Who the fuck is Fu Manchu over there?
Im 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 Im 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, Im Joe from the Bronx. Just tell him, Youre a fucking asshole. Why dont you take a fucking hike?
Im 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. Its a purely selfish act on my part: Im curious about the state of affairs of the idle rich. And both of these Satanists are grappling with rapidly diminishing trust funds. Pauls appearance does begin to remind me of Dr. Fu Manchuout for a night at the clubs. And his fellow trustafarian looks a lot like Elvira. I figure, thats 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 youre always reading for free in Gem Spa? It all comes from someone, and this stuff is usually made on Daddys dime. Personally, Ill take the money spenders to the moneymakers any day.
But Satanism? Really? Isnt 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. Wheres your big bad trust fund now, motherfucker? Gone. Its called paying the piper.
But Im thrust from my reverie because Fat Finger Joe is jostling me at Webster Hall. Hey, buddy, I work for a living. Im not throwing down to defend a globetrotting Satanist (hes visited 60 countries in five years) thats lost $300,000 of his unearned moneymore than Ill 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 hes an unemployed pipe welder. We start walking toward Satanic Paulwhos oblivious to the upheaval he left in his wakewhen Joe decides to get a little realer with the rage.
I bet hes 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 wont stop needling me. Right, hes a Jew? he asks.
I wheel around. What the fuck, man?
Oh, I hope I didnt insult you, says Joe. Youre not a Heeb, are you?
Im 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 Dylans folk juvenilia. Fat Finger Joe is only a pawn in their Game.
Fat Finger Joes rage would have been a little more understandable if he wasnt such a hateful piece of white trash. If I had to weld pipes all dayhey, dont 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 dont 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, youll still be an asshole.
In fact, our Dr. Fudespite his flashy exteriorhas the soul of Spock, that damn frustrating Vulcan. He doesnt 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 girlsAye-trail-ya, Aye-tool-ya
that he was sleeping with in L.A. If Satanism isnt a real religion, then its at least a way to get laid. Maybe its the idea of selling your soul for no real reason that reels them in: Youre just selling it for some added luxury.
But Im still trying to work out what I think about this whole Satanist thing, so I bring up Anton LaVeys desire to use people like cattlenot to eat, but to work to deathand dont have to wait long for a response.
Well arent they cattle? Youre 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 beliefsshe is involved in a cult that worships Shirley Jones of Partridge Family fame as a godCultist 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, its more complex. He frequently throws out a completely inflammatory claimlike the Nazis suffered for aesthetics; I do as wellto only nullify it with an abstruse philosophical concept. The intellectual apologist of an evil movement is a well-known archetype. Satanist Paul even lived on Mt. Athos for three months with the hermits.
But theres evil, and then theres Evil, of the Danzig variety. LaVeys notion of Satan is of a trickster challenging the shackles of control, and Satanist Paul is a very bright guy, so its hard to know what he believes in.
These days, though, its all about the cash, and I cant help but think of that old saying: If youre so smart, then why arent you rich? Or in Pauls case: If youre so smart, why dont you make any money?
The mutual funds that my grandparents set up for me are to start a business, or buy a house with; its not to spend, Cultist Kat explains, her BlackBerry lighting up. I dont look at that money as real. Only someone whos never worried about money is able to think of hundreds of thousands of dollars as not real.
Well your funds are worthless now, arent they? Paul asks with a sardonic smile. Further complicating matters, Satanist Paul is bothered by Kats 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 didnt know one person that wasnt 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. Its a truly horrible way to make a living.
I hear youre a Satanist and a fucking Jew, Fat Finger Joe taunts Paul when he catches up to us after the show.
Well, Im not a Jew, Paul says.
Lcheim, Lcheim, our friendly pipe welder replies.
Satanist Pauls face tenses, but then his usual stoic look comes back. Im 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 Nights Party photog shunts me aside and snaps a few pics of him. Both reactionsthe hipsters pic-taking and welders insultsare superficial, he says, and therefore meaningless. Still, Joe and the photog are idiots, I say.
Theyre human beings, Satanist Paul answers.
With all thats changed in this city during the last 10 years, its uplifting to know that a rich L.A. Satanist has a more humanitarian outlook than your average New Yorker. And hes definitely more polite.
Look, do you really think its the first time someone hasnt 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 Lavatsky and wait for a girl. Its just a test of endurance and will, he says, patting one of the massive volumes in his messenger bag.
