Satanic Verses: Lucifer, Literature and the Rise of the Rock Rebel.
Sheila Whiteley, University of Salford
Spring 2004
'Satan laughing spreads his wings, Oh Lord yeah' [1]

The identification of rock as ‘the devil’s music’ [2] by Christian fundamentalists has provoked both derisory laughter from the rock community who recognise that its underlying irony is wasted on extremists, and an idiomatic style that proclaims allegiance to Lucifer in both its musical construction and lyrics : ‘Big black shape with eyes of fire/Telling people their desire/Satan's sitting there, he's smiling /Watches those flames get higher and higher’. [3] (Black Sabbath). While one plausible explanation of rock’s relationship to the occult would relate to the exploitation of its labelling as satanic (and it is difficult to take at face value the exploits of, for example, Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson as a pure embodiment of evil), it is evident that the fascination with the occult is longstanding and that composers have long been associated with ritual, whether concerned with established religion or the more perverse Orders of the Knights/Masters of the Temple [4]. Not least, the association of the tritone, (the interval of an augmented fourth or diminished fifth) with the demonic has identified musicians as diverse as Paganini and Placebo [5] as embodying supernatural powers.

My personal interest in the relationship between Satanism and popular music originated in research into the relationship between the counter-culture and 1960s progressive rock [6] when I explored, in some detail, the Rolling Stones’ 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request. My initial thoughts were developed in '"Little Red Rooster" v. "The Honky Tonk Woman": Mick Jagger, sexuality, style and image’ [7] and while these texts are readily available, I consider that the relationship between popular music, literary texts and the satanic are worth revisiting, not least because of the continuing significance to heavy metal. More specifically, I focus on the emerging interest in the metaphysical that characterised much of the music of the late 1960s, and why Satanism, in particular, should have provided a source of inspiration that was diametrically opposed to the emphasis on universal love and transcendence encapsulated by the Beatles in, for example, John Lennon’s 1996 track, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ [8]. What is evident is that music had moved away from its earlier associations with dance and leisure and that it was regarded as an essential ingredient in the counter-cultural experience, providing particular insights into its social reality – not least those concerning personal freedom and subjective experience.

While 1967 is fondly remembered as the first ‘summer of love’, it is apparent that its revolutionary potential embraced both an overt sexuality and an underlying violence. At its most extreme in Jim Morrison’s oedipal psycho-drama ‘The End’, where the explosive scream ‘Father I want to kill you. ‘Mother, I want to … fuck you!’ led to a frenzy of volume, ‘Drums, organ, guitar … the sounds of chaos, of hell, of an orgy or madness…’ (Manzarek, 1999, 200), there is also an emerging association between the serpent of the Old Testament, Morrison’s birth as the Lizard King and his celebration of the phallus as an object of desire

‘Ride the snake, ride the snake

To the lake, the ancient lake…

Ride the snake, he’s old

And his skin is cold’

Sandwiched between a softly intoned stanza, which situates ‘the end’ within the ritualistic of death and the climactic ‘murder’ of the father, Morrison’s identification of ‘the snake’, and the final outro. provokes a direct comparison with Blake’s illustration of Lucifer for Milton’s Paradise Lost, rousing his legions and railing against the repressive Jehovah. It is also evident that Satan is drawn into association with the Greek god, Dionysus. Identified by Ray Manzarek (keyboards, The Doors) as ‘the shaken-loose god of the green powers, the resurrection, the rebirth, the fecundity of the planet. And the wildness’ he is linked directly with Morrison, ‘a man who knew no bounds, acknowledged no restraints, no rules, no laws’ (Manzarek, 1999, 129) and such artists, writers and dancers as ‘Rimbaud and Nijinsky, Modigliani and Mayakovsky and Picasso, Brendan Behan and Jackson Pollock, Neil Cassidy and Michael McClure and Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac’ (Manzarek, 1999, 129).

While Manzarek’s identification of Morrison as the new Dionysus may appear somewhat over the top, his following in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and his continuing position as a ‘god’ (evidenced by the countless pilgrimages to his Paris grave in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery) provide an indication of his continuing status within rock mythology. ‘Crawl out now, King Snake!’, ‘Jim Morrison is God’ are examples of graffiti now perpetuated by a third generation of rockers. He is also the Electric Shaman, the Acid King, the Lizard King, the Poet Priest who many believe was overtaken by his own mythology of wild excess. At the same time, he provides one example of rock’s perceived association with the occult, drawing together Dionysus, the biblical snake of the Garden of Eden [9], and the importance of popular music in providing a route through to the tensions inherent in eroticism and thanaticism, the two extremes of the philosophy of universal love. Morrison is not an isolated example and while it might be argued that sexual aggression, for example, is little more than formalised and ritualised violence, the music, in its more frenzied form, evokes a pseudo-tribal paranoia which is not dissimilar to that of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch. ‘Rob Tyner, the MC5 lead singer, sprints on stage, leaps high in the air, his body writhing through the strobes: then as he hits ground: KICK OUT THE JAMS, MOTHERFUCKERS!’ (OZ, July 1968) Analagous to the total instinctual liberation preached by the more extreme hippy communities, there is an emphasis on hedonism and self-gratification, social irreverence and an interest in experimental ways of life which involved the annihilation of individual consciousness. As Theodor Roszsak explains : ‘they [the counter culture] seek to invent a cultural base for New Left politics, to discover new types of community, new family patterns, new sexual mores, new kinds of livelihood, new aesthetic forms, new personal identities on the far side of power politics, the bourgeois home, and the consumer society’ (Roszak, 1970, 66).

