Battered copies of Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha (New Direction edition) bulged in the back pockets of flower children in the Sixties as we went in search of our own personal enlightenment. It certainly kickstarted my interest in Buddhism and has, along with On The Road, Been Down So Long, It Looks Up To Me and In Watermelon Sugar, been one of those touchstones that I measure my life by. At least in terms of literature. The others, sex, drugs and rock and roll, would require a book of their own to recount.
Avon heir and reformed junkie Conrad Rooks, who had directed the semi-autobiographical head film Chappaqua, made a significant leap as a film maker with Siddhartha (1972), a sensuous and gorgeously photographed (by Sven Nykvist) movie that captures the book’s mind expanding allure. Shot in India in hues of twilight and dawn, the movie has a languorous pace and is imbued with the kind of hippie vibe that had aging flower children swaying like poppies in the Himalayan breeze.
The recently published graphic novel, Cleveland, by the late Harvey Pekar and illustrator Joseph Remnant, is a flat-out masterpiece of the form. One (hefty) part “biography” of a city, Pekar being Pekar, Cleveland is also another piece (and a key piece at that) of the grand tapestry recording the life of one of the city’s most notable residents, and certainly the man who will forever be known as Cleveland’s unofficial poet laureate.
In Cleveland, Pekar, who famously said “Life is a war of attrition,” tells his own story (as is his wont, of course) alongside that of the city he loved so much. It’s a broadly sweeping narrative for a writer usually so invested with the minutiae of life, but the Pekaresque observations are no less potent as the author takes an aerial view of over 200 years of the rise and fall of what was once one of America’s greatest cities and placing the events of his own 70 years living there in the larger context of Cleveland’s role in the American experiment itself. This is not the “day to day” life, little—yet potently illuminating—observations we’ve come to expect from Pekar, but in the beautifully-rendered pages of Cleveland, Harvey’s take on a slice of American history that he witnessed first hand (well, about a third of it, let’s say) is no less rewarding.
Cleveland is so beautiful and so heartfelt that it brought tears to my eyes several times (reading it, as I did, mostly in a dental office). I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you hail from Cleveland (or anywhere near it) the book is a must-read, but I’d say the same to anyone who simply wants to be dazzled by a great American writer at the very tip top of his game and working with one of the best visual interpreters of his long career. Cleveland is a masterpiece, a modern American masterpiece.
I sent Dangerous Minds pal Jeff Newelt, who edited Cleveland (Newelt is also behind Smith magazine’s delightful online “Pekar Project”) a few questions about the process of bringing a work like Cleveland to fruition and keeping the flame alive of one of America’s most distinctive literary voices.
In what kind of shape was the project in when Harvey Pekar died?
When Harvey died, the script was totally done, and Joseph had already drawn 18 pages. Harvey had seen those pages and was pleased to say the least. He was thrilled and it wasn’t easy to thrill Harvey!
Joseph Remnant’s artwork in Cleveland is just stunning, he’s clearly one of Pekar’s most inspired collaborators. What kind of research went into the panels?
Joseph was the clear and only choice to illustrate Cleveland. He was already working with Harvey and myself on The Pekar Project webcomics, and after he did such an incredible job on the story “Muncie, Indiana,” that clinched it. Because half of the book is literally a history of Cleveland, Joseph did TONS of online research searching for images, and also took out piles of books from the library. Regarding Harvey himself, luckily we were blessed in that we spent a nice chunk of time with “our man in person. The whole Pekar Project crew flew to Cleveland for Harvey’s 70th Birthday Party in 2009, and we had a wonderful weekend, him giving us a guided tour of his favorite spots. Priceless experience.
As an editor, how did you approach the material?
Cleveland was originally developed with Vertigo editor Jonathan Vankin, who did the initial heavy conceptual lifting of what the book should be. Then the powers that be at DC couldn’t be bothered to look at this incredible script, so on behalf of Harvey, I brought in Josh Frankel/ZIP Comics to publish the book, and brought in Top Shelf Comix to co-publish. So with Cleveland, the toughest editing was done, and I just copy-edited/ cleaned up some inconsistencies here and there. With short webcomics he wrote for The Pekar Project, Harvey would call me up and read me each story over the phone, then we’d jam on it for a few minutes and choose which artist to give it to.
