INTERVIEW WITH BOBBY BEAUSOLEIL by Michael Moynihan
With the advent of the conformist nightmare that consumed most of America in the 1950s, something eventually had to break. By the middle of the following decade, it most certainly had—and the shattered evidence was plain to see. Under a California sun, the shards and splinters of what had been a monochrome world now glinted in Technicolor brilliance, dazzling the eyes of those who dared to look toward new frontiers. The old rules were dispensed with, scorned and abandoned as anachronistic restraints. Dividing lines between art and life melted away, and for a few fleeting moments—or even years—anything seemed possible.
Once the dark mirror reflecting status-quo culture had been shattered and the floodgate opened to an alternate stream of consciousness, there was little controlling what came through it. Those hardier souls possessed of stamina and vision could ride the cresting wave and even channel its rushing forces as a means to propel their own creations. But as one wave rolled in, another was right on its heels—sometimes more disorienting than its predecessor. Many who immersed themselves in this tumultuous tide were soon lost at sea or drowned in unfamiliar waters.
A newfound freedom borne of unrestrained circumstances is invigorating, but not always easy to handle. Trial and error was the only available procedure for processing these experiences, and results could sometimes be fantastically beautiful—or frighteningly disastrous. In the burgeoning youth subculture, chaos increasingly became the rule. In order to navigate the unknown, a torchbearer was needed to guide the way, and preferably one with experience. For the artists Kenneth Anger and Bobby BeauSoleil this torchbearer, capable of illuminating the path to a new dawn, was none other than Lucifer, the rebel angel and “light bringer.”
Anger and BeauSoleil are both magicians—visionaries who harness non-material elements in order to manifest their creative wills. Anger, the filmmaker, works with light, flicker, and shadow; BeauSoleil, the musician, with tone, tempo, and melody. Their individual temperaments are exceedingly distinct, the products of two different generations and widely divergent backgrounds. But upon meeting they immediately recognized in one another the complementary talents, innate energies, and a kindred fate that bound them together. That fate found a name in Lucifer Rising, a legendary film project that would take more than a decade to complete. By the time it was done, the collaborators had each dramatically undergone their own series of trials and tribulations—literally and figuratively.
In early 1967, the nascent socio-cultural revolution was in full swing. Kenneth Anger was living in San Francisco—the eye of psychedelic cyclone—and beginning work on his newest underground film, Lucifer Rising. Anger had already begun dealing with social taboos in earlier films like Scorpio Rising, but this new work would invoke heretical spirituality and serve as an apologia for a denigrated deity. In Anger’s words: “I’m an artist working in Light, and that’s my whole interest, really. Lucifer is the Light God, not the devil, that’s a Christian slander. The devil is always other people’s gods.” For the leading role of the “sun-souled” Lucifer he needed someone who archetypally embodied the spirit of freedom and “joyful disobedience.” He thought he had already found a suitable actor to do the part, but those plans would be quickly revised after Anger attended an unusual event called the “Invisible Circus,” the joint brainchild of Emmet Grogan’s anarcho-activist group, The Diggers, and the Sexual Freedom League.
The Invisible Circus was planned as a continuous “happening” in which the audience would be active participants for a raucous three-day program of music, poetry, theater, and free love. For the location the organizers rented the Glide Memorial, an unusual Methodist community church run by Reverend Cecil Williams and situated in the city’s run-down, red-light district known as the Tenderloin. One of the highlights on the opening night was a performance by nineteen-year-old Bobby BeauSoleil’s “psychedelic chamber orchestra,” The Orkustra. Among its members was violinist David LaFlamme, who later went on to gain considerable recognition with his group It’s A Beautiful Day. The Orkustra used unconventional electrified acoustic instruments to create semi-improvised walls of sound that were as much inspired by classical, jazz, Indian, or Far Eastern music as they were by rock’n’roll. In many respects, the band was far ahead of its time. They were also a perfect complement to the atmosphere of the Invisible Circus, and their undulating music unleashed a tempest of sensuality that night in the densely crowded room. After their performance, the band members retreated outside to the parking lot for fresh air. It was here that Kenneth Anger, having just witnessed The Orkustra’s rapturous show at close range, first approached his potential recruit. He had found the perfect leading man for his film: “You are Lucifer!” he exclaimed to a mystified Bobby BeauSoleil.
