MUSIC: TEN WEIRD ALBUMS BY CULT MEMBERS

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Tired of your usual rock and pop albums? Looking for something a little offbeat and weird? Why not explore the music of weird religious brainwashing cults?  Seederman, who had insomnia and was casting about for something to listen to in the middle of the night, provides a top-10 of some of the most noteworthy albums to be released by cults or cult members. The music here runs the gamut, from progressive rock to psychedelia to folk to gospel to just plain weird shit.  All of them are interesting, and four or five of them are quite outstanding. Happy creepy listening!

Bobby Beausoleil – Lucifer Rising (1980)

Bobby Beausoleil - Lucifer Rising
Bobby Beausoleil – Lucifer Rising

Beausoleil was arrested in 1969 for the murder of Gary Hinman, allegedly under the orders of Charles Manson (Manson has denied ordering the murder). Prior to joining the Manson Family, Beausoleil had played with Arthur Lee in an early version of Love (then called The Grass Roots, not to be confused with the other Grass Roots) In 1966, he was a founding member of the Orkustra, an occult-sounding dark instrumental psychedelic band of some renown; David Laflamme (later of It’s a Beautiful Day) was also a member. He starred in the experimental occult film Lucifer Rising, by Kenneth Anger, in 1967. For a wide and colorful variety of reasons, the film was never released until 1980. Anger had asked Jimmy Page to do the soundtrack first, but after months, Page was unable to come up with anything usable. Beausoleil, still serving a life sentence for murder, was allowed to record the soundtrack himself in a studio he built at the prison, using other inmates as musicians.

It is undeniable that Beausoleil is a complex and intelligent musician, despite his ruined life, and the resulting soundtrack, recorded throughout much of the 70’s, is a magnificent opus of darkly psychedelic music utterly in its own world, far removed from the usual hippie variety. Many of the instruments are improvised electronic devices Beausoleil had built himself in prison. Creepy, and atmospheric, it is eerie and essential listening for those attracted to the darker side of the 60’s. The CD throws in a couple of vintage 1966 Orkustra tracks too, which are also very intense, non-derivative, deeply psychedelic recordings.

Ya Ho Wa 13 – Penetration: An Aquarian Symphony (1974)

Ya Ho Wa 13 - Penetration: An Aquarian Symphony
Ya Ho Wa 13 – Penetration: An Aquarian Symphony

Ya Ho Wa 13 was a continuation of the house band of the Source community, which earlier recorded under the name of Father Yod & the Spirit of ’76. Father Yod was the spiritual leader of the group, which formed in the Hollywood Hills and operated a very popular restaurant on Sunset Strip in the early 1970’s; they later relocated to Hawaii. Sky Saxon of the Seeds joined the cult in 1973, and appeared on some of their numerous recordings. The two groups released 10 albums in a two year span, from 1973-1975, and all of them are highly prized collectors’ items. The Source was relatively benign as far as cults go, living communally and promoting a very Age of Aquarius-style spirituality that promoted a “natural lifestyle” and organic vegetarian food. Father Yod was killed in a bizarre and untimely hang-gliding accident in 1975, and the group dispersed, although some still adhere to his philosophies.

The music is all over the place, but most of it is very mesmerizing. A lot of it features tribal drumming and chants, most have some decidedly psychedelic trappings, like distorted guitars and weird vocal miking. The material ranges from lengthy jams to tightly performed short songs. As with the Beausoleil album, it is really of its own world; it doesn’t sound a lot like anything else, except maybe other music made by other cults. Any of their albums are good, but the one I listed is arguably their magnum opus, and is the easiest to find.

Wulf Zendik – Zendik (1972)

Wulf Zendik - Zendik
Wulf Zendik – Zendik

Wulf Zendik was something of a beatnik slacker; while he had composed some poetry and writing in the beatnik era, little of it was published. In 1969 he established the Zendik Farm commune/cult, which became famous for recruiting members via a newsletter they sold for donations in Haight Ashbury, Venice, and other hippie-dense areas throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Another largely peaceful group, the commune promoted agricultural labor and living off the grid as a means of rejecting a corrupt society. Within the group, Zendik occupied a position akin to philosopher king; he was not seen as a deity, and the group was mainly secular. In later years, accusations of abusive practices within the cult surfaced, but the cult managed to survive until 2009, when Arol Wulf, his wife, passed away.

The album is pretty weird. It straddles an uneasy perch between prog rock and raga rock; the primary instrument is an 8-string creation of Zendik’s that was a cross between a guitar and a sitar. The lyrics are beatnik-isms with a science fiction flavor, half-sung, half-intoned. Not quite as good as the first two entries on this list, but a worthy addition to the genre nonetheless.

