New York Press
“Who the fuck is Fu Manchu over there?”
I’m standing near the entrance to the stage at Webster Hall, when a sandy-haired prole sticks his fat finger in my face and asks me the question. Fat Finger jerks his head in the direction where a guy with a goatee and long jeweled braids topped with a cowl had been standing. I explain to the gentleman that Fu Manchu is Paul K, a Satanist art
photographer from Los Angeles who, because of the recent economic turmoil, has recently lost half his trust fund. Then I get belligerent.
“But, who sir, the fuck are you?” I say. For a second I think I’m going to get knocked down the steps with a ham fist, but the clod just gapes at me drunkenly and says in an old-school New Yawk accent, “I’m Joe from the Bronx. Just tell him, ‘You’re a fucking asshole. Why don’t you take a fucking hike?’”
I’m hanging with Paul, a thirtysomething guy who does have a peculiar flair, and his lithe Goth gal pal Kat after meeting them earlier in the day. It’s a purely selfish act on my part: I’m curious about the state of affairs of the idle rich. And both of these Satanists are grappling with rapidly diminishing trust funds. Paul’s appearance does begin to remind me of Dr. Fu Manchu—out for a night at the clubs. And his fellow trustafarian looks a lot like Elvira. I figure, that’s what the idle rich do: They dress up.
It may seem strange to worry about unemployed weirdos who have a safety net. But the reality is they are responsible for untold artistic extravagances. Who will produce the cult films? Without them, who pays for vinyl pressings of the latest lo-fi fad? Or those slick artsy zines that you’re always reading for free in Gem Spa? It all comes from someone, and this stuff is usually made on Daddy’s dime. Personally, I’ll take the money spenders to the moneymakers any day.
But Satanism? Really? Isn’t that a little far out? Check your history, kids, the Devil and money go hand-in-cloven hoof. Who tempted Christ with all the riches of the earth, if he would only kneel down and worship him? The Devil did! Faust sold his soul to whom for fame? Yep, you can bet it was Lucifer.
So where was big Mr. D when I was strung out and my opiate denuded cells were screaming for a fix? Not buying. He was busy with the movers and shakers. The hedge fund managers. The super capitalists. The builders and destroyers of worlds. But the Devil is a trickster, a con, a thief in the night. Where’s your big bad trust fund now, motherfucker? Gone. It’s called paying the piper.
But I’m thrust from my reverie because Fat Finger Joe is jostling me at Webster Hall. Hey, buddy, I work for a living. I’m not throwing down to defend a globetrotting Satanist (he’s visited 60 countries in five years) that’s lost $300,000 of his unearned money—more than I’ll see in my lifetime.
I tell Joe that the dude with the cowl is only a nominal Satanist. Anton LaVey, the one who started the movement in the 1960s, was just an atheist organ grinder with a B-horror movie fetish who wanted to throw wild parties. He looks perplexed. Did I just say Satan?
So I try calming Fat Finger Joe with chitchat, learning that he’s an unemployed pipe welder. We start walking toward Satanic Paul—who’s oblivious to the upheaval he left in his wake—when Joe decides to get a little realer with the rage.
“I bet he’s a fucking Jew, dressed like that… right?” Yeah, Fat Finger, the Jews are well known for their cowls, bloused silk tunics, ornamented hair and purple suede boots. I keep my mouth shut, but Fat Finger won’t stop needling me. “Right, he’s a Jew?” he asks.
I wheel around. “What the fuck, man?”
“Oh, I hope I didn’t insult you,” says Joe. “You’re not a Heeb, are you?”
I’m silent, and he looks dejected but manages to sputter quietly, “Just ask him. Or I will.”
I settle my frayed nerves with a watery, overpriced drink in a small plastic cup and contemplate the scene. What triggered that hateful fit? Maybe the term “trust fund.” Or Satan. Fat Finger Joe, with his “toity-toird-and-toird” accent and thick digits is a vestige, a
cartoon, his anti-Semitism something out of Dylan’s folk juvenilia. Fat Finger Joe is only a pawn in their Game.
