My First and Last Meeting with Anton LaVey
My First and Last Meeting with Anton LaVey
This article originally appeared in the Anton LaVey Memorial Issue of the Black Flame – Volume 6, Nos. 3 & 4 published in 2000
Today is my birthday, a day upon which we, as Satanists, traditionally celebrate our existence in the world. While I plan to do exactly that “in extremis” later this evening, it seems only fitting that at the moment I find myself reflecting upon a meeting that, albeit brief, made an indelible mark on my life.
I met Anton LaVey on what was easily one of the worst days of my life, certainly an all time low in my career. Earlier in the year, the death of Shane Lassen (my best friend, business partner, and co-founder of The Electric Hellfire Club) had dealt a crippling blow to both myself and the band. In spite of this tragedy, we managed to compose and record an album a mere three months later and, following its release, had embarked on a short west-coast tour with our new line-up. We had enlisted our longtime friend Boyd Rice (a C.o.S. Magister, for those unaware) [ Boyd Rice has since resigned from the Church of Satan] to open shows with his one-man sound project NON. We were only three shows into the tour, two days past my birthday, when the band disintegrated before my eyes after a night of alcohol-fueled bickering. Tensions had been riding high as the cold reality of Lassen’s absence set in, and suddenly two members of a four-person unit hopped a bus and went home.
I honestly don’t think my spirits have ever been lower. Even as I learned of Shane’s death, there was never any question of whether or not the band would continue. Now it seemed both pointless and impossible. Boyd, who had remained mute and impartial through the entire debacle, approached and spoke to me as I sat alone pondering my fate. “How would you like to meet LaVey tonight?” he asked, and I instantaneously exchanged my hangdog expression for one of wonder and amazement. “Are you kidding?” I demanded, half rhetorically and half believing this was some cruel joke, a coup de grâce intended to shatter the remains of my self-respect. Magister Rice smiled. “They’re expecting us at 11:00” he stated simply, and suddenly the world looked completely different.
I thought a lot. I thought hard, about the paths that had led me to my current situation. My dilemma seemed to dwindle in magnitude the more I thought about it. Slowly but surely, answers to my problems began to manifest themselves. I spent the rest of the day on the telephone, culling contacts and numbers from local grottos and my friends at Hell’s Kitchen in New York. By the time the sun had set, I had a band again. As quickly as it had fallen apart, it had been resurrected, reborn and baptized, in the name of Satan.
We parked the van on a side street and walked the remaining two blocks to the house on California Street. The infamous Black House – tall and narrow, rudely sandwiched by its neighbors, but lurking proudly and ominously nonetheless, still looking smart in the paintjob Boyd and Nick Bougas [I was later informed that it was not Nick Bougas who assisted Boyd but I don’t know who actually did] had given her a few years earlier. As we reached the rather innocuous gate, the lock buzzed open in true Addams Family style. We were indeed expected.
We were greeted at the door by High Priestess [now Magistra Templi Rex] Barton, who cordially escorted us to the ritual chamber and seated us on a deep black leather couch situated behind a bed of nails that had been converted into a stylish coffee table with a piece of plexiglass. The room was dimly lit, as was the rest of the house, in deference to the Doktor’s light sensitivity, but many of the room’s notorious artifacts were still plainly visible. Directly to my right was a theatrical coffin from which Manson Family murderess, Susan Atkins, emerged (somewhat prophetically) as a “vampire” in Dr. LaVey’s “Topless Witches” burlesque show. Near the fireplace was a unique rocking chair that had once belonged to Rasputin. I must admit that I was in total awe of the situation. I had read about this very room and the items it contained since I was eleven years old. Now I was sitting in it, waiting to meet Dr. LaVey. Ms. Barton seated herself in a peculiar-looking chair that I would later learn was (rather appropriately in this case) the “Inquisitor’s Chair” from the original Hellfire Club.
I was immediately struck by the formality of the setting, which resembled a cross between a job interview and an audience with royalty or, in this case, the Black Pope. I was excited and a little nervous and, in retrospect, I imagine it showed as Miss Barton did her best to set me at ease while making her assessment. I was stunned by how much she knew about both me and my music. She had, without question, done her homework. I winced when she asked how the tour was going and stumbled through some feeble, self-deprecating version of my band-members’ desertion and the events that lead up to it.
