Much Ado About Zoso
By Gary Singh
AFTER a recent trip to Chicago, San Jose City Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio warmly posed this question at the end of a blog entry: "What cities have you visited that you feel San Jose could learn from and/or adopt best practices from?" Well, I'll begin my answer to that question with, "San Francisco," and mention an upcoming soirée that author and pal Erik Davis is hosting on Nov. 1 at Artists Television Access (ATA) in the Mission District. Davis will lecture and present an evening of obscure films exploring the influence of philosopher, poet and mountain climber Aleister Crowley on 20th/21st-century subcultures including the music of Led Zeppelin.
Now, a little background: Davis has written for a number of magazines over the years including Wired, Details, Gnosis, Rolling Stone and more. I first discovered the dude back in the mid-'90s, when he moderated a listserv on the work of post-structuralist philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. His first definitive book, TechGnosis: Myth, Magic + Mysticism in the Age of Information, erupted a few years later. "A secret history of the mystical impulses that continue to spark and sustain the West's obsession with technology, and especially with its technologies of communication," TechGnosis crossbred occulture criticism with new media theory in a part-colloquial, part-scholarly Chymical wedding of sorts. I eventually hooked up with Davis in 2006 when Metro ran an except of his most recent book, The Visionary State: A Journey Through California's Spiritual Landscape, a glossy elephantine photo/text romp through the religious fringes of the Golden State—A Bay Area Backroads episode of druid libraries, high-tech pop Wiccans, EST seminars, UFO churches, tantric yogis, LSD mystics and Hare Krishnas. Locally speaking, the book offered Davis' take on both the Rosicrucian Museum and the role of Stanford Research Institute in the CIA's remote viewing program.
When it comes to music journalism, Davis' conjurings have appeared in no less that two of Da Capo Press' Best Music Writing series. Which brings us to another one of his books, and the basis for the Nov. 1 film event at ATA: His analysis of the fourth Led Zeppelin album— or Led Zeppelin IV," or just plain "Zoso"—for Continuum's 33 1/3 series of pocket-size books on specific classic rock LPs. Davis revels in his "intentional overanalysis" of the album's occult atmospherics because he believes connections are more important than critiques. Vamping on Deleuze and Guattari, Davis describes his method of writing as "a connection-machine—a network of intensities, points of resonance or pregnant echoes." That is, the power of the text emerges out of the dynamism developed from those connections. It's like rock journalism as Alchemy. Here's one passage:
"Like the YHVH of the Jews and alchemists, is unpronounceable, a verbal tangle that underscores the most important thing about these four sigils: that they seem to communicate something without saying anything at all. When confronted with inscrutable signs, our natural impulse is to decode them, to 'know what they mean.' But when it comes to strict meanings are neither their nature nor their function. These sigils, and the musical sounds they announce, don't mean stuff so much as make stuff happen. And they make stuff happen by frustrating the conventional process of meaning. And this, by the way, is one of the basic procedures of the occult."
Get it? I think you do. Anyway, the Nov. 1 event will also include free wine and a séance, along with Doug Katelus playing an Optigan, one of those cheesy Mattel chord organs from the early '70s. To answer the councilmember's question, allow me to paraphrase Crowley himself: By the application of the proper kind and degree of force in the proper manner, through the proper medium and to the proper object, San Jose can learn from San Francisco and/or adopt that city's practices by encouraging similar events—all to help make itself a rocking city and continue on its journey toward the realization of its own True Will.