Two speakers above and behind me, at the curled ends of overhead rods emanating from the 5.1-equipped Bose DVD Lifestyle System (retail: $2,499) on the shelf in front of me, surrounded on either side by three more speakers, and below, one subwoofer. The salesman is pushing buttons on the remote, demonstrating my home-entertainment options, as I play tracks from an audio-DVD specially mixed for 5.1 sound — Boyd Rice a.k.a. Non’s recently released Children of the Black Sun. It‘s Sunday-morning service at the Glendale Good Guys, with music by a member of the Church of Satan.
The Good Guys salesman eyes me warily. There on the large flat-screen TV above the stereo receiver, a title card is displayed for all the store’s customers to see — the cover of the Non album, a gold-and-black photo of a funeral monument with a couple embracing in ecstasy, the woman‘s back arched and bare breasts thrust outward. And then there’s the “music,” which I‘m listening to with eyes closed, at the highest possible volume: a swirling drone, often just a single note or two, dubbed out and echoed around the speakers on a sound system that dwarfs my home stereo’s sonic capabilities. Distant girders falling, waters rippling, a sampled choir transformed into a cloud of eerie wraiths. Enveloped in sound, I don‘t want to budge; I don’t want this immersion in dark power to end. I‘m in heaven, so to speak.
“I think music can put you into touch with something that’s very intangible, that you couldn‘t experience in any other way,” says Boyd Rice, on the phone from his home in Denver. “When I started doing music, what I wanted to do was create an atmosphere that would make a person feel that they were transported to another realm. I feel that I’m still able to do that. Then again, you could just have it on in the background while you‘re doing housework.”
He chuckles. “For this album, I was influenced by a lot of classical music, because I thought, ’Geez, Debussy could do a whole CD just about the sea, just in sound. Holst could do a whole thing about the planets.‘ It’d be good to do something along those lines. But I never know how people are gonna respond to what I do. I‘m sure there are people who’ll hear it and go, ‘Ah, I know what he’s getting at here.‘ Then there are other people, it’s gonna go right over their head, but it won‘t make any difference, because I think the music is interesting.”
The music, in fact, is astonishing. But still I wonder what exactly Rice is up to here. It’s a question that‘s been asked of him before, when he dabbled with Nazi iconography and social-Darwinist ideas in his work, as well as openly interacting with known racial supremacists. For the record, Rice told me that he is neither a racial supremacist, anti-Jewish nor a political fascist. Is this a satanic album? Isn’t Rice a member of the late Anton LaVey‘s Church of Satan?
“I loved Anton LaVey,” says Rice, “and I was very happy promoting his ideas while he was still alive, because his ideas were so much along the same lines as mine. I wouldn’t choose to label myself a Satanist, but given what LaVey means by Satanism — that there‘s a certain will, that there’s a beast in man, that man has a dark side and that you should embrace it — by that definition, I guess I am a satanic kind of guy. I‘m finding that there is this Luciferian tradition that a lot of the interesting people in the world have been connected with — people like Leonardo da Vinci and Jean Cocteau.”
Cocteau, the late French filmmakerartistpoet, is a patron saint to Rice; the album is dedicated to Cocteau, and he informs much of its sound as well as its underlying concept: Indeed, the only decipherable words on Children, at the opening of the album, are sampled from Yul Brynner, the gatekeeper to some subterranean inner sanctum in Cocteau’s final film, 1960‘s Testament of Orpheus. Likewise, the distinctive note cluster that accompanies acts of physical impossibility in Testament — characters exiting and entering Time’s flow, broken roses reassembling themselves, fictional characters entering the “real” world, etc. — opens Children‘s luminous “The Fountain of Fortune.”
But Cocteau is more than an aesthetic inspiration for Rice, who seriously believes that Cocteau was the head of a secret society called the Priory of Sion, which Rice believes was related to the Knights Templar — yet another long-alleged secret society, this one claiming that Jesus did not die on the cross and actually had a son. This is standard conspiracy stuff, convincingly debunked in recent years, yet Rice holds on to his theories, writing about them regularly in the small-press magazine Dagobert’s Revenge.
“There‘s a lot of occult significance in Cocteau’s work that goes right over most people‘s heads,” says Rice. “In his mural at Notre Dame de France in London, you see the feet of the crucified Christ and you can see a black sun. I’ve been to a church that he painted in a villa in France — it looks like straightforward religious paintings, but when you look closer, there are snakes with human heads, a lot of occult patterns encoded in it. I found it amazing that this guy had this incredible knowledge that he kept secret all his life, and he encoded it into his work.”
And then Rice is off, elaborating on all of the historical and thematic ideas buried in Black Sun.
“I‘ve been reading all sorts of obscure ancient texts: rabbinic writings, apocryphal biblical texts, Sumerian texts, Chaldean texts. There are old magical incantations where mixed among the names of the demons are biblical patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob and Isaac. There’s a rabbinic text which says there‘s a tradition that regarded Cain as the son of Adam’s first wife, Lilith. Therefore Cain was in the Garden of Eden before Eve was in the Garden of Eden. And then there‘s another tradition that says that the serpent seduced Eve, and so Cain was the byproduct of Lucifer, not Adam.
”There was one black-sun symbol that was used by the Merovingians that’s like a circle with a black dot in the middle and a bunch of lightning bolts coming out. Heinrich Himmler used that same symbol in the floor of the Nazis‘ Wewelsburg castle. There might have been more connections between these secret societies than most people suspect. Jean Cocteau was friends with Arno Breker, who was the most popular artist in Nazi Germany . . .“
So Black Sun would seem an exploration of the still-half-buried sources of Judeo-Christian mythology. But is anything so simple when it comes to Boyd Rice, who’s been using controversial images and symbols for years, and who obviously takes great interest in hidden meaning?
A couple of weeks after I spoke with the affable Mr. Non, a friend passed me a lengthy investigative piece from the London Guardian entitled ”Flirting With Hitler,“ in which the article‘s author, John Hooper, reports from Germany on how the extreme fringes of different contemporary German subcultures — Goth, neo-Nazism, neo-folk pure-race paganism and Satanism — are meeting. One of the badges that people active in this ”scene“ wear has the black-sun symbol on it. Yes, it was once a pagan fertility symbol, Hooper writes. But it’s also considered to be a sign of the SS.
Is the title Children of the Black Sun a sly nod to this supposed growing movement of white, right-wing, neopagan racists in Germany and other parts of Europe? Or is it exactly what Rice says it is? What does it say about Rice that he uses such loaded iconography in his art?
Perhaps Cocteau himself can offer some insight here. ”The interpretation of myths is indispensable to our lives,“ he says in Edgardo Cozarinsky‘s 1984 documentary, Jean Cocteau: Autobiography of an Unknown. ”They are passed on through writing, as stories are passed on by word of mouth, magnifying or drying them up, but undergoing a transformation according to the personality of the tellers. The great myths are few . . . The key-myth opens for the poet the most locked of souls.
“I’ve always preferred mythology to history. Because history is made up of truths which eventually turn into lies — mythology is made up of lies that eventually become truths.”
NON | Children of the Black Sun | (Mute CD and DVD)