Fat Finger Joe’s rage would have been a little more understandable if he wasn’t such a hateful piece of white trash. If I had to weld pipes all day—hey, don’t we all in our own way?—I might be offended that such a willful freak is gallivanting around without having to earn his keep. But don’t the idle rich make the best eccentrics? And who elected a
drunk working stiff like Fat Finger Joe commissar? Of all the soulless rich leeches created by a boom economy, Paul is far from the first that should be put against the wall when the revolution comes. Oh, Fat Finger Joe: When the revolution comes, you’ll still be an asshole.
In fact, our Dr. Fu—despite his flashy exterior—has the soul of Spock, that damn frustrating Vulcan. He doesn’t smoke, drink or do any drugs, even though his friends frequently ingest Ketamine and buckets of booze in front of him. His only problem now seems to be that he invests in medium-growth stocks.
Worse yet, Satanist Paul is an admitted snob. When I first arrived at Webster Hall to meet him, he was rattling off the nicknames of three “Persian” girls—“Aye-trail-ya, Aye-tool-ya…”—that he was sleeping with in L.A. If Satanism isn’t a real religion, then it’s at least a way to get laid. Maybe it’s the idea of selling your soul for no real reason
that reels them in: You’re just selling it for some added luxury.
But I’m still trying to work out what I think about this whole Satanist thing, so I bring up Anton LaVey’s desire to use people like cattle—not to eat, but to work to death—and don’t have to wait long for a response.
“Well aren’t they cattle? You’re a journalist in a city of 10 million people,” Satanist Paul snaps back. “How many have real value?”
This comment seems more suited for someone wearing a top hat rather
than a cowl. Cultist Kat, another dyed-in-the-wool Angelino with her own trust fund, haughtily agrees: “We need people who are willing to serve.” At the moment Kat is attending cooking school in New York. Her funds are mostly tied up in military stocks, tobacco and pharmaceuticals. Real pig shit. With all her freak flags, mood rings and wacky beliefs—she is involved in a cult that worships Shirley Jones of Partridge Family fame as a god—Cultist Kat has the heart of a cash register till.
Kat probably believes this shit about most people being sheep (she certainly talks about it enough). Maybe she even sees herself as one. But with Satanist Paul, it’s more complex. He frequently throws out a completely inflammatory claim—like “the Nazis suffered for aesthetics; I do as well”—to only nullify it with an abstruse philosophical concept. The intellectual apologist of an evil movement is a well-knownarchetype. Satanist Paul even lived on Mt. Athos for three months with
But there’s evil, and then there’s Evil, of the Danzig variety. LaVey’s notion of Satan is of a trickster challenging the shackles of control, and Satanist Paul is a very bright guy, so it’s hard to know what he believes in.
These days, though, it’s all about the cash, and I can’t help but think of that old saying: “If you’re so smart, then why aren’t you rich?” Or in Paul’s case: If you’re so smart, why don’t you make any money?
“The mutual funds that my grandparents set up for me are to start a business, or buy a house with; it’s not to spend,” Cultist Kat explains, her BlackBerry lighting up. “I don’t look at that money as real.” Only someone who’s never worried about money is able to think of hundreds of thousands of dollars as not real.
“Well your funds are worthless now, aren’t they?” Paul asks with a sardonic smile. Further complicating matters, Satanist Paul is bothered by Kat’s investment choices. You see, his old man made his fortune designing missile radar in Hermosa Beach. The town was an enclave of the crew-cut and slide-rule boys who won the Cold War.
“I didn’t know one person that wasn’t a defense contractor when I was a kid,” Paul explains. “During the weekends, these guys were going to little league games and then, on Monday, they were inventing ways to kill people. It’s a truly horrible way to make a living.”
“I hear you’re a Satanist and a fucking Jew,” Fat Finger Joe taunts Paul when he catches up to us after the show.
“Well, I’m not a Jew,” Paul says.
“L’cheim, L’cheim,” our friendly pipe welder replies.
Satanist Paul’s face tenses, but then his usual stoic look comes back. “I’m sorry my look offends you,” he says. Fat Finger Joe gives up with puzzled disgust and disappears into the throng of club goers.
“How the fuck were you so calm?” I ask Satanist Paul as we walk down East 11th. Bridge-and-tunnel teen princesses in skimpy see-through dresses pile out of Hummer Limos
“Do you really think his reactions have anything to do with me?” Paul answers as a Last Night’s Party photog shunts me aside and snaps a few pics of him. Both reactions—the hipster’s pic-taking and welder’s insults—are superficial, he says, and therefore meaningless. “Still, Joe and the photog are idiots,” I say.
