Shucking the Blue Öyster Cult

Ladies, Fish, and Gentlemen..

Until recently, when someone mentioned the band BöC around me, the first things that came to mind were cowbell, Godzilla, and umlauts- in that order. I never really got into this band, they seemed like the type of group that guys in cannabis-stinking leather jackets liked. Despite that, I decided to do a deep-dive on this band, since a few people suggested that I follow my “Ozzy/Crowley” video with a video on “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. Being me, I didn’t just want to mail it in, and committed to listening to the entire BöC catalog and reading the top (only) rock biography I could find on them; Martin Popoff’s Agents of Fortune as well as everything I could uncover on the internet. I’m currently working my way through their many studio albums and some live stuff.

My first impression- man, this is a mixed bag. The first three albums (the “Black and White Trilogy”, named for the monochrome cover art) are not going to grab you on the first listen. They’re dark and muddy, sonically. They seem all of a piece, like one big album, with Secret Treaties and the eponymous first album being my preferences over Tyranny and Mutation– in that order. Their goal of being America’s answer to Black Sabbath is satisfactorily achieved, in my humble opinion.

Romeo Blue1

The next studio album, Agents of Fortune, is a bit of a departure- to say the least! This is a much more sophisticated radio-ready album, complete with hooks and better production than the “B&W” trilogy; aside from Secret Treaties closer “Astronomy” which set the tone for future BöC albums. The main even here is “Don’t Fear the Reaper” (although “E.T.I.- Extraterrestrial Intelligence” has become my favorite of the record, and Patti Smith-penned “Vera Gemini” is solid too. “True Confessions” sounds like a Kinks outtake, in a good way).

Since this rock epic will be the crux of the video, I think it’s time to start breaking down the occult connections to BöC’. The first thing we should get out of the way is the band’s ties to Saturn/Cronus; the most obvious inspiration for the Grim Reaper because of his connections to the sickle, the harvest, and time (through his association with the separate entity, Chronos). While the personification of death is a more complicated and less Eurocentric story, for the sake of this post let’s stop there. Both BöC and Cronus, father of the gods, have sickle and cross/crozier in their imagery, the sickle being used by Cronus to castrate his father, the titan Uranus. The alchemical symbol for lead is the same as the symbol of Saturn, the planet, and lead is a rather “heavy metal”.. get it? The symbol and first two album covers are the work of enigmatic artist/draughtsman Bill Gawlik, who apparently fell off the face of reality by the time of Secret Treaties.

The occult connections don’t stop there. The album cover of Agents of Fortune features a magician (tarot card “I”, the second of the major arcana) holding four tarot cards loosely based Aleister Crowley’s “Thoth” deck (my preferred deck when I used to read tarot, full disclosure). I just can’t seem to get away from that guy.

Image: Columbia Records, fair use for educational purposes

The cards seem to be Death (XIII), duh, The Empress (III), The Emperor (IV), and The Sun (XIX) 2. The Magician points to the Saturnian symbol with his right index finger, and fans the cards with his left in a fashion that suggests they’re firm against the gray stone-like wall. A castle window with a blank sky is behind him.

Returning to the previous album for a moment, the cover (and back cover) feature a German ME 262 plane, with a member of the band in a cape and holding the leashes of four German Shepherd dogs. This is more than just reminiscent of the Process Church of the Final Judgment, a mysterious group that started in the UK in the 1960’s and spread to the US and beyond. That’s a whole post in itself, so I will just cut to the relevant bit.

Image: Columbia Records, fair use for educational purposes

Trust the Process

The PCFJ were known for dressing in black capes and having German Shepherds around for protection or intimidation. Allegedly (I have no proof of this) they would sacrifice dogs, and the back cover of the album shows the dogs apparently dead and left in a way that could suggest a ritual slaughter. According to Albert Bouchard, the art was done by Columbia’s art team, but the front cover was Sandy Pearlman’s idea and the back was Murray Krugman’s ((Martin Popoff, Agents of Fortune, 2016, p 42)). These two, along with rock critic Richard Meltzer and drummer Albert Bouchard, were the brains behind BöC- Pearlman being the chief of them.