I love the fact that the book is a parallel biography/autobiography of the city and one of its most notable and emblematic lifelong residents. It just works so brilliantly.
Cleveland was always so prominent in Harvey’s work as to almost be a character, so it was inevitable that he’d one day do a book with the city as the focus. I think Harvey identified with the perma-under-doggedness of the city.
Cleveland is such an unabashed love letter to what most people would consider a drab, horrible city, but Pekar’s magical voice and pithy, erudite historical observations and Joseph Remnant’s wonderful illustrations really evoke the city’s heyday, its rise and fall and fall in such a vivid, vivid way. It’s an extremely moving historical/dramatic arc that is unique in American literature.
It’s all about the love. The appreciation. The key to understanding Harvey’s work, IMHO is realizing how much of an “appreciator” Harvey was. Too many words are wasted on the Harvey-as-curmudgeon labeling, reinforced by the excellent-yet-ultimately one-dimensional performance by Paul Giamatti in the American Splendor film. All the little mundane moments in his many classic autobiographical stories come down to Harvey noticing, appreciating and wanting to share a special something he overheard, or a magic-yet-mundane moment he witnessed. Also so many of Harvey’s stories are appreciations of underheralded jazz musicians, klezmer artists, Russian novelists, etc. So it’s the same with his city. He was frustrated with Cleveland but he LOVED it nonetheless, so that love charges a jazzy poetry in his narration.
How did Alan Moore come to be involved with Cleveland? He not only wrote the introduction, he also generously helped you raise money to defray the cost of publishing, too, right?
I passed a galley to Alan through comics scholar Paul Gravett a longtime pal of Alan’s who I hung out with for 10 days at the Rio Comicon along with Melinda Gebbie (Alan’s wife and artist of Lost Girls) and Kevin O’Neill (artist for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Alan Moore was always a huge Pekar fan. He even drew a one-page American Splendor story. Plus, Alan was a character in Pekar story because Joyce, Harvey and Danielle visited Alan and Melinda in England on the movie tour. Harvey Pekar was to Cleveland what Alan Moore is to Northampton. When we were thinking whom we should get to do the intro, he was my only choice. Then Alan helped raise money for the Harvey Pekar Memorial Statue on Kickstarter by offering a 2hr live webcam chat as a reward!
What else is still to come from Harvey Pekar?
Over at the Pekar Project the next installment of the epic Harvey Pekar / Douglas Rushkoff teamup, illustrated by Sean Pryor, is coming soon. Also, released next week is Not The Israel My Parents Promised, illustrated by JT Waldman. This is my blurb on the back of that book: “Pekar peppers accounts of perpetual persecution with poignant autobiographical anecdotes in this concise compelling and sure-to-be-controversial graphic history of the Jewish people and state of Israel. Waldman’s art, juxtaposing realism with ancient styles, rocking exquisite mosaics and elaborate medieval and middle eastern design flourishes, is nothing less than a majestic tour de Schwartz.”
Just thought I’d share this great photo of Steve Martin—long before his hair turned gray—circa 1970. Martin had been a staff writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour which had been canceled by CBS the year before.
Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles, died yesterday, June 5th, at the age of 91. Bradbury was a colossus of modern fiction, writing everything form fantasy, science-, and speculative-fiction to comedy, crime and mystery. He wrote twenty-seven novels, several screenplays, most notably for John Huston’s film version of Moby Dick, as well as plays, and hundreds of classic short stories.
Bradbury was an immense talent, yet in the early part of his career, his success as a mass market “pulp” author often led critics to overlook the quality of his writing, and its seismic influence on others - his fiction formed the template for future speculative science-fiction and fantasy writers to follow. Bradbury had a beautiful, poetic and lyrical style of writing, most notable in Dandelion Wine, which made his authorial voice unmistakable.