As Jim Morrison’s ‘The End’ exemplifies, the search for personal identity and the acceptance of chaos and violence can be a prelude to rebirth, to a changed form of consciousness. For others, such as the Grateful Dead (who had evolved from Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Band to become the Warlocks in 1965), their choice of name (the juxtaposition of words that suggest both the Egyptian Book of the Dead and their acid-inflected philosophy [10]) reflects the inner-directed ethos of counter-cultural politics – a liberation of consciousness through metaphysical and drug-related experience. Change of name/change of identity is also reflected in such groups as the Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Mothers of Invention, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy and Jefferson Airplane and provides a particular insight into the writings of R.D. Laing, The Divided Self (1990) where the extent of fissure at the subjective level is explored from an existential anti-mainstream psychiatric background. Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown, major social theorists among the disaffiliated young of Western Europe and America, similarly recognised the human body as ‘the perennial battlefield where the war of instincts is waged’ (in Roszak, 1970, 97) interpreting alienation as psychic rather than sociological. While Marcuse interpreted liberation as the achievement of a ‘libidinal rationality’ – freedom within sensible limits rather than total liberation – Brown takes the argument further. In his reading of Freud, it is the peculiarly human awareness and rejection of death, man’s anxiety in the face of his own mortality, that is fundamental.

The energy of our history making is derived from the tension between the life and death instincts as they carry on their neurotic project of rejecting one another. When this energy is used in a socially acceptable way, we have ‘sublimation’ – that desexualisation of conduct on which Freud pinned so much of his hope for the survival of civilisation. But underlying all forms of sublimation, as well as the recognized neuroses, there is the same antagonism of the instincts, the mutual thrusting away which finally segregates the death instinct and drives it into its independent career as the dark terror (cited in Roszak, 1970, 107).

History is thus defined in terms of the struggle to fill time with death-defying works. In Brown’s analysis, as long as we continue to pit life against death we perpetuate the ontological dilemma of humanity: ‘the death instinct is reconciled with the life instinct only in a life which is not repressed, which leaves no ‘unlived lives’ in the human body, the death instinct then being affirmed in a body which is willing to die’ (cited in Roszak, 1970, 115).

While it is not suggested that Brown advocated violence as part of total liberation, the identification of repressed sexuality and the tension between ‘life and death instincts’ provides a particular insight into the counter culture’s exploration of sexuality and its attraction to the occult. Not least it is apparent that the emphasis on love related both to erotica (from the Greek eros, love or the creative principle) and thanatica (from the Greek thanatos, death or the destructive principle). While both relate to sexually explicit descriptions and depictions, it is obvious that the one can have an uneasy and perverse relationship to the other. Within human nature, the worship of Death and the worship of Beauty and Pleasure are not necessarily distinct. Both evoke and celebrate sensuality – the erotic its joyous, the thanatic its darkest manifestations. Both work in the imagination, in the not said, and it is arguably the case that the liberation of passions can lead to refinements of pleasure, to ecstasies of perception and, indeed, to a subversive delight in cruelty to those who are less powerful or who simply don’t conform to the norm. When LSD enters the equation (as providing new insights and referential points) there is the danger of ‘mood swings, both pleasant and unpleasant, leading to a rediscovery of forgotten instinctual depths and the release of the demonic’ (Fort, 1969, 183).

This is reflected in Jim Morrison’s psychedelic song-cycle ‘The Celebration of the Lizard’ (Absolutely Live, 1970). [11] Starting with the death of his mother (so linking the song with ‘The End’), the song explores the paranoia often associated with an acid trip (‘once I had a little game, I like to crawl back into my brain’), and his awakening in a motel room with a sweat-drenched reptile in his bed. By the end of the song-cycle, Morrison assumes the mantle of the Lizard King. Presaged by what he terms ‘sounds of fire’ (whistles, rattlesnakes, castanets) he addresses his audience as his nomadic tribe.

‘Now I have come again

To the land of the fair, and the strong, and the wise

Brothers and sisters of the pale forest

Who among you will run w/the hunt ?’

The significance of the song lays both in its insistence on hallucinogenic experience as enabling creativity, a temporary trip into psychotic disorientation, and his personal credo, accept no limits to desire. ‘I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos, especially activity that seems to have no meaning’ (Manzarek, 1999, 349). ‘Let the carnival bells ring, Let the serpent sing… I am the lizard king, I can do anything’ [12].