Rather than pandering to my momentary weakness, Ms. Barton stated plaintively that “powerful men often have that effect on those around them.” I think I might have blushed. Her tone was authoritative and almost fierce, as if defending one of her own. I realized that she was all too accustomed to dealing with similar situations and had little use for those who could not be relied upon or trusted. I was impressed by the power she radiated and by how completely she embodied that old aphorism that behind every great man is a great woman. I told her that despite all the obstacles that had thrust themselves in my path over the last 12 hours, solutions that all seemed somehow interconnected had spontaneously revealed themselves, and that the Church of Satan was apparently their common denominator. She smiled knowingly and explained that this was what they referred to as “diabolical machinations” and that I could rest assured it was no coincidence. The exchange was brief, but if my confidence in myself or my mission had been weakened that day, she had without question restored it. I realized then that, in spite of the fact that I had never met them, this was my family.
Ms. Barton excused herself to see if Dr. LaVey was ready. As she exited, Boyd turned to me and said “Well, you must rank pretty high on the list, they only open the ritual chamber for special occasions. Most people only get to see the kitchen.” I beamed. I was in Heaven, or should I say Hell? Suddenly, Dr. LaVey appeared from the shadows and extended his hand. “Thomas Thorn, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I have heard so many good things about you.” I thought of all my friends who had apparently spoken so well of me and made a mental note to thank them. All the myths and rumors of a doddering old man in frail health were quickly dispelled by his entrance, and I would soon gain firsthand experience of his quick wit, razor-sharp intellect, and an archive of memories and knowledge that seemed as vast as the universe itself.
We talked at length on topics too varied to mention, from my native Wisconsin (where he spent vacations in his early childhood) to Dashwood’s Hellfire Club (our band’s namesake) wherein he revealed that the canopic jars atop the infamous fireplace mantel contained vertebrae from the backbones of several members. It seemed that the man could talk on any subject and had personal experience of some sort with each and every one. One of the fascinating things about Dr. LaVey was that he instinctively knew your interests, was more than willing to share what he knew of them, and well-equipped to discuss them in great depth. Everyone I know who met him concurs on this point. He could be anyone to everyone, as much at ease in conversation with a dockworker as with a rocket scientist. We spoke of people and places, things both commonplace and fantastic. Occasionally the Doktor would rise and retreat to some unseen passage at the back of the room and emerge with some remarkable object or piece of memorabilia relating to the conversation. He was jovial yet dead serious at the same time, accentuating his remarks with a severe expression or poignant gesture…at one point patting the automatic pistol he wore on his hip as he spoke of dealing with intruders. He was a truly mesmerizing raconteur, and hours passed like minutes.
We eventually moved from the ritual chamber to the kitchen for tea and coffee. The hallway connecting the rooms was completely unlit and I found myself groping my way along in funhouse fashion. The kitchen was, by comparison, more brightly lit, though massive cobwebs hung from the ceiling, partially obscuring the visions of Hell painted on the walls. There were more curios and oddities scattered throughout the room, and I commented that all the homes I had visited in the last week (Boyd’s, Coop’s [I was mistaken here as I did not visit Coop’s home until after this meeting. I did visit Michael Moynihan’s home which I unintentionally omitted.], and now the Black House, like my own, were brimming with peculiar and unique collections. It was as if we all clung to moments, to the ideas and emotions personified by the objects. “Of course, we do! We’re SATANISTS!” he exclaimed, smiling broadly. No other explanation was necessary. In the corner were banks of keyboards – synthesizers, samplers, and organs of every shape and size. Doktor LaVey sat down and immediately began to play: marches and fanfares, waltzes and hymns, arabesque and fandango – from bump & grind to sentimental melody. Dr. LaVey’s musical vocabulary was as vast and varied as his worldly knowledge. His playing had me laughing one moment and tears welling up in my eyes the next. We talked shop, shared trade secrets and he told more stories. He demonstrated the technique he contrived as an advisor for Vincent Price in the Dr. Phibes films (whose main character was an organ-playing evil genius named “Anton”). It was nearly six in the morning when our soirée drew to a close and we began to say our good-byes.
The remarkable thing for me about this meeting was the fact that Dr. LaVey seemed genuinely as happy to meet me as I was to meet him. What I had hoped for was an opportunity to listen to the man and learn more about him. I figured that if I was lucky, I might get an opportunity to explain a bit about who I was and the things I did. To my surprise, I discovered that the Doctor was already quite aware of both. I was treated neither as pilgrim nor pupil, but as a peer. The conversation was by no means one-sided, and he appeared as interested in what I had to say as I was in that which he was sharing with me.