Indeed the quality of Bradbury’s writing helped science-fiction out of the pulp ghetto into the hallowed groves of literature. Though most associated with that genre, Bradbury denied he was a science-fiction writer, instead claimed he was a fantasy writer whose work owed much to the traditions of classical literature:
“First of all, I don’t write science fiction. I’ve only done one science fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. It was named so to represent the temperature at which paper ignites. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see? That’s the reason it’s going to be around a long time—because it’s a Greek myth, and myths have staying power.”
Born in Waukegan, Illinois on August 22, 1920, Bradbury grew up in small town America - a world of dusty roads, with few cars, and tarmac avenues with old trolley buses ploughing the metal rails along main street. He also once claimed, in a BBC documentary, that his memory and experience was the source for much of his writing, and said his memory stretched back to his earliest experiences as a baby, being breast-fed in his mother’s arms.
He grew up reading books and watching Flash Gordon serials at the local cinema, and monster movies with Boris Karloff, while following the adventures of heroes in the early garish comics that later went on to deliver Batman, Superman and Tales from the Crypt.
“Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
Reading inspired his writing and Bradbury started his own fictions, eventually submitting short stories to pulp magazines in his teens - his first published story was “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma”, which appeared in the fanzine Imagination! in January, 1938. He received his first check of $15 for his story “Pendulum” (co-written with Henry Hasse) in 1941, when it was published in Super Science Stories. By 1942, he was able to have a career as a writer, writing stories for the various pulp magazines that were then available.
He progressed from stories to novels, with first big success being The Martian Chronicles, which was aided by a chance meeting with author Christopher Isherwood, who admired Bradbury’s work, and passed the book onto a critic who gave it a glowing review. From there, Bradbury had a career befitting the talents of such a great and marvelous man.
Bradbury’s influence has infused much of our cultural world - from films to comics, science to the imagined landscape of small town America, which is still very much as he described it in his fictions. Indeed, Bradbury’s vision of small town America was a precursor to Stephen King’s Castle Rock.
I greatly admire Bradbury’s work, and like everyone else grew-up reading his books, and regularly returned to them in my adult years. It seems as we grow older that all we reap is death, and this year has been a harsh harvest. Still, we should perhaps recall Bradbury’s line from Fahrenheit 451:
“Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made up or paid for in factories.”
Power trio: Lydia Lunch, Bertei and Anya Phillips.
If you lived in downtown New York City during the late 1970s and were a fan of new music, the odds are you encountered Adele Bertei. She was a member of seminal No Wave band The Contortions and could be seen performing and hanging out at the Mudd Club, Pep Lounge and CBGB’s, along with a formidable number of musicians and artists that made those clubs their second homes.
Petite and powerful, Bertei is a renaissance woman, much like her hero Patti Smith, who can operate within the worlds of music, literature, dance and film with a fine-tuned ferocity and grace. Moving from the unhinged funk of The Contortions to dance floor hits produced by Jelly Bean Benitez, Arthur Baker and Thomas Dolby weren’t no big thang for the mercurial Bertei. The transition from No Wave to New Wave and disco may have had a commercial design but Bertei did it all without selling her soul. Along with a number of downtown bands (Blondie, Talking Heads) she expanded her range, infiltrating the discotheques with bohemian raps riding big beats. Even her slicker stuff had a knowing quality that said “I can do this stuff too. So, why not.” The walls between uptown and downtown were crumbling, along with the bridges, subways and ghettos.
Bertei is working on a memoir, No New York: Adventures in the Town of Empty, which will chronicle her experiences in New York City from 1977 to the late-1980’s. Those were amazing years to be in Manhattan and if anyone can get at the heart of what made it such a wildly creative time, Bertei is the person to do it. She’s developed into a very fine writer - precise, heartfelt, tough and delicate. Her life story is the story of a city in flux and the people who rode the crest of a very tumultuous pop culture wave. Her early years alone include a stint as Brian Eno’s personal assistant through the Contortions and her all-girl band The Bloods to being a major label artist and collaborator with musicians as diverse as Matthew Sweet, Lydia Lunch, John Lurie, Scritti Politti and Sparks. If you’re interested in learning more about No New York: Adventures in the Town of Empty check this out.