The Lyman Family with Lisa Kindred – American Avatar – Love Comes Rolling Down (1971)

The Lyman Family with Lisa Kindred - American Avatar - Love Comes Rolling Down
The Lyman Family with Lisa Kindred – American Avatar – Love Comes Rolling Down

Mel Lyman had been the banjo player in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. In 1966, while still with the band, he founded The Fort Hill Community, a commune in a run-down area of Boston. Lyman was an authoritarian figure, who had considerable influence over how members conducted their lives. The group were not hippies; they dressed conservatively, and adhered to a fairly conservative (by 60’s standards) view of sexuality and monogamy. However the group did use LSD on occasion. The group was most well known for publishing the Avatar, a renowned underground newspaper. In the 70’s, Lyman became megalomaniacal and proclaimed himself to be Jesus Christ. Mark Frechette and Daria Halprin, the stars of Zabriskie Point, were members, as was Jim Kweskin himself. Lyman died in 1978 under fairly murky circumstances, but a vestige of the community still exists as a construction company, The Fort Hill Construction company, which has Jim Kweskin among its VP’s.

The album, however, was a tremendous rip-off at the time, in a very peculiar way. Lisa Kindred was an established folk singer in the Greenwich Village folk scene of the mid-60’s. This album was recorded as her intended second album for Vanguard records in 1966. However Lyman, who played banjo in the sessions, stole the master tape. Somehow Warner Brothers/Reprise saw fit to release the tape in 1970 under the Lyman Family moniker. In reality, this is just a Lisa Kindred album with Lyman among the sessionmen. As such, it’s a decent piece of folkie vinyl that reflects the Greenwich Village sound, but it won’t help you meet God. Sadly, Kindred never got a chance to make another album until 2003.

Anton LaVey – Satan takes a Holiday (1995)

Anton LaVey - Satan Takes a Holiday
Anton LaVey – Satan Takes a Holiday

LaVey founded the Church of Satan in San Francisco in 1966 and briefly enjoyed a period of notoriety, including a small coterie of celebrity followers. The Church of Satan really can’t be considered a cult, since its members did not live communally and were free to come and go as they pleased. However the Church’s success made it influential in any number of weird, occult groups that sprang up in the wake of the hippie/LSD era. He enjoyed a revival in notoriety in the 1980’s when he was a guest on the daytime TV talk show circuit. LaVey passed Church leadership on in 1993, and died in 1997.

An accomplished theremin player, he recorded two albums. Satan Takes a Holiday is a collection of very strange, idiosyncratic cover versions of largely torch songs from the 1920’s and 30’s, done with synthesizer, with his wife assisting on vocals.

The Farm Band – The Farm Band (1972)

The Farm Band - The Farm Band
The Farm Band – The Farm Band

This is the house band of The Farm, a commune established by Wavy Gravy in 1971. While more a commune than a cult, the group did have rules regarding sexuality, marriage, birth control, and other personal issues. Members had to take a vow of poverty and own no personal possessions. Synthetic drugs were prohibited. Much of the commune life centered on farm labor. The commune eventually relaxed some of its rules. It still exists today, making it probably the longest running hippie commune anywhere.

The album, the first of several, is a Ya Ho Wa 13-esque psychedelic/tribal freakout album of a secular nature, and also has a kind of jamband vibe to it. It is very hippie, but the musicians on it know how to play, and toured around the country playing smaller venues. Several other albums have appeared from the commune, with differing lineups, but the first one is the generally accepted classic.

Charles Manson – LIE: The Love and Terror Cult (1970)

Charles Manson - Lie: The Love and Terror Cult
Charles Manson – Lie: The Love and Terror Cult

Charles Manson probably needs no introduction. His music career never got off the ground, but he did rub shoulders with enough people in the business in 1967-1968 that for awhile it appeared Manson’s career might really happen. He and his Family crashed in Dennis Wilson’s mansion, until Wilson finally had to abandon it. Terry Melcher, producer of the Byrds, considered recording him, before backing out due to Manson’s erratic behavior (which may or may not have cost Sharon Tate and the others their lives; they were living in Melcher’s previous home). Manson was known in Laurel Canyon, meeting Neil Young, John Phillips, and Cass Elliott. One of Manson’s songs, “Cease to Exist” was covered by the Beach Boys (under the title “Never Learn Not To Love”), and as a single rode the back of the A-side, “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” which reached #61. Manson gave his songwriting credit to Dennis Wilson in exchange for a Jeep and some cash.

