Sunday, December 28, 2008

Literary Lions & Pups: Burroughs and Bukowski

When I was younger and the transition from beat to hip in full flower, many of us stood in awe of, and wished to meet (1) William S. Burroughs, (2) Charles Bukowski, and (3) Allan Ginsberg, and as I have spent evenings with two and learned a few things second-hand of the third, I tend to call them my Literary Lions, and to think of myself as a Pup. I met and spent time with so many celebrities and avant-gardistes I cannot possibly recall them all. But other than, perhaps, John Cage and Rudolf Nureyev, I don't think anyone amazed and impressed me as much as Burroughs and Bukowski.

Remembering Burroughs

Vince Aletti, the photo editor of the Village Voice, invited me to a dinner party at the townhouse of a dowager who collected and sold Brion Gysin paintings and who knew everybody who was anybody in the downtown Manhattan arts and letters scene. It seems she had come upon a novel idea for a guest list: bringing together an elderly lesbian author of considerable fame and notoriety and an elderly homosexual author of considerable succes de scandale. The latter was the author of Naked Lunch; the former, Ms. Janet Flanner, a contributor to a widely read New Yorker column, "Letter from Paris" (under the pen name, "Genet" -- a dead giveaway). The dowager thought young people should be present at such a happening to keep her honored guests company, but I think we ended up the less the entertainment than the audience. Seldom have I been in the company of such brilliant minds.

I think I was all over Wild Bill, having worshiped his writings since The Wild Boys if not quite earlier. That is, I had copies of such things as Nova Express long before reading them, and when I reviewed The Wild Boys for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, then under the wise lead of Digby Deal, I all but said I'd read the most important work of fiction of our times. I became an ardent, outspoken, and dedicated fan. (Only later, long after meeting him did I come into possession of such Burroughs "underground" DVD'S as The Commissioner of the Sewers as well as cassettes of his live readings, convincing me we probably had in Burroughs the wittiest American author since Clemons.)

The other guests included Fran Lebowitz and John Waters -- you can imagine the conversation. (A bit tipsy, I spoke negatively of someone and, by Freudian slip or simple drunk-tongued, inartfully substituted Ms. Lebowitz's name, but she didn't make anything of it until I did. Waters quite frankly shocked me. His whole, well, package: a film noire undertaker's outfit, slicked back 30's hairdo; pencil thin, Dick Tracy-style moustache, and tres gay mannerisms: I was shocked, I tell you, shocked.

As the evening wore on and those of us so inclined finished our flirtations with greatness, the room fell quieter and an exchange began between Ms. Flanner and Mr. Burroughs. They discussed matters as if dancing about in a fencing match, a parry here, a jab there. It was clear that they were sizing each other up. Burroughs had had a lot of wine and was holding court, not particularly eager to give someone else the stage, but he obviouly had respect for Flanner as a fellow author. The conversation, with all its delightful subtexual inferences, amused and even thrilled us all. And, finally, it was time for Ms. Flanner to go home.

Burroughs followed the hostess to the door as Ms. Flanner was let out. Flanner suggested they do something together sometime soon. Burroughs agreed, saying Yes, Yes in a distinctly W. C. Fieldsian tone of voice, and as soon as the door was closed, utter a sotto voce, "The old bitch!"

Remembering Bukowski

I met "Buk" in a roundabout and amusing way, whilst pursuing one of the most important people in my entire life, D.L., who was then a boy-friday at a scandalous "underground" newspaper published by the scion of a publishing family named John Bryan. The paper, Open City, which competed weekly with the more widely read L. A. Free Press, published by Bryan's erstwhile colleague, Art Kunkin. The two publications had a friendly rivalry, but because Bryan always felt he had to play catch-up, he pushed the envelope and almost got himself tossed in the hoozegow by the L.A.P.D. upon publication of a promotional photo of famed sideman and producer, song-writer and pianist Leon Russell who, with Marc Benno with a nude groupie straddling their knees. While the photo seemed innocruous enough, it did reveal the groupie's snatch (as Buk would put it) and was therefore a big no-no.

Had I not met Derek -- and lived with him for about ten months -- I might not have met Bukowski. Derek once told me that when Buk was visiting the Open City offices on the business of selling his column to the paper, a column called "Confessions of a Dirty Old Man." (This eventually became a book and is still in print -- and how!) A San Francisco Chronicle obit of Bryan properly acknowledges he was the first person to publish Bukowski (sort of). (Actually, Buk had been self-published in little chapbooks, e.g. one delightfully entitled All the Assholes in the World and Mine, an account of his hemorrhoid operation from that unique point of view. And I think Steve Richmond and a few other poets had published him as part of the Venice Beach Renaissance scene.