My own experiences of Bertei were the several occasions on which I saw the Contortions and The Bloods. Uncompromising as hell, both bands took traditional funk and rock styles and played them with an aggressively manic edge that mirrored the vibes of a city hovering between decay and resurrection while also serving as a kind of curative - a headshot to the zombies that lurked at the edges of night.
It is arguable that artists and musicians did far more to exorcise the dark spirits embedded in New York City of the Seventies than the useless politicians helplessly choking on clots of meaningless rhetoric and the cops randomly arresting harmless panhandlers while heroin dealers ruled the Lower East Side with impunity. In clubs like CBGB’s, we gathered to re-fuel our engines before returning to the garbage-strewn streets, with their wall-to-wall carpeting of glassine bags, dessicated condoms and dog shit, to look the dead-eyed rat of reality straight in its big fucking smirk of a face. Within this doomsday scenario, we chose to contort ourselves into shapes that hieroglyphed our inner urgency to drown out, with the beat of drums and clang of metal, the grim wails of sirens that tore through the dank poisonous air like sonic razorblades. We had come to make a bigger noise. We weren’t going to take the shit of civilization lying down. We were going out fighting or at least fucking things up. As it is, some of us made art that cooled the jets of the degenerate culture of death. While Rome burned, we did more than fiddle. We rocked.
The videos I’ve included here give testimony to Bertei’s range and musical spirit. Stiff Records’ motto “fuck art, let’s dance” was good to be sure. But in Adele Bertei’s world, you can create art while dancing because they’re the same fucking thing. I know Stiff was trying to make a point about pretentiousness in music, and No Wave was an easy target for that argument, but when the Mudd Club (co-founded by Anya Phillips, Contortionist James Chance’s lover) opened its doors in 1978 and punkers had a dance club they could call their own it was amazing how quickly we went from cretin hopping to eventually burning down the house. The demonization of disco seemed like a waste of time. And segueing from “Le Freak” to “I Wanna Be Sedated” was as smooth as the seats on the L train.
“Jackie is a punk, Judy is a runt
They went down to the Mudd Club
And they both got drunk
As many times as you may tell your story, it is true that it will never be the same as you are never the same. Memory is flux as is life, although some people may tell you you never change. Stay away from those people. Weed the snakes from your garden. Navigate always toward the love. No matter how much they tell you we are born alone and die alone, it doesn’t make the need for love any less necessary to the in-between.” A. Bertei.
Nietzsche, of course, spent much of his life, prior to his complete physical and mental collapse, struggling with appalling ill-health; attacks of near-blindness, madness and incapacity that ruined his academic career and are nowadays almost unanimously thought to have been the symptoms of advanced syphilis. In 1877, when Wagner and Nietzsche’s friendship was apparently in its pomp, but Nietzsche’s health was moving through an especially rocky patch, Wagner (a bullish individual, to put it mildly) instigated a correspondence with Nietzsche’s then-doctor, evincing a great deal of concern for his younger friend, but an arresting want of tact:
“In assessing Nietzsche’s condition I have long been reminded of identical or very similar experiences with young men of great intellectual ability. Seeing them laid low by similar symptoms, I discovered all too certainly that these were the effects of masturbation [by hiding under their bed, perhaps]. Ever since I observed Nietzsche closely, guided by such experiences, all his traits of temperament and characteristic habits have transformed my fear into a conviction.”