Aside from his work with The Clash, Pearlman is best known for creating BöC out of a band originally from upstate New York called “Soft White Underbelly”. “We would never have surfaced as even a ‘Bob Seger-type’ of band, or even at all, if it wasn’t for Sandy,” says Buck Dharma, aka Donald Roeser ((Popoff, p 5)). Pearlman gave the band its name, from his poem The Soft Doctrines of Imaginos, a concept that would provide the direction for the band’s lyrics throughout their catalog. Honestly I am thinking that the “Imaginos narrative” deserves its own post, but the gist of the concept is that there are seven mysterious beings that were worshipped by natives of Mexico and Haiti, later known as “Les Invisibles”, who possibly come from Sirius (gathered from the lyrics of “Astronomy”). The “Dog Days” of summer are when they have their most influence on humanity. They play with human history, lifting the Spanish with gold, then toppling them with John Dee’s black mirror (of Mexican origin) and the British Empire, etc. Les Invisibles have more than a resemblance to “The Secret Chiefs“, “The Great White Brotherhood“, and other Theosophical concepts like the “The Nine” that influenced the creation of Star Trek and the “New Age”.

Are you still with me? OK, so there is a boy named Imaginos, born in the ultra-terrestrial hotspot known as New Hampshire under such perfect astro-geographic conditions that Les Invisibles take note. They give him super-human abilities such as being able to change his appearance and see the future in visions. He goes to Mexico, becomes shipwrecked and washed ashore in the Yucatan, where Les Invisibles decree that he either serve them or die as a human. He is resurrected by the Blue öyster Cult, and is renamed Desdinova, lives as a female much of the time, yadda yadda yadda. One interesting connection is that the Process Church had an adventure in the Yucatan, in a place called Ixtal, in 1966- but left due to pressure from locals and parents of members’ hiring of anti-cult agents. Oh, and did I mention that the symbol of the PCFJ looks suspiciously like a swastika to me? I’m not posting it here, but BöC were accused of being crypto-Nazis over the years. For the record I think they were not actually Nazis- not for the least of the reasons that frontman Eric Bloom, Pearlman, Krugman, and Meltzer were all Jewish. Sandy Pearlman is on record saying that keyboardist Allen Lanier was anti-Semetic, but it didn’t really bother him or Meltzer ((Popoff p 39-40)). Take that for what it is worth..

The boys are not looking very fascist in this shoot. Michael Putland, Getty Imagesnon-commercial use for educational purposes

OK, so we have so far..

  • Ties to Saturn (the logo, “Don’t Fear the Reaper”)
  • Alchemical lyrics and symbolism (“Workshops” and “Astronomy” especially)
  • Tales of ultra/extraterrestrials (the “Imaginos cycle” storyline- multiple tracks/albums)
  • Process Church symbolism (cape and Alsatians on Secret Treaties)
  • Crypto-Nazi accusations (“ME 262”, “Dominance and Submission”, etc)
  • Theosophy and secret societies (all over the catalog)

Spooky stuff, no?

Plus, YIKES!! Columbia Records, fair use, educational

She Had Become Like They Are

By the time Agents of Fortune was being written, the band members had decided to take more control over their image and sound. They were tired of being portrayed in marketing with things that were already becoming metal cliches (even if their associates had created some of the cliches, for instance the “heavy metal font”) like leather, S&M, and crypto-fascism ((Popoff p 61)). The band members wanted a high-fidelity sound and modern studio technology, despite worries from producer Krugman that they didn’t have the chops to sound like the top rock bands of the era with that recording precision ((Popoff p 57)). They were ready to prove him wrong with their biggest hit by far.

It’s widely known that “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was formed through Parthenogenesis straight out of the head of Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser. The demo version shows how close to the release version he already was.

The story is that Buck Dharma had a bit of a heart scare, and it gave him a feeling of mortality. He realized that life is fleeting, but had a notion of love living on, and used Romeo and Juliet as a metaphor, but claims it’s not a song about or encouraging suicide.

