A brief interview with the legendary film-maker Kenneth Anger, in which he discusses Magick, the O.T.O., Bobby Beausoleil, and Henri Langlois, with interviewer Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe. Recorded at the Galerie du Jour Agnès B., in Paris, November 2012, for Standard magazine.
People love to love James Franco and they seem to love to hate him, too. I think it must be because he does absolutely everything. The prolific multi-hyphenate’s latest project is a music video for a song titled “Love in the Old Days” by Daddy, his musical enterprise with artist/musician Tim O’Keefe.
When producer Ted James remixed one of Daddy’s songs, “Love in the Old Days,” Franco cast Kenneth Anger in the music video, presiding over a masked bacchanal based on Anton LaVey’s lycanthropic “Das Tierdrama” ritual (which was, in turn, based on The Island of Doctor Moreau by HG Wells).
Alexandria Symonds: How did Kenneth Anger react when you approached him with this concept? Or was it more collaborative—did you come up with the idea together?
James Franco: This is the first time I’ve worked with Kenneth. But I’ve been very influenced by his work before this. I met one of his close collaborators, a guy named Brian Butler, and Brian and I have been talking about various projects for a while, and we just haven’t been able to do any of them yet. Brian has a movie that he wants to direct, and he wants me to be a little part in. And then when I learned that he did a lot of stuff with Kenneth, I couldn’t have been more excited.
So Brian set up the meeting, and Kenneth is a—[laughs]. He’s a nice guy, but I think he’ll admit, he’s a very strange guy. So the conversation was very weird. We met at the Chateau Marmont, Brian was there. I’d have this whole conversation with Brian, because Kenneth was really quiet, and I’d ask Kenneth something, and it was like he wasn’t even listening—but then, he’d kind of become aware. And he’s very smart, he’s been through so many different kinds of experiences, and was a part of so many different things, traveling with the Rolling Stones at the end of the ‘60s. So at times, if you can get him to talk, he’s very knowledgeable and informative. But at other times, it feels like he’s just thinking about other things.
Alexandria Symonds: What about on the set? What was it like to direct him? Did you basically just let him do his thing?
James Franco: Right. So, I read this book called Sway, that’s a fictional novel, but it uses Kenneth and the Rolling Stones, and this guy, Bobby Beausoleil, who was part of Manson’s group, as characters. I don’t know how true any of it is, but I’m sure the writer did research to make a lot of it at least based on fact. In that book, he has the character of Kenneth Anger making the films—the films that Kenneth actually made. And there were certain approaches that he had to these films, where he would shoot a lot of things kind of documentary-style, just people doing their regular routines. Or sometimes, he would stage these basic rituals, but in the editing, turn them into something much more energetic and artistic than they were when they were just filmed.
I guess I used whatever was in that book as kind of a guide about how to work with him. All I really needed was this basic ritual of, I guess you would call it, “The Marriage of Hell.” And we had imagery that was people in animal masks, that was based on certain images that Kenneth’s friend Brian had shown me. I always saw Kenneth as the Priest of Darkness; his films have strangely fused art and weird, kind of religious rituals. And I knew in one of his performances he plays that weird instrument called the theremin. So, if I just had him kind of preside over the wedding and play the theremin, I knew I could shoot it similarly to the way he shot his movies, and then edit it, and make it into something even more.
Brian Butler—who recently moved into the former Hollywood Hills home of Donald Cammell, he tells me, “for inspiration”—was the creative director for the piece. Butler will soon commence production on a feature film called King Death (this is the project Franco alludes to in the Interview interview). He’ll be appearing in Berlin on Saturday night at the Mindpirates space showing some of his short films with a musical performance.
Read the rest of the James Franco interview at Interview
Below, Daddy’s “Love In The Old Days” (Ted James 1999 Remix):
On the radical Left, Upton Sinclair is mainly known for being a former Socialist candidate for Governor of California, and for writing The Jungle, his 1906 novel about the practices of the meat-packing industry (the nationwide disgust produced entire regulatory bodies to enforce food safety standards within a matter of months).