“They’re human beings,” Satanist Paul answers.
With all that’s changed in this city during the last 10 years, it’s comforting to know that a rich L.A. Satanist has a more humanitarian outlook than your average New Yorker. And he’s definitely more polite.
“Look, do you really think it’s the first time someone hasn’t liked me for the way I look?” Satanist Paul continues. I drop the disagreement, and we part ways. Paul is heading off to Starbucks to read Blavatsky and wait for a girl. “It’s just a test of endurance and will,” he says, patting one of the massive volumes of her 1,400 word masterwork in his messenger bag.
When I get home after my night out with the trust-fund Satanists, a long, rambling email, riddled with misspellings, is waiting for me. It was from John Aes-Nihil (aka John Cagle), a 60-year-old Andy Warhol look-a-like and Charlie Manson fanatic who is the godfather of the L.A. Satanism scene.
If you except Satan as your Personal Demon, You will be Provided for, Hail Satan! I don’t get to be a Counter-Culture Sensation like Paul, nor do I get to be labeled a Leading Satanist and followed around and accused of not only being a leading Satanist but of being an actual Jew, and on Yom Kipper no less, Oy!
Enough devil talk. It’s time for bed.
I first met Satanic Paul earlier in the day while standing in St. Marks Books reading some hardboiled stuff off the front racks. My old friend Sean started knocking on the window and gesturing for me to come outside.
“Dude, you’ve got to meet Sara’s friend. Remember I told you about the guy she went to that huge Satanist wedding with?” I tried to recall, but Sean—short-spiked hair, in all-black denim—was already tugging me down the street. “He lost a bunch of money in the stock market today and wants us to go down to Wall Street with him and yell at the traders
Sean made it sound like the trio was going on a day-trip to Oz. I guess I’d try to make the best out of Sean’s girlfriend’s Satanist ex-boyfriend coming into town.
Sean met Sara while they were both working at CBGB. Sara was the type of demure rockabilly that every Downtown dive used to boast at least one of—skinny glasses, teased blond hair and black boots—pretty enough to make you wonder what
they’re doing there. She was that girl at CB’s during its final years. So Sean—a former squatter with long, greasy hair—got a Modish haircut and traded in his Hardcore T-shirts for Fred Perry polos. Soon he just wasn’t around anymore.
Anyway, ex-Hardcore Sean is dragging me down the street, talking about this Satanist ex-boyfriend of Sara’s that lost some dough.
“So this Satanist lost a few thousand bucks?”
Sean turns and looks me dead in the eye. “Dude, he lost $300,000. Just today.”
The four of us pile in a cab and…Cue looks of embarrassment. None of us know the cross street of the Stock Exchange. No reason why any of us—save Satanist Paul—should have a clue: We’ve never owned a single stock between us. We’ve spent our whole working lives pouring drinks for Eurotouristas claiming ignorance of elementary tipping practices. Sean and me used to high-five each other and strut around blowing money on records after we made a couple of hundred bucks. That was how we invested our capital. I tell the driver to take the FDR hoping I can fake it when we get there.
Turns out Satanist Paul is one of those eternal grad students, a much more productive societal role for an L.A. trust-funder than producing movies or throwing parties at Teddy’s. But where there’s excess capital, usually there’s a vanity project lurking, and Paul’s was
shooting photos of wax saints in the basement of a church in Newark. He usually used his family money to travel.
The money came from proceeds from a house he inherited when his father died of Hantavirus—a horrible disease that comes from mouse shit—in France. “He actually died the day I graduated from college, which was kind of weird. And my mom died a year later from cancer.” These tragedies are listed in a bouncy, scholarly manner, as if Satanist Paul was laying out a not particularly vexing syllogism for some restless undergrads. Dr. Spock, indeed.
A coming-of-the-apocalypse-type scene greets us when we arrive in front of the Exchange. European tourists snap photos of floor jockeys in vests as a grizzled hustler in a sandwich board emblazoned with “Put Your Money in Gold” waves flyers in our faces.
“Why is that man wearing pink, Mom?” a boy asks, pointing at Paul.
“Don’t stare at those types of people,” his mother replies.
Satanist Paul goes up to the nearest security guard to ask about visiting, only to discover that people aren’t allowed to take tours of the floor anymore. The rent-a-cop gives him the once-over and asks why he wanted to go in anyway.