Shortly after listening to Anger’s pitch, BeauSoleil agreed to involve himself in the film—so long as The Orkustra could provide the soundtrack. Anger, in turn, fired his former candidate for the Lucifer role and enthusiastically took BeauSoleil under his wing. Not everyone was happy about the new relationship, however: BeauSoleil’s obsessive dedication to the film project ultimately alienated his band mates and was a factor leading to The Orkustra’s breakup. BeauSoleil was undaunted, however, and set about to assembling a new group to record the soundtrack. Christened The Magick Powerhouse of Oz, the band soon became a sort of underground legend, despite the fact that almost no one ever heard a single note of their music. This reputation came about largely due to circumstances of their existence: they seemed to have solely existed in order to score the music for a dark, Aleister-Crowley-inspired occult underground film. The band’s name was drawn from Crowley’s philosophy of occult “magick” and L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels, with “Powerhouse” being a reference to the surreal constellation of brightly colored wheels, pulleys, and machinery that powered the cable cars of San Francisco, the Emerald City itself.
By this time BeauSoleil had moved in as a housemate with Anger at a creaky Victorian mansion known as the “Russian Embassy” and perched on the uppermost corner of Alamo Square. A contemporary photo taken inside the house shows BeauSoleil sitting center-stage and holding his electrified bouzouki, the number 666 emblazoned on the chair back above him, surrounded on either side by the motley members of the Magick Powerhouse. While their collective reputation lives on, the names of these musicians—street performers of various stripes whom BeauSoleil had discovered at neighborhood corners and cafés—have long been forgotten.
That summer a new venue, The Straight Theater, was being renovated in the Haight Ashbury. BeauSoleil knew the house soundman, Brent Dangerfield, and was friendly with the theater’s owners. The first real concert at the venue was a special evening set for the autumnal equinox. Along with well-known San Francisco musical acts such as The Charlatans and The Congress of Wonders, the show would also feature the live debut of The Magick Powerhouse of Oz. The atmosphere would be enhanced with the help of two lightshow companies, one of which would be projecting Lucifer Rising footage as well as a vintage print of the original Wizard of Oz during the show. Between sets by The Magick Powerhouse, Anger was to perform a Crowleyan ritual to celebrate the pagan holiday. Expectations and emotions were running high before the event, but no one could have predicted that the equinoctial extravaganza would be an explosive flashpoint in the disintegration of Anger’s and BeauSoleil’s working relationship.
The audience turnout was smaller than hoped for, and The Charlatans had been dropped from the bill, but The Magick Powerhouse’s debut performance went smoothly and was well-received. The same cannot be said for Anger’s solo magick ritual. Earlier that evening he had made the decision to ingest a quantity of LSD, which proved unwise when technical problems arose with a backing tape during the ritual itself, and the addled Anger had a veritable meltdown on stage. Disoriented and delirious, he smashed a cane and inadvertently wounded a member of the audience—an editor at the San Francisco Oracle underground newspaper—with one of its jagged shards. This embarrassing performance caused a rift to develop between BeauSoleil and Anger, and their paths parted the following morning. There were some hard feelings, and Anger subsequently accused BeauSoleil of having stolen the only existing copy of his work in progress. Charles Perry gives a brief account of the Equinox concert fiasco in his book The Haight Ashbury. His retelling is largely based on convoluted hearsay, and he exaggerates the “satanic” focus of the event, but the following sentences are probably accurate: “At the end of the show Van Meter [one of the lightshow technicians] returned the film to Anger, who handed it to someone else for safekeeping so he could leave for a post-invocation party. Anger had called it ‘my first religious film’; to non-satanists it had seemed to be merely shots of Bobby Beausoleil in weightlifter poses. During the night the film was stolen, and the culprit was widely assumed to be Beausoleil.”
BeauSoleil has always disputed Anger’s claim that he stole the Lucifer Rising reels. He asserts that very little film actually existed outside of a few strips of test footage, and that Anger was simply making up stories to keep impatient investors at bay who were demanding to know why the film had not been completed. (Curiously, footage of BeauSoleil and The Magick Powerhouse of Oz did resurface in a short Anger feature called Invocation of My Demon Brother, released in 1969.) The fate of the Lucifer Rising film reels notwithstanding, The Magick Powerhouse of Oz’s debut and swan song had come and gone in the same evening. And within a matter of weeks, the protagonists in the Lucifer Rising saga had scattered. BeauSoleil was en route to southern California, burned out on the madness of San Francisco; a short time later Anger left the U.S.A. altogether for London. Before his transatlantic move Anger published a full-page fake death notice for himself in the underground paper The Berkeley Barb. Anger’s faux obituary seemed a recognition of darker things on the horizon—the Summer of Love had faded, and an era that had barely just begun was already coming to a painful close.
