Abrafreakingcadabra: A Berkeley physician once gave Anton LaVey a young woman’s amputated thigh to use in a Church of Satan cannibalism seminar, we learn in Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius (Disinformation, $19.95).
Author Gary Lachman — formerly known as Gary Valentine –cofounded the band Blondie and composed some of its hits. Now he’s written one of this year’s most riveting reads. Shattering myths with a journalist’s cool and an insider’s nerve, TOYM unearths the secret and often sleazoid histories of icons who hover where the occult meets pop culture: Aleister Crowley, G.I. Gurdjieff, Madame Blavatsky, J.R.R. Tolkien, Carlos Castaneda, Kenneth Anger, Timothy Leary (whose wife killed herself in the couple’s Berkeley garage, and who as a fugitive found shelter with Oaklander Eldridge Cleaver), and many more who dwell in that late-20th-century hall of fame where sex and drugs and rock-‘n’-roll and fantasy fiction have more to do with magic than Hermann Hesse and H.P. Lovecraft, unwitting scenesters themselves, could ever have predicted. Research trines gossip as Lachman recounts the esoteric adventures of Mick Jagger (via the East Bay’s own Altamont), George Harrison (via the Hare Krishnas), David Bowie (via Heinrich Himmler), and oodles more.
“Oddly, I didn’t start out wanting to ‘expose’ the dark side of the ’60s,” says Lachman, who will be at Diesel July 17. “But as I was rereading books I read ages ago as a teenager, I saw things about the ’60s that I hadn’t noticed before. When I was growing up, many of the figures I focus on in the book were regarded as unquestionably ‘good guys.’ Going back over these times, I was struck time and again with the feeling that this was a debatable assessment. That in itself was a kind of enlightenment. Dictums like Crowley’s ‘Do what thou wilt’ are questionable guides to life.”
He notes that occultism has served as “an alternative account of the world, available to people dissatisfied with the orthodox view of things, scientifically and politically, since the late 18th century.” Today, thanks to the likes of Rosemary’s Baby, L. Ron Hubbard, and Black Sabbath, it’s mainstream: “Look at The Matrix,” Lachman says. Nevertheless, modern mainstream magic “doesn’t have the same ‘revolutionary’ character that it had in the ’60s — it’s been domesticated.”
Anything to declare: From the Bay Guardian to ESPN, Donnell Alexander honed a taste and talent for “full disclosure to the urgings that urge us on.” Now in Ghetto Celebrity (Crown, $22.95), the hip-hop and sports reporter offers a brutally honest autobiography of sorts, delivered in alternate voices and graphic-novel-style panels. Exposing small-town doldrums, editorial maelstroms, and his own sexual infidelities that echo those of his dead-end (and relentless playa) dad, Alexander — who used to write for the underground magazine published by the Oakland rap duo Mystic Journeymen — has just revealed not only his own intimate secrets but also those of Latrell Sprewell and a whole lot of lovers, friends, and relatives.
Awaiting impending exposure, which Alexander calls “publication fallout,” amounts to “a part-time job.” And as his book hits stores this week, he’s facing more fallout than originally expected.
“This was initially a McSweeney’s book,” he tells Press Here, “and we had lofty aspirations of selling 35,000 copies. Now it’s at Random House and if it sells [only] 35K, a ganga muhfuckas gonna be fired. They’re totally trying to sell hundreds and hundreds of thousands of books. So my mission these days is to make certain people” who figure in Ghetto Celebrity “aware that a strange sort of spotlight’s about to shine on them.”
Check him out at Barnes & Noble in Oakland on July 10.
Wienie, vidi, vici: The ancient world comes alive and just keeps on comin’ in Roman Sex (Abrams, $35), whose pictures of sculptures, mosaics, pottery, and wall art rival anything in Hustler, with commentary by art historian and UC Berkeley alum John R. Clarke. Clearly the world of Aeneas and Cicero was no place for homophobes.
“Sex with a beautiful partner — man, woman, boy, girl — was a gift of the gods and not to be passed up because of your ‘sexuality,'” Clarke says of ancient Rome. “Every man was expected to be bisexual between puberty and marriage … many images in my book attest to the enthusiasm many men had for sex with both men and boys. I particularly like the vases illustrated with a hot sex scene between a man and woman on one side and an equally hot scene between a man and another man on the other. Most important was the status of your partner. Roman law discouraged freeborn men from having sex with married women, freeborn virgins, and freeborn boys, and discouraged freeborn men from being the passive partner in male-male sex.”
