any music blogs have ever deigned to even mention it. Google the title, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Crickets.

That doesn’t mean that Nunsexmonkrock doesn’t have its hard-core passionate admirers—there are dozens of Amazon reviews and almost all of them are five-star raves—but we’re talking about something that was obscure 30+ years ago when it came out. Even if you could easily pick it up at the local mall then—and for a while there, you could—no one did. I would imagine that most people who have discovered the charms of Nunsexmonkrock since it was first released have done so primarily because they saw it in a $1 bargain bin and it looked weird so they picked it up (every used copy of Nunsexmonkrock on vinyl is pristine, it’s virtually guaranteed).

Luckily for both of us, you don’t have to take my word for any of this, I can make my case for the epic holy/demonic genius of Nunsexmonkrock with the music itself—thanks YouTube—which is neither punk, nor rock, nor opera nor really anything even remotely recognizable as any previously known genre of music. Already a category of one, Nunsexmonkrock appears to have no obvious influences either. Reliable adjectives fall by the wayside when you are confronted with such an anarchic artistic anomaly. Because it’s so very much out on its own peculiar limb, it’s completely timeless (musically at least: lyrically Hagen makes a prophecy about Leonid Brezhnev, who up and died the year it came out). Nunsexmonkrock could have been recorded 32 years ago, yesterday, or a thousand years from now and it just wouldn’t matter.

It inhabits a territory so exotic and utterly unclassifiable that the creator herself would never again venture that far out. Nunsexmonkrock is a zany, oddball, sexy, freaky as fuck and totally revolutionary masterpiece of modern music. At the center of this evil maelstrom is Hagen’s multi-layered and gymnastically operatic vocals, a unique hybrid of Maria Callas, Zarah Leander, Yma Sumac and Mercedes McCambridge doing the voice of “Captain Howdy” in The Exorcist...

Rolling Stone called Nunsexmonkrock the “most unlistenable” album ever made. Au contraire. It’s an incredibly weird album, let there be no doubt about THAT, but once you’ve gotten over the initial shock, Nunsexmonkrock is as catchy as hell. “Most unlistenable”? Although that sounds like a dare I personally would be willing to take, it’s not even remotely true.

Nevertheless(!), let’s ease into it, shall we, and start off with what is probably Nunsexmonkrock‘s most accessible number, the unstoppable riff-driven rocker “Born in Xixax” that leads off side 2 of the album. This is the great Chris Spedding on guitar. Tell me this riff isn’t as good as “All Day and All of the Night” or “Jumping Jack Flash.”


“This is Radio Yerevan and this is the news…”

Okay, so if “Born in Xixax” is the most accessible way to ease into Nunsexmonkrock, then “Smack Jack,” which had a music video, is the probably the best-known number from the album. This extraordinarily frenzied anti-drug rant addressed a topic Hagen herself knew well about, as she had a high-profile romance with Dutch rocker Herman Brood, the Netherlands’ most famous junkie.

“Smack Jack” went to #7 in Norway in 1982, believe it or not.

A word about the players on the album. Aside from the aforementioned Chris Spedding, none other than David Letterman’s sidekick Paul Shaffer (a top session player of that era) was on keyboards. Another contributor was Paul Roessler, a synthesizer player who was once a member of the legendary Screamers. There was ace studio drummer Allan Schwartzberg (once of Mountain) and Karl Rucker, who played with Hagen for some time, on bass. With the studio pros providing a solid backbone, the weirdos—Roessler, Rucker and Hagen—had a canvas to run wild over.

But Nunsexmonkrock is also, I think quite obviously, a producer’s album and Mike Thorne was the George Martin figure who was absolutely necessary to pull this grandiose, multi-tracked, borderline insane vision together. (EVERY song on the album, it should be noted, makes “I Am The Walrus” seem as simple as a folk song.) Thorne, who has produced so many classic albums that it’s ridiculous, would appear to be the key creative element, other than the diva herself, who contributed the most to Nunsexmonkrock‘s singularly evil, acid-drenched sound. The person twiddling the knobs on this sucker had an intimate acquaintance with either acid or nitrous oxide and how this music sounded on it, I’d wager a finger on that. The album redefines psychedelic. Has anything come along in all of the intervening years that is this ferociously tripped out? I don’t think so, not even the Butthole Surfers come close, if you ask me.

Here’s the evidence: “Antiworld.” This song, which actually leads the album off, is much more of a jump into freezing cold water than starting off with “Born in Xixax,” like we did above, I think you might agree…

Holy fuck. That sure is something, ain’t it?