“The Reaper” is specifically about two concepts:

1) A powerful enough romantic love can transcend physical death and endure in the hereafter;

2) Death is inevitable whenever it happens to us, and we should know that and face it without fear, having some confidence in the universality of the human spirit, but having no proof until we actually die.

Buck Dharma, (Popoff p 67)

Of course, the song was “meant to be spooky“. It’s an eerie song, used in films from “Halloween” to “Gone Girl” and even the credits of a Simpsons episode. While some of its edge was softened by a certain comedy sketch you might have noticed that I am tip-toeing around, it’s a timeless gothic tale of love beyond the grave. This hit for BöC would become, as it is for so many bands, their greatest triumph and trap. As you will see in my evolving playlist, their sound would continue to (d)evolve into clear hit-chasing, Spectres sounding to me a heck of a lot like ELO for instance. I mostly listen while at the gym, and while the Black Sabbath pastiche “Godzilla” is mainstay of rock radio that I never cared for, and the rest just left me wanting Jeff Lynne’s band instead.4 Cultosaurus Erectus, awesome cover aside, was co-written with fantasy author Micheal Moorcock (who is better known for writing songs for the band Hawkwind). It’s all over the place. I like some of it. Fire of Unknown Origin is a return to form, and I rather like the A-side. “Burning for You” is just good arena rock, nothing profound. I want to jump to Imaginos, which wasn’t really BöC album but Albert and Sandy trying to bring the original vision for the group into being- the other guys came and played on it to satisfy the record company’s demand that it be a BöC album. “Les Invisibles” is a relentless and hypnotic groove, and there are some old songs, like “Astronomy” revisited. Man, this post is getting long, and the later albums suffered at the loss of Bouchard and aren’t really relevant to this discussion.

So, in conclusion.

There is a lot of the spooky, eerie, and sinister to the catalog, sound, and image of BöC. While I may have set out to get to the bottom of this one particular song, it’s really the rest of their opus that has me digging deeper. I do believe that these dark influences come slightly from the record company scheming of Murray Krugman (who was looking for an “American Black Sabbath” ((Popoff)), greatly from Al Bouchard, but mostly from the occult interests of Sandy Pearlman. Sure, individual band members might have been into horror and science fiction, but Blue Oyster Cult the band was a fabrication from the mind of Sandy Pearlman. At the end of the day, they probably weren’t fascists, occultists or even cultists. Or were they? Honestly I am not totally sure. My money is on it all being a big LARP, like most of heavy metal6, for most of the musicians in the band. Also, “Dominance and Submission” is by far a more disturbing song than “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, everyone is barking up the wrong tree, but that’s a post for another time.

Leave favorite BöC songs I left off of the playlist in the comments, if you have any..

Only the freshest of öysters!

1 If you get this reference, we need to be friends

2 According to Popoff ((61)) this was based on an “actual Tarot reading on the band, these in particular representing the King, Queen, Sun, and Death.” We are left to wonder which of the kings and queens of the deck (there are four of each, for the non-occultist readers) were pulled, as there are tremendous differences in meanings. Perhaps the artists- John Berg, Lynn Curlee, et al- were also not sure and substituted The Empress and The Emperor- or maybe the band mistook those cards for a Queen and a King in the reading

3 Sirius is so packed with meaning to ancient Egypt, mystery religions, cults and even the “Space Brothers” phenomenon of the mid-20th Century that it’s beyond the scope of this post

4 Check out Christoper Knowles‘ work on for more on “The Nine” and its influence on modern culture

5 How much does Eric Bloom look like Jeff Lynne?!

6 Recluse at the VISUP blog might disagree, and goes a lot deeper down the rabbit hole, so I don’t have to I suppose. I encourage you to check out this post and this one specifically for links to BöC’s beginnings on Long Island and the occult revival that was happening there, and “Dominance and Submission

The Blue Ghosts of Eddy Street

When I was a child, my two younger brothers and I stayed with my Grandma and Aunt Donna quite often, in their old brick house in North Quincy, MA. The house was the childhood home of my mother, aunts, and uncle. It sat surrounded by a chainlink fence on a tree-lined street, with a little garage and back yard that wasn’t quite big enough for three boys to entertain themselves. We would explore the neighborhood, the ice cream shop way down the road, the convenience store, et cetera. If we were bored there was always Matlock, The Golden Girls, or Falcon Crest on tv it seemed. Mostly I just remember my brother Adam and I running around the neighborhood. Chris was still pretty young, but he tagged along sometimes, especially for the ice cream. It was more of a city neighborhood than the “Hide and Go Seek” suburbs we called home, and the traffic and noise were exciting for us.

