Wednesday, April 6, 2016

J.K. Rowling, Writing as Robert Galbraith, Doesn't Fear the Reaper

I started a new audio book today. So far I've heard 1 of the 15 discs of the audio version of Robert Galbraith's Career of Evil. Beginning Career of Evil by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith forces me to consider a post I wrote many years ago, one that has to do with, of all things, the rock band Blue Oyster Cult (BOC).


Although the two previous Cormoran Strike novels (The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm) were filled with references to classical English poetry and Latin texts, this one is different - it's filled with BOC song lyrics. The book opens with our heroine Robin receiving a grisly package containing a human leg, with some lyrics included in the package. Strike soon tells Robin that his own mother, "super-groupie" Leda Strike, admired the BOC above all other rock groups, although she was never able to hook up with lead singer Eric Bloom.

Eric Bloom, in a Creative Commons image
I recalled immediately that Rowling was not the first person in the media to associate the BOC with creepiness. I recalled a 4-part blog post series I had previously mentioned in my Buddy Holly/Imbolc post in 2012:

How the Music Died Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

The posts are quite long and detailed, but I will attempt to summarize as briefly as I can. The overarching theme of the 4-part post series is that from approximately 1959 - the year of Buddy Holly's death - to 1969, the commercial rock music industry in the U.S. was heavily influenced by "sinister forces." The post author, known as VISUP, contends there is a parallel between such a shift in the music industry and a similar one in U.S. politics.

Public domain image of Buddy Holly
Part III is an overview of the Blue Oyster Cult. Part IV deals specifically with a song called "Dominance and Submission." Some points made by VISUP in Part III are:

1. Essentially, BOC were a "biker bar band" until "scooped up" by Sandy Pearlman, a manager/producer who had previously been a music critic. Pearlman wrote some of the groups' song lyrics.

2. 1990s music critics used the term "heavy psych" to describe the type of late 1960s/early 1970s hard rock that BOC played. Although not commonly thought of as such, the BOC -according to VISUP - can be firmly placed within that circle of heavy psych bands that contributed to the early proto-punk movement.

3. Pearlman himself was attached to proto-punk in that he was friends with Lenny Kaye and Patti Smith of the Patti Smith Group. Smith wrote a number of songs for BOC, including "Career of Evil."


4. Pearlman was also interested in the occult, which influenced his songwriting for the BOC.

5. In his pre-BOC days, Pearlman is alleged to have written a series of occult poems (collectively referred to as The Secret Doctrines of Imaginos) about a group of eldritch spirit-beings he called The Invisibles, which might be thought of as akin to H.P. Lovecraft's Old Ones.


6. The Invisibles were associated, albeit vaguely, with the star Sirius.

7. In this aspect, Pearlman was not alone; a number of writers in the 1970s associated extraterrestrial beings with the Sirius star system. In fact, if you go into the pseudohistory category on Wikipedia, you'll find an example: The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple.


Although the cover says "scientific evidence," the Wikipedia entry lists a number of critics, including Carl Sagan, who have debunked the theories it presents.

8. The band's name, Blue Oyster Cult, comes from the Imaginos series. The fictional BOC were the human servants of The Invisibles, aiming to help their overlords achieve world domination.

9. Pearlman and the BOC originated from Long Island.

10. The religion of Wicca entered the United States through Long Island, specifically (at least in some part) through the Warlock Shoppe in Brooklyn.

11. Peter Levenda, described as a "rogue historian," associates the Warlock Shoppe with something called the Process Church of Final Judgment.


12. The Process Church of the Final Judgment is associated by some writers with murderers including Charles Manson and David Berkowitz. It's alleged to be a nationwide "death cult." The Wikipedia entry describes it as an offshoot of Scientology. The Wiki author says in his book Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi claimed that Charles Manson "may have borrowed philosophically" from the church.


The Process Church began in London...which is precisely where the fictional Robin Ellacott and Cormoran Strike live.