The association between Morrison’s oedipal fantasy, his re-birth as the Lizard King, and his association with Dionysus is pivotal to rock mythology. Influenced by Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, Kerouac’s On the Road and Norman O. Brown’s Life Against Death, and ‘ancient fertility religions that ensured their follower’s survival and prosperity by choosing a monarch (young, male and virile) who would be sacrificed (usually by young, nubile females)’ (Reynolds and Press, 1995, 124) Morrison was the first rock icon to see himself, from the onset, in Messianic terms: a wild boy, sexually omnivorous [13] and obsessed by the dictum of love as sex and sex as death. It is interesting to note that Morrison had been thinking about, and writing portions of ‘Celebration’ as early as the summer of 1965 and that it was written and rewritten before its printed version appeared on the cover of the Doors' third album, Waiting for the Sun (1968). As such, its recorded version on Absolutely Live (1970) represents more a testament to his status as Lizard King than an annunciation [14]. It is also suggested that he recognised a musical lineage in his testament, relating his birth as the lizard king to his blues forefathers. ‘Crawling King Snake’ (John Lee Hooker) is covered on the 1971 album LA Woman. Unlike Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘Black Snake Moan’ which exhibits an underlying ironic humour:

‘Some pretty mama better get this black snake soon…

Well, wonder where that black snake’s gone’

The ‘Crawling Black Snake’ is identified from the onset as the embodiment of the singer...

‘I’m the crawling black snake in the room of the damned

Call me the Crawling King Snake in the room of the damned’

Sung with both ferocity and a slippery lasciviousness, Morrison’s vocal encapsulates his ability to both taunt and provoke. Comparable to his mythologized exposure in Miami, where ‘the audience saw snakes where there were no snakes’ (Manzarek, 1999, 315), the vocal entices a fixation on Morrison as the phallic embodiment of sexual excess. There is, then, a continuum of thought, a self-perception, that runs throughout his life with the Doors which is encapsulated not simply in his songs, but equally in his extensive poetry: ‘Forget your past, create your future, travel to the ‘end of night’ and ‘break on through to the other side’.

Morrison’s ‘Lizard King’ persona was enhanced by his image, wearing calf or reptile skin trousers which accentuated his sexuality, so relating the metaphor of the snake to the theatricality of his stage presence and to his personal life. Renowned for his drinking and sexual excesses (his numerous relationships included Nico, the Valkyrian angel of death, singer with the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s show, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable) his machismo stance links him to such writers as William Burroughs and de Sade, while situating the penis and sexual excess at the continuing hub of rock culture. As Robert Pattison observes, ‘the ideal rock star is young, male and horny’ and while the legacy is most apparent in such iconographic record sleeves as Andy Warhol’s design for the Velvet Underground’s The Velvet Underground and Nico (where a yellow banana is peeled back to reveal pink flesh), and the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers (which features a crotch shot of a bulging pair of jeans complete with zipper), the rockumentary satire Spinal Tap, and plaster casts made by groupie Cynthia (Cynthia Plaster Caster) in the late 1960s early 1970s, the emphasis on the penis persists as an image of ritual worship’ (1987, 114). Identified by Morrison in his personal anagram ‘Mr Mojo Risin’ (‘L.A. Woman’) which is associated both with erection and ritualistic power, the concept of phallic power linked to apocalyptic sex – love is sex and sex is death – moved rock in a pivotal direction.

Self-destruction – whether drug-related, suicide or the result of severe risk taking – is related both to the excesses of a rock ‘n’ roll life style and to much of the litany of its songs. ‘From the cute insinuations about shooting smack often imputed to the Mamas and Papas’ lyric ‘I’m a real straight shooter, if ya know what I mean’, through the Stones' ‘Sister Morphine’ and on to Generation X’s ‘shooting up for kicks’ (Pattison, 1987, 125), rock’s infatuation with narcotics is matched only by its fascination with death itself. Other than grand opera, which seems to have several deaths in every performance, it is arguably the case that popular music never dealt adequately with the subject before the advent of rock. Whether rock has helped to break the taboo about death, or whether the incidence of death amongst its young stars [15] gave it a specific status is, of course, conjectural, but over the last thirty years the subject has been covered extensively in songs which range from the deeply moving poetry of, for example, Bob Dylan, through to the extremes of death metal and rap’s Death Row Records. The actual names of individual bands such as Dead Boys (first wave punk/new wave band, formed in Cleveland, Ohio 1976), Dead Can Dance (based in London, but tracing their origins to Australia, 1980s avant garde pop/goth), Dead Kennedys (undoubted kings of US punk and the US underground during 1980s until advent of Nirvana) also suggest a curious allegiance to the dark romanticism of death that informs not only Goth culture and the metal scene but also such cult films as The Lost Boys where vampirism, and a Doors’ inspired soundtrack provide a ritualistic evocation of rock, Morrison’s symbolic role as the Dionysian god, the lizard king, and the cult of eternal youth.