LIE was mostly recorded in two sessions in Hollywood, with most of the album (all but two songs) recorded in 1968. It was released in 1970 on Awareness records, and released on ESP records shortly thereafter. Trademark of Quality, the bootleg label, handled west coast distribution. As music, the album is polarizing. Some can’t get past who Manson is, others point to the unfinished quality of the recordings. However, there is a talent there; Dennis Wilson and Neil Young heard it, and numerous songs from the album have been covered, making it something of an underground classic. Much of it draws from the traditions of West Virginia mountain music, reflecting Manson’s roots. Roscoe Holcomb would be a fairly apt comparison.

Jeremy Spencer – Jeremy Spencer and the Children (1972)

Jeremy Spencer - Jeremy Spencer and the Children
Jeremy Spencer – Jeremy Spencer and the Children

The Children of God were a fairly insidious cult led by David Berg, which promoted a Christianity that advocated childhood sexuality and incestuous sexual relations with children. This remained part of their doctrine until 1987, when the group reorganized under the name Family International, which is still in existence. The cult was international, and proselytized worldwide, attracting large numbers of followers in the U.K, U.S., Japan, and Australia. Fleetwood Mac’s Jeremy Spencer, from his joining in 1971, was one of the cult’s key members, in charge of the groups’ music and also working with young teens. The acting Phoenix brothers were raised in the Children of God, as was actress Rose McGowan and several other celebrities. Leader David Berg died in 1994. His adopted son, Ricky Rodriguez (known as Davido in the cult) later posted a YouTube video in which he railed against the sexual abuse he and other children had repeatedly suffered in the cult before shooting to death one of the church leaders and killing himself.

One would kind of hope that with all of that drama, Spencer’s album would be good, but it is the bland kind of Jesus Freak movement-style hippie music common among early-70’s Christian musicians, full of devotional songs, with cult members joining on the vocals. As such it isn’t especially good or bad. However the history of this cult, which is widely known, gives the album a kind of evil aura. Spencer has managed to avoid prosecution for whatever he may or may not have done while in the group (allegations have been made, but no charges ever filed) He remains affiliated with Family International to this day, doing missionary work and illustrating children’s books.

The People’s Temple Choir – He’s Able (1976)

People's Temple Choir - He's Able
People’s Temple Choir – He’s Able

The People’s Temple is notorious for the 1978 mass suicide in Guyana. Reverend Jim Jones founded the church in 1955 in Indianapolis, IN. By the 1970’s the People Temple operated a dozen chapters up and down the west coast in California. Estimates vary as to the total number of members the church had at its peak, but they range from 5,000 to as many as 20,000 members in the mid-70’s. Jones established a community in Guyana on land that he had purchased, intended as a kind of spiritual utopia and escape from what he described as “fascist” society. This land was renamed “Jonestown”. In 1978, he ordered the mass suicide of his followers and their children by the drinking of cyanide-laced Koolaid, which resulted in over 800 deaths, with Jones committing suicide by gunshot.

A disturbing and eerie recording exists of the final night in Jonestown, which captures the moments leading up to the mass suicide, the suicide itself, and the aftermath (spooky silence, with only faint music playing in the background from a speaker, which had been present through the whole incident. It has been released as an album several times under various names.

This album is not that one, although reissue CD’s often bundle the two together. This one, like Jeremy Spencer’s album, is fairly run of the mill evangelistic Christian music with somewhat fire-and-brimstone-ish lyrics interspersed among more welcoming ones. There is a children’s choir, and a standard guitar-bass-piano-drums lineup that doesn’t do anything freaky. In a way, it is almost remarkable how ordinary this albums sounds, considering what was soon to transpire.

David Koresh – Voice of Fire (1994)

David Koresh - Vice of Fire
David Koresh – Vice of Fire

David Koresh was the leader of the Branch Davidians sect, which met a fiery end at the hands of the FBI in 1993.  An offshoot of an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist church, the Branch Davidians believed in an imminent Second Coming and were largely taken over by Koresh in the 1980’s, who exercised nearly complete control over his followers’ daily lives.  On the side, he dallied with barely pubescent girls, most of whom were offered to him by their parent cult members.

Koresh was a fairly competent guitarist and singer, but Voice of Fire was a quickie cash-in after the cult’s demise and Koresh’s death.  As such, it is not a particularly good album, containing two songs and a lot of spoken-word preaching.  The songs do feature some good guitar playing, with one sounding almost like early REO Speedwagon, hardly the most apocalyptic band in the world.  The clips of preaching are bonechilling in retrospect, but not especially incendiary on their own.  Still, despite its slipshod, thrown-together qualities, it conveys the essence of Koresh’s mindset.

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