One night -- Derek says it was in science fiction writer Chris Bunch's kitchen -- I wound up matching Buk beer for beer in the company of an academic who fawned and gushed so much it made the poet and novelist (Post Office is my personal favorite) testy. For one thing, you never called Bukowski "Charles." He didn't even like "Charlie." Or maybe he hated the diminutive more than his full given name. He traded barbs with the academic and occasionally glanced over at me with a sly wink, wondering if I caught the game. (Burroughs did the same thing with Flanner.) I laughed a lot and got fairly smashed on beer, then went home.

Years later, when a famous TV commercial featured a comic whose spiel went, "Now, some call me _____, and some call me _____, &c." I thought back to that night, mainly of Bukowski coming unglued when the academic called him "Charles." He wasn't Charles, he was Buk. My friend Derek's recollection of this period can be found at:

Saturday, July 26, 2008

About the Temple of Set

Michael Aquino, a lieutenant-colonel in the U.S. Army, an intelligence officer with national security clearances, and the Ipsissimus of the Temple of Set, is a small-boned man of medium stature whose close-cropped night-black hair is kept shaved to small horn-shaped peaks above eyebrows that arch upwards such that the immediate image is of the Devil, or of a vampire at the least.

When I met him at a Setian conclave in Hollywood in the early 90s, he was soft- but firm-spoken, mildly effete, and frankly mesmerizing. Aquino was a follower of what he called "Lesser Black Magic,” which included not only prestidigitation and legerdemain, but hypnotism, psychic techniques, and the full portmanteau of the mountebank. “Greater Black Magic” was sorcery and such, best left up to the higher grades or degrees within the Temple group.

His wife, Lilith, in every way attempted to live up to her name; she seemed a more attractive, more intelligent, younger Vampira and did her utmost to look the part. The only thing missing were long sharp canines. I never experienced any chemistry between them, but then I was having to fight off Ayn Randian would-be Brown Shirts on all sides, Setians being a mostly monomaniacal, in some cases solipsistic bunch unabashedly fascinated (in all senses of the word) with fascist philosopies.

At one of the meetings, an ugly, chubby one with a control freak’s obsession with “My, Me, Mine” kept grabbing my canned Coca-Cola and swilling it down, and when I objected out loud, I was greeted with a chorus of chilling smiles, polite but deadly (I should imagine meetings of the Cardinals to select a Pope). I think I decided then and there I might best retreat to the Lions’ Club convention down the street. At least they were collecting for a charity.

How had I gotten myself into this din of iniquity? Perhaps it was the books I was reading, or their authors: Papus, Levi, Crowley, and LaVey. All professed some kind of gnosis, sacred or profane, and at least a couple of them – Crowley and LaVey – led so-called Satanic cults. I say so-called Satanic since Crowley’s Book of the Law derives from Hebraic, Arabic, Egyptian, and other sources, including the Hindu and Buddhist tantras, the ideas of Nietzsche, and too many other influences to recall. Aleister Crowley was a profound writer and a misunderstood genius. LaVey took what he saw in Crowley and made it Satanic.

It’s that simple. Or is it?

Aquino dropped out of the LaVey’s Church of Satan when he disagreed with the boss’s Satanic dispensations: selling degrees of occult advancement within the COS ranks to the highest bidders. Aquino took part of the COS mailing list and a host of other disgruntled discontents and "splintered" to form the Temple of Set (TOS). The exact chronology of events, what was said by whom, the number of defectors, &c. -- the whole catastrophe of the contretemps will be endlessly debated, sometimes not only passionately but violently; suffice to say, the two Temples became as alienated as were the White and Black Lodges depicted in the writings of Joris-Karl Huysmans.

As I was at that time a practicing occultist and member of the lunatic fringe, I went to the California conclave as a member of TOS's Austin, Texas group, headed by a college teacher of German and his curious wife, a Jewish woman married to an authority on rune lore, the same sort of occultic notions that became the basis of the Nazi religion. (I am told that they later divorced. I wonder who woke up first.) I attended several of their coven-style meetings in the teacher's home; and I participated in at least one brilliant ritual of ceremonial magic (or "magick" if one is Crowleyan) featuring some special effects James Whale would be proud of. I contributed to the couple's publication; in fact, wrote poetry for it. And I was given overnight lodging.

Next morning, I would wind up alone with the wife, who was attractive but had the disposition of Lotte Lenya in From Russia With Love. Had I wanted to be told what to do, I could have stayed home and listened to my mother. We did have good conversations about the arts, and we must have discussed Wagner considering that one TOS member had brought Karajan's Parsival. Yes, yes, I know, Hitler is said to have graduated to Bruckner by the time he hunkered in the bunker, and I even hear that he took his Kool-Aide to the strains of the 7th, but the ideologs around him were dedicated Wagnerites, so amusingly satirized in Ken Russell's Mahler.

I was told, "If you want to attain to any higher grade in the Temple of Set, you must go to the California conclave." I made my reservations.

On the flight out, I probably gave some thought to another, related subject which preoccupied me at the time: gnosticism. It might be said that this was my dualist phase, since gnosticism not only presupposes diametrically opposed but almost equally powerful deities, it ventured, in its more antinomian sects, a cockeyed view of the real world. Not only is matter inherently evil, the bogus god worshipped by Judeo-Christians as Yahweh or Jehovah rules over the world of matter, and only Abraxas -- or Abrasax: numerically, they are the same -- the God of the Gnostics, was Good. It is not a mere coincidence that such a world view dovetails with Zoroastrianism, and it is not unexpected that many TOS members were fascinated (in all senses of the word) with the Iraqi Yezidis, who more or less openly worship "the Devil," although web sites claim that Yezidism is "anti-dualist."

Setian conclave attendees impressed me with their occult knowledge and interest in psychology, and literature. The latter was more or less dictated by Aquino's books, including a guide to the temple designed to acquaint newcomers with the rich literature not only of Satanism, Egyptology, and ritual magic, but works by Machiavelli, crypto-nazis, and spies and spying. (One cannot express surprise Aquino would want recruits to read the latter, since spying was, after all, presumably a part of his Army Intelligence work.) There was Setian regalia, mostly little pins with images of the Egyptian deity most know as Typhon.

But the interest in the Third Reich was there as well. Aquino loved pecking orders and regimentation, and I even myself succumbed to penning essays on things like how could anyone intelligent not be a Setian?

The conclave, however, was a buzzing hive of other topics, mostly having to do with rumor and, although I had not seen them, published reports dealing with possible involvement of Aquino in an investigation of child abuse at the Presidio. (I do not wish to give a full account of this incident, since I don't want law suits, nor am I seeking death threats from True Believers. I am just stating that this matter was a major subject of discussion.) When he addressed the group, Aquino commented briefly on the charges against him and expressed a wish that if any of us had anything that would embarrass TOS, we should come forward and, if necessary, resign.

Unfortunately, I did not resign then and there. I should have realized Aquino's request meant sacrifice by a member to save a leader's skin, something that I find common to fascist organizations and brainwashing. As it happened, I had been publishing in British occult periodicals my experiences in ceremonial magick, my interest in Ganymede as an archetype, my knowledge of ritual crossdressing for invocational attempts to become One with the Goddess, and so forth -- hardly controversial if we remember Hamlet's "Nothing's right or wrong but thinking makes it so." A short-lived British magazine devoted to an occult appreciation of children published one of my essays, and the next I knew, Aquino was putting an underling into broaching the sensitive question of whether I liked boys.

I said that I thought they were "aesthetically beautiful." (It was an opinion held by Caravagio, Saint Saens, and hundreds of other great painters and composers.) Before giving Aquino the pleasure of excommunicating me, I resigned. Briefly, Aquino disrespecting me in the TOS blogasphere, calling me a pedophile. How he extrapolated that from the answer I had given him, I cannot say. I have never answered his accusation I am a practicing pedophile. But then, after all, I was not the accused of that crime by the U. S. Army. Perhaps Aquino was "projecting" (in the Freudian sense of the word).

Also, although I am not militant about it -- and dislike the television "outing" of child molesters as counter-productive -- I find pedophilia morally repugnant. It is against my personal code of ethics. The law regards sexual abuse of children as a crime -- and a malum in se, at that: a thing condemned by all societies throughout history. To me, it is a violation of a child's True Will. Unable to give informed consent to the adult perp, children under, say, 12, are not willing participants in such acts. At least, that is the legal justification for criminal sanctions against pedophiles. It is one of the few crimes (murder and rape are others) whose prosecution I heartily support, although imprisonment of pedophiles is inhumane. We've found a cure for so many things, and the recidivism of child molesters is great; isn't it about time we started working toward some technique for helping them with their problem?

On the other hand, most mala prohibita should not even be criminal, and in my imaginary crusade to remove them from penal codes, I begin by concentration on the so-called victimless crimes. Whose business is it but my own what natural and even chemical substances I introduce into my body? My body is mine. The drug laws in particular are abhorrent to me.

I was far less angry at Aquino for throwing me under the bus than for (1) putting a subordinate -- a boy -- up to doing what he, supposedly a man, out of simple decency, should have done himself, and (2) libeling me via the internet. But I cannot hold grudges for long -- they're self-defeating, aren't they? I have all but forgotten the entire affair. I am certain they haven't. Let them stew in their own juices.