Death and narcotics then, is a heady mixture and the association of political progressivism and cultural subversion with the thanatic is reflected in the release of such previously censored texts as D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. The publication of William Burroughs' The Naked Lunch and Dead Fingers Talk (1963), in particular, attracted adverse criticism by such notable writers as Dame Edith Sitwell. ‘The public canonization of that insignificant, dirty little book Lady Chatterley’s Lover was a signal to persons who wish to unload the filth in their minds on the British public’ (Burroughs, 1988, 213). Another letter to the editor called attention to the way in which ‘many writers, critics, publishers and other toilers in literary furrows have fallen into the modern hypocrisy of confusing literature with lechery and vision with voyeurism… It is not possible to base great art on the sexual organs and the alimentary tract’ (Burroughs, 1988, 234).

Such critiques can also be found about the ‘degrading’ spectacle of Alice Cooper’s live performances where he would chop up dolls and use such props as the electric chair, boa constrictors and gallows, and the explicit use of obscenity and pornography as part of the ‘armoury of weapons employed by the alienated and frustrated’ (Neville, 1971, 222). This is reflected in, for example, the philosophy of the Fugs who started out as a random collection of poets, some of whom decided to sing. From the start their intention was to free the senses by shocking audiences with poetry, satire and often gross obscenity. Their debut album, released in 1965, contained ten of their less offensive songs and was effectively the first of what would later be called ‘underground’ music. Identified with marijuana, pacifism, satire and sexual invention, they were the fathers of the Mothers of Invention who, with Frank Zappa, enlarged the possibilities of rock to include extended audience participation. In retrospect, then, it is not really possible to separate the counter-culture’s exploration of sexuality, personal consciousness and the occult from this wider historical context and to interpret such artists as Jim Morrison, Alice Cooper and the Fugs as both violent spectacle and progressive rock theatre.

It is this context that also provides a particular framework for my analysis of the Rolling Stones and their seminal track, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.

'Please allow me to introduce myself…'

It is a curious fact that Anton Szandor Le Vay formed his Church of Satan on 30th April 1966, shaving his head and naming himself the Black Pope. His aim was ‘Revolution designed to smash the hypocrisy and unreason which has reigned for the last 2000 years’ ( Declaring 1966 ‘anno satanas’ or year one, the basic text for the diabolical philosophy of the Church of Satan was The Satanic Bible (first published in 1969). Magistra Peter H Gilmore (a senior figure within the church) observes that Satanism is ‘The only organized religion in history to take as its symbol, the ultimate figure of pride and rebellion and to many, of evil’ and according to the website, ‘The philosophy isn’t that esoteric and doesn’t take much to understand’. At the same time it recognizes its major problem: ‘It’s that looming figure in the shadows, that majestic silhouette of Satan – leathery wings outstretched, standing proudly, backlit by the flames of Hell that people find – disquieting.’

While there is no evidence to suggest that the Rolling Stones were influenced by the Church of Satan, it is documented that Mick Jagger had been intrigued by The Devil and Margarita, a book given to him by his girlfriend (at the time), Marianne Faithful. As Hotchner observes, the band had been getting deeper and deeper into the occult. ‘Led by Anita Pallenberg, Keith and Mick had developed a kind of satanic identification, as if they were openly dealing with the devil’ (Hotchner, 1990, 344). It is, perhaps, not surprising that Jagger should be attracted to Satanism. As the angel who rebelled against God, he is the embodiment of the ultimate rebel and, as such, must have exerted a strong appeal for Jagger whose ‘explicit, crude and often aggressive expression of male sexuality’ (Frith and McRobbie in Frith and Goodwin, 1990, 370) had attracted attention from the onset of the Stones’ career. ‘Sexist, an enemy of decency and society, uncompromising, rough, sensual, rebellious’ and arrogant (Whiteley, 1997, 68), Jagger is situated as the antithesis of the Beatles’ image as the archetypal ‘boys next door’, and the sense of rivalry that characterised their relationship came to the fore in 1967 with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Their Satanic Majesties Request. While both provide insights into psychedelic experience, the former is characterised by its quintessential Englishness, its music-hall connotations and the emphasis on love, albeit tempered by the holocaust-type warning of ‘A Day in the Life’. In contrast, Their Satanic Majesties Request heralds Jagger’s musical self-identification as Beelzebub, a role explored in Kenneth Anger’s film, Lucifer Rising.

While it is not intended to provide any detailed analysis of the album, it is interesting to note the relationship between the cover photos, where the Stones pose as Warlocks, and the first track, ‘Sing This Altogether (See What Happens)’. As discussed in Sexing the Groove (1997, 80-81) the track draws on Brian Jones’s experience of the Joujouka festival where Muslim tribesmen from the Ksar-el-Kebir province of Morocco had, for centuries, continued to worship Boul Jeloud, Father of the Skins. As he reflects in the brief introduction to his recording The Pipes of Pan (Rolling Stones, 1971), ‘I don’t know if I possess the stamina to endure the incredible, constant strain of the festival. Such psychic weaklings has Western Civilisation made of us.’ Its macabre setting is described by Brion Gysin, who records that the honouring of Boul Jeloud took place once a year, on eight consecutive nights, with tribesmen chanting against a background of reeds and drums:

‘Who is Boul Jeloud ? Who is he ? The shivering boy who was chosen to be stripped naked in a cave and sewn into the bloody warm skins and masked with an old straw hat tied over his face. He is Boul Jeloud when he dances and runs … He is the Father of Fear. He is, too, the Father of Flocks… The music grooves into hysteria, fear and fornication. A ball of laughter and tears in the throat gristle. Tickle of panic between the legs.' [16]

The invoking of Boul Jeloud is reflected in the incessant drumming that provides a sense of continuity throughout the track as fragmentary motifs on piano, guitar and bells move in and out of focus, with the tabla hinting at the underlying metaphysical experience promised by the incantatory lyrics :

‘Why don’t we sing this song altogether

Open our heads, Let the pictures come

And if we close all our eyes together

Then we shall see where we all come from’

The sense of heightened perception is underpinned by the excessive reverb and echo on Jagger’s vocal which evokes a sense of spatial distance and otherness as the listener is invited to move back in time, to draw on a primitive collective energy: ‘pictures of us through the steamy haze’, ‘beating on our drums’, ‘spin the circling sun’, ‘show that we’re all one.’ The collective ‘one’ provides a particular insight into the primitive of rock (‘Long live rock ‘n’ roll, the beat of the drums loud and bold’ [17]) and establishes Jagger in his role as the decadent master of ceremonies, prefacing his emerging role as Lucifer in Beggar’s Banquet. For the critics, the Stones may have appeared ‘lost in space’, Their Satanic Majesties Request may have relied too heavily on studio production for a band valued for their live performance, but at the same time there is a brooding sense of fantasy, which is realised in ‘Street Fighting Man, ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ and, most significantly, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.

While ‘Street Fighting Man’, with its harsh timbres and underlying sense of aggression, reflects Jagger’s experience of the Vietnam demonstration in October 1968, it also heralds his emerging persona as Lucifer. The call to overthrow established order may evoke memories of the Stones’ role as symbolic anarchists; the sentiments may be focused by their interest in activism, as evidenced by Jagger’s attempts to join the demonstration at Grosvenor Square [18]; but the cry for ‘revolution’ linked to the subversive potential of rock and the self-identification as ‘disturbance’ suggests a more ominous interpretation – Jagger’s self-revelation as the ultimate rebel. As such, ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ provides a sense of self-testimony, a chronical of rebirth. There is an emphasis on chaos, ‘born in a cross-fire hurricane’, death, ‘I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead’, ‘crowned with a spike right through my head’ [19], resurrection, ‘but it’s all right now’ and the euphoric ‘I’m Jumping Jack Flash/It’s a gas, gas, gas’. The song title, with its connotations of an exploding firework, heralds Jagger’s ultimate role as Lucifer in ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. Interspersed with grunts and screams, over a pounding boogie beat, there is an emphasis on jubilation as Jagger introduces himself as ‘a man of wealth and taste’, expounding a catalogue of Satanic triumphs, celebrating the triumph of evil over good.

Live performance provided a visual endorsement of his self-proclamation : ‘Just call me Lucifer…’ and as Ossie Clark (Jagger’s costume designer at the time) recalls, the Los Angeles gig (7 November 1969) was frightening:

There was a strange look on Mick’s face, a kind of sneer… the Stones appeared, the first note was played and the whole place erupted liked a tiger roaring. I almost blacked out. This was not the wave of adulation I was accustomed to hearing, no this was like a mob being exhorted by a dictator. And then, when Mick went into his Lucifer routine with the black and red streamers flying, the audience seemed to spit out its defiance.

… I was trembling, I was so frightened. And the more the audience’s reaction intensified, the more Mick baited them… It was as if he had become Satan and was announcing his evil intentions. He was revelling in this role… this was a side of Mick never revealed before. He was rejoicing in being Lucifer.

(Ossie Clark, cited in Hotchner, 1990, 345-6)

In retrospect, Los Angles was but a pale prelude to the violence that erupted at the Altamont Festival (December 6, 1969). ‘And then it happened. Mick wrapped his cloak around him and the band struck up ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, Mick’s definitive Satan song… The Angels went berserk, the sickening sound of their smashing pool cues competing with the music’ (Hotchner, 1990, 20). Described by Jerry Garcia as ‘A nice day in hell’ [20] and described by Rolling Stone as ‘Rock‘n’roll's all time worst day’ [21], Jagger’s identification with Lucifer moved the catalogue of evil into the reality of a rock concert.

What were those two people doing? It looked as if they were dancing and there was a flash of something shiny. The camera-man, his eye to the camera, said, ‘What the hell goes on, two people dancing with all this shit going on ? The camera was on it, but what had happened was too fast for us. As it turned out, the camera had recorded the killing of the black kid [Meredith Hunter]. The dance we thought we saw was a dance of death (Hotchner, 1990, 21).

In retrospect,it would appear that the unprecedented violence at Altamont was due to the take over by Hell’s Angels, who had been hired at the suggestion of the band The Grateful Dead for a rumoured $500 of free beer [22]. Hunter was stabbed five times, but the film only records two. However, he had already made two charges on to the stage during the gig, and given the violence being exerted by the Angels had probably been stabbed earlier.