More Nina Hagen after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
‘DO NOT EAT THE CAKE OF LIGHT!’ Dangerous Minds attends Aleister Crowley’s Gnostic Mass
08:25 pm



“A certain magician may 100% believe in the existence of spirits or gods actually existing in the universe,” explains Adrian Dobbie, President of the Electoral College of the UK chapter of Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis. “Or, if you do some magical evocation to summon a spirit of the Goetia and you communicate with it, that it is definitely a thing. And then there’s a whole other bunch of people, Crowley being one of them, who say, ‘actually these are simply properties of the mind.’ Personally”—he takes a pull on his pint—“I fall into the camp of the agnostic concerning whether these things exist.”

The two of us are sat in a very old pub in the City of London, near where Adrian works, surrounded by lawyers and bankers whose girth looks directly proportionate to their wealth—as if they got so fat literally eating money. For his part, the magician opposite me is a lean, healthy early forties, with short dark hair, a neat beard, and a ready wolfish smirk. (We have, unsurprisingly, picked out a quiet corner for our discussion.)

“The first solo ritual I ever did was very powerful to me,” he continues. “Because although I thought I’d rid myself of the whole Christian dogma—of a God in the sky who’s gonna punish me and all that stuff—the impact of that first, relatively innocuous ritual had on me was incredible. I thought: if the Bible is right I’m going to hell. That’s the line in the sand.”

A longtime Crowley reader and admirer, Adrian joined the OTO about a decade ago. I ask him about his first impressions—how the OTO’s 21st Century incarnation compared, say, to the Crowley heyday he must have grown up reading about…

“My initial experience was extremely positive. I was looking to contact the genuine article; I was looking for mentors, and I got that in spades. The OTO’s ‘heyday’ is today. When Crowley was alive, there was basically just one lodge in the whole world, and when he died there was still just a handful of people in the OTO—fifteen or thirty. Now, there’s over three thousand… But it’s nowhere near what it could be,” he concedes. “We’re still hiring community halls, and we’re still meeting in people’s houses. One of the biggest thing people have to overcome when they first get involved is a sense of disappointment. But that’s one of the first tests.”

Following our four-pints/interview, Adrian is nice enough to invite me to a Gnostic Mass in his native Brighton. (The official invitation attached to the email informs me that the ritual—designed by Crowley, and the organisation’s central rite—was to be preceded by a “TEDx” style talk!)

So, on an overcast September Sunday, I jump on a train from London, arriving in Brighton around midday. It is drizzling and cold. Stripped of her summer finery, the city feels provincial and drab, abandoned to its druggy intrigues for another nine months.

I may as well lay my cards on the table. Raised Catholic, and carrying a jangling jumble of latent Christian bric-a-brac, I prefer to remain precariously perched on the metaphysical fence. In short, I’m keen to cop a glimpse of a Gnostic Mass, but averse to actually nibbling some Cake of Light.

Regarding which, incidentally, I have other, altogether more mundane concerns…

A couple of days ago, I emailed a friend and mentioned my pending trip to Brighton. Their unexpected, seven-word response had read precisely thus: “DO NOT EAT THE CAKE OF LIGHT.” When I had inquired as to the source of such uncharacteristic upper-case vehemence, he had briefly responded that said cake reportedly included the priestess’s menstrual blood!

[Author’s Note: The OTO would like me stress that in fact the Cake of Light contains the merest homeopathic hint of this, shall we say, unorthodox ingredient. “A single drop of blood (which may be of any kind),” they write—sort of almost disappointingly really—“is mixed into the dough of one singular cake. That cake is then baked before being burned entirely to ash, which is then mixed into the dough of a batch that could make up to 50 or more cakes.” Your correspondent had imagined a kind of womb-drawn black pudding or occultnik yucky cookie. Which it very definitely is not. No occultists are ever harmed in the making of a Gnostic Mass.]

Quarter of an hour early, and frowning at my creased and printed map, I nervously shuffle up a gravel driveway running beneath a block of flats corseted in scaffolding. I’m early. At the end of the driveway less than half a dozen men are standing around outside the entrance of a small faux-Victorian community center.

Before I even reach them I can already hear the tripwires in my psyche (and stomach) a-twanging.

