Jimmy Page on Lucifer Rising
When did you first meet Kenneth Anger?
“I’m trying to think. I can tell you when I first became aware of him. I was already aware of Anger as an avant-garde filmmaker. I remember seeing two of his films at a film society in Kent. It was Scorpio Rising and Invocation Of My Demon Brother, and I think the other half of the evening was taken up with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; it was rather a fun evening. And I was already aware of Anger because I had read and researched Aleister Crowley. There was an article in Life magazine from the mid-fifties: Anger had been to Sicily, he’d been to Crowley’s abbey there, he was traveling with Kinsey, of Kinsey Report fame.
“In 1923 Crowley had been expelled form Sicily. Mussolini’s people had whitewashed the walls of the abbey because Crowley had decorated the walls accordingly, for his better intentions. When Anger visited it had belonged to two brothers. Once was a facist, the other a communist, and between them they had built a wall in the centre of the room that was a temple. So anyway the whitewash was still there, so there was this karma that continued on as the brothers hated each other. Anger had gained access to the building and started to scrape the whitewash off the walls to reveal the murals and frescoes.
“So I knew Anger’s films and then I read this article. Then I saw some letters that he wrote to Gerald Yorke, who was a good friend of Crowley’s. He was pleading with Yorke to drum up some funds to save the abbey. I could see Anger was passionate about this stuff. So that, along with his creative output, made him somebody I would like to meet. Eventually he came to my house in Sussex and I went to his flat in London.”
When was this?
“In the 70’s. We were on speaking terms even though I managed to outbid him on stuff he wanted (Crowley memorabilia at auction) and vice versa. And when I was at his apartment he outlined this idea for a film that became Lucifer Rising, that he had already started shooting in Egypt. It was then he asked me if I would like to take on the commission and do the music and I agreed to that”
So you produced the music without seeing the film?
“Yes. I said to him originally that I’d like to see it but, this is a key element to the story, he said, ‘I always put the music on after I’ve made the film’. That was exactly the same with Scorpio Rising and Invocation.”
How did you feel about this method of operating?
“Well it worked with this one. When I did the music for Death Wish it was an entirely different approach. But with Lucifer… that was the way Anger worked and I thought, ‘I’ll take this on as a challenge’ and went home and cooked up some interesting music.”
Did you have any idea what the film was about?
“Anger sort of outlined that it was about the deities of Egypt. He told me all the characters. Donald Cammell was in it and he went on to make Performance. Donald Cammell was the son of a very close friend of Aleister Crowley.”
Could you explain what Lucifer Rising is about?
“Well, no. I’ll let [Anger] do that. It’s his film.”
Could you give me your interpretation?
“Within the framework of it Anger was saying there’s a dawning. You have Isis who would correlate to the early religions. Isis is the equivalent of man worshipping man, which is now where we have Buddha and Christ and all the rest of it, like the three ages. And then the child is Horus, which is the age of the child. Which is pretty much the New Age as it was seen.”
How did you go about putting the music together?
“I had an idea of what Anger wanted. So I went about creating this music in my home studio and I employed a variety of instruments and effects. I had this tampura, which is an Indian instrument that produces a majestic drone. This was one I had brought back form my early travels in India and it was about 5 1/2 ft tall and it was a really deep, resonant beast. So this was the first thing I wanted to employ on it. I thought of this being quite a hypnotic, trance-like piece. Then I had a Buddhist chant that was phased: everything wasn’t quite what it appeared to be. I played some tabla drums, not very well I might add, but the effect of it was really good. So that’s how the whole thing started to develop. I had synthesiser and Mellotron. And right at the very end there’s an acoustic 12-string cascading in with these great horns that sound like the horns of Gabriel. It was a good piece.”
I understand there was some significance in the amount of instruments and the musical scales that were employed?
“Well, yes, to a degree, but whatever metaphysics I was employing at the time were of the moment and not necessarily to be held up to scrutiny now. Don’t forget that this was going to be something which I knew was going to be shown in arts labs and underground cinema and brotherhoods, if you like. Although really Kenneth wanted this project to manifest in the mainstream cinema – at least that’s what he told me.”