Yes, what Herr Dr. Wagner wants to focus on is the possibility that Nietzsche was, in Wagner’s words, “a confirmed masturbator.” Back then, the world’s foremost pastime was widely considered to be an extremely risky business, as Dr. Balthazar Bekker’s study of 1716 (still influential in Nietzsche and Wagner’s day) details – the following, believe it or not, are just a few of the physical consequences supposed to derive from so-called “self-abuse:”
“Disturbances of the stomach and digestion, loss of appetite or ravenous hunger, vomiting, nausea, weakening of the organs of breathing, coughing, hoarseness, paralysis, weakening of the organ of generation to the point of impotence, lack of libido, back pain, disorders of the eye and ear, total diminution of bodily powers, paleness, thinness, pimples on the face, decline of intellectual powers, loss of memory, attacks of rage, madness, idiocy, epilepsy, fever and finally suicide.”
Which must have spiced up the average wank no end. But spare a thought for young Nietzsche, who already suffered from a decent number of these symptoms and must have regularly entertained the possibility that they were, so to speak, self-inflicted, just as Wagner (indiscreetly) would later allege. Dellin makes a good case that, for Nietzsche—a sexually sensitive man in sexually sensitive times—Wagner’s betrayal of his privacy was, once he learned of the correspondence, impossible to forgive or forget, the unflattering designation made in painful proximity not only to Cossima Wagner (the chick Nietzsche most dug) but also – and worse still – history itself!
But beyond Delin’s suggestion that Nietzsche’s subsequent philosophical feud with Wagner is only a smokescreen to distract history from these rumors and resentments, I couldn’t help entertaining the idea that Nietzsche’s entire later philosophy was an elaborate refutation of the possibility that he was a “confirmed masturbator” – which Nietzsche could well have imagined his own medical history would suggest to future generations even louder than Wagner’s lay-prognosis.
After all, whichever “moral” worldview Nietzsche attacked – be it Christianity, Buddhism or Socialism – he always did so primarily on the grounds that they were only the symptoms of decadence and that the cultures in which they originated and spread had long since stopped being able to control themselves. As Nietzsche noted in Twilight of the Idols:
“There is a time with all passions when they are merely fatalities, when they drag their victim down with the weight of their folly (...) all the old moral monsters are unanimous that ‘the passions must be killed’.”
Which is to say that you would only preach against the passions if they were fucking you up in the first place! The more moral the philosophy, insisted Nietzsche, the more debauched its adherents; Christianity, then, for whom “the only ‘cure’ is castration” (“if thy eye offend thee, pluck it out”), would therefore find its natural adherents among the most hopelessly degenerate:
“Survey the entire history of priests and philosophers, and that of artists as well: the most virulent utterances against the senses have not come from the impotent, nor from ascetics, but from those who found it impossible to be ascetics, from those who stood in need of being ascetics.”
What might the private life of such a moralist and would-be ascetic look like, then, at its worst? You might envisage (were you alive in the nineteenth century, that is), none other than a chronic masturbator, one (say) whose habit had become such a “fatality” that they risked permanently blinding and paralyzing their mind and body with the “weight of their folly.”
Quite the opposite, then, of an anti-moralist like Nietzsche, who definitely didn’t have, as Bob Dylan sang, “One hand tied to the tightrope walker/ The other in his pants…”
‘He came into the hotel, very quickly indeed. Sharp strides, quick handshake. It was extremely friendly.’
And then he tells you about himself, a slight pride, ‘I’d known his work for many years, of course.’
Of course, as if there would have been any question to otherwise. Then the non sequitur, ‘But it hadn’t led me to believe that he would be such a very fast driver. He drove his little Citreon, from bar-to-bar, throughout the evening. Very quickly, indeed.’
And of course, there are (pauses).
It’s Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett, recalling an evening spent in his company. A pub crawl in France.
‘We were together for hours, and finally ended up in… (Pause) ...a place in Les Halles, eating onion soup, at about 4 o’clock in the morning. (Longer Pause) And… (Pause) ...I was, by this time, overcome, through, I think, alcohol and tobacco and excitement (Pause) with indigestion and heartburn. So. I lay down on the table, to still see the place. (A Beat) When I looked up he was gone. (Pause) A I say, it was about 4 o’clock in the morning.’