He was also super into the paranormal. This letter vouches for a psychic who won over Sinclair and his wife:
McDougall, my wife and I had a very interesting experience with him: I had four envelopes, tightly sealed and absolutely opaque. Each contained a letter form a person no longer living. Ford started talking about Jack London and told a lot about him, and then said, “You have a letter from him with you.” The four letters were in an inside pocket, and not visible. I gave him all four of the letters, and he kept turning them over in his hands in broad daylight while we watched him. They remained unopened to the end. He told us several things that were correct, about the contents of three of the letters. I made notes of what he said, and afterwards McDougall, my wife and I checked over the notes, and McDougall agreed with us that there was undoubtedly supernormal power
Call me skeptic, but seeing as this letter was written in 1938, and it was well known that Jack London and Upton Sinclair were both friends and socialist comrades, it feels a little like a lucky guess to me.
Sinclair’s 1930 book Mental Radio included anecdotes of his wife Mary’s telepathic experiences. William McDougall (referred to in the letter above) wrote an introduction to it and later established the parapsychology department at Duke University.
Guest post by the great Mick Farren—an exclusive extract from his contribution to Mark Goodall’s Gathering of the Tribe: Music and Heavy Conscious Creation, a collection of essays on music and the occult, featuring contributions on The Fall, The Beatles, The Wu Tang Clan and more. Now available in paperback for the special price of $20.77.
Even the most cursory theological (or even Reichian) shakedown will reveal that rock’n’roll has quantum multiples of the potential mythic/mystic power ever commanded by conventional Satanism. Where so much of contemporary Satanism—with its upside down crosses, modified but still liturgical robes and rituals, its ammended litanies, the serving of a faux-Eucharist from the naked torso of an immobilized cooch dancer on bad acid (shout out, hey, Susan Atkins!)—reveals it as nothing nothing more than an inverted critique of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. (Much in the way that Marxism was essentially a critique of Victorian capitalism rather than a stand alone philosophy.)
Rock’n’roll, on the other hand, arrived on its own mythical half-shell and right away went about its own anarchic rites and wild communions. Jim Morrison, although decidedly from the death-star dark-side, and a fully accredited Agent of Chaos knew he didn’t need any contracts with Beelzebub. He was the Lizard King. He could do anything. The only deal he’d cut would be with Dionysius. John Lennon had stood in the power-eye of the rock’n’roll hurricane and knew what he was talking about when he made his famous “the Beatles are bigger than Jesus” remark.(That is, oddly, rarely quoted in full.)
Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock’n’roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.
A full decade before Lennon and Morrison, however, some of the preachers who railed against rock’n’roll showed an awareness this brand new back-beat-from-the-pit might not be an instrument of Satan at all but a whole new independent threat to the god-fearing. In April of 1956. Lutheran minister W. Carter Merbreier attended an Elvis Presley show in Philadelphia where he observed “nervous, giggling girls screaming, falling to their knees as if in prayer, flopping limply over seats, stretching rigidly, wriggling in a supreme effort of ecstasy.” A few months later Des Moines Baptist, the Rev. Carl Elgena, warned his congregation that “Elvis Presley is morally insane and leading other young people to the same end. The belief of unholy pleasure has sent the morals of our nation down to rock bottom and the crowning addition to this day’s corruption is Elvis Presleyism.”
The concept “Elvis Presleyism” brings us to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ album The Firstborn is Dead. In the opening song, “Tupelo”—a radical reworking of a John Lee Hooker classic—Cave makes the vividly dramatic suggestion that the birth of Elvis Presley, coupled with the death of stillborn twin, Jesse Garon, was the product of a supernatural, of not apocalyptic, event horizon.
The black rain come down
Water water everywhere
Where no bird can fly no fish can swim
Where no bird can fly no fish can swim
No fish can swim
Til The King is born in Tupelo!
Cave wrote ‘Tupelo’ in 1984, seven years after Presley’s death, when it was plain that many of Elvis Presley’s more obsessive fans maintained a personal relationship with their idol that was wholly akin to born-again Christians professing to have an exclusive one-on-one with Jesus. When the Reverends Merbreier and Elgena hinted, way back in 1956, that Elvis might be the dangerous pied piper of some form of neo-paganism, they had the protection of the pulpit. For a lay person to explore such a concept would have been to court accusations of being certifiably crazy or worse. Who in their right mind could seriously suggest that the Son of Gladys might be—in addition to all his other accomplishments—a 20th century fertility symbol inately desired by a frightened world, maybe even before the mushroom clouds had fully dissipated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Humanity had developed the chain-reaction capacity for global-scale species-destruction, but had failed to evolve a philosophy to handle such hideous and overwhelming power. Couple that with plans for cookie-cutter totalitarian capitalism in one hemisphere with mirror-image Marxist repression in the other, plus new and tricky concepts like consumer uniformity and the pharmaceutical-brainwash tyranny of the psycho-civilized society (a major favorite of Sidney Gottlieb and the gang at MKULTRA), and a great many people—especially young people—wondered if they’d be better off back in the jungle for some animalism among the Old Gods.