I remember the house well. The knickknacks, the potpourri, the endless Christmas decorations that Donna conscripted us to march down from the attic every year. The sea-foam green padded toilet seats, the sea-foam green or mauve everything in the bathrooms. The creepy basement stairs and the rotary telephone. The clowns and porcelain dolls everywhere.

Yes, the clowns and porcelain dolls were everywhere. If you have ever watched a paranormal show or horror movie and there is a room of dolls, and thought something like “Who would ever have a room like that?”, the answer is my relatives. There were a few places to sleep in the house, and generally Adam and I stayed together in one and Chris was alone. There was the “Doll Room”, yellow-walled with cabinets of dolls staring blankly out from behind glass and framed portraits of sad clowns on the wall. We usually made Chris sleep there. Adam and I chose the larger room, which still had dolls (sometimes of clowns), and perhaps pictures of clowns and/or of floral arrangements, but not nearly the nightmare fuel of the other room. I’m pretty sure there was a least a Blessed Virgin or two around for protection.

Not sure what horrors Chris went through in the “Doll Room”, but many nights I would lay awake at night in the other room and stare upwards as faces manifested out of the ceiling plaster. I don’t mean that I saw faces in the plaster, I mean multiple faces manifested out of the plaster, took ectoplasmic form like something from a Theosophist seance, and proceeded to float down towards my brother and I while we lay there helpless. I vaguely remember him awake through it, and that we both saw them, but we never said anything to each other.

Years later, at a wedding, Adam and I were having a sneaky underaged beer or gin and tonic, and we started talking about the old house. I’m not sure what brought the subject up, but he mentioned something about not being able to sleep there. I told him I had the same issue, and that it creeped me out because I saw faces descending from the ceiling and watching us. He nearly spit out his drink and said “blue faces?!”, and then I nearly spit out my drink. The faces had been blue, like a light sky blue against the white plaster in the dark room.

In retrospect, maybe we should have taken the “Doll Room”..

Haunted Bars or Haunted Bartenders?

the mysterious ‘White Lady’ at Paul, Palm Springs

Yeah.. I have worked at a haunted bar or two. Even the most sceptical STEM-bro, if he were to work in enough bars, would eventually have something happen that he’d have a hard time ‘sciencing the shit out of’.


What is it about bars that attract such strange energies?

I can’t say for certain, but perhaps it is a multitude of factors.

  1. bars are places full of life and energy- it only makes sense that the energy would linger, or at least imprint something on the mind to suggest continuing human activity after such activity had ceased.
  2. people drink at bars- our faculties as guests (and yes occasionally staff, especially after closing) are sometimes compromised, or perhaps more open to phenomena we would normally dismiss
  3. closing/opening staff are often alone- when you’re alone, sometimes you see or hear things that aren’t (?) there
  4. people die/suffer trauma at bars- sad but true, maybe the trauma leaves a psychic residue

So perhaps it is all in our heads; I don’t believe that but you’re entitled to if you like. I have two stories I can’t for the life of me explain, but I will save them for the podcast. Let’s get on to the cocktail!

It’s surprisingly difficult to come up with a ‘ghost-theme’ classic cocktail. I mean there are plenty of spooky names for drinks and plenty of corny Halloween cocktails online; but very little to work with in the classic sense of a ‘ghost’. I chose the ‘White Lady’, and went with the recipe from the Savoy Cocktail Book as it has claim to being one of the first recipes. It is what I would classify as a ‘daisy’- a family of drinks including the Sidecar and Margarita. The definition of daisy is loose, but it should contain a base spirit, citrus, and orange liquor as a sweetener. Soda water is optional, and then you basically have a Collins anyway, but I digress. The Savoy version is just two parts dry gin to one part each Cointreau and lemon juice, simple, dry, elegant- but a little lacking in body. Most bartenders I know use a beefier version with egg white, and make it into a gin sour.

