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Review: ‘Aleister Crowley’ explores the life and times of the notorious icon

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Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World

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Detractors of rock n’ roll have long called the genre, the “Devil’s music,” so in some ways, it’s all too natural that Gary Lachman (known by his stage name Gary Valentine, to some), who is a founding member of Blondie, and has shredded with Iggy Pop, should eventually become an expert on mysticism and the occult. His latest work, “Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World” (available May 15) tackles not only the life and times of the illustrious figure, known by many as The Great Beast, but also the collision of Crowley’s legacy with popular culture.

Aleister Crowley” is both a biography and an in-depth look at the ripple effect that the mean left behind in the realm of popular culture and the more specialized, esoteric world of the occult. While Lachman’s portrait is informative enough to bring new information to the fore for those knowledgeable about the so-called Wickedest Man in the World, it is also written in such a way that those wholly unfamiliar with Crowley and his legacy will find it easily accessible and digestible. But, make no mistake, this is no featherweight overview, “Aleister Crowley” is a hefty tome.

Clocking in at 394 pages jam-packed with in-depth information, factoids, anecdotes and insights from the first sentence to the last. A historical biography through and through, Lachman’s book is meticulously researched and it is quite easy to believe that the author, like a professor well-versed in their subject, could analyze and extrapolate at much greater lengths.

Crowley’s word is a strange one indeed, and wrapping one’s mind around it can be a substantial challenge at times. Fortunately, Lachman recognizes Crowley’s flaws quite as well as he does the strange and mysterious magnetism that attracted so many into his circle during his life, and have led so many to study him in death. Readers may find the text’s acceptance of some of Crowley’s claims of success in his magick as likely fact, or at least actual possibility jarring––at turns, we hear about Crowley’s telepathic abilities with some acquaintances, his claims of turning invisible and having been contacted by the supernatural entity Aiwass––in a certain way, it comes to make sense that we should read of these events as Crowley claimed to have experienced them. For his part, Lachman, is not at all without the ability to approach his subject objectively. He wisely notes that in many ways Crowley never matured the way most people do, and this gives us a lense through which to view his rambling and nigh’ unfathomable lifestyle.

Still, given the portrait we have of how Crowley treated those around him, it is unimaginable how anyone managed to stick around him for very long, and yet plenty of people did. The oft touted declaration of Crowley as the Wickedest Man in the World, may well have been overblown in it’s own time, but he’s certainly not an individual with whom it is easy to empathize. As detestable as he is, there is undeniable a fascination in his exploits, and Lachman seems the perfect man to deliver them.

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Title: Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World
Author: Gary Lachman
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Tarcher
Publish Date: May 15, 2014
Language: English

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