'Sway' by Zachary Lazar.
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‘Sway’, Zachary Lazar's second novel, is about our fascination with the dark side. Lazar focuses on a specific time period, the late Sixties when the Peace and Love generation has lost its innocence. He catches the rapid changes very well, the uncertainty and the potential dangers. That’s the way it was. American kids disillusioned with materialism and the Vietnam War, occult movies, mindless murder, English grammar school boys freezing in a Rachman flat on Edith Grove, letting their hair grow long, playing Rhythm and Blues records, fascinated by Delta sounds, practicing the licks. These were the anti-Beatles. Bad boys. Andrew Oldham’s timely creation. Would you let your daughter marry a Rolling Stone? Brian Jones drowns in a swimming pool and becomes part of the legend. Here Mick...let’s see how far we can push this Lucifer stuff. Silliness a lot of it, with sarcastic undertones. Lazar has brought it all together in this book. ‘Sway’ is an examination of sympathy for the devil.
Kenneth Anger, maker of ‘Lucifer Rising’ was definitely drawn to the dark side and pretty boys like Bobby Beausoleil, an ethereal character, looking for an identity. Easy meat for Charlie Manson like all the Brentwood children who fell into his orbit. What attracted them to this ex-con guru with his acid world of infinitely flexible rules who could be ‘artificial and sincere at the same time’? He talked about love and peace but underneath was a much darker dog-eat-dog vision. And what motivated Manson himself? Some kind of hatred of the parents and the society that rejected him was it? He was a clever man, fiendishly clever with a real instinct for manipulating middle class runaways. He could have done well in advertising.
Dedicated Rolling stones fans will notice lots of historical inaccuracies, Oldham met the Stones at the Crawdaddy, not the Marquee for one, but they will be missing the point. Lazar gets the Edith Grove flat just about right though he bends the truth a bit. Brian Jones had his own room for instance (for female visitors), there’s no mention of James Phelge who was living there, or his book ‘Nankering With The Stones’. Never mind. ‘Sway’ is fiction, a product of the imagination, and Lazar makes this clear at the beginning of the book. Obviously he gets his facts from biographies and interviews but that’s OK. He wasn’t there. At times it almost looks like it’s been filtered through a sort of wikipedia prism.
Lazar’s perspective is American. He describes Benedict Canyon lyrically but he doesn’t quite know what it means to grow up in post-war Britain or what makes the minds of English Grammar School boys tick. Yes Mick did a pretty good Bo Diddley imitation, Brian and Keith could play Chuck Berry riffs, they practiced them over and over till their fingers bled, but they were still as English as a cup of Horlicks. The imaginative writing more than compensates for any lack of hands on detail, the narrative is straightforward; there are no Pynchonesque verbal pyrotechnics.
Things came to a head in Altamont, a dangerous brew of bad planning and mind-altering substances. Before ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ could really get going a young black man was stabbed and kicked to death. a young black man was stabbed and kicked to death. History still isn’t sure how the Hell’s Angels got the security job. Were they invited by the Stones at the recommendation of the Grateful Dead and paid in beer as legend has it? Or did somebody know what was coming? Why was the stage so low? Anyway the concert ended badly as we know and it came to symbolize the end of an era.
Jones, Jagger, Richards, Anger, Beausoleil, Manson…can we draw any conclusions from all these connections? Do they say something important about the hypnotic power of evil or do we just throw them all into a cauldron and see what kind of incubus emerges? Is Lazar making too much of the romantic outcast angle? Jagger’s naughtiness looks fairly innocuous alongside Anger’s obsession with death and Manson’s murderous evil. Their Satanic Majesties have become iconic, the Sixties have become apocryphal, Anger recently announced that he is dying of prostrate cancer and has predicted that his own death will occur on Halloween night 2008. Manson will almost certainly die in jail. Bobby Beausoleil may eventually get parole.
Meanwhile Keef and Sir Michael have survived it all to become rock legends but not before showing the way for Marilyn Manson and a whole new generation of young Satanists. ‘Sway’ is a lean book at 272 pages but very well-crafted.
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