By Courtney Jerk and Max Dropout
Aleister Alexander Edward Crowley, a popular occult persona, founder of a philosophy based on doing what you want, and participator in many indulgencies including drugs, sex, violence. It’s no wonder he has been and continues to be a lasting influence in rock and roll. From being immortalized in song lyrics and on album covers to inspiring and mentoring many musicians with his philosophies, Crowley is one of the few musically uninclined artists to impacted modern music to a profound degree. Over the last half century, numerous bands have displayed their interest in the occult personal by embroidering his wisdoms into their own work — the game of “Where’s Crowley” even includes the cover of one of Rock history’s greatest albums ever, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, with the spiritual leader’s visage looming amid the spread of the Beatles’ influences. While you might expect to find lyrical references to Mister Crowley from the likes of Al Jourgenson and Ozzy Osbourne, he even pops up in some of the most unlikely places, such as the cover of Michael Jackson’s Dangerous LP.
Amongst the heap of gleaming stars that encrust the cavalcade that is the Crowley admiration society, one of his most notable and dedicated followers was Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. And while the seminal hard rock artist attempts to downplay his former devotion to the philosophical giant now a days as frivelous, he even went so far at one point as to pay homage to Crowley by naming one of his children Scarlet Lilith Eleida Page (Scarlet, derived from “Scarlet Woman” being “a technical term, complementary to that of the Beast for the office, held by any directly inspired female medium of the Gods” according to Crowley. And Lilith, the name of one of Crowley’s own children). But it should not go without mention that Page was at one time also the owner of the second largest collection of Crowley’s books in the world, and of course, Crowley’s former Loch Ness Estate, Boleskine House.
If paying attention to and taking his writings into consideration, one is well aware that Crowley caused quite a bit of commotion while occupying the house. It is said that his experiments with magic were not entirely successful and caused disturbing phenomena that were responsible for ill health of the property’s servants — many of whom went insane or ended their own lives prematurely, thus contributing hauntings to a house already plagued by what have suggested are other worldly entities evoked by its master. Even prior to Crowley’s ownership of the estate, Boleskine “enjoyed” an ominous reputation of its own. Legend told of tunnels which adjoined the property to a nearby cemetery, which hosted a congregation of witches. This in mind, Crowley’s attraction to the property isn’t any mystery.
Aleister Crowley, born Edward Alexander in October of 1875 in Warwickshire, England, was the son of a preacher and heir to a small fortune, and spent most of his life seeking out mysticism. A naturally permiscuous troublemaker, he both despised and rebelled against his family, changing his name to Aleister, as he refused to share his father’s name. He attended Cambridge University, where it is said that he studied alpine climbing, fulfilled an aristocratic lifestyle and engaged in a great deal of sex with both men and women. After making enemies of poet William Butler Yeats and occultist Arthurt Edward Waite at a fraternity called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. However, he was expelled only two years after joining, thanks to Yeats, who disapproved of Crowley’s magical methods. On the heels of that debacle, Aleister then travelled extensively, visiting Mexico, India, France, Ceylon where he studied Yoga and married Rose Kelly, before moving on to Egypt, where he experienced a spiritual epiphany. Crowley had been attempting to contact his “Holy Guardian Angel” in Ciaro when he encountered an entity known as “Aiwass.” After this experience, Crowley founded the mystical system of Thelema.
Crowley was often maligned by press in his lifetime, which amused him to no end. The claims made about him ranged from realistic, such as his favoritism toward the Germans in WWI and the fact that he openly kept mistresses, to the ridiculous, such as sacrificing hundreds of babies in black magick rituals. He was even expelled from fascist Italy after establishing a Thelema commune in Sicily. Despite world-wide notoriety, an international occult scene peppered with cultish throngs devotees, and about a hundred book titles still in print, Crowley died in 1947, an all but forgotten, poverty-stricken heroin addict.