Could the Elvis, the hillbilly cat, also be a Avalon mist-figure from an Arthurian Lord-of-the-Dance saga, or the myths of wounded Fisher Kings that stretched clear back to the megaliths of prehistory — and were so seriously and ironically invoked when Constantine and St. Augustine were mixing up Jesus Christ with Mithras to create the official deity of the Roman War Machine? Elvis the Fertility God may have also found himself cross fertilized by the horned and phallic, dark Legba divinities of Dahomey with their human sacrifices and Amazon girl soldiers, but, hell, isn’t that the just story of rock’n’roll?
If the pop culture of the mid-20th century was indeed a neo-pagan theocracy on the half shell, Marilyn Monroe could well have been drafted in as goddess-consort—although that might well cause a measure of temporal confusion that perhaps Jack Kennedy was the true Boy King from Camelot who actually took the hit. This would leave Elvis—who, by 1963, had been shorn and symbolically grunt-castrated as a conscript in what had formerly been George Patton’s Second Armored Division (Hell On Wheels)—as a much more esoteric entity.
But did anyone promise theology would be fast? Religions do not coagulate overnight. Christianity has had two full millenia on the game, plenty of time to work out its tortures, terrors, inquisitions, witchhunts, and multiple varieties of auto-da-fé. Rock—should it really prove to be a pagan belief system, or, more likely, a suspension of disbelief—has only been rolling for a tad over half a century, and, although it has exerted a profound effect on the culture of the times, its behaviour has been remarkably benign. It has provoked a number of peaceful mass gatherings, a few riots, only a very modest number of actual death cults, and made something of a junkie mess of the war in Vietnam.
Rock’n’roll has yet to pull any kind shit that stacks up against the Crusades or the Malleus Maleficarum. Although the second decade of the 21st century is hardly a halcyon time for paganism of any kind, and Evangelical Christianity—in the USA at least—is being allowed to get away with wholly unreasonable acts of fundamental stupidity. Route 66 runs now through a cruelly synched Bible Belt, and bands I don’t even care to name sell holy relics of what was once truly sacred. Perhaps some minor reformation might be about due, although the time is hardly ripe for burning corporate rock bands or even Simon Cowell in the cathedral square. At best we might reflect on Nick Cave and his speculations on what wonders might have attended the birth of Elvis Presley on January 8th, 1935, and wonder where they may take us.
In a clap-board shack with a roof of tin
Where the rain came down and leaked within
A young mother frozen on a concrete floor
With a bottle and a box and a cradle of straw
And Robert Johnson? Well hell, maybe he was taking about a wholly different devil.
The King will walk on Tupelo!
Tupelo-o-o! O Tupelo!
He carried the burden outa Tupelo!
Tupelo-o-o! Hey Tupelo! [Repeat]
You will reap just what you sow
Two of the earliest things that I read by William Burroughs were The Job, a book’s worth of interviews conducted by Daniel Odier, along with some shorter pieces that focused on revolution (and revolutionary technology for lack of a better term) and The Third Mind, his enigmatic collaboration with painter Brion Gysin about the “cut-ups” literary technique, and its occult implications. The cuts-up technique holds that if you randomly rearrange words via chance operation, that you’ll find their “real” meaning or encourage some sort of prophecy to leak through. Sort of like those “Magnetic Poetry” refrigerator magnets used as a Ouija board, to put it simply…
The “occult Burroughs” is my favorite aspect of his work. When the topic veers towards the use of occult technology in the employment of revolution, I prefer that even more (like “The Revised Boy Scout Manual”).
Burroughs had a strong interest in the occult all of his life, but aside from his own writings, there were precious few interviews where he’s speaking openly about his magical interests. The interviews that come to mind immediately are the ones Vale did in RE/Search #4/5 and a late in life Q&A that (I think) was conducted by the great Kristine McKenna around the time of Burroughs’ big LACMA art show in 1996 (I can’t find it online). Burroughs’ major biography, Literary Outlaw by Ted Morgan, barely touches on the subject, as if a major component of his subject’s worldview had sailed right over Morgan’s head, although Barry Miles’ more sympathetic El Hombre Invisible is much more satisfying in this regard.