Did any of your unused Lucifer Rising soundtrack appear in Led Zeppelin’s music?
“No! Because the thing is, the one thing I wanted to do with it was avoid using guitar. As I’ve already said, there was a fraction of guitar right at the end, just a little taste. One piece from Lucifer Rising I plucked out and put into Death Wish. I can’t remember what it’s called… an abstract sort of piece. It’s quite good, actually.”
You produced the first 31 minutes of music for the film, what happend next?
“So you can imagine having seen these 31 minutes of film and my music for all intents and purposes fitting like hand in glove, I was keen to see Anger complete this film. Because up until then he had only done shorts and he had this vision of a 93-minute film. So the next logical step was to give him the facilities to continue, which is what I did.
“Kenneth had turned the basement of the Tower House into an editing suite and the housekeeper was there one day and found him giving people a guided tour and there was an argument. Kenneth took umbrage that he couldn’t show people around and the next thing I knew I started getting all this hate mail directed at my partner and myself at the time. It was quite pathetic actually, because it was like newspaper articles that were cut out and underlined in red ink and I guess that if that was supposed to be some kind of curse, it fell flat.
“He’d stored some stuff at my house and after all the nonsense and letters I did think about returning all his possessions in a hearse, but then I thought that might be a tad dramatic.”
Did it come as shock when Anger sort of exploded/imploded?
“You have to remember, at the time I was really busy working with Zeppelin. I remember I was in the States playing the film in my room in the Plaza hotel and I got complaints from six floors above which I thought was marvellous. I kept playing it again and again.”
Back to the Angry one…
“So Anger stormed off and the next thing I know he says he’s going to use Bobby BeauSoleil and I said, ‘Do what you want’. So he replaced my music. I thought, ‘this is absolutely ridiculous; the man has had a brainstorm, a man who I had so much respect for. Now I almost see it as being a bit sad. This was going to be his masterpiece, but he didn’t manage to pull it off.
“All that remains now is the myth, certainly as far as the collaboration of my music and Kenneth Anger goes.”
Do you think that, considering the subject matter, Lucifer Rising is actually filmable?
“Well you have to forgive me because I don’t really know what his overall concept was going to be. I’m only familiar with the first 30 minutes which was, in essence, only a third of the film. So I can work out my interpretation of that and I would say that it was very much of its time. Although the underlying theme of it will resurface, I’m sure, at some point along the way.”
How do you mean?
“Well, just what he was trying to put across. That’s all I’m going ot say about it.”
Have you watched the film recently?
“You know I’ve seen it [Classic Rock provided Jimmy with a bootleg of the film featuring his soundtrack instead of BeauSoleil’s], but it wasn’t a great copy. It didn’t sound as good as it sounded when I had it going full blast at the Plaza. It certainly had a charm about it.”
Are you sad that it isn’t available to the public?
“It’s not the fact that I’m disappointed that some of my music wasn’t heard. In the context it was really interesting. But I was really keen to see Anger pull this thing off; maybe it was just too big.”
Prior to your collaboration with Anger did you have an interest in underground films?
“Well I had an interest in Underground everything. Art college was a hotbed of everything that was alternative, whether it be poetry, music, film certainly art.”
Did you use what you learned at art school into your music?
I would say so. I’d been quite involved in what had gone on in art labs prior to Lucifer Rising. It’s not well known but I remember in The Yardbirds we did a number called Glimpses. And Glimpses was something that involved the bow. The bow guitar wasn’t a novelty to me; I really considered that it was making music. The manifestation of that is in The Song Remains The Same with the bow and the whole imagery with the hermit. Anyway, with Glimpses I was playing with tapes. I had all these sound effects, like the Staten Island Ferry, all these crunching noises and horns; there might have been Hitler’s speeches in it as well. All this stuff which you could have taken out of the Filmore East and put into an art lab. When they used light beams as burglar alarms I had an idea of using tape recorders that were triggered by the interruption of light beams. You could have a dancer affecting the music. The combination was whatever the dancer would be inspired by, by the ambience of the audience and their own imagination.
“So the fact that I got involved with Anger was really just a step along the road of my interest in what was quite alternative.”