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Lazar's Novel Will Get You In Its Sway


book
t the end of the 1960s, the Rolling Stones wrote and recorded "Sway," a song that opens with the question "Did'you ever wake up to find / A. day that broke up your mind?" These lyrics might refer to the kind of bad day we've all experienced, but they might also refer to the second half of a decade that seemed to destroy the "notion of circular time," as the next line says. The song provides the title for Zachary Lazar's gripping and morally persuasive new novel. Although Lazar never directly cites the song, there's no doubt that the Boiling Stones' chorus gives him his theme: "It's just that demon life has got you in its sway." Drawing on biographies and documentary footage from the times, Lazar impressionistically recreates horrific scenes from the late 1960s, particularly 1969, when, as his narrator says, "It was like everyone had looked down and finally seen that they were standing on a tightrope." Lazar weaves together three storylines. One is that of the Charles Manson group and its murderous rampage outside Los Angeles in the summer of 1969, a bloody spree that took the life of actress Sharon Tate, among others. Another storyline involves the Rolling Stones themselves, whose founding member, Brian Jones, mysteriously drowned in his own swimming pool in July of the same year. The Stones would finish the year with a bloodstained concert outside San Francisco, at a place called Altamont Speedway. The third thread, the one that connects the Manson gang and the Rolling Stones, is provided by occult filmmaker Kenneth Anger. In short films such as "Invocation of My Demon Brother" and "Lucifer Rising," Anger used members of the Rolling Stones as actors, particularly Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, as well as; Jagger's onetime girlfriend, Marianne Faithful. Also appearing in these shorts was Bobby Beausoleil, a member of the Manson family now serving a life sentence for murder. In fact, Beausoleil composed the soundtrack for "Lucifer Rising^ while in prison. ' Satanist imagery pervades all three strands of Lazar's novel The titles of Anger's films speak for themselves, as do the-grisly Manson-rgang murders. This is also the period when the Stones, Jagger especially, seemed to find impish delight in parading as followers of Satan. The Stones recorded an album called: "Their Satanic Majesties Request," as well as the familiar, unforgettable song "Syinpa-

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It was like everyone had looked down and finally seen that they were standing on a tightrope.

Reviewed by Richard Gaughran thy for the Devil." The motorcycle gang fittingly calling itself Hell's Angels would appear at Stones' concerts, and Hell's Angels bear much of the blame for the violence that erupted at the Altamont concert, where at least one person was killed, many others beaten, and upwards of a half a million people disillusioned by the chaos and violence. (This distressing event is indelibly etched on my own memory, because I was there.) Lazar's novel is not about Satanism, however. The narrator refers to the words of "Sympathy for the Devil," a monologue spoken by Satan: They spoke of the evils wrought by humanity in the sway of a sly, sophisticated con man who in the end was just a bewildering reflection of themselves." According to "Sway," the "demon life" turns out to be a shadowy but sinister force, namely "sway," perhaps a syn- oriym for charisma, a personal magnetism or charm that casts a spell on others, causing them to act in otherwise inexplicable ways even, in the case of Manson's followers, to commit murder. This power gains strength through the performer's ability to respond to the audience's unconscious desires. Bobby Beausoleil, for example, thinks of Charles Manson "becoming a star, swaying the crowd like a revivalist preacher, fully believing in his act until the moment it was over." "Sway" is a novel about the power of the image, the aura, a force seemingly greater than something called reality. As Brian Jones performs on stage, the narrator refers to his enigmatic appearance as he gazes at the crowd: "It's a face he's had all his life, one that has molded his personality, and now it's a face that carries him as the personality begins to fade." In a world of "trance states and shifting identities" anything is possible, in-

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hicy bedim &mhard guughmn cludfng changing the definitions of words. So 1967's Summer.,of Love gives way to something else, though the language remains: "The words 'peace' and love' had been used so many times by now that they meant almost anything, including their opposites." In other words, Lazar's novel contends it's all done with mirrors, and naturally there are plenty of mirrors in "Sway," both literal and figurative, as rock stars strike poses, mirror balls hang from ceilings and actors watch' themselves on screens. Reality fades, but the reflection continues to burn brightly, acquiring a demonic force that culminates in chaos. As Kenneth Anger notices how the camera changes a group of bikers he's recruited for a film, he thinks about "the wavering line between fakery and authenticity, the way a dangerous pose sets up the expectation of actual clanger." Part of the Stones' routine at the time was to keep audiences waiting for their appearance on stage. The strategy gave them power over the crowd by increasing the sense of anticipation. At Altamont, however, this pose augmented the tension of an already violent scene. But the rock stars could escape by boarding the helicopters waiting to lift them into the clouds from which they came, while we terrified mortals scrambled for what cover we could find. The decade of the 1960s continues to give rise to works of both fiction and nonfiction, some of them predictable to the point of clichS. But it's refreshing to find such an original and clear-headed novelistic treatment of the time, one containing provocative insight and moral vision without pointing a moralistic finger.
. Contact Richard Gaughran at skyllne@dnronline.com

"Sway" Zachary Lazar Little, Brown, 2008 255 pages $23.99

Q fim/yo* escape.

Feb.28-MoroS5,2008

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