When I get home after my night out with the trust-fund Satanists, a long, rambling email screed, 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 dont get to be a Counter-Culture Sensation like Paul, nor do I get to be labeled a Leading Satanist and followed around and acused 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, youve got to meet Saras friend. Remember I told you about the guy she went to that huge Satanist wedding with? I tried to recall, but Seanshort-spiked hair, in all-black denimwas 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 or something.
Sean made it sound like the trio was going on a day-trip to Oz. I guess Id try to make the best out of Seans girlfriends Satanist ex-boyfriend coming into town.
Sean met Sara while they were both working at CBGB. Sara had a demure rockabilly look that every Downtown shithole used to haveskinny glasses, teased blond hair and black bootsthat made you question what she was doing there. She was that girl at CBs during its final years. So Seana former squatter with long, greasy hairgot a Modish haircut. He traded in his Hardcore T-shirts for Fred Perry polos. Soon he just wasnt around anymore.
Anyway, ex-Hardcore Sean is dragging me down the street, talking about this Satanist ex-boyfriend of Saras that lost some dough.
So this freak show 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 ussave Satanist Paulshould have a clue: Weve never owned a single stock between us. Weve 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 Teddys. But where theres excess capital, usually theres a vanity project lurking, and Pauls 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 Hantavirusa horrible disease that comes from mouse shitin 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.
Dont 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 arent 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.
Im 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 Ive 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: Thats 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, its 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. Thats the legend anyway.
Over the phone, in a painfully slow, whispery cadence, Aes-Nihil tells me about Antons 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.
Ive never heard Manson compared to Christ before, I tell him.
I hear it all the time. Im 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 hes 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 theres 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-Nihils prophets are sinister loners who found gods in the desert while on LSDthen 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 cant in New York. Satanist Paul agrees. Every once in a while he ventures out of the bubble to buy some mementos.
Stanton LaVeythe founders grandsonwas 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 grandfathers religion as an elaborate con and a highly stylized self-help technique. It was started by fags and serial killers, but its the perfect capitalist philosophy, he explains. Its 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, LaVeys 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? Theres a long pause. What Im about to tell you might get me assassinated: The world ended in 1969. Were 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 thats interesting, because Anton LaVey was born Levy, Brian Butleran apostate who works with experimental queer filmmaker Ken Angertold me after I read him Stantons quotes. I had called him right after I spoke with Stanton, the latters paranoiac fantasiesreaching back to ancient Egyptian historyswirling around in my head. All these guys are playing Dungeons and Dragons. Nine times out of 10, theyre broke and living in their mothers basement. Even Stanton, I ask?
I think he lives on a friends 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. Butlers 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 moneylike Crowleylose it, Butler answers. After I press him a little harder he admits, There is something that involves Mercury, the trickster god, whos been associated with Satan. He pauses to pay a toll, and then continues: But it should have been done last year. Now were 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 cant speak with you until Monday, he explains. Shes upset because Marilyn Mansons bassist just died of an OD. He asks me not to call her before Monday because shes known to hit people with bottles that she disagrees with.
I begin to wonder why Paul and Sarabasically earnest art teachersare involved with such violent people? Saras 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. Theres not a foot of empty space. I want to overwhelm you with my aesthetic so you cant think straight, he explains.
But I think its about voyeurism. People like Partridge Cult Giddle are violent and impulsiveassociating with them offers bits of insanity into ones life without losing control. All of Pauls manifestations of eccentricity are external. Its 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.
Its 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 youre typical client? I ask Stephanie the banker.
Well, he looks eccentric, and hes a very wealthy guy, but hes 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. Hes kind, gentle and generous, she says, as I pinch myself to stay awake. I ask what charities he gives to. None that Im aware of.
Do you know hes a Satanist?
No, I didnt know that, Stephanie says after a long pause. I joke that her phone number prefix has three sixes: Was she the Devils banker? I could hear her jump up from her chair and then she cries out: I love Jesus! Im a good Christian.
Shouldnt 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 didnt tell me this until minutes before our fourth, and final, conversation. Going brokeand hes been losing money just about every dayisnt going to change the way he lives his life, he said.
My father lived his life as a dead man; youre either living or dying, and for all his money he was dying, Paul explains. Its an attractive sentiment, but for all his intelligence, hes never developed a marketable skillat the very least he might have to sell his house for a song.
I never really thought Id 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 Im a complete fool and says: The Faustian bargain is a myth. God pays better than the Devil.