It could be lines from a Pinter play, My Night Out With Samuel, or a comedy, When Harry Met Sammy, but it all progresses beautifully, and menacingly, towards a punchline.
‘I had no idea where he had gone, and he remained away and I thought perhaps this had all been a dream. (Long Pause) I think I went to sleep on the table and…. (Pause) ...About forty-five minutes later, the table jolted and I looked up and there he was, a package in his hand. A bag.
‘And he said, eh, “I’ve been over the whole of damned Paris to find this. I finally found it.” And he opened the bag and he gave me a tin of bicarbonate of soda. Which indeed worked wonders.’
Pinter then goes on to read from a letter he wrote to a friend in 1954, when he was 24, about Beckett - ‘The farther it goes, the more good it does me’ - before performing an extract from Beckett’s The Unnameable. In total, this short program is seven minutes of sheer brilliance.
Create the most “liked” caption, as determined by our readers in the comments, for this photo of Allen Ginsberg, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones and you’ll win a collectible Allen Ginsberg figurine from the fine folks at Aggronautix.
Awesome six inch tall figurine of the king poet of the Beat generation, Allen Ginsberg. Comes with Uncle Sam top hat, glasses, beaded necklace, a groovy coat plus a CD of Allen live at the Knitting Factory in 1995! The CD includes five previously unreleased spoken word pieces. The perfect addition to your shrine to the awesomeness that is the Beats! Figure designed by Archer Prewitt of The Cocktails and The Sea and Cake!
To enter the contest, you must first be following Dangerous Minds on Twitter or Facebook. Post your caption in our comment section and Dangerous Minds’ readers (the most discerning readers on the planet) will pick the winner by clicking the “like” button. The caption that gets the most likes, wins!
The contest will run through Memorial Day weekend and the winner will be announced on Tuesday, May 29. Good luck and have fun.
UPDATE: Bay Area Gooners has the most “liked” caption: “Count ‘em boys, 112 lines and not a goddamn one of them rhymes. Now, THAT is punk rock!”
Philip K. Dick - The Penultimate Truth succeeds in shedding some light on the visionary author despite having an unnecessary framing device involving special agents that seem to have wandered into the film from the pages of one of Dick’s short stories. The screenwriter of the documentary, Patricio Vega, is also a writer of detective shows for TV networks in Argentina so I guess he couldn’t help himself. Fortunately, it’s only a mild distraction from an otherwise sturdy documentary directed by Emiliano Larre in 2008.
The film includes interviews with Dick himself as well as with three of his five former wives, his stepdaughter Tandi Ford, writers Ray Nelson, Tim Powers, K. W. Jeter and Dan O’Bannon, his therapist Barry Spatz, and numerous friends from his past.
Here’s the back story of the famous William Burroughs/Jimmy Page Crawdaddy magazine cover story of June 1975, excerpted from LZ-‘75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour by Stephen Davis. Read the original article, “Rock Magic: Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin and a search for the elusive Stairway to Heaven” by William Burroughs here.
The long black limousine carrying Jimmy Page to his encounter with William Burroughs made its way down Fifth Avenue in a light snowfall. The car stopped in front of 77 Franklin Street in a dark, shabby neighborhood of vacant or abandoned industrial lofts that were slowly being reclaimed by young artists and urban pioneers. Jimmy was greeted at street level by James Grauerholz, Burroughs’s young assistant, who led Page up four steep flights of stairs to Burroughs’s loft. The sixty-one- year-old writer, dressed in a coat and tie set off by an embroidered Moroccan vest, extended his hand and offered his guest a cup of tea, which Page happily accepted. Also on hand was a photographer to document the interview, and Crawdaddy’s publisher, Josh Feigenbaum, whose idea this meeting had been. Before getting down to business, Burroughs proudly showed Page his orgone accumulator, which looked like a big plywood crate. Sitting in this box, Burroughs explained, concentrated certain energies in a productive and healthful manner according to theories developed by the psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich. Jimmy Page declined Burroughs’s offer to give the orgone box a try.