Below, William S. Burroughs lectures to his writing class at Naropa University, on “wishing machines,” the paranormal, synchronicity, propaganda and dreams. You can hear Allen Ginsberg’s voice in a couple of places. Taped in Boulder, Colorado on June 25,1986.
For over 30 years, the so-called First Transmission video from Psychic TV, has been the stuff of, well, “snuff film” legend. It used to be that you couldn’t see this except through a fair amount of effort and now look, it’s on YouTube… like everything else. Just like normal things.
First advertised in the back pages of Thee Grey Book—the curious philosophical tract that aspiring members of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth got through mail order via a postal address listed on early PTV album covers—The First Transmission was an ultra weird touchstone of the underground VHS tape trading scene of the 1980s. (I dubbed my copy from the one they had for rent at the Magickal Childe occult bookstore, probably the sole copy anywhere in Manhattan and although it was a “legit” copy, acquired directly from TOPY I’m pretty sure, this was still a handmade item.)
Eventually I think there were three or four volumes of this material going around under the First Transmission title (this hour-long clip represents just a portion of it). Some of the participants were Genesis P-Orridge, Paula P-Orridge, Derek Jarman, Monte Cazazza, Peter Christopherson and David Tibet, with video of Brion Gysin and one of his Dream Machines, Jim Jones and some way fucked-up, er… “medical footage.”
A warning, this video is really not something that you want to watch at work. Maybe if you work at an S&M dungeon where ritualistic blood-letting is the norm... Don’t say you weren’t warned. The really gruesome parts, are, of course, faked, but they don’t look fake. The pissing, the blood enemas, the ritual scarring, they don’t look so fake, do they? I think those bits are, you know, real.
A secondary warning is that it’s a bit… slow moving. Still shocking after three decades, but a tad on the dull side. In defense of the project, Genesis told me that this material was more or less something that was conceived of to air on New York’s notoriously sleazy cable access station Channel J. The idea was for this weird, dreamlike footage just to appear on TV sets, sort of randomly, late at night, with no explanation whatsoever! On that level, and in the context of 1983, it becomes a minor prank masterpiece of sorts.
William Seward Burroughs, the literary prophet of everything weird that would happen during the latter half of the 20th century (including the 23 enigma) was born 99 years ago today, in St. Louis, MS.
Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the “greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift” while Norman Mailer described him as “the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius.” J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be “the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War.” Richard C. Kostelanetz wrote that “Naked Lunch is one of the more truly original and exciting pieces of prose to emerge from the fifties.”
Then there was the flip-side of that: English critic Philip Toynbee called both Naked Lunch and Nova Express “boring rubbish, insufficiently redeemed by passages of brilliant invention.” Writer John Wain wrote of Burroughs’ work “From the literary point of view, it is the merest trash, not worth a second glance,” while Burroughs’ arch enemy, Truman Capote, had this to say: “Norman Mailer thinks William Burroughs is a genius, which I think is ludicrous beyond words. I don’t think William Burroughs has an ounce of talent.”
William S. Burroughs traveled to the Western Lands at the age of 83 in Lawrence, KS in 1997.
Below, William Burroughs shooting Ralph Steadman’s William Shakespeare portrait dead. Video by Andrea Di Castro, Lawrence, Kansas, 1995.
Alien Or Satan is a short film by Norwegian artist Prins Preben. Part joke, part examination of what is interpreted to be Occult / Extra-terrestrial. As Prins tells Dangerous Minds:
The film examines a lost human facing what may be described as the hidden or the unknown. It has a kind of perspective of what emotions we see as “occult/hidden”. It’s like two directions…Hell the core of flames in the middle of the Earth. And Space a more cold and endless place….both a “kind of hidden.” And of course, Lucifer is both celestial and alien.
The first full-length feature trailer for Dean Cavanagh’s Kubricks has been released. And its producer, the former Head of Creation Records, Alan McGee is in shock.
‘I think I’m in shock, well I know I am in shock, and I think even Dean’s in shock and he’s made films before.’
Written by Dean and Josh Cavanagh, Kubricks stars Roger Evans, Joanna Pickering, Gavin Bain, Chris Madden, Matthew Blakey and Alan McGee. It deals with a director’s obsessive fantasies, and is part Kenneth Anger, J. G. Ballard and Stanley Kubrick.