Adrian isn’t about, but I mention his name and introductions are made. This is a special, invitational Gnostic Mass, and a couple, like me, are invitees (though presumably bona fide neophytes rather than tremulous hacks). At least one seems a little nervous, while the OTO initiates—mostly middle aged men with either long hair or none, each with unusually pale blue eyes—inspect us with that slightly salacious curiosity with which people on one side of an experience examine those at its verge.

In the pub Adrian had referred to magick as “psychological transgression.” I can see what he means! The atmosphere is a distinct mixture of the religious and the illicit—as if we were all here for an afternoon of metaphysical dogging.

More people start to arrive, men and women now of varying ages and types. Adrian, our priest, emerges from the community hall along with our priestess, a beautiful Eastern European with dark eyes and darker jewelry. I smile and nod and shake hands, leaning up against a parked car and feeling disingenuously attired in the guise of a prospect.

A thickset guy perhaps in his early thirties, with protuberant features and a hoodie baring a Crowley sigil, strikes up some conversation. He seems simultaneously affable and sly, and describes a weekend that has taken him from Glastonbury to London to Brighton, conducting various initiations. “We have a saying here,” he says matter-of-factly, fishing out a prepackaged sandwich. “No-one’s going to teach you but there’s lots of people who will help you learn.” He tucks in. It’s cheese and onion, and with each dizzying bite it occurs to me that, given the choice between this and Cake of Light, I might very well plonk for the latter.

“The tech,” he mutters (I think—?), “is powerful.”

“The tech?”

He looks at me, a little incredulously.

“The magick. The magick is very powerful. You might leave with a big smile on your face and you don’t know where it’s come from, or you might not get anything for a couple of days. But you’ll get something.”

“I was kind of hoping just to observe. Is it obligatory to participate?”

He gives me a very close look. It enters me like a stick gauging the depth of the water.

“Everyone,” he says, firmly, “is expected to take the sacrament.”


He slips off, leaving me to freak out. I’m feeling as conspicuous as the copper in The Wicker Man

To my left stands a rather dapper old hippy with bright white beard and hair. I seem to remember being introduced to him as a fellow guest. We nod at one another.

“So,” I ask, venturing some occult small talk, “is this your first Gnostic Mass?”

“No, but it is my first for maybe… fifteen years.”

“Why the wait?”

“Oh,” he says, narrowing his (very blue) eyes. “I haven’t been waiting at all.”

Hail Mary, full of grace

I’m just readying myself to go scrambling back up the drive, pebbles pinging off my kicking heels, when the rain picks up, and the congregation, now thirty strong, begins to file into the community hall. And, against my better judgment, I file in along with them.

Within the twee, cake-sale space, an OTO temple has been installed – an effect both amusingly incongruous and disturbing, like an Alsatian mounting a poodle. I clock an embroidered checkerboard, Eye of Horus and nosediving dove, but much seems to be “occluded” in anticipation of the mass (we have, remember, that “TEDx-style” talk scheduled first)—what looks like an alter peeps out above a thick purple curtain.

Chairs have been laid out in rows before a little lectern, which Adrian presently ascends for the oration.

“There’s been a lot of speculation,” he begins, “about this being some kind of big OTO recruitment drive or something like that. So I just want to clear this up right away… it absolutely is.”

The room cracks up. Adrian, in his hyper-articulate fashion, talks Crowley, the OTO, and religious freedom for half an hour. The atmosphere, to be sure, is pretty dense—I’m certainly feeling the tech—and I sit desperate to leave but pinned to my seat by a combination of politeness and self consciousness.

Following the talk a loose-limbed discussion ensues, until the seated priestess starts catching Adrian’s eye and tapping her wrist. I try to remember if, in the Inferno, Virgil ever sweeps a hand across a burning lake of yelping Englishmen, nonchalantly explaining to Dante how “these dickheads managed to damn themselves out of social awkwardness.” Any second, I guess, the Gnostic Mass will get underway, they’ll break out the Cake of Light, and it’ll be even harder to leave.

“Right everyone,” says Adrian, taking the priestess’s visual cue. (This, I suppose, is it. Open wide.) “We’re going to have a short break now, while we get everything ready for the Gnostic Mass.”

Hallelujah! The rain has let up, and about three quarters of the congregation shuffles back outside for a pre-prandial cigarette and chat, while the remaining occultists busy themselves rearranging the chairs, pulling back the curtains, and preparing the hall. I goosestep over them, making a beeline for an amused and bemused Adrian, who I shower in incoherent apologies before hightailing it back to London…


Posted by Thomas McGrath | Discussion
Page 33 of 115 ‹ First  < 31 32 33 34 35 >  Last ›