Burroughs thought he and Jimmy might know people in common since Burroughs had lived in London for most of the past ten years. It turned out to be an interesting list, including film director Donald Camell, who worked on the great Performance; John Michell, an expert on occult matters, especially Stonehenge and UFOs; Mick Jagger and other British rock stars; and Kenneth Anger, auteur of Lucifer Rising. Burroughs told Page about the feelings of energy and exhilaration he experienced sitting in the thirteenth row of a Led Zeppelin concert. These feelings, he told Page, were similar to those he had known while listening to music in Morocco, especially the loud pipes and drums of the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Page somewhat sheepishly admitted that he had yet to visit Morocco but had been to India and Thailand and heard a lot of music there.
Burroughs was interested in getting Page to speak about crowd control, a longtime fascination. “It seems to be that rock stars are juggling fissionable material of the mass unconscious that could blow up at any time,” he pondered.
“You know, Jimmy,” he continued. “The crowd surges forward . . . a heavy piece of equipment falls on the crowd . . . security goes mad, and then . . . a sound like goddamned falling mountains or something.”
Page didn’t bat an eye. “Yes, I’ve thought about that. We all have. The important thing is to maintain a balance. The kids come to get as far out with the music as possible. It’s our job to see that they have a good time and no trouble.”
Burroughs launched into a series of morbid anecdotes he’d collected about fatal crowd stampedes, like the 360 soccer fans crushed to death during a riot in Lima, Peru. Then there was the rock band Storm playing a dance hall in Switzerland. Their pyro effects exploded, but the fire exits had been chained shut. “Thirty-seven people dead, including all the performers,” Burroughs recalled.
He poured two fingers of whiskey for himself and for Page. Burroughs had been informed that these were the first Zeppelin shows to deploy any special effects. “Sure,” Page said. “That’s true. Lights, lasers, dry ice are fine. But I think, again, that you have to have some balance. The show must carry itself and not rely too heavily on special effects, however spectacular. What I really want is laser . . . notes. That’s more what I’m after. Just . . . cut right through!”
Burroughs then wondered if the power of mass concentration experienced by Zeppelin’s audience could be transposed into a kind of magic energy that could materialize an actual stairway to heaven. He added that the moment when the stair- way becomes something physically possible for the audience could be the moment of greatest danger. Page again answered that a performer’s skill involved avoiding these dangers. “You have to be careful [with large audiences],” he said. “It’s rather like driving a load of nitroglycerine.” Page described the fan abuse they had seen in Philadelphia a few days earlier as an ex- ample of a situation that could really crack, but somehow didn’t.
Over margaritas at the nearby Mexican Gardens restaurant, Burroughs asked about Page’s house on the shores of Loch Ness in Scotland, which had once belonged to Aleister Crowley. Was it really haunted? Page said he was sure it was. Does the Loch Ness monster exist? Page said he thought it did. Skeptical, Burroughs wondered how the monster could get enough to eat. The conversation continued over enchiladas. Burroughs talked about infrasound, pitched below the level of human hearing, which had supposedly been developed as a weapon by the French military. Then on to interspecies communication, talking to dolphins via sonar waves. Burroughs said he thought a remarkable synthesis could be achieved if rock music returned to its ancient roots in ceremony and folklore, and brought in some of the trance music one heard in Morocco.
Jimmy Page was receptive. “Well, music which involves [repeating] riffs, anyway, will have a trancelike effect, and it’s really like a mantra. And, you know, we’ve been attacked for that.”
They parted company on the icy sidewalk outside the restaurant, with many thanks and good-byes. Jimmy Page’s limo, which had been waiting for him, whisked him back to the Plaza Hotel. William Burroughs, James Grauerholz, and Josh Feigenbaum walked back to Burroughs’s loft to listen to the tape that Josh had recorded of the conversation.
Speaking of Jimmy Page and magick, here’s the maestro’s seldom-heard abandoned score for Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising: Part II is here.