Jagger’s self-proclamation as Lucifer, the catalogue of death and violence and the pounding, repetitive beats of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ seems to have resonated with the brutality of the Angels. The urge to kill, the call to ‘use all your well-learned politesse’, the unfolding of the ‘nature of my game’ resulted in one murdered, total dead four, two run over, one drowned in a drainage ditch, hundreds injured and countless more stoned on acid. Jagger offered no explanation, no apology for Altamont. Rather, the impression is one of fatalism and a rejection of personal responsibility.

We gonna kiss you good-bye, and we leave you to kiss each other good-bye. We’re gonna see you, we’re gonna see you again, all right ? … Well, there’s been a few hang-ups you know but I mean generally I mean you’ve been beautiful … you have been so groovy … Kiss each other goodbye (Hotchner, 1970, 348)

Despite Jagger’s reluctance to acknowledge the brutality at Altamont, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ was not performed live for another six years.

'Dancing Lord, Take Your Hands Off Me' [23]

Jagger’s self-identification as Lucifer and the comparison with Charles Manson, the psychedelic Satanist has already been discussed in some detail in The Space Between the Notes (1992, 100-102) but it is considered that his fascination with the occult provides some analogies with the events at Altamont.

As long as Jagger was merely Satan on stage, the symbolic unity of unmitigated sex-violence was acceptable… When that symbolism began to realise itself in the real social assembly it became horror. Rather than the culture hero representation of sex-violence without bounds, the social practice of the audience began to transcend the symbolic and transmit the utopian into practice. In a cloud of subjects swarming over one another, death and sensuality were unity and what they exposed was civilisation in the nascent state.

(Ewen, 1974, 35)

How are we going to get out of here? I wondered. Will we get out, or will we die here? Is it going to snap and the Angels kill themselves and all of us in a savage rage of nihilism? (Keith Richard, cited in Hotchner, 1970, 21)

If ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ invites a destructive jubilation through the relentless, pounding, mocking beat, then the symbolic unity of chaos and destruction inherent in the song, becomes manifest in the events at Altamont. Sadism, murder and sex-brutality provide a specific insight into the ‘total freedom’ hinted at in Norman O. Brown’s philosophy and, as such, invite comparison with ‘the wanton commission of violence’ inherent in Manson’s community, The Family. ‘Drinking blood, performing ceremonial flailings, robotizing their women into slaves for both sex and murder, molesting hitch-hikers and acting out sadistic fantasies’, sexual excess and death were unified by a belief in the occult, which lent ‘sensuality to the crime in the ritualisation of murder.’ (Ewen, 1974, 35) Climaxing in the murder of Sharon Tate, Manson was brought to trial and remains in prison.

While Manson claimed that much of his inspiration came from the Beatles’ song ‘Helter Skelter’, it is also evident that his influence extended to the Beach Boys. Prior to the release of their 1969 album 20/20, the group had released a love song called ‘Never Learn Not Love’. On one level it cajoles ‘give up your ego and let’s fuck’, and ‘give up your world and join mine for the sake of true love’. The song had been written by Charles Manson. He was not the only Family member to be patronised by Dennis Wilson. In 1967 a full-page advertisement was run in the Village Voice stating ‘In Memorium Kenneth Anger’. This was not a death announcement but rather a renouncement of film-making after Bobby Beausoleil, the original actor in Anger’s movie Lucifer Rising had stolen 1600 feet of the picture and taken it to Manson. Beausoleil became embroiled in The Family and was subsequently convicted of the murder of Gary Hinman. His musical abilities came to the fore in death row where he recorded a soundtrack for the film. Others to contribute soundtracks included Jimmy Page and Mick Jagger.

It seems, then, that Jagger’s fascination with the occult and his symbolic role as Lucifer was curiously linked to the more obsessive Satanism of The Family. Yet, as the 1973 song, ‘Dancing with Mr D’ suggests, the Devil ultimately claims his own and the third verse provides a chilling insight into the fear of the unknown :

'Lord have mercy fire and brimstone

I was dancing with Mister D

Dancing, dancing, dancing so free

Dancing Lord take your hands off me'

The devil, it seems, ‘never smiles, his mouth merely twists’, ‘human skulls is hanging right round his neck’, and the ‘clammy hands’, the ‘breath in my lungs … clinging and thick’ provide a chilling retrospective on Jagger’s earlier ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. While it can be argued that Satan, like Dionysus, is simply a mythological manifestation, his iconic status as the essence of destruction and madness is matched only by the very real sense of demonic possession experienced by those who invoke him [24].