‘The whole thing was like an experiment really,’ McGee explains. ‘I actually didn’t know if we could do it, because we had never made a full length feature film before. I thought we’d probably have something that we could show people, but we’ve done much better than that—we’ve made a film. It is genuinely out there, but I think it’s really good.’
Cavanagh agrees and tells me Kubricks is ‘A no budget experiment that didn’t end in disaster and taught all involved that Turner’s quote in Performance “The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness” was really on the money.’
‘I suppose the way you can look at it is, we’re Scritti Politti doing “Skank Bloc Bologna”,’ adds McGee. ‘It’s total D.I.Y. Dean had never directed. I had never produced a film or organized it, or been in one all the way through. Joanna Pickering had never had a major role in a film before. Roger Evans had never had a lead role in a film before. And I don’t think Gavin Bain had even been in a film before. So, you have all these people who are living the dream, so to speak, they’re all wanting to be in a film and wanting it to be great. But probably deep down in our hearts, we thought we’ll be lucky if we come out with something, but let’s try it anyway. And unbelievably, it’s good. It’s really good.’
Kubricks Written & Directed by Dean Cavanagh & Josh Cavanagh; Produced by Alan McGee; Director of Photography Tom Mitchell; Starring Roger Evans, Joanna Pickering, Gavin Bain, Chris Madden and Matthew Blakey.
An extract from my contribution to Mark Goodall’s brand new book Gathering of the Tribe: Music and Heavy Conscious Creation, a collection of essays on music and the occult, featuring contributions from Mick Farren and David Kerekes among others, and pieces on the Beatles, the Fall, Nick Cave, John Coltrane and many more.
Before it was destroyed in a 1965 bombing, Harlem’s Nation of Islam Mosque No.7 could boast a cluster of striking alumni and associates, suggestive perhaps that powerful — or even sinister — forces were circling it. Louis Farrakhan was once in charge there, and was preceded in the role by none other than Malcolm X, who famously brought Cassius Clay into the Harlem orbit (turning him into Muhammad Ali in the process). Somewhat bringing up the rear is the comparatively little known Clarence 13X, whose eviction from Mosque No.7 and the NOI by Malcolm X led him to found The Nation of Gods and Earths — more colloquially known as the 5 Percenters, an heretical sub-sect of the NOI that would later distinguish itself by providing the slang and mythos behind much of the greatest rap music ever made, including Rakim, DOOM, and the (so to speak) meta-gangster rap of mid-nineties New York, exemplified by acts such as Nas, Mobb Deep and The Wu-Tang Clan.
Cassius Clay, of course, remained “Orthodox” — describing himself as “a fisherman for Elijah Mohammed” (the then-head of the NOI and self-proclaimed savior of Black America). While there is inadequate opportunity to get into the rules and dogma of the NOI, we should note that the hook upon which Clay skewered his bait had much more in common with Freemasonry than it did traditional Islam…
As in any Masonic sect, NOI members are initiated incrementally, and must memorize (and demonstrate some understanding of) tracts of esoteric lore in order to graduate to higher levels. One of the things neophytes must learn is a catechism of symbolism and numerology called “The Lost and Found Muslim Lessons.” These can sound pretty odd to profane ears (for example: “What are the exact square miles of the useful land that is used every day by the total population of the planet Earth?”) but are meant to impart esoteric insight through recitation.
These “Lost and Found Muslim Lessons” are wedded to the NOI’s recognizably Gnostic narrative, in which the traditional Gnostic Demiurge figure (the inept or malevolent creator of the material world in which the soul finds itself imprisoned) is the infamous Yacub, a mad scientist responsible for breeding the defective white race (“Dad”) and endowing it with a significant metaphysical fallacy for good measure — the concept of a “mystery god,” a deity that exists without (rather than within) humanity. Humanity itself is divided up between the ten percent of people aware of such truths but who opt to use them to oppress the ignorant eighty-five percent, and the remaining five percent who are aware of these truths and dedicated to using them to empower and enlighten the masses (good on ‘em).
Unfortunately, membership of the NOI looks a bit of a drag. As well as apparently having to permanently don a bow tie (I think I’d sooner be circumcised), gambling, fornication and intoxication are forbidden. Rectitude is the order of the day… excluding, apparently (and as ever), the sect’s leadership, who in the Sixties were beset with a number of scandals regarding its near pathological philandering, a double standard that must have helped to inspire Clarence 13X – expelled by Malcolm X from Mosque No.7 for like incontinence – to form his 5 Percenters, changing his own name to “Allah” for good measure.