The Magick Powerhouse of Oz imploded upon BeauSoleil’s departure from San Francisco, and his shot at an underground acting career was over. But Anger still had hopes to finish Lucifer Rising, and after settling down in London he commissioned Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, a fervent Crowleyite, to do the soundtrack. This plan would eventually founder when Page was unable to deliver more than twenty-eight minutes of music. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, BeauSoleil had crossed paths with Charles Manson. The two shared a predilection for both music and attractive young girls, of which Manson had a considerable number in tow. This chance meeting would have unfortunate consequences for BeauSoleil and everyone else involved. BeauSoleil hovered on the periphery of the Manson circle, and came to idolize the rough-and-tumble motorcycle gang members who were also hanging out around the Spahn Ranch where, by 1969, Manson’s people had ensconced themselves. One day that summer BeauSoleil, hoping to ingratiate himself with the bikers, procured a large amount of mescaline on their behalf. When the drugs turned out to be bunk and the bikers demanded he immediately refund their money in full, BeauSoleil wound up killing the dealer amid the convoluted and panicked chaos that ensued. He was quickly apprehended in the wake of the incident, but his first trial resulted in a hung jury. By the time he came up for retrial, the Tate-LaBianca murders had occurred and made international headlines. Charles Manson and his “Family” were household words. Despite the fact that his own crime was circumstantially unrelated to the later murders, BeauSoleil, now twenty-two years old, was quickly handed a life sentence once the prosecution was able to peripherally connect him to the assailants in the other cases.
Caged first in San Quentin, and later in Tracy State Prison, BeauSoleil’s creative impulses could not be squelched despite his repressive surroundings. With diligence he was able to set up an inmate music program at the latter institution in the early 1970s. Through all these years, Lucifer Rising still persistently occupied his thoughts. As he explained: “At some point I had heard that [Kenneth] was again getting ready to do Lucifer Rising. It was still his pet project and he was getting ready to finish it … I decided I’d talk to him about it, because I’d always felt, ever since our parting of ways in 1967, that this was unfinished business. I still believed in the concept as it had originally been described to me: heralding the dawn of a new age, ritualizing that process, the mythological aspects, and all of that. It spoke to me, it resonated with me. I wanted to complete the project as I felt it was unfinished, and I don’t like loose ends.”
Upon hearing a demo tape that BeauSoleil sent out to him from prison, Anger was impressed enough to fire Jimmy Page and bring BeauSoleil back into the fold to complete the soundtrack. Through the help of Dr. Minerva Bertholf, an elderly teacher at the prison, and a cooperative warden named R. M. Rees, BeauSoleil was granted approval for the project and permission to receive materials he needed in order to build keyboards and special effects generators. The moniker for BeauSoleil’s band of prison musicians he enlisted to perform the newly composed score was The Freedom Orchestra. Among its personnel was another alumnus of the Manson circle serving time at Tracy Prison, the talented guitarist Steve Grogan. It took a number of years before the recordings were completed, which is unsurprising given the adverse circumstances. The budget for the soundtrack was a little over $3,000. With these limited funds, BeauSoleil had to build an entire recording studio from scratch. As he explained, “In order to stretch the money far enough, I got into electronics and into building equipment myself. Necessity is the mother of invention, and this was the only way that I could provide myself and the other musicians involved with the instruments that would allow us to create a soundtrack that had some timbral variations, and not just guitars played through guitar amps. I had this grandiose concept in my head of how I wanted the score to sound. I didn’t want it to sound like it was made on a bunch of toys, yet that’s what it was, really! Still, we did some pretty amazing things.” BeauSoleil had to do the final mixing, sequencing, and tape splicing in his tiny cell, where he had been allowed to move the requisite equipment, utilizing headphones and working by night. It was only in 1980, more than thirteen years after first beginning work on Lucifer Rising, that Anger was finally able to publicly screen the finished film with its proper soundtrack at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
What can be heard on the first disc of the present CD reissue is the full soundtrack to Lucifer Rising as recorded by Bobby BeauSoleil and the Freedom Orchestra circa 1977–79. In the quarter-century since then, its dynamic power and emotional impact remain undiminished. It not only perfectly suits the mood of Anger’s film, but also even seems to have been scored precisely to coincide with certain visual images that occur onscreen. In fact, BeauSoleil and the band had only been able to view a partial slash print of Lucifer Rising before working on the music, and such correspondences were fortuitous accidents. “Given the way it was put together, it was serendipitous that they coincided so well. And there were a number of places that anyone watching would think must have been orchestrated or intentional, but they weren’t. That was part of the ‘magical spell’ that Kenneth felt was being worked. The creation of the entire film was an invocation or spell for him. The happenstance of it is an element that he chose to include—which I can appreciate, as an improvisational artist myself,” comments BeauSoleil.