It has been said that the Church of Satan is a sort of “mutual admiration society”, and I was beginning to realize that this extended all the way up to its founder. LaVey never set out to create a cult of personality with himself as the nucleus. He simply created and nurtured an environment wherein individuals who shared common outlooks and common interests could interact and exchange ideas, all the while sharing their work among those most likely to appreciate it. In this vein, Dr. LaVey had professed himself a great admirer of my music, and I nearly fainted. Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not the sort of person who craves compliments or requires any sort of outside qualification to feel that what I create is worthwhile. On the contrary, I have continued to do what I do in spite of both a lack of acclamation and an overabundance of criticism. Nonetheless, when a figure who has been as influential in the evolution of my personal philosophy as Anton LaVey praises my work, the effect is, to say the least, unsettling. By the end of our meeting I realized that it was our common interests and outlooks that had brought us together. While he remained a larger than life figure in my eyes, someone to whom I looked up, he looked back with the same respect and admiration I had shown for him. If I had ever sought some reward for my work, this was more than enough.
As we prepared to leave, Dr. LaVey presented me with a Church of Satan membership card, designating me as a Priest. “We’d be honored to count you among our ranks Thomas” he stated. I graciously accepted the ordination. I felt a bit awkward, not even having been an official Church member prior to the meeting. As if reading my thoughts, he reminded me that rank within the organization is relative to our achievements in the real world and expressed his confidence that mine had been more than adequate for priesthood. “Of course this is a mere formality,” he added. “You’ve been doing the Devil’s work for years!”
As Dr. LaVey walked us toward the door, his two-year-old son Xerxes tugged at the leg of his trousers. “Dada, stay!” he crowed. The Doktor smiled and crouched to embrace his child and said “Don’t you worry. Dada isn’t going anywhere. I’m staying right here with you.” It was a touching moment, and I think about it when I selfishly wish I had had more time with him myself. Then again, what he said was true. He hasn’t really gone away. He has stayed right here, in our hearts. Right before I left the house, Dr. LaVey took my hand in both of his and, while staring me straight in the eye, said “Thomas, I just want you to remember one thing: I am SO proud of you.” I was flushed with pride and a true sense of honor; I didn’t know what to say. For probably the first and last time in my life I was speechless. I stammered a “thank you” and departed. In retrospect, I now realize that he knew he would probably never see me again. Despite his apparent vitality, he had been ill for some time and was aware that his days were numbered. He used those days wisely, setting things in order and placing people who he trusted in positions of authority within the Church. The fact that he left me with such a powerful image of him and his belief in me is testimony to the sort of man he was and the determination with which he lived his life. I can’t count the times I have found myself plagued by self-doubt or sheer frustration at the banality of this world and those who inhabit it, only to come back to that one simple statement. That single vote of confidence will live forever in me, a constant reminder of what it truly means to call one’s self a Satanist.
I went to this meeting with many questions about who and what Anton Szandor LaVey really was; all of which were answered within the first few minutes. The media and other mischievous entities have consistently attempted to paint a picture of LaVey as a hater of rock music and rock musicians, a crotchety old man who denied any connection to this new generation of Satanists and that which they create. On the contrary, he knew that he had played an instrumental role in the insemination of Satanic images, themes, and in some instances philosophy into popular culture, rock music included. From Venom to Deicide, Marilyn Manson to The Electric Hellfire Club, we have all been touched by his words and his wisdom. There is no doubt in my mind that he was aware of what he had spawned through his work. He was our father, and we are his children. He would no sooner reject or deny us than he would his own son.
He lived many lives, and I am to this day grateful that I had this brief opportunity to learn from his experiences in person. Nonetheless, I have said before and will say again: Dr. LaVey wrote just as he spoke. Every time I read something he wrote, I can hear him speaking. He lives on through that which he has left us. He will continue to speak for years to come, decades, perhaps even centuries. That choice is ours. The torch has been passed. The future is in our hands.
As I celebrate my own life on this day each year, I will invariably relive this meeting and salute Dr. LaVey along with the gifts he gave not only to me and my generation, but also to those yet to come.
Rev. Thomas Torquemada Thorn
02 August 1999