Let’s just get one thing out of the way straight up front about this record: The soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s 1972 (oc)cult classic Lucifer Rising was recorded in Tracy Prison in San Joaquin, California by Robert “Cupid” Beausoleil of Manson Family Fame on a series of incredibly innovative self-made synthesizers. The fact that this is NOT the strangest thing about the record is testament to just how wonderfully bizarre both the back story and the music itself truly is.
In order to understand the intricate reasons behind why the darkly ambient soundscapes of this record are so compelling, you have to understand a little bit about Cupid. The first thing to know about Bobby Beausoleil is that he was a messianic little prick floating on the hazy outer edges of late ’60s popular culture who was eventually convicted of the first official Manson Family murder, where music teacher and mescaline dealer Gary Hinman met his predestined but still-horrific fate. The second thing to know is that Cupid was, and still is, an extremely talented musician who performed in an early lineup of everyone’s baroque hippie faves. Love. As a matter of fact it was Arthur Lee himself who gave young Bobby the Cupid moniker. Young Cupid was a founding member of the completely awesome San Fran musical magic mushroom trip known as The Orkustra and later became the Brian Eno of the Oregon penal system with his way-ahead-of-the-curve work with synths and ambient dreamscapes. Just like his namesake, Cupid has also gotten up to abundance of horrific mischief over the years as well. If you’re the type who cannot separate the art from the artist, then you should certainly separate yourself from the Lucifer Rising Soundtrack. If you can deal with it then by all means keep on reading.
Sometime in 1966, right on the cusp of that elusive grey line when the ’60s really got good, Scorpio Rising filmmaker Kenneth Anger rented a run-down, vibey-as-hell flat on the first floor of an old Russian embassy in San Francisco’s Alamo district. Then in his late 30s, the ever-esoteric Anger was fascinated by the hippie tribes sprouting to vivid life all around him, sensing that the Age Of Aquarius could very well be the dawn of the new pagan era he had longed for since his early teenage years. Like 90% of filmmakers of the time, he had the idea to capture the vibe of all these youth cult uprisings in the vivid light of celluloid. Kenneth was a lifelong devotee of everyone’s favorite egg-headed antichrist, The Great Beast 666 Himself, Mr. Aleister Alexander Crowley. Like in all times of great unrest and uncertainty, Sir Crowley was back in style (there he was peering out from behind Mae West on the Sgt. Pepper’s cover) and The Great Beast’s description of Lucifer as a light bearing god in his “Hymn to Lucifer” poem really turned Anger’s head around and gave him the core concept for what was to become his most famous and enduring work.
The first thing he needed was a “naughty, mischievous” boy to play that most famous of fallen angels, and he found just what he needed at an orgy held in a cathedral. Never in the history of destiny has there been a more perfect meeting place for two figures of Kenneth Anger and Cupid’s predilections and interests. Chancing upon the indeed naughty and mischievous, not to mention extremely good-looking, young Bobby at said orgy was infamy in the making, for Anger christened his Lucifer that very night. And it wasn’t long before Anger realized his young Lucifer wasn’t just a pretty face. The kid was a versatile and well-regarded musician on the freak scene, and soon he was playing both the lead role and composing the film’s soundtrack with a bunch of jazz musicians called the Magick Powerhouse of Oz.
All seemed to be going well until (you just can’t make this stuff up) Anger and Cupid were involved in an event called Equinox of the Gods where the Magick Powerhouse performed and Anger invoked (most would agree successfully) the oncoming of the Luciferian age. The sheer heaviness of the vibes on this night combined to create a falling out between the cosmic pair, with Cupid moving out of the embassy soon after. But he didn’t leave empty-handed. In an interview around this time Anger claimed that Cupid walked out of his life with the footage from Lucifer Rising. Soon after, Anger did the logical thing and proclaimed his own death in a two-page Village Voice ad, after which he fled to the then-swinging London.
Cupid Outside The Embassy
This turned out to be the best move Anger ever made, for less than a year later Mr. Cupid was splashed all over the headlines after having fallen in with the Manson Clan and notching the first post on their lumpen hippie killing spree (RIP Gary). The Family was known to target individuals from the entertainment industry who had crossed them (Terry Melcher, Charles Manson’s producer, lived in Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski’s house until just months before the Tate murders), so it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that Cupid could have convinced them to head North to pay Anger a little creepy crawl visit had he not fled to The Smoke.