Lucifer Rising may function abstractly as invocation on the part of the director, but it also visually documents the interior and exterior worlds—the microcosm and macrocosm—of the ceremonial magician. Scenes of introspective psychedelic imagery and claustrophobic interior ritual chambers alternate with expansive, epic outdoor location shots at occult “power points” like the Externsteine in Germany (a mysterious configuration of towering natural rock formations that has been used as a cultic site for millennia), Stonehenge, and the awe-inspiring temples of Luxor and Karnak in Egypt. The startling juxtaposition of these extreme points of perspective, and the tension between them, is a key to the film’s imaginable beauty.
A similar underlying dialectic is present in BeauSoleil’s soundtrack: a magically potent transcendence of opposites arises through the very circumstances of the music’s manifestation. Composed and recorded behind iron bars in a claustrophobic concrete dungeon, the resulting soundscapes expand and flow liberatingly outward with an almost limitless reach. The mind that conceived these sounds is a kindred spirit to the perfect tiny reptile that breaks out of its shell at the beginning of Anger’s film, the herald of a new age. And if the listener detects a dark undercurrent here in spite of the “solar” theme, it is no wonder. During the period of these recordings Tracy Prison was an extremely ugly and volatile place, marked by daily murders and an unprecedented degree of antagonism among the inmates. But where others might have wallowed in the misery of their surroundings, BeauSoleil used the creative energy of music to effectively transmute and transcend them.
In BeauSoleil’s compositions the elemental magic of natural forces is dramatically evident: the synesthetic sounds of eruption; of fluid, molten rock; of piercing sunlight and thermal violence. But all this is subtly cloaked in the black ceremonial robe of the magician, canopied by the dark dome of the night sky, underpinned by the shadow-realm of the underworld. It is simultaneously a eulogy of profound sadness and a surging, victorious expression of hope.
When I first made contact with Bobby BeauSoleil many years ago, initially it was in order to interview him for a magazine feature about his musical past, present, and future. Around the same time I was often a visitor to the home of Mark McCloud, an authority on the Psychedelic Sixties and curator of the “Museum of Illegal Art” in San Francisco. His private historical museum houses the world’s most extensive collection of framed LSD blotter, along with a vast array of psychedelic artwork, posters, and ephemera. Whenever the subject of my contact with BeauSoleil came up, McCloud would respond in his inimitable drawl with the same exhortation: “Ask Bobby to tell you where the Magick Powerhouse tape is hidden.”
At an opportune moment I did finally pop the question to BeauSoleil. With utmost sincerity he insisted that no such tape existed, there was no basis to the rumor. McCloud refused to believe this and, as it turned out, his suspicions were vindicated a few years later. David LaFlamme happened to have a box of tapes stored at his house, which had been entrusted to him by BeauSoleil on that fateful day in 1967 when he fled San Francisco for Los Angeles. LaFlamme had promised to hold onto the box for BeauSoleil until he next saw him. He had stored it away and forgotten about it. Rediscovered in that box, more than thirty years later, were not just rehearsal and live recordings by The Orkustra, but also a mysterious tape labeled “Lucifer Rising.” This contained the only audio document ever made of The Magick Powerhouse of Oz. It was live room recording that had been done in the Straight Theater, engineered by Brent Dangerfield. BeauSoleil was as surprised as anyone to learn of its existence.
