Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll
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This epic cultural and historical odyssey unearths the full influence of occult traditions on rock and roll -- from the Beatles to Black Sabbath -- and shows how the marriage between mysticism and music changed our world.
From the hoodoo-inspired sounds of Elvis Presley to the Eastern odysseys of George Harrison, from the dark dalliances of Led Zeppelin to the Masonic imagery of today’s hip-hop scene, the occult has long breathed life into rock and hip-hop—and, indeed, esoteric and supernatural traditions are a key ingredient behind the emergence and development of rock and roll.
With vivid storytelling and laser-sharp analysis, writer and critic Peter Bebergal illuminates this web of influences to produce the definitive work on how the occult shaped -- and saved -- popular music.
As Bebergal explains, occult and mystical ideals gave rock and roll its heart and purpose, making rock into more than just backbeat music, but into a cultural revolution of political, spiritual, sexual, and social liberation.
it cross their minds that this incessant emphasis upon the Negro with his repulsive love songs and vulgar rhythms is but the psychological preliminary to close body contact between the races.” Fears of popular music were bubbling up long before Elvis, however. The post–Civil War African American churches saw the devil everywhere. Secular music and dancing were particularly questionable. But in an effort to keep the devil at bay, congregations still used the methods of worship adopted as slaves,
moon.” Madness and the visionary experience are difficult to parse. What were once believed to be religious visions were later understood to be chemical imbalances. For the occult imagination, this distinction is meaningless. But for the psychedelic sixties, it wasn’t going to suffice to simply be seized by visions over and over again. There would always be the danger, as the historian of religion and early psychedelic advocate Huston Smith said, of creating a religion of little more than
appreciates what these other acts were trying to do, but believes their work is undermined by the banality of their subject matter. It wasn’t merely theatrics. Brown likened his dramaturgy to the performance of tribal priests and shamans. Their playacting was a form of magical practice intended to draw down the divine to reveal itself to the community. Elements such as masks are particularly powerful. Masks are, as Walter Otto explains, “nothing but surface. . . . Here there is nothing but
in the song “Five Years” on Ziggy Stardust is realized in the dystopian urban wasteland where “fleas the size of rats sucked on rats the size of cats.” The only hope is in the drugs and the memory of love. The track “Sweet Thing” is a beautiful killer of a song, Bowie’s voice hitting the high notes as if desperate: “Will you see that I’m scared and I’m lonely?” Diamond Dogs might be a fictional vision, but the truth underlying it was Bowie’s increasing and prodigious cocaine use, and an even
147 relax and float downstream, 28–29, 31–76, 192, 201 “Religious Instruction of the Negroes in Liberty County, Georgia,” 14 Renaissance, xix, xxvii, xxix, 59, 84, 118, 126, 217–18 retroactive memory, 111–12 “Revolution 9” (Beatles), xv, 58 Reynolds, Simon, 155, 168 Reznor, Trent, 165 Rice, Anne, 170 Rice, Boyd, 166 Richards, Keith, 83 ring dancing and singing, 12–13, 15, 16, 17–18, 20 Rip It Up and Start Again (Reynolds), 155 Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from