But in honour of the number 666 I thought I might post something about Crowley.
Except, to talk about Crowley, I have to first talk about me a bit.
The photo on the right is me from a few years ago. If the background looks familiar it is because I am standing on the film location for Edoras with Rohan in the distance.
And if you’re wondering what the fuck I am wearing… Those are waders. Because you have to wade through three rivers that are literally made of recently melted snow to get to Edoras. You can see in the foreground that I did also actually own real shoes at the time.
Also I had just been skiing earlier that morning so hopefully that explains the rest. (The turtleneck!)
Now, I like to joke that I moved to New Zealand because of the Lord of The Rings movies. I joke, but it’s kinda true. I’d been there a number of times before (skiing again and also visiting friends). On my first trip at the age of fourteen, when we were about to land in Christchurch, I had a spontaneous mystic experience best described as a combination of connection/significance/maybe I had missed my incarnation coordinates by a few thousand miles to the west and landed in Australia.
So there was precedent.
But as I was winding up my time with Virgin Media straight out of university in Sydney -before the last film in the trilogy came out- a package from a record company arrived at the city’s first ever Virgin Megastore… Which I was due to open that day for a full 16 hours of Christmas trading.
The package contained a few copies of the soundtrack to Return of the King… Due to be released in a couple of days. It was 7:15am. There was no one in the enormous store but me -it’s the old National Australia Bank building and is a cavernous Edwardian palace of marble and chandeliers. The kind of building only optimistic new countries would have the hubris to construct in the first place.
And I put on the Annie Lennox track at the end of the album -which I hadn’t heard before- and stood in the middle of this giant, echoing, cathedral of music as her words blared from a half million dollars worth of speakers:
What can you see, on the horizon? The ships have come to carry you home.
This is a very Black Swan moment. In retrospect, it doesn’t sound like anything significant happened but it did. The ships have come…
So I moved.
Less than a month later, I showed up in Auckland with my suitcase and my camera and enough money for five nights in a backpackers hotel. I took a cab from the airport to the main street, bought a newspaper and a prepaid cell phone and started looking for jobs and places to live.
It was a good day.
Anyway, so I was obsessed. I was even in Wellington the weekend of the oscars (for a fringe festival) when they won everything.
In my eyes PJ was a genius. he could do no wrong. first zombies, then LOTR… just hook him to my veins already.
Going to the locations was thus an interesting experience. Because I could see that now they were just fields, but I could also see in my mind’s eye what they were in the film and I could also see what he saw when he first saw them. This (at the time) fat little hobbit of a man wandered up here in his shorts, looked around and saw Edoras.
It was like having a ghost PJ standing next to me, looking at what I was looking at but seeing something visionary. Being the places he had been humanized him for me.
So now we get to Crowley.
Aleister Crowley, with his books, his bombast and his fingers in every counter cultural pie… He was/is larger than life. A frighteningly talented, mountain-climbing, desert-crossing, probable agent for His Majesty’s Secret Service Bureau.
Now, this is a very unapproachable figure when you’re a kid growing up a in coal mining town in Australia. A kid who had to walk down to the only decent independent bookstore for fifty miles, tentatively order these strange books and then wait weeks for them to show up. There is quite simply no way he can be real to you.
During my recent birthday trip to Paris it crossed my mind to visit some of his haunts from the several times during his lifetime that he called the City of Lights home.
This is easier said than done. As best I can tell, the Montparnasse apartment he rented when he met Somerset Maugham and gave him the idea for a book has been torn down.
But the cafe he used to go to every day was still there. In fact, like so much that is brilliant about Paris, it has barely changed from its glorious Fin de siècle days.
He sat at this cafe, and smoked and drank coffee (the best coffee I have ever had in Europe, if you decide to visit) and wrote short stories and updated his magical diary. You can read all about it in John St John.
Sitting at a pavement table in Paris, watching the waiters in their waistcoats (unbelievably attractive -as I’m sure Crowley would have noted himself), the Beast, like PJ, very quickly began to humanize in my mind.
He wrote, he drank coffee, he stared at waiters out of the corner of his eye.
You know how you’re supposed to never meet your heroes because they end up looking unavoidably human? I’ll never get to meet Crowley, obviously, but every step that humanizes him is a step in the right direction. He became more approachable to me that morning. He was a guy who had some things to say about topics that are dear to me.
So I’m going to reverse that old advice.
Meet your heroes whenever you possibly can. They’re much more useful to you when they’re human.