The second disc presented here, “Lucifer Rising Sessions,” starts off with two excerpts from vintage recordings by The Orkustra. These provide an enlightening glimpse into what Bobby BeauSoleil was conjuring up musically when Kenneth Anger first met him. Following these tracks is the sole recording that exists of The Magick Powerhouse of Oz. It is an extended and quasi-improvised jam session that contains the primitive seeds of the Lucifer Rising soundtrack—or at least of how it might have sounded had it been completed in 1967. Already the sinewy, cascading theme can be heard which would become an even more prominent leitmotif many years later in The Freedom Orchestra’s version. The final extended track on the disc, a multi-part composition that was, for the most part, recorded live in front of a prison audience, is an early performance by Bobby BeauSoleil and The Freedom Orchestra. This can be considered a precursor or “outtake” of sorts to what later became the official Lucifer Rising soundtrack. Particularly engaging are the spacy, growling electronic segue ways which BeauSoleil termed “Solar Winds.” At the time, the analog tape hiss was so extreme in these sections that BeauSoleil decided not to even attempt to use them in the final soundtrack. Thanks to modern studio technology, and careful remastering work by BeauSoleil and Robert Ferbrache, these vintage recordings can now be heard just as they were originally meant to sound.
Together, these two discs represent the definitive document of Bobby BeauSoleil’s contribution to Lucifer Rising. Make no mistake, this is groundbreaking work: the result of the collaborative interaction of two artists working under radically different conditions. By way of their fractious relationship, and their stalwart allegiance to their individual and united artistic visions, Kenneth Anger and Bobby BeauSoleil managed in the end to craft a peerless work of dark psychedelia, a volcanic expression of triumphant spiritual freedom. The route leading to its eventual manifestation was treacherous and serpentine, a passageway oftentimes obscured in darkness and shadow. Yet through it all radiant Lucifer, their patron deity, managed to somehow keep them on course. It is high time that the real history of the Lucifer Rising soundtrack has resurfaced and come to light.
Vernal Equinox, 2004
Hymns From The Solar Temple
"But the bridge resounds no less under just you, and you do not have the colour of dead men. Why are you riding here on the road to Hel?"
The music of Lucifer Rising reverberates with all the pathos and raw emotive energy of an ageless archetype. Like the film itself, the symbols evoked in sound are at once timeless and yet strangely born of a very specific time and place, a frozen moment that has been sealed to us forever. Something emerges from the grooves of this vinyl collection that we can only hope to borrow for a short while and ride like a solar disk to places yet unknown. In the Old Norse tale concerning Thor's missing hammer, Loki borrows the goddess Freyja's cloak to make haste to the Land of Giants. In an altogether more somber Viking-age dirge involving mistletoe and funeral pyres, Hermod borrows Odin's eight-legged steed to ride into the underworld and request that Hel bid their beloved Shining God's return to the living. The borrowed vehicle is a recurring mythic theme throughout the world, and I am reminded of this archetype as I pull onto Interstate 5, in a van that clearly does not belong to me, heading south toward Interstate 84.
Barreling east for hours, rain spatters the windshield as I reflect on the relative value of human life. My work among the homeless has occasionally put me in close proximity with child molesters, murderers, rapists, and thieves. I meet these people under bridges and in doorways, at public meals and shelter lines. It seems strange to me that these frequent repeat offenders can inflict such suffering, casually relate their crimes, and still walk the streets and enjoy the ripple of wind across the Willamette River. Music erupts from the speakers in jagged bursts and I am reminded of Kurt Struebing, of the notorious heavy metal band NME, who murdered his own adoptive mother with a hatchet and scissors in 1986. He was 20 years old and was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but was released early after serving only 8. He butchered his mother just a few hours away from where I am now sitting, under what prosecutors described as a drug-induced psychosis, and was performing again in clubs less than 10 years later. In 1969 Bobby BeauSoleil killed a man in a horribly blundered drug deal. He was 21 years old. BeauSoleil has been in prison longer than I have been alive on this earth. Recently he was denied parole for the nineteenth time since he became eligible for parole in 1976. 1 + 1 = 0. Somehow the mathematics of justice does not always add up.
