No "Stairway"?! Denied! "Here's 'Stairway to Heaven', which Americans have used to jam classic rock radio down listeners' throats for over 40 years. I know this wasn't the intent of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (derisive comments about 'Stairway' from Plant are well-known and difficult to ignore), but the legacy of 'Stairway' in America, at least, cannot be altered."
Kent Caudle is one of the best people I know. He’s partly responsible for the discovery of some of the best the music I missed by living in a small town in the Ozarks. He continues to find ways to blow me away with the depth of his musical knowledge, as evidenced by this awesome essay about the Process Church (which I’ve only just learned of – from Kent – last week).
If you love Kent’s writing here, and you should, his blog – The Pirate George Letters – is a must-read. His essays are fascinating, warm, funny and thoughtful. I can’t wait for the day when we can watch “The Kids Are Alright” after a few drinks. Who better to write the first guest post on Late to the Party, I ask you?
Process Fade: The Rebellion Of Rock Music As The Spirit Of The Process Church
Part One: The Sixties, The Beach Boys
Rock and roll gained its foothold in the Fifties by rebelling against concepts both racist and Puritanical; the more records burned by adults, the more teens jumping into the fire like horny, possessed moths.
In the Sixties, however, rock and roll found itself creating counter cultures instead of rebellion. Part of this new cultural outlook produced a spinoff from the Church of Scientology, called the Process Church of Final Judgment, which held in their beliefs that God (Jehovah), Jesus, Satan, and Lucifer had squashed their beef and were just waiting around for the end of time, where God would be the judge and Satan the executioner. The Church held good and evil in the same spiritual regard and worshipped God and The Devil as equals. Putting a Processian priest in a tux and making him sing to a hound dog was not going to fix this for the Concerned Parents of America; we’re talking worshipping The Devil for real. Then an association with Charlie Manson famously killed the good-time vibes of the Church. But before Manson harshed that mellow, many rock and rollers found themselves attracted to the counter-culture and anti-Puritan aspects of the Process. Among them…
…George Clinton of Parliament, Funkadelic, and Parliament-Funkadelic. I’m sure(and so was Bootsy Collins, according to interviews) that the 20-some-odd members of Clinton’s funk army were too busy taking James Brown’s soul baby into the outer space of weed and syncopated coochie pops to notice that not only was Clinton constantly reading essays and listening to sermons from Processians, but he also littered the liners of their first albums with quotes from the Church’s philosophies. Once Charles Manson was labeled the Process Church poster boy though, Clinton allowed Pedro Bill to take the album art in a new direction. Pedro, who loved “freaks” like Blue Cheer, Zappa, and Sun Ra, brought about the birth of the familiar characters we know and love from the funk mothership. Also…
…Dennis Wilson of The Beach Boys? To an extent. Wilson really bought into what Manson stood for musically, and according to some reports, philosophically. It’s Manson’s connection with the Process Church that carries over into the history arc of Wilson because, well, Manson and Wilson lived together and stuff. Oops! Eventually Wilson, learning that Manson was a real monster, just moved out and let him have the place. Not before, unfortunately, introducing him to the person who owned the house being rented by Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, the site of the eventual Tate/LaBianca murders. Double oops!
Part Two: The Eighties, Tha Dogg Pound
About that “Charles Manson as the Process Church poster boy” thing; it’s totally groundless. Given, Manson wanted to start a race war that would bring about the end of the world, but whether or not he was trying to trigger the Jehovah/Lucifer tag-team that the Processians believed is doubtful. Manson was a former Scientologist (a prime requisite for sexually-repressed Hollywood types, I guess) and lived near the Church’s brief California home for a bit, but neither Manson nor his more lucent followers had a real connection with the Process Church, save for a brief essay Manson had published in their Death newsletter. A tenuous connection, at best.
Not that the Eighties cared. These were my formative rock and roll years, and I was living the dream and the ire of a full-on Renaissance of people giving a shit about how subversive rock music was. The Devil was having his day in court again, and his jester, Charlie Manson, put on his pointy hat and did his thing. His ludicrous and fascinating interview with Geraldo Rivera in 1981 was the beginning, but not the end; as the new-found “satanic cult” fervor swept through the Religious Right and its PMRC assault on people like Judas Priest, W.A.S.P., and John Denver, 1987 saw the release of Maury Terry’s The Ultimate Evil, a book that was successful in branding the Process Church as “satanic” and elaborately, albeit suspiciously, marking them the true perpetrators of the Son Of Sam murders (full disclosure: I own both versions of The Ultimate Evil, and I also own an first-release copy of The Family by Ed Sanders, a book about Manson that had all the Process Church-connection conspiracies removed by a court of law). In 1992, Nineties rap hero of calculated subversion, Dr. Dre, released a video in which he pointed to the cover of Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain with both fingers and exclaimed, “Hell yeah!”, forcing millions of white teens to discover the Church’s “Fear” essay within the album’s inner liner. In 1993, Nineties rock heroes of self-subversion, Guns N’ Roses, let Fat Axel release a Charles Manson song, “Look At Your Game Girl”; we already thought they were assholes for “November Rain”, so this just made it worse.
Part Three: The Twenty-Teens, The Literal Dog Pound
The foil/muse of subversion and Puritanical rebellion for rock music is gone now, and rock and roll has never felt less “dangerous”. Now, in a time closer to 2050 than 1950, the aural record will show albums of pretty-but-not-pensive, aggressive-but-not-threatening, with-emotion-but-not-with-abandon music. Some good music, really! But our gods have shrunk, and the devils are only attractive to us when they’re the underdogs. In The Sixties, the Church of Bob Tebow would be viewed as it truly is: a splinter of Christianity as dangerous as Jim Jones’. In The Eighties, the band Animals As Leaders would be considered Satanic, even though there are no lyrics to their songs. And the Process Church of today? They have turned to, seriously, the Best Friends Animal Society, who run the biggest no-kill sanctuary for domesticated animals in the United States. No one is even accusing them of using the dogs and cats for sacrifices. Too bad for us; the soundtrack would be killer.