*with underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger, cult leader Charles Manson, Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey, and the Straight Satans motorcycle gang in suppo By Lessley Anderson Wednesday, Nov 17 2004
In the visiting room, people are seated so close to one another that it is almost impossible to avoid overhearing other conversations. I ask BeauSoleil how he met his wife, Barb. It was a jailhouse marriage that has, nonetheless, persisted happily for 22 years. I figure it's a topic that won't get him in trouble if anybody overhears us talking.
BeauSoleil gets an intense look on his face. "Before we could consummate our relationship, I was almost killed," he says in a voice that projects over the entire room.
I steal a peek at the tweaker-looking inmate sitting next to us and can tell he's trying