Jimmy Page’s fascination with the occult began at age fiften, and although he read Crowley’s “Magick in Theory and Practice” when he was eleven, he didn’t grasp it immediately. He has said that he subscribes to Crowley’s system of self-liberation, in which repression is the greatest sin; by this theory, everyone has a True Will, and once you have discovered yours, there is no way that you can fail at your task, because it is yours alone. He has also remarked about the fact that Crowley didn’t have a very high opinion of women, and that he “didn’t think he was wrong.” In 1971, Page purchased Crowley’s former estate, Boleskine House, located on the shores of the Loch Ness. In an attempt to restore Boleskine to its “original” condition at the time of Crowley’s many rituals, Page hired proclaimed Satanist Charles Pace to design murals on the walls. In a conversation with Michael Watts of Melody Maker in September 1974 Page said, “The house was built on the site of a Kirk dating from around the 10th century that had burned down with its entire congregation inside. Nobody wanted it; it was in such a state of decay. I hadn’t originally intended to buy it, but it was so fascinating… It’s not an unfriendly place when you walk into it. It just seems to have this thing…” Page enjoyed going up to the house with artistic friends, claiming that it “crystallized things for them in a very short time.” He no longer owns the house, having sold it in 1992.
Page also opened a specialty bookstore called “Equinox,” in London, which exclusively carried occult titles. Although it was possible to buy many of Crowley’s works there (some of them signed), including a first edition 10 volume set of his work “The Equinox,” the store was merely a front; it was never designed to make money, just to publish books. In 1979 the shop lease expired, and Page, unwilling to bother with drastic business changes, decided to close it.
At a Sotheby’s auction of Crowley’s boots in 1973, Page happened upon a man named Kenneth Anger (a former child actor, who appeared alongside Mickey Rooney in the 1934 Max Reinhardt production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Like Page, Anger, a filmmaker and practicing Magus (magician/priest), was a student of Crowley’s teachings. Kenneth took his work very seriously, feeling that the projections of his films were ceremonies capable of invoking spiritual forces. He considered cinema to be an evil force, and that his movies were designed to exert control over people’s minds. Having already made five other previous films, such as Rabbit’s Moon and Scorpio Rising, Anger had been working on his current project, Lucifer Rising, for nine years, and asked Page if he would contribute some music for the movie’s soundtrack. Page agreed. According to Anger, the pair had a “gentleman’s agreement,” and never discussed money, as it was to be an “offering of love.” The two of them would split the profits from the film, with Page taking all proceeds that were earned from the soundtrack.
Anger, like Page, was also attracted to matters of the occult at a young age. It wasn’t long into Kenneth’s life when he found a mentor in Aleister Crowley, someone he could identify with. In 1955, he traveled to Cefalu, Sicily with Alfred Kinsey, a sexologist with which he was the first to uncover the pansexual murals at Abbey of Thelema. Around the 60’s, just when the Haight-Ashbury scene was beginning to deteriorate, Anger headed to London, where he began a close association with the Rolling Stones. It was also around this time that the Stones released their occult inspired album, Her Satanic Majesty’s Request, as well as the song “Sympathy for the Devil”, which Anger claims was inspired by his conversations with Mick Jagger. In a somewhat famous incident, Anger once freaked out Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg by supposedly painting their front door gold while Richards was out of the building (in preparation for a pagan marriage ceremony, which never took place.) He worked on Lucifer Rising during this time, and it was not long before he became acquainted with Page.
The two of them began working, with use of film editing facilities located in Page’s London Mansion’s basement, to trim down the 17 hours of footage into a manageable hour and a half. At the same time, Page had other equipment installed to work on the Led Zeppelin film that would go on to become “The Song Remains the Same” (Page had originally intended for Anger to direct the film, but future altercations would put an end to that). After three months of work, Anger was kicked out of Page’s house one evening by his irate girlfriend; when he returned the following morning to collect his belongings, he found the door had been locked and bolted. Unable to get a hold of Page, Anger informed his mystified management that he was firing Page from the project. In a few days, he had collected all of his belongings from the house, including the “crown of Lucifer,” studded with rhinestones from a dress worn by actress Mae West. Page stated in an interview that he had a few of his roadies gather all of his belongings up for him, because they had been scattered all over the place, and that Anger was being “snide”.
