"If you make enough noise, no matter your instrument, you can keep the old gods alive forever." - Season of the Witch (p. 207)
If you know me, you know that I love music. I've played in bands for years, and I've been an obsessive fan of various musicians at least since seventh grade, when I discovered Nirvana and Pearl Jam. So when I heard about Peter Bebergal's Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll (released last year - on my birthday, no less!), I knew I had to read it. An examination of how music, magick and mysticism intersect and play off of one another, and how musicians have used the occult as everything from a marketing tool to a genuine attempt to channel the divine, Season of the Witch is like the textbook for the most interesting class you never took in college.
In a Q&A, Bebergal is asked about the intended audience for the book, and he replies that, beyond the usual suspects (rock fans, scholars of religion, students of pop culture esoterica), "if you ever 'threw horns' at a rock concert, this book is for you." So, in other words, this book is for me. There was a period of time ('96-'99?) when throwing the horns was just my default pose whenever someone pointed a camera at me. I still occasionally throw horns as a way to, oh, greet a friend, or wave a fellow motorist through a four-way stop sign. You know, the usual.
You see, dear reader, weird occult rock music is in my blood. My dad introduced me to Black Sabbath. My mom initiated me into the cult of Stevie Nicks. Flirting with the devil via riffs, drum solos and vaguely sinister cover art is part of my DNA.
Season of the Witch starts at the beginning, demonstrating how rock music has been conflated with - if not Satan, exactly - then certainly with divine and mystical forces since its inception. From Robert Johnson allegedly selling his soul to the devil to the psychedelic shamanism of early Pink Floyd to Jimmy Page's Crowley fixation, it's all there. But Bebergal doesn't just stick to the hits - he goes for the deep cuts, introducing readers to occult-inspired bands that are a little less well-known than Sabbath and Zeppelin, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Take Coven, for instance. In addition to featuring this super sick cover art on their 1969 album Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls, "Coven is also credited with being the first band to 'throw horns'" (p. 116). Now there's a cultural contribution that can't be denied! I also learned about Mort Garson, who was one of the first musicians to record popular music using Moog synthesizers. His 1970 album Black Mass, released under the name Lucifer, is a total retro-futuristic trip. This book even gave me a healthy appreciation of prog, previously one of my most maligned musical genres!
Witchy TV shows on Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel. Witchy clothes at Urban Outfitters and Forever 21. Hell, even Jay-Z and Beyonce are probably members of the Illuminati, right? (See page 211 for more info.) We are definitely in the midst of a serious occult revival, which means this book couldn't be more timely or intriguing.
For anyone who has ever pondered an inscrutable lyric, for anyone who has ever felt unsettled by a strange and disturbing music video, for anyone who has ever wondered - even for a second - when this bullshit "Paul McCartney" will finally admit that Paul died decades ago...this is your new favorite book. Get ready to remember why you started loving rock & roll in the first place.
Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book for review.