Thursday, August 20, 2009

Stairway to Hell, or how I uncovered one of rock 'n roll's greatest conspiracies

It is August 20th, which means Stairway to Hell is published today. It also means that the X Factor (US readers, it is the Brit version of American Idol) is back on UK TV screens this Saturday. But we'll gloss over that - there will be enough media fanfare for the latest round of TV's favourite talent show, and precious little for my book (although some people have been very kind). So let me make up for it here, with a humble blog post.

I don't even remember where I first read or heard that in 1975 David Bowie used to store his urine in the fridge to stop warlocks (in particular Jimmy Page) from using it to harm him. It might have been in Nicholas Pegg's The Complete David Bowie, which I read years ago. Looking at it now, two sentences regarding the background to the album Station to Station stand out:

Tales abound of black candles, bottled urine, bodies falling past windows, witches stealing David's semen, demons attacking him in photographs, the exorcism of the swimming pool, the CIA infiltrating his movie-making plans, and the Rolling Stones sending him messages in their record sleeves.
and:

What David later referred to as his "wayward spiritual search" had begun in New York in early 1975 when he met Kenneth Anger, the author of Hollywood Babylon whose film Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome was an exploration of the neo-pagan warlock Aleister Crowley, a figure who famously attracted the attention of Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page at around the same time (a groundless suspicion that Page meant him harm was reportedly another of David's myriad neuroses during the period).
Obviously the phrases in bold were the ones that lodged in my head. The urine was being stashed away to stop baddies from getting their hands on it. Which baddies? Jimmy Page. And that got me thinking... What if Bowie wasn't careful enough? What if Page managed to get hold of some of that urine?

What was he going to do?

I don't know about you, but I have a love/hate relationship with Bowie's music. Most stuff up to and including 1980's Scary Monsters, I love it. After that, well, we all know what he went and did. He came up with Let's Dance, which made him a global superstar and rang the death knell for whatever strange creative genius he had. He achieved massive commercial success with that album, but it was watered down pop compared to most of his earlier stuff. It was as if someone had taken the soul out of his body and switched it with that of a lesser mortal. But who could have done such a thing? What kind of occult-dabbling, long-haired rock guitarist whose name rhymes with Timmy Sage could have meant him harm?

But that's crazy, right? Everyone knows that in order for someone like, say, Jimmy Page to switch Bowie's soul with that of a lesser mortal, he would have to find a lesser mortal. And where would a rock superstar find a lesser mortal?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I was born and raised in Worcester, a place which has an interesting history. The city can be traced back to 400BC, when a walled village existed on the banks of the River Severn. In the first century, the Romans turned it into a fort and thriving industrial town. In 1651, the English Civil War was decided here when Charles II was defeated at the Battle of Worcester. In the late 20th Century, members of Led Zeppelin are known to have frequented the Lamb and Flag, a pub on the A38, North of the city centre. Around the same time, in the maternity ward of the nearby Royal Infirmary, a plentiful supply of lesser mortals were being born. Also around the same time (June, 1973) David Bowie played one of his last ever Ziggy Stardust gigs at The Gaumont - mere yards from both the Lamb and Flag AND the Royal Infirmary.

See what you can turn up with a bit of digging?

Now, let's fast-forward 30-odd years from the time, post-Scary Monsters and pre-Let's Dance, when the deed might have been done. Meet Rik Suntan, local pub singer, winner of the Pub Idol for two years running and unwitting host of David Bowie's soul. Except it's not unwitting anymore - his manager, Ted Regis, has spilled the beans. He's worked it all out, plus a few other bits and bobs.

Some of you reading this might think I'm nuts. Fair point, but consider this: Bowie believed someone might use his urine to harm him. Jimmy Page believed he could get things done with black magic. Ted Regis believed that David Bowie's stolen soul was inside Rik Suntan, and that Rik Suntan's was in David Bowie. Rik Suntan, even before all this, believed he was destined for pop superstardom. Thousands of lesser mortals, in the opening rounds of the X Factor, American Idol and any other glossy TV talent show, believe they have what it takes to be the next Christina, Justin or Beyoncé.

They're delusional, aren't they? Yeah, 'course they are. And we're all a bit delusional, if you look close enough. Maybe in small ways, and to no great extent, but we've all had unrealistic ideas about ourselves from time to time. We keep a check on those ideas, staying in touch with reality and disappointment. But what happens if you don't? What if you commit everything to that delusion - your life, your future, your soul? My guess is that it leads you down the Stairway to Hell.

4 comments:

Jenny Davidson said...

You are a demented genius! I love the book - good luck taking it out on the road....

Karin M said...

I'd been wondering what the book was about. Never would have guessed. Thanks for the background. That Aleister Crowley was quite a character, too.

Chris said...

You, sir, have just sold yourself a book!

Charlie Williams said...

Cheers guys. Jenny, I'm going to need that good luck. Karin, you should check Jake Arnott's latest for an Aleister Crowley spin. Chris, you are a diamond!