“I’m curious what happens here,” Paul explains. “I wanted to see the system I was a part of, but never belonged to.” The rent-a-cop just nods.
“I really wanted to check it out. But being excluded is symbolic of what I’ve always felt,” Paul says. I later learn this is the type of detached, self-examination that he often hides behind. We walk around the corner and Paul points at a Prudential branch: “That’s where I lost money…until I started losing money there.” He waves his hand toward Wachovia.
We find the bull at Exchange Place, the massive monument to unstoppable capitalism, where kids climb atop and ride, grabbing the horns with one hand and waving with the other. A chubby tween tries to make it up but slides back to the ground.
“What a perfect metaphor for the market, with that big scrotum and ass,” Paul says. “Like, it’s all a bunch of bull, you know?”
“The artist probably had a really good sense of humor or none at all,” I say, and we all laugh.
Satanist Paul, Cultist Kat and Rockabilly Sara came out of a ’90s scene in Los Angeles focused on music, theatrics and Satanism. John Aes-Nihil, of the rambling email, is their mentor. He learned the tenants of Satanism from Anton LaVey himself. That’s the legend anyway.
Over the phone, in a painfully slow, whispery cadence, Aes-Nihil tells me about Anton’s church. “All we talked about were movie palaces, old movies, theater organs and organists,” Aes-Nihil says. “He was really into was a return to the High Aesthetics and Ultimate Glamour of the ’30s.
But he picked up on a loaded word and played the humans with it as did Charlie. Manson was the greatest philosopher since Nietzsche and the only serial killer who never killed anyone. Why do you think that is?”
We went from organs and movie palaces to serial killers rather quickly. “The government wanted to get rid of the Resurrection,” he said.
“I’ve never heard Manson compared to Christ before,” I tell him.
“I hear it all the time. I’m completely surrounded by people that agree about the significance of 1969.” When I ask about significance of 1969, John lets out an evil, loud chuckle.
Not getting any further with ’69, I ask about the markets. “I try not to even use money,” he replies, laughing again. But he’s been affected by the last boom-and-bust cycle. Before the housing bubble Aes-Nihil had a home: “5,000 feet above the desert with a 200-mile view.” When he was ready to put down a payment on property, the price skyrocketed. “I got chased into the desert,” he explains. “Now there are amazing houses for 50 grand that were 250 a year ago. But there’s no way to get a loan.”
These kind of weird cults seem to thrive in California. There are no cults that I know of in New York devoted to worshiping the Partridge Family or serial killers. Aes-Nihil’s prophets are sinister loners who found gods in the desert while on LSD—then bought their own psychosis and sold it back to some kids as a religion. Now those kids are grown
up. Cultist Kat tells me later how she misses the “culty life” of L.A.
“In L.A., because of commuter culture, you can just deal with your bubble and preserve your fantasy in a way that you can’t in New York.” Satanist Paul agrees. Every once in a while he ventures out of the bubble to buy some mementos.
Stanton LaVey—the founder’s grandson—was born in one of these bubbles and will probably die in one. He considers himself heir to the family religion. He shaves his head and wears a goatee in order to look like his predecessor.
When I speak with LaVey, he kicks off our conversation by describing his grandfather’s religion as an elaborate con and a highly stylized self-help technique. “It was started by fags and serial killers, but it’s the perfect capitalist philosophy,” he explains. “It’s about being true to your own aims.” He then claims he has powerful disciples that
he cannot name in the business world.
When I bring up money, LaVey’s conspiracies get even more paranoiac. He says he has a powerful mission to spread the gospel that the Jews invented monotheism in order to control humanity, and 1969 was the last chance for the world to be free of their control. What is it with you guys and 1969? There’s a long pause. “What I’m about to tell you might
get me assassinated: The world ended in 1969. We’re living in hell.”
According to LaVey, Manson was the return of Christ, and when he was crucified (sent to jail for life), the world ended. “And my grandfather was the Devil,” Stanton adds. So much for a stylized self-help group.
“Well that’s interesting, because Anton LaVey was born Levy,” Brian Butler—an apostate who works with experimental queer filmmaker Ken Anger—told me after I read him Stanton’s quotes. I had called him right after I spoke with Stanton, the latter’s paranoiac fantasies—reaching back to ancient Egyptian history—swirling around in my head. “All these guys are playing Dungeons and Dragons. Nine times out of 10, they’re
broke and living in their mother’s basement.” Even Stanton, I ask?