13. VISUP is drawing no firm conclusions from any of this, but at the very least, the BOC's music circa 1972 was created in the atmosphere of motorcycle gangs, the Wiccan goings-on of the Warlock Shoppe, and potentially the doings of the Process Church, which may or may not be nefarious.

Part IV: The "Dominance and Submission" Post

1. The 1974 song - co-written by Pearlman and two members of the band - seems to refer to a shift in consciousness.

2. A character named "Susie" is mentioned in the song. Supposedly, Susie was an ex-girlfriend of Sandy Pearlman's. VISUP interprets the name in several ways, including as a symbol for the "vibrant rock scene."

3. A second character in the song is called Charles, referred to as Susie's brother. Through elaborate flights of association, VISUP suggests Charles represents an initiate into a new way of life. Another association VISUP makes for Charles is as a sacrificial victim.

4. One indicator, and possible cause, of the shift in musical consciousness between 1959 and 1969 was The Beatles and their meteoric rise to fame.

5. "Charles" is The Beatles.

6. Charles/The Beatles are an example of the price musicians pay for their fame - the "submission" to the "dominance" of corporate interests.

In conclusion, both Don McLean's song "American Pie" and the BOC's "Dominance and Submission" chronicle the shift in American music, and in American consciousness, over the 1959-1969 period.

When I was in high school, I took a course called Media. My teacher, the late great Tom Gerencher, covered rock 'n' roll/rock music when we talked about the history of radio. He mentioned several calamities that happened around 1960 that helped end the reign of rock 'n' roll songs (with the typically AABA chord structure the form shares with blues music, as typified by Buddy Holly and Fats Domino), making way for rock music, rock 'n' roll's more complicated descendant.

As I recall, The Day the Music Died (February 3, 1959) was part of it, as were:

- Elvis Presley being drafted into the army (March 1958)
- The revelation to the public that Jerry Lee Lewis's wife was underage (May 1958)
- The payola scandal and disc jockey Alan Freed's being fired from his radio and TV shows (November 1959)
- Chuck Berry's arrest for an alleged violation of the Mann Act (December 1959; he subsequently served three years in prison)

Chuck Berry - public domain image in the United States
With all those rock 'n' roll stars being taken off the market, so to speak, from 1958 to 1960, it's easy to see why the American music-buying public would be primed for a new sound by the time the Beatles hit the American shores. Therefore, I tend to believe VISUP when he says there was a huge shift in the music industry between 1959 and 1969, approximately. Whether the songs "American Pie" and "Dominance and Submission" exemplify that shift is more speculative. Still more speculative is a link between BOC, the Beatles, and various conspiracy theories.

Is there a special reason why Rowling would choose to incorporate the band's occultish lyrics into a book that has already featured a gruesome murder and mutilation? I'll have to finish the book to find out.

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2 comments:

Marianne Kearns said...

That's also a song by Led Zepplin, heavily into the 'occult' which the Latin means 'hidden' or 'eye' (a term for the eyes: oculus, optic, 'coup d'oeil' [French] for LOOK). Believe-you-me, goirl, the Devil wants to steal-your-soul and lead you downtown with thots that nthn is gonna happen but fun and parties for eternity. Nthn could be further from the Truth, dear. Turn around. You still have time. Call-out to Jesus... even if you say a whisper. I dont want ANYONE to go to Hell if we have the POW!er to save'm. Need moe proof? Looky only in my crazzy, vivid blogs for your answer and then you'll see how eMpTy (or MT) our lives shall be without Jesus...

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VERBUM SAT SAPIENTI: As an ex-writer of the sassy, savvy, schizophenia we all go through in this lifelong demise, I just wanna help U.S. git past the whorizontal more!ass! we're in (Latin: words to [the] wise)...

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Go git'm, girl. You're incredible. See you Upstairs. I won't be joining'm in the nasty Abyss where Isis prowls
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-YOUTHwitheTRUTH
-------------------------------
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Erin O'Riordan said...

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