Anger went on to comment, “The way he’s been behaving is totally contradictory to the teachings of Aleister Crowley and totally contradictory to the ethos of the film. Lucifer is the angel of light and beauty. But the vibes that come off Jimmy are totally alien to that-and to human contact. It’s like a bleak lunar landscape. By comparison, Lucifer is like a field full of beautiful flowers-although there may be a few bumblebees waiting to sting you if you are not careful. I’m beginning to think Jimmy’s dried up as a musician. He’s got no themes, no inspiration, and no melodies to offer. I’m sure he doesn’t have another ‘Stairway to Heaven’, which is his most Luciferian song. Presence was very much a downer album. In the first place his commitment to Lucifer’ seemed to be totally serious, and he was very enthusiastic about the project. On the one hand he’s very into enterprise and hard work. But on the other hand he has this problem dragging him down. He’s been acting like Jekyll & Hyde, and I have to have someone who’s 100%. This film is my life’s work.” He also said “I’ve left messages on his Kafka-esque answering machine. All I’ve had is promises that the soundtrack is on its way, but nothing’s materialized. I’ve got a fucking film to finish.”
This was hardly the only roadblock in Anger’s work on Lucifer Rising. Nine years before Anger met Page, he had started production of the film in San Francisco. The actor that was set to play Lucifer, a five-year-old boy, was tragically killed in an accident before the shooting began. He was replaced by former Love guitarist Bobby Beausoleil (who is also of Charles Manson association and was later involved with the torture and murder of Gary Hinman). Beausoleil ended up borrowing $100,000 from Anger for amplification equipment for the band he was in at the time, and stored the boxes at Anger’s house. When the boxes attracted the attention of Anger’s dogs, he discovered a bale of marijuana, which was on its way to the Manson family. Enraged, he threw both the bale of weed and Beusoleil himself down the stairs of his home, and Beausoleil was on his way, taking with him a large chunk of footage from the film (an accusation which he still denies today). In protest, Anger entered a two-page death notice for himself in the New York Village Voice, but it was in vain. Anger had very little footage left, but what remained was later used to shape another film, Invocation of My Demon Brother, with a jagged, synthesizer based soundtrack provided by none other than Anger’s good friend Mick Jagger. Jagger was very taken with Anger’s work and because of this agreed to take the part of Lucifer for Lucifer Rising, but later backed out after feeling overwhelmed by the Satanic vibes of the film. After several more switches, the part was eventually given to a steelworker named Leslie Huggins, and Anger flew him and rest of the cast (Jagger’s brother Chris, Marianne Faithful, and performance director Donald Cammell) to Egypt to finish the film.
For the soundtrack, Page experimented with the use of synthesizers, hoping to create a kind of timelessness by bending and changing the sounds of the instruments, so they could not be easily identified. The insert of the unfinished album read, “Page plays all music by himself, most of which was done on an electric guitar being run through an early ARP Synthesizer. An incomplete version of the film was premiered in Los Angeles in September from which this recording comes.” In actuality, there was very little guitar on the soundtrack, as the synthesizer warped most of the sounds beyond recognition. In total, Page turned over about 28 minutes of music for Anger to use, not enough for a complete record and certainly less than what Anger was expecting.
In October of 1976, an article appeared in the English music papers with allegations from Anger that Page had never completed the soundtrack. Page responded, saying that the accusations were untrue, and that he had completed everything in plenty of time, not to mention helping Anger find a place to screen the film in London, and lending him his Kensington home to stay in. Anger continued to badmouth Page every chance that he was afforded, and brought renewed friend Bobby Beausoleil back in to replace him in the process. The soundtrack was completed by Beausoleil, and the finished film was finally released to the public in 1980.
Page made one final statement on the subject:: “All I know is that at the end of the film I promised him, as I had before, the loan of a three-speed projector which makes editing so much easier. I said to him, ‘Well, it’s just going to be your time invested.’ And I told him that he must put the music on after he put the footage together, so I was just waiting for him to contact me, really. He had other music that I’d done instead of the stuff that I’d delivered which he said he wanted to use, nevertheless I still needed to hear from him and I never heard anything.”
Anger is reportedly working on another film, titled Gnostic Mass, with a soundtrack by Coil, and will be his first to actually include dialogue. The project is apparently on hold due to lack of funding. A film about Crowley’s paintings, called A Man We’d Like to Hang, was recently shown at a San Franciso film festival and will be included on a DVD of his works, scheduled for release at the end of the year. Anger says of his work, “I don’t want to make films for the typical American teenager, who’s a moron.” The filmmaker is also planning to release a third volume of his books on the tinsel town scandals, Hollywood Babylon I and II, but is supposedly waiting until many people included in the book can no longer take legal action against him.