The sense of mayhem promised by the song juxtaposed with the grim reality of Altamont cannot clearly be attributed to satanic intervention. Yet, as Roszak points out, ‘there is bound to come a point where sardonic imitation destroys the sensibilities and produces simply callousness… How is one to make certain that the exploration of the non-intellective powers will not degenerate into maniacal nihilism ?’ (Roszak, 1970, 45)

While the Stones’ association with Satanism was relatively short-lived, Lucifer’s fascination for the world of heavy metal continues. The devil, it seems, is not so easily confined to history. Rather, he steps sideways and in 1969, having changed their name from Earth to Black Sabbath [25], their self-titled debut album was released in 1970. But that, as they say, is another story.


Burroughs, W. (1963) Dead Fingers Talk. London: Tandem

Burroughs, W. (1988) The Naked Lunch. London: Paladin

Courson, C.B., Courson, P.M., Lisciandro, F. and Lisciandro, K. (eds) (1991) The American Night. The Writings of Jim Morrison. London: Penguin

Dijkstra, B. (1986) Idols of Perversity. Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siecle Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Ericson, E. (1983) The Masters of the Temple. Sevenoaks, Kent: New English Library

Ewen, S. (n.d.) ‘Charlie Manson and The Family’, CCCS occasional paper 53, University of Birmingham

Fort, J. (1969) The Pleasure Seekers: The Drug Crisis, Youth and Society. New York: Grove Press

Frith, S. and McRobbie, A. (1990) ‘Rock and Sexuality’, in Frith, S. and Goodwin, A. (eds) On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word. London: Routledge,

Hotchner, AE. (1990) Blown Away: The Rolling Stones and the Death of the Sixties. New York: Simon & Schuster

Larkin, C. (ed) (1999) The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. London: Virgin

Manzarek, R. (1999) Light My Fire: My Life With The Doors. London: Arrow Books

Neville, R. (1971) Play Power. London: Paladin

Pattison, R. (1987) The Triumph of Vulgarity. Rock Music in the Mirror of Romanticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Reising, R. (ed) (2002) Every Sound There Is: The Beatles’ Revolver and the Transformation of Rock and Roll. Aldershot: Hants

Reynolds, S. and Press, J. (1995) The Sex Revolts. Gender, Rebellion and Rock ‘n’ Roll. London: Serpents Tail

Roszak, T. (1970) The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition. London: Faber

The New Testament and Psalms. Leicester: The Gideons International

Whiteley, S. (1992) The Space Between The Notes: Rock and the Counter-Culture. London: Routledge

Whiteley, S. (ed) (1997) Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender. London: Routledge

Whiteley, S. (2003) Too Much Too Young: Popular Music, Age and Identity. London: Routledge


[1] Black Sabbath, ‘War Pigs’, Paranoid, (Vertigo, 1970)

[2] While Alan Freed, a Cleveland DJ is usually given credit for coining the phrase ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ in the early 1950s, as Tosches (1984) documents, the style had been evolving well before this. The term rock ‘n’ roll, with its sexual connotations was popularised in the music of the 1920s. In 1922 blues singer Trixie Smith recorded ‘My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)’ for Black Swan Records, and various lyrical elaborations followed from other artists through the 1930s and 1940s. (Roy Shuker (1998) Key Concepts in Popular Music. London: Routledge, p. 260) It was, however, the sexual connotations inherent in Elvis Presley’s performance style, the moral outrage following such films as The Blackboard Jungle, and the specific attraction of rock ‘n’ roll to a youthful audience – not least those associated with deviancy – that lead fundamentalists to associate it with ‘the devil’s music’.

[3] Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath, (Vertigo, 1970)

[4] Mozart, for example, had received a commission from Dr Franz Anton Mesmer (who had qualified as a doctor at the University of Vienna and was also an established adept and, at the time, resident in Vienna) to compose a small-scale opera suitable for performance at a musical soiree at his house on the Landstrasse. Its theme is the union of two lovers through the good offices of an adept. John Ireland (b. Cheshire, England, 1879, d.1962) had studied at the Royal College of Music. The inspiration for some of his music was derived from the writings of Arthur Machen, who was upgraded to Third Degree in the Hermetic Order of the Gold Dawn (London Lodge) in 1900. (p.414) Eric Satie was an initiate of the Order of the Catholic Rose Cross in Paris and had written music for its ceremonies; Peter Warlock (b. Philip Heseltine) had discovered the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abremelin and reputedly used it to release his own creative power. He was subsequently haunted by visions and terror and committed suicide in his mid-thirties, turning on the gas taps in his Chelsea home to escape from his obsession with the occult.

Ericson, E. (1983) Masters of the Temple Sevenoaks: New English Library, endnote 6, p.414

[5] The band Placebo uses the interval regularly and often combines it with the flattened fifth of the scale to create a dissonance and underlying feeling of unease. As Sting observed in a 1993 interview about the song ‘If I ever lose my faith in you’ : “It starts off with a flattened fifth…It’s disconcerting, it puts you ill at ease”.