Now here’s where it gets interesting, for Clarence 13X did not found his group in order to implement the top-down rectitude lacking in the NOI, nor to replicate its hypocrisies, but to instead altogether loosen the shackles of piety.
Goodness knows they chafed him enough — Clarence (a handsome fellow, as well as a snappy dresser) enjoyed a drink, smoke, toot, flutter and fuck no less than the average Rolling Stone, and saw little wrong with his fellow 5 Percenters enjoying the same, so long as they were careful to eschew pork — the notorious P.I.G. (he also — and in no little contradistinction to Mick, Keith and the gang — encouraged his followers to steer clear of smack, which he deemed “the swine of substances”).
Of much greater importance to Clarence than conventionally respectable behavior — which he appeared to think either would or wouldn’t assert itself in its own sweet time — was the wider dissemination of the NOI’s metaphysics among the offspring of New York’s African American slums, a rambunctious generation theoretically ripe for NOI conversion but likely to be deterred by the required lifestyle strictures.
Clarence lived out the remainder of his life balancing his role as religious mentor with his penchant for drinking, gambling and womanizing, during which time the 5 Percenters spread impressively, with its founder attracting plenty of negative attention and spending a certain amount of time in New York prisons and mental institutions, eventually being shot dead in ambiguous circumstances.
It was surely Clarence 13X’s teasing apart of morality and metaphysics that later made his creed so viable to the Nineties rap outlaws. Even in his lifetime this masterstroke had its repercussions, with the initial generation of Clarence’s converts causing a tabloid furor, the press misunderstanding the 5 Percenter insignia as merely the shtick of a dangerous new gang — by the time the ‘crack epidemic’ would divide up America’s slums into predators and prey, 5 Percenter theology was well entrenched as the warrior creed of a growing urban soldiery.
One tempting explanation for the ensuing high proportion of significant 5 Percenter emcees is that, by demanding that adolescent initiates begin committing the extensive NOI catechisms to memory, the proselytizers — usually older friends or relatives — incidentally enhanced these young persons’ mnemonic and recitative abilities.
Certainly, by the time the young RZA decided to form his collective, he was able to reap seven superb emcees with a single close sweep of his razorblade. For the initial core of the group, GZA, Method Man, and the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, RZA’s blade hardly had to travel, as all four were related to varying degrees and had been listening to hip hop, studying 5 Percenter theology and playing chess since childhood. These three voices — respectively cerebral, stylish and anarchic — dominate Enter the 36 Chambers...
So, one minute the Wu were playing clubs and house parties in their native Staten Island — there are rather picturesque accounts of ODB tripping on acid and firing his gun into the ceiling mid-gig — and the next they were superstars. RZA would spend the following five years brilliantly consolidating their legacy: producing and directing classic solo albums by the Wu’s five most talented members. Taken together, these solo debuts — Method Man’s Tical, GZA’s Liquid Swords, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Ghostface Killah’s Ironman and ODB’s Return to the 36 Chambers, the Dirty Version — surely constitute the richest oeuvre in hip hop.
Besides the career criminal and the cataclysmically unlucky, no one is more instinctively superstitious than the superstar — who fortune has touched with her most conspicuous (albeit volatile) wand. You can only imagine how the members of the Wu, all long since initiated into a form of urban witchcraft that attested to their inner divinity, felt to wake up and find themselves world famous. Whether or not the impoverished and mundane aspects of their former lives ever tested their faith in the mystical worldview of The Nation of Gods and Earths, their subsequent success manifestly compounded it, resulting in their becoming propagandists for Clarence 13X’s small sect and introducing it to tens of millions of listeners around the world.
For ODB, meanwhile, who had betrayed schizophrenic tendencies long before stardom provided ostensible confirmation of this supernatural worldview, success would only push him deeper into psychosis. By all accounts, he was one of the most dedicated 5 Percenters in the Wu, a fact that has usually been met with incredulity by some chroniclers of the group, who are stumped by the challenge of ascribing fervid religiosity to a pop star renowned for his spectacular affection for arrest, anilingus and crack cocaine. Fair enough, though in ODB’s history of womanizing, incarceration, shootings and insanity, we can detect an echo of the life of Clarence 13X himself, and are reminded that the 5 Percenters are an unusually flexible – and, frankly, rock’n’roll – sect.