Robert Kenneth Beausoleil was born under the sign of the scorpion on November 6th, 1947 in Santa Barbara, California. Roughly translated, Beausoleil means "Beautiful Sun" and Bobby has seized this meaning in more recent years by capitalizing the 's' for emphasis. The name itself betrays certain artistic and spiritual coordinates. It has also inherited a stinging irony. Restless seemingly since birth, it did not take BeauSoleil long to yearn for stimulation beyond the tract homes and surfboards of 1950's suburbia. At the age of 16, he packed his guitar and headed south for Los Angeles where he quickly became entrenched in the colorful Hollywood music scene. BeauSoleil's popularity with the ladies soon became the stuff of legend and earned him the street name 'Cupid'. He played guitar for several garage acts, including a brief stint with Arthur Lee and The Grass Roots. Still too young to play the adults-only circuit, BeauSoleil was soon let go. As would prove to be the case throughout his life, BeauSoleil's brief impression was lasting and Arthur Lee soon re-christened his band Love, reputedly a winking homage to the young runaway's romantic proclivities. Bandless but unbroken, BeauSoleil soon headed for higher ground and landed in Haight Ashbury just prior to his 18th birthday. Marching into the thriving psychedelic street revolution, BeauSoleil formed an art rock band, The Orkustra, and began gigging regularly at Be-In events throughout the city. It was during this time, just months before the onset of the Summer of Love, that underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger discovered BeauSoleil during a psychedelic arts festival called The Invisible Circus. Anger immediately cast the handsome musician as the lead man and fallen angel archetype in his latest celluloid ritual, Lucifer Rising. With typical melodramatic pomp, Anger approached BeauSoleil in a parking lot after the festival, declaring, "You are Lucifer!" BeauSoleil agreed to play the part under the condition that he would also compose the film's soundtrack.
BeauSoleil formed a new band called the Magick Powerhouse of OZ expressly for the Lucifer Rising score. It would be another short-lived project. Soon he and Anger had a legendary falling out and parted ways with Anger spitting death curses at the young musician's heels. BeauSoleil returned to Hollywood in his Studecabin, picking up occasional gigs as a session guitarist with a penchant for soaring free-jazz solos and distortion. But the scene had changed by degrees and perceptive “heads” felt the turning of the screw. A darkness was descending over the Aquarian Age. It was not long after his return to L.A. that BeauSoleil was recruited to play supporting guitar for a charismatic songsmith and ex-con named Charlie Manson. They began jamming regularly and soon BeauSoleil was visiting Manson and his entourage of young women at Spahn Ranch in Death Valley. For BeauSoleil the attraction was largely musical. He had hoped to record an album featuring Manson's wild lyrical improvisations and Death Valley provided a welcome respite from the escalating tension of the big city. There was also the promise of gaining the respect of the biker gangs that regularly partied at the ranch. 21 years old and already disenchanted by society and the sold out counterculture movement, BeauSoleil recast himself as a freebooting barbarian searching for a freedom he thought best embodied by hell raising motorcycle outlaws. It was out of such youthful adoration that he agreed to score $1000 worth of mescaline for a biker party hosted by the Straight Satans. The mescaline turned out to be bunk and BeauSoleil was soon ensnared in a tragically ill-conceived plot to reclaim the money. Out of his depth and terrified, the situation spiraled out of control and local drug dealer Gary Hinman was stabbed twice in the chest after nearly 24 hours of frenzied negotiations. BeauSoleil was arrested 10 days later when police found him sleeping in one of Hinman's vehicles alongside Highway 101 with a blood stained shirt and a knife hidden in the tire well. Perhaps more unfortunate than the murder itself was BeauSoleil's outrageous attempt to cover his tracks by scrawling vaguely political epitaphs on the walls in blood. A music teacher and armchair communist, Hinman was well known among radical Leftist circles and BeauSoleil desperately hoped that the bloody slurs might throw detectives off his trail by implying a political motivation. Days after BeauSoleil's arrest, while he sat in Los Angeles County jail on one count of murder in the first degree, several members of Manson’s commune would invade the homes of two wealthy families in the Hollywood Hills and effectively decimate the already strained hopes of the 60's youth movement. The brutal massacre that unfolded those dark nights in 1969 and the inflammatory graffiti scrawled across the Tate-LaBianca households would forever associate BeauSoleil with the enduring hysteria of the Manson mythos. It is an association that has forever cast a pall upon his life and astounding musical accomplishments.