[6] Whiteley, S. (1992) The Space Between the Notes: Rock and the Counter Culture. London: Routledge

[7] Whiteley, S. (ed) (1997) Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender. London: Routledge, pp. 67-99

[8] See Reising, R. (2002) ‘It’s not dying: Revolver and the birth of psychedelic sound’ pp. 234-253 and Whiteley, S. (2002) ‘Love is all and love is everyone’: a discussion of four musical portraits’ pp.218-220 in Reising, R. (ed) Every Sound There Is. The Beatles’ Revolver and the Transformation of Rock and Roll. Aldershot: Ashgate

[9] Snakes symbolically evoke the perverse communion between Eve and the devil which lead to the 'fall' of Adam as told in Genesis. Medusa, Eve, Cleopatra, Lilith, Lamia and Salammbo have all been brought into association through their relationship with snakes. As a personification of sin, there is the possibility for a range of depictions and descriptions, from the subtly symbolic to the overtly pornographic. Arguably, all relegate woman’s personal identity to her sexuality.

‘The Medusa, with her bouffant of snakes, paralyzing eyes, and

bestial proclivities, was the very personification of all that was evil in the

gynander… Fernand Khnopff (‘Istar’, lithograph, 1888) … showed a

bestial Venus, arrogantly self-possessed even while chained in

punishment to the walls of subterranean lust, while the polyplike

tentacles of a giant medusa head, screaming in frustration, covered

the feminine loins whose barren symbol, whose aggressive ‘vagina

dentata’, the Medusa’s head was widely thought to be, with its nearly

masculine, phallic, yet hypnotically ingestive powers.’

(Dijksra, 1986, 309-310)

[10] The Grateful Dead have been synonymous with the San Francisco Acid Rock scene since its inception in 1965 when they took part in Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests. Stanley Owsley manufactured the then legal LSD and plied the band and their friends with copious amounts. This resulted in an hallucinogenic opus, recorded on to tape over a six-moth period, and documented in Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Woolfe stated that ‘They were not to be psychedelic dabblers, paining pretty pictures, but true explorers.’ Larkin, C. (ed) (1999) The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. London: Virgin Books, p.553

[11] This was composed as a performance piece for the rock stage and includes songs, poetry, sound effects, music and, to a certain degree, audience participation

[12] Morrison’s reference to the serpent, and its relationship to chaos and disorder reflects the apocalyptic vision of John the Apostle in the book of Revelations. ‘Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads” (Revelation 12:3)

Revelations also makes a direct reference to Satan, again linking him to the serpent of the Old Testament: “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the Devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth and his angels with him” (Revelation 12:9)

[13] See Ortiz, R.L. (1999) ‘L.A. Women. Jim Morrison and John Rechy' in Smith, P.J. (ed) The Queer Sixties. London: Routledge, pp. 164-186

[14] Evidence from his notebooks suggests many drafts of ‘Celebration’. (Courson et al, 1991, 206)

[15] I have written in some detail about this subject in Too Much Too Young. Age, Identity and Popular Music. London and New York: Routledge (2003)

[16] The description comes from notes accompanying The Pipes of Pan, the recording made by Brian Jones of the Joujouka Festival.

[17] Chuck Berry, ‘School Days’

[18] It may have been an extraordinary chance that whilst the Beatles were releasing their double album, The Beatles, the Rolling Stones brought out a stranger and more savage record within days. A coincidence, perhaps, but not without irony. While the Beatles sang of ‘Dear Prudence’, ‘Martha My Dear’ and ‘Goodnight, Sleep Tight’, the Stones sang of a ‘Street Fighting Man’ itching for bloody revolution. (Palmer, 1970, 76) At the same time, the song reflects the sentiments at the time. ‘The mood is right for us to fight politics with music, because rock is now a media. Sure it’s basically recreation but because we’ve now applied new rules to the way it’s run, it’s also a weapon. Let’s use it.’ (IT, 56, 1969)

[19] Again, there is a curious reflection on what Revelation 13 relates to The Beast out of the Earth. ‘Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. He exercise all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and the made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. And he performed great and miraculous signs… He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no-one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man’s number. His number is 666. (verses 11-18) The fatal wound (‘crowned with a spike right through my head’), the healing (‘but I’m all right now) is alluded to earlier in Revelation 13, v 3, ‘One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast’), presages the emergence of Lucifer, in ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.

[20] BBC TV documentary, ‘Dancing in the Streets’

[21] Rolling Stone, 16 February 1970

[22] www.av1611.orglothpubls/html

[23] ‘Dancing with Mr D’, The Rolling Stones, 1973

[24] Aleister Crowley provides a specific example here. In 1909, having invoked to his own destruction the evil force known to the ancient Egyptians as the god Set in the North African desert, he became obsessed with satanism. ‘Disease, madness, ruin, drug addiction, murder, degradation, despair and suicide walked in his shadow until he died in a Hastings boarding house nearly forty years later, perplexed by his own life.’ (Ericson, 1983, ‘Prologue: Sand Devils’, p.11)

[25] Their name originated in the cult horror movie of the same title and not from the occult writings of Denis Wheatley, albeit that many of Sabbath’s songs deal with the alternative beliefs and practices contained in his books.

Sheila Whiteley,
University of Salford

2002-2004 Chapter&Verse. All rights reserved. Chapter&Verse
is a publication of PopMatters Media, Inc. and PopMatters Magazine.