“I think he lives on a friend’s floor. He sells T-shirts online,” says Butler. “None of these people have the most elementary sense of business. They fall back on these fantasies because they have nothing going on in the real world.” Butler’s impressed with a more ritualistic group of Satanists, the Setians.
But I want to know if there are any rituals they can do to get their money back. “Well they can start with taking some business classes; even the ones that inherit a ton of money—like Crowley—lose it,” Butler answers. After I press him a little harder he admits, “There is something that involves Mercury, the trickster god, who’s been associated with Satan.” He pauses to pay a toll, and then continues: “But it should have been done last year. Now we’re fucked.”
When our eclectic bunch of misfits returns to the East Village from Wall Street, we sit down for blintzes and pirogies at the Odessa. While we speak over the Ukrainian hubbub, our booth becomes a sort of NYC headquarters for West Coast Satanism. Every two minutes Paul receives a call from someone involved in the movement who wants to talk to me.
“That was Giddle, she started the Partridge Family Cult, but she can’t speak with you until Monday,” he explains. “She’s upset because Marilyn Manson’s bassist just died of an OD.” He asks me not to call her before Monday because she’s known to hit people with bottles that she disagrees with.
I begin to wonder why Paul and Sara—basically earnest art teachers—are involved with such violent people? Sara’s moved away from the scene and now lives her life in typical creative underclass fashion. “Her apartment is very typical of how people live in Brooklyn, a couple of guitars, some mismatched furniture and empty space,” Paul explains.
Meanwhile Satanist Paul fills his own house in Silver Lake with more weird stuff: mannequins in historical dress sitting on antique chairs, gilt-framed religious portraits hanging on the ceiling, hundreds of pieces of taxidermy. There’s not a foot of empty space. “I want to overwhelm you with my aesthetic so you can’t think straight,” he
But I think it’s about voyeurism. People like Partridge Cult Giddle are violent and impulsive—associating with them offers bits of insanity into one’s life without losing control. All of Paul’s manifestations of eccentricity are external. It’s the opposite of Burroughs’ call for hedonists to dress like bankers.
The others leave, and Paul and I are left on First Avenue, making plans for the Man Man show later that night when he receives a text from Stephanie, his banker. The Dow had closed at a 500-point loss.
“It’s ironic to be sucked into that system. Society only offers two choices, blow your money, or invest it,” Paul says. I try to keep him talking about finance, but he dodges the questions. He tells me to call his banker if I want to know more. So I do.
“Is Paul you’re typical client?” I ask Stephanie the banker.
“Well, he looks eccentric, and he’s a very wealthy guy, but he’s a conservative investor,” she nervously replies. Then Stephanie tries to bury me in figures. The only thing I understand in the flurry of aggregates and interest rate variables is that Paul was very rich and lost a lot of money. “He’s kind, gentle and generous,” she says, as I
pinch myself to stay awake. I ask what charities he gives to. “None
that I’m aware of.”
“Do you know he’s a Satanist?”
“No, I didn’t know that,” Stephanie says after a long pause. I joke that her phone number prefix has three sixes: Was she the Devil’s banker? I could hear her jump up from her chair and then she cries out: “I love Jesus! I’m a good Christian.”
“Shouldn’t the Satanist be taking the Christians’ money?”
In 1999, Paul was driving a Toyota Celica down the L.A. Expressway when a truck broadsided him. According to Paul, he broke 20 bones, and it took him six months to teach himself how to walk again. He didn’t tell me this until minutes before our fourth, and final, conversation. Going broke—and he’s been losing money just about every day—isn’t going to change the way he lives his life, he said.
“My father lived his life as a dead man; you’re either living or dying, and for all his money he was dying,” Paul explains. It’s an attractive sentiment, but for all his intelligence, he’s never developed a marketable skill—at the very least he might have to sell his house for a song.
“I never really thought I’d have much money anyway,” he explains before returning to L.A., fanning my smoke away from his face. I ask him if he could still get something for his soul, or if was it a done deal.
He looks at me as if I’m a complete fool and says: “The Faustian bargain is a myth. God pays better than the Devil.”