If pictures such as these had hit the academic and coffee-table circuits years ago, maybe Latin would still be taught in high schools.
“Many of the images in the book have emerged from recent excavations,” Clarke says. “Interestingly, the images showing threesomes, foursomes, and women performing cunnilingus on each other come from very recent excavations.” In more repressive eras, “images showing gay, bi, or multiple-partner sex were simply destroyed, so that only the heterosexual scenes made it into museums — but they were always hidden in so-called ‘secret cabinets’ where they were kept from public view. Remember, erotic art emerged from the very earliest excavations in the area buried by Vesuvius. The beautiful — and somewhat raw — image of Pan penetrating a she-goat was found in 1750 in excavations of the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum.”
The ancients, to borrow a lyric from the Smiths, were human and needed to be loved just like anybody else does: “Reading Roman love poetry reminds you how strong human passion is and how vulnerable it makes us,” Clarke says. We’re just bigots where our ancestors were not. “It is unfortunate that Christianity, early on, connected celibacy and sexual denial with getting closer to God.”
Homunculus, I’m home: Just how many books have already been written about Queen Elizabeth I‘s astrologer, John Dee? “An amazing number,” sighs Oakland fantasy novelist Lisa Goldstein, whose latest, The Alchemist’s Door (Tor, $14.95) is hot off the presses in paperback and concerns Dee, “an occultist, traveler, historian — I almost didn’t want to write about him because there are so many other books. But then I realized I’d be doing something different, so I went ahead.”
What American Book Award-winner Goldstein has done is spin a tale in which an unnerving vision spurs Dee to flee England for Prague, where he joins forces with Rabbi Judah Loew, alleged creator of the golem — Jewish legendry’s version of Frankenstein’s monster.
“I decided to write about Dee when I learned that both he and Rabbi Loew were in Prague in the 1580s, and I thought having them both in one book would be fun,” Goldstein says. “My mother was born in Czechoslovakia, so I pretty much used her shamelessly.”
Life’s a gamble: But San Leandro’s Stan Hendricks insists your best bet — in casinos, at least — is video poker. “It’s more fun than slots because it requires skill rather than just dumb luck,” says the author of Enjoying Video Poker (Without Losing Your Shirt) (Trafford, $19.95), which offers strategies and graphs and analyzes your odds. “A relative novice can enjoy this game without being embarrassed competing against more experienced players. If you know how to choose a game that offers the best payoff schedule and know how to play the odds, you can come very close to breaking even over the long haul, so when one of those rare royal flushes does come along, perhaps the proceeds may not have already been spent.”
Snippets: Hip-hop informs Oakland poet Carmen Jamara Johnston‘s phraseology in Confessions of a B-Girl (Circa, $10.95). Today she co-owns a salon on Berkeley’s Fourth Street, but back in the day Regina Louise fled more than two dozen foster homes, as she reveals in Somebody’s Someone (Warner, $23.95). Stepmothers, silk, tattoos, and peacocks figure into Cloud Weavers, a brilliantly illustrated compilation of Chinese legends by Rena Krasno and Yeng-Fong Chiang, new from Berkeley’s Pacific View Press ($22.95).
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Upcoming literary events
June 25: Felice Picano (co-author of The Joy of Gay Sex) and novelist Trebor Healey will read from the new anthology M2M: New Literary Fiction at Boadecia’s.
June 26: UC Berkeley’s Cecil Brown reads from his true-crime book Stagolee Shot Billy at Cody’s Southside.
June 28: Roger W. Lotchin presents a slide show based on his book The Bad City in the Good War, detailing WWII homeland security, at the Oakland Public Library’s main branch at 2 p.m.
June 30: Lincoln Cushing reads from ¡Revolución!: Cuban Poster Art at Black Oak.
July 7: Fetish diva, UC Berkeley grad, and author Midori offers an Aural Sex workshop at Good Vibrations.
July 10: Bruce Moody will read from his memoir of life on the road, Will Work for Food or $, at Bookshop Benicia.
July 12: Gen-Xer Douglas Coupland will read from Hey Nostradamus! at Barnes & Noble in Oakland.
July 30: Surfer supreme Kelly Slater reads from Pipe Dreams at Diesel.
July 30: A panel discussion at Easy Going features five authors remembering their childhoods in WWII Germany.