So for those keeping careful track at home:
First attempt at the Lucifer Rising soundtrack:
Robert “Cupid” Beausoleil
Falls in with Manson Clan, banged up on first degree murder, sentenced to death (later commuted to life in prison)
This may seem impossible, but in London Town the Lucifer Rising got even stranger. Mick Jagger, then in his Edwardian-robed prime, was interested in stepping into the Luciferian role but ended up getting spooked after Altamont and offered up his brother Chris instead. This is unfortunate since anyone who’s seen Performance could tell you that the 1969-era Jagger would have been just perfect for the role. Before the infamously bloody festival soured his taste for the occult, Jagger even laid down some impressively atmospheric Moog tracks for the project, though these were eventually used in a different Anger banger, Invocation Of My Demon Brother, which is well worth checking out.
The Lucifer Rising soundtrack curse continues!
Second attempt at the Lucifer Rising soundtrack:
A curse that resulted in the most infamously disastrous music festival of all time and the actual death of the 60s.
A Man Of Wealth and Taste
Even though Mick dropped out as Lucifer, the “Jagger” name was still retained as his brother Chris stepped in. Plus, Mick’s GF Marianne Faithfull was expertly cast as the goddess Lilith. As one of the greatest scam artists of all time, Anger utilized these marquee names to gain funding from the National Film Finance Corporation to complete the remainder of the film in extravagant fashion. The fact that such a purely Satanic passion project that never made a dime received funding from such a prestigious institute is just one of the myriad of mind-blowing aspects to this story. England’s Sunday Telegraph certainly noticed, screaming “Devil Film To Get State Aid” from its red top pages. Nobody could say that Anger didn’t use the money wisely, however, since he blew it on flying the whole operation to Egypt where some of the most vivid scenes in the film are captured, including the simply immortal image of The Sphinx’s head being replaced by that of Lucifer.
So the filming was going well. But what about that cursed soundtrack? Well, back in London’s grey scotch mist Anger hit up an auction to bid on some rare Crowley memorabilia (robes and staffs and self-published poetry volumes and other Great Beast treasures) where, inevitably, he ran across a man who just had to be in this story: Jimmy Page. Despite competing on the bid, with the Hippie-rich Page being the one who ultimately walked away with the robes, real recognizes real in the end. The two modern pagans were instant esoteric brothers and before long Anger was whisked off to the ultimate piece of Crowley paraphernalia that Page happened to own, the Great Magus’ former estate, Boleskine House on the shores of Loch Ness. Crowley had once attempted, and failed, to perform the Sacred Magic of Abramelin ritual at the Manor. Various demons and other mischievous beings let loose during Crowley’s residency still lurked the grounds, and all sorts of weird shit and death had befallen the place over the decades. Needless to say Boleskine was right up Kenneth’s proverbial alley, and it wasn’t long before he was living full-time in the basement.
Jimmy outside Boleskine House
It was only natural that the third person to attempt the Lucifer Rising soundtrack would be the princely and occult-obsessed James Patrick Page, and this was indeed officially announced in an Anger interview in Variety. The soundtrack curse got its long, cold fingers into Page almost immediately. Then at the zenith of Zeppelin’s universal reign, Jimmy began cultivating a serious taste for certain brown powders derived from poppy flowers, went from “rock star skinny” to “famine victim skeletal”, and began falling out with his wife Charlotte. The heavy, dark vibes he inherited as the soundtrack’s producer drew some seriously stifling curtains down on his until-then crystalline creative drive, and he barely managed to complete less than 20 minutes of music for the score. Growing weary of the dissolute pagan chanting strange incantations in their basement, the bummer-bringing Charlotte eventually tossed Anger out of Crowley paradise. Anger got his revenge by calling a presser, from which he chastised Page savagely: “I’m beginning to think Jimmy’s dried up as a musician. He’s got no themes, no inspiration, no melodies to offer.”