White Lady

(modern version)

2oz dry gin

1oz lemon juice

3/4oz simple syrup

1 egg white

Shake without ice, then shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, apply bitters in little dots and dashes on top as you see fit

Why did I choose the White Lady? I feel like a ‘Lady in White’ is one of the most common apparitions reported at bars and hotels, and in general. The scorned bride who died tragically at her own hands, or the hands of another, or through some accident, is a common theme in folklore. She is a sad and elegant reminder of a bygone age, an equally scary and sympathetic figure, who calls us back to the edge of belief in an afterlife that may not be any happier than this mixed bag of existence. So therefore let us toast to her, all of the versions of her, and wish her soul some relief this Halloween!

The Dark Watchers..

Ever feel like you’re being watched? Well you are, but let’s leave the NSA, Russia, Amazon, Facebook, etc, out of it for awhile (hi guys!). If you find yourself in the Santa Lucia Mountains of coastal California, perhaps in search of a nice Pinot Noir, you may end up with some company. According to Jason Offutt in his book Chasing American Monsters, the Chumash Indians were the first to see mysterious silhouettes standing on the mountain ridges, silently staring. [edit 03/22/21 Ken Layne on his Desert Oracle podcast clarified the tribe as the Essalen, a tribe nearly wiped out by the Spanish, and from whom the Essalen Institute took its name.] Spanish settlers recorded seeing these vigilantes oscuros, and a quick search online (specifically the comments section of the Weird California page on the subject [unsecure link, not sharing it]) shows that these things are still being seen regularly today. Back to Offutt, “Legend has it these humanoid creatures rarely appear to anyone who is carrying a gun, or is dressed in weatherproof clothing; they only reveal the themselves to people who wander the mountains in more old-fashioned garb.”

Pepé, the protagonist of the John Steinbeck short story ‘flight’ had a gun, and little good it did him shortly after seeing the Dark Watchers.

Once, on a white barren spur, he saw a black figure for a moment, but he looked quickly away, for it was one of the dark watchers. No one knew who the watchers were, nor where they lived, but it was better to ignore them and never to show any interest in them. They did not bother one who stayed on the trail and and minded his own business.

Pepe looked up to the top of the next dry withered ridge. He saw a dark form against the sky, a man’s figure standing on top of a rock, and he glanced away quickly not to appear curious. When a moment later he looked up again, the figure was gone.

John Steinbeck, ‘Flight’

Steinbeck was interested enough in these mysterious beings that his son, Thomas, collaborated on a book (In Search of the Dark Watchers) about the subject with artist Benjamin Brode. Apparently lore of the Watchers was deeply ingrained in his upbringing, his grandmother even claiming to have traded with them- which is lore altering if true.

Poet Robinson Jeffers, in his poem ‘Such Counsels You Gave to Me’ also mentioned “the watchers, who are often seen in this length of coast range, forms that look human to human eyes, but certainly are not human. They come from behind ridges to watch.”

So, what are these ethereal observers? Are they like the ‘shadow people’ many observe in their bedrooms at night? Are they ghosts, or the remaining vibrations of a people long passed on? Perhaps it is a form of alien intelligence, curious about our hiking habits? Whatever they are, I thought they deserved a cocktail of their own. Luckily the boys at Bootlegger Tiki were up to the task and helped me whip up “The Dark Watcher aka the Poor Pepé”.

old-fashioned garb and all

1 1/2 oz Singani 63

1/2 Demerara syrup

1/2 lime juice

1/4 oz fallernum

barspoon grenadine

barspoon açaí pureé

shake with crushed ice, Collins glass, garnish with edible flowers to accentuate the floral aspects

It’s refreshing and dangerous, and just dark enough to add a sense of mystery. If you ask the bartenders at Bootlegger nicely, I am sure you could get them to make you one.

It’s watching me..

..and if you see something dark watching you on the horizon, just leave it be.

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