I arrive in Pendleton and pull off the road at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution. The parking lot is set back quite a distance from the main entrance and I walk slowly along the footpath, inhaling the cool wet wind and surveying the coils of razor wire surrounding the walls. This is a minimum-security prison but strict control is palpable with every step. As I enter the lobby there is an elderly woman with a walking stick of knotted wood, perhaps in her late 60's or early 70's, pleading with the robust desk clerk. Apparently the woman has left her identification in her car and the prison officials will not grant her entrance. "I'm a doctor! I've been coming to this prison to see the same client for 10 years!" The desk clerk shifts in her seat but remains calmly unmoved. I wait patiently while the elderly woman attempts to plead her case, the lines in her face becoming sharper. "I'm sorry, Dr. Pain," the clerk reiterates, "you will not be allowed entrance without your State issued ID." Dr. Pain is articulate and pissed and I suddenly find myself sympathizing despite the inconvenience of her argument. "I'm an old woman and my license is in my car all the way back at the parking lot. You know who I am!" Almost involuntarily, I step up beside her and quietly point out that visiting time is over in less than two hours. "If you can get a wheelchair, I'll push you out to your car." Dr. Pain turns suddenly, glancing me up and down in a quick gesture as she has probably done countless times throughout her career as a therapist for criminals and the mentally ill. She smiles. The clerk calls for a wheelchair and begins processing my entrance. She takes my ID and asks whom I'm here to visit. "How do you spell that?" I spell Bobby's last name slowly and she blinks away from the computer screen. "Oh. Him. I always wondered how you pronounce that name." I am handed a locker key and instructed to secure all of my personal belongings just as three large guards appear with a wheelchair and position it in front of the elderly doctor. As I step away from the desk toward the lockers I hear the clerk behind me say flatly, "I'm sorry, you can't go in." I turn out of sheer curiosity and see she is looking at me. "You're wearing blue jeans. You can't go in." I glance at the clock and then down towards my pants. My black shirt is buttoned to the neck and tucked into blue jeans. The cuffs are rolled at the bottom, revealing scuffed black combat boots. "I was told I couldn't wear blue jeans with a blue shirt. I'm wearing a black shirt." "I'm sorry," she repeats, "No blue jeans." I feel the blood rush to my face and my palms become sweaty. "I just drove 3 and a half hours from Portland to visit my friend. I have to go in!" I notice movement through the shatter-resistant window behind the clerk's station as a guard with thick arms becomes more acutely aware of my presence. The elderly woman leans towards me now and in a gentle voice, a voice I imagine has served her well in her profession, says, "I think I might have some extra pants in my car. If you'll push me to the parking lot I'll see what I can do." I look down at her slight, bent body. She is wearing organic cotton pedal pushers that end just below her knees and button across her soft paunchy belly. A rainforest pattern, earth tone giraffes graze against washed out green and purple palm trees. She must recognize the darkness that has spread across my face because she laughs and assures me that the pants in her car are not so exotic. I glance at the clock above her head. "Where are you parked?"
The pants are a faded mint green. They are cotton pedal pushers like the giraffe pants, ending just below my knees and exposing the entirety of my boots. In the restroom's full-length mirror I resemble an art school skinhead or, it is painfully obvious, a Manson Family Hippy Killer! The waist somehow fits nearly perfectly and this momentarily distracts me from the thought of entering a prison wearing women's pants. I step out of the restroom and greet Dr. Pain's beaming face. She is strangely more vibrant and sturdy than I remembered. The clerk smiles from behind her desk. They are flanked by three smiling guards in grey shirts and black slacks. These are not the mocking grins I had expected. They all seem genuinely pleased, almost triumphant, that I would be entering the visiting room after all. It was as if this small subversive gesture had somehow trumped the shatter-resistant lobby and its cruel walls. "Ok, I guess you're going in." The clerk gestures toward the metal detector. Most of my belongings are stashed away in the locker but, nonetheless, the alarm buzzes and I am instructed to walk back through. "Take off your glasses," Dr. Pain advises cautiously. She has already cleared the detector and is waiting for a guard to escort her to her client. But we are in this together now and she is completely invested in the outcome. I take off my glasses but the alarm still sounds. "Are those steel toe boots?" "No." "Well, you can't enter unless you can pass the metal detector." I throw my head back in frustration and the guard's eyes fall upon the Norse icon hanging from a leather cord close to my throat. It is a Swedish museum replica and I have worn it around my neck everyday for many years. There is an awkward moment while the young guard, obviously good-natured and reluctant to ask me to remove an object that appears to have some spiritual significance, consults his superior through the thick shatter-resistant window. The sergeant leans a balding head toward the glass, carefully avoiding any potential lawsuits by suggesting, "If it's a religious object, you can wear it into the visiting room, but you've gotta take it off to pass the metal detector." I glance at the clock again. Visiting hours are over in less than one hour. "I need scissors." The expected chaos and confusion ensues while several guards scatter to find a sharp object in a room that is purposefully void of any sharp objects. Snip. I place my pendant and cord into the locker and step through the metal detector. Finally I am walking down the first of several long cold corridors, the "hallways of always", toward the visiting room. Electric doors slam hard behind us and echo along the walls as we walk. I am wearing mint green pedal pushers. My chest feels suddenly naked and vulnerable without the weight of Thor's Hammer. I feel completely defenseless and suddenly very small and very insignificant. As we walk, the guard looks straight ahead attentively and says, "They don't look bad. If I hadn't seen you put them on, I wouldn't even know they're an old lady's pants."
In the visiting room I sit on a hard plastic chair and await Bobby's arrival. After my ordeal in the lobby I am surprised by the comfort and relative warmth of the visiting room. Rows of inmates in blue denim shirts and pants are seated knee-to-knee with lovers and family. I had expected more thick glass and a phone, like in the movies, but the guests hold hands and lean their foreheads together like mating wolves. Beside me a scarcely pubescent girl with a thin frown and angry pierced eyebrows gazes into her father's face, tears and eyeliner streaming down her cheeks. It is painful to watch and even more painful to look away. Finally an elevator door opens and out steps Cupid. He blinks at the rows of bright orange chairs, adjusting to the harsh lighting, and I rise to my feet and yell, "BeauSoleil!" We greet each other with a massive handshake and drop to our seats. The next 45 minutes are a whirlwind of chatter. Strangely, I immediately feel as though I am catching up with an old friend. The fading female forms and Egyptian symbols on Bobby's arms look familiar somehow and he explains the process by which death row inmates create tattoo ink with burnt bible pages. He tells me about his war with the Aryan Brotherhood, how his jaw was smashed with a baseball bat in 1974 in a brawl that nearly cost him his life, and how he spent his week in the infirmary with his jaw wired shut tattooing LUCIFER across his chest with a guitar string, a bottle of ink, and a compact mirror. There is a radiance in Bobby's eyes as he loses himself in conversation, explaining the minutiae of his modest multi-media prison projects. 40 years of captivity have neither stripped his humanity nor broken his spirit. He shares his recently discovered drawing technique of covering illustration board with cooking oil and applying colored pencils with his fingers until it becomes a fluid tactile medium. Bobby's best drawings, like his compositions, are the residue of deeply sensual rites and whimsical imaginings of life beyond endless iron doors. Our conversation slides inevitably toward Manson and murder. I ask difficult questions and Bobby kindly answers. The man before me has tempered his Luciferian will with a soft spoken and thoughtful accountability for his past. As we talk, I am struck again with the tragedy that such a brief string of terrible decisions has so afflicted and nullified his otherwise peaceful and intensely creative years. As he has stated himself, "Killing Gary Hinman has negated most of my creative efforts." In perhaps an unfair stroke of curiosity, I ask if he feels he has repaid his debt to society. Bobby shrugs and admits that this is not his to determine, "I killed a man." Soon, too soon, the guards interrupt our conversation. Bobby winces slightly when the guard yells out the five minute warning. Tears begin to flow around us and the other visitors clutch each other tightly. Bobby and I rise and give each other a brotherly hug, the pedal pushers riding high above my boot line for a moment. We both smile and laugh and agree to meet again for more mad storytelling. Soon we are lined against the wall and herded single-file back down the corridors toward the lobby. I turn one final time and Bobby is standing by his chair waving and smiling like an old uncle that hates to see you go...
Back in the van my mind uncoils with the stretch of road spreading out in the rear-view mirror. It's a long way back to Portland and I drive west, smiling into the setting sun as I realize the mythic absurdity of my ordeal. The borrowed vehicle. The helpful elder. The gender-blending disguise. The loosing of armaments. The journey inward (downward) to a bleak underworld of fallen angels and lost souls. Revelation. The Return. I catch my reflection in the window as I switch lanes and glimpse an ancestral blaze in the red flecks of my beard. An unbroken thread of descent has brought me to this precise moment in time. I feel perfectly contained in this vessel of blemished skin and bones. The rain has passed and outside the summer evening sun slithers across the Columbia River like a trail of dark aortic blood. Make no mistake; The Lucifer Rising Suite is a ritual of liberation. Not just for the artist and composer, but for you and I as well.
July 4, 2008