Harsh words from Anger, but in fairness it should be noted that Page’s discarded music for the Lucifer Rising soundtrack surfaced in 2012 as Lucifer Rising & Other Soundtracks and, although not nearly as well-executed as Cupid’s, it isn’t dismal listening by any stretch.
Third attempt at the Lucifer Rising soundtrack:
A decade-long heroin addiction, the death of Robert Plant’s son, the death of John Bonham, and the downfall of one of the mightiest band of living gods to ever stalk this fair planet.
This is the point in the story where we see the seemingly inevitable return of the Original Lucifer, Mr. Cupid himself. The bond originally formed at that fateful pagan orgy all those years ago was destined to complete its cycle. Really, there could have only been one cursed person who could adequately complete this most cursed of soundtracks. And the fact that Bobby was in the midst of a life term prison sentence? Well, had such lame earthly matters ever stopped Anger previously?
The supremely talented Cupid had not given up on his music dreams after his conviction, and with the aid of the prison music teacher he got his hands on a number of instruments and recording equipment, forming a band with fellow inmates called the Freedom Orchestra, a prison band strange enough to rival the one Roky Erickson formed with the inmates at his Texas psychiatric prison made up of spree killers and rapists, and put the mono synths he had spent years crafting behind bars to good use. Anger visited the prison regularly during the recording, and he was delighted with the sounds he was hearing. It is amazing to consider that a California Prison inmate named Cupid managed to succeed where two of the world’s most famous, talented, and rich musicians failed is a testament to the intrinsic strangeness woven into the dark tapestry of Lucifer Rising. Really, for such a strange project with such a sordid history of heady, brilliant failures, there could be no other ending, and the 44 minutes of music produced by Cupid at Penitentiary Studios was heady and brilliant indeed.
Cupid Recording In Prison
One of the main reasons Inmate Cupid’s soundtrack works so incredibly well is that, unlike temporary dabblers Mick and Pagey, Bobby and Anger truly walked the walk when it came to this occult shit. Anger had the book smarts, having deeply studied esoteric texts well beyond the usual Crowley content since far too young an age. Bobby may not have tapped into the texts to the same depths as his demon brother, but he actually LIVED OUT the lifestyle in a way the more respectable Anger could never quite bring himself to do. This combination of dark knowledge and actual darkness interlocked to create not only a classic film but an even more classic soundtrack which has won out over the usual controversy and outrage to see number of official releases and reissues over the years and has received a vast array of critical praise.
Don’t forget that Cupid was involved with this project from its very inception and once walked in the plush shoes of the Lucifer roll. There was nobody else who understood the multitude of themes, intricate rhythms, and hidden undercurrents of the project like Bobby B. The music is closely linked with the main occult themes on display in the work, mainly, in the words of the composer, the “mythical Lucifer awakening in his pit of despair, rekindling his torch, and rising like a phoenix from the ashes of his own unmaking to begin his long journey from the dark recesses of the underworld — shedding his pride along the way in his uncompromising desire to regain the Beloved.”
Fittingly for such a subject, the extraordinary music Mr. Cupid laid down in confinement is convincingly dark yet invitingly lush, grand and sweeping but also claustrophobic, orchestral but primitive, evoking stark netherworlds both supremely alien and strangely familiar. Also importantly, the droning ambience perfectly complements the esoteric tones of the film and paints in the many corners of Anger’s masterpiece, gliding next to it and guiding the proceedings like a dark angel. He bests the Jimmy Page by a misty mountain hop, and the fact that he made this in a state prison is completely extraordinary and a major indicator that the mind can shine bright even in the bleakest of circumstances, and that sometimes the worst people are capable of creating staggering works of beauty. It should be noted that there is no need to actually watch Lucifer Rising in order to enjoy the film’s soundtrack. Those who groove to ambient Eno or early Tangerine Dream will find a whole lot to admire here. Although the grand, cold hand of esoteric belief can be strongly felt throughout, not to mention the weighty history of the project, this is a lush dreamscape that is in many ways incredibly beautiful, like stumbling across a stoic stone head carving while out for a walk in a field of emerald-green.
This record and its back story may be incredibly bizarre, but the Lucifer Rising soundtrack is well worth listening to and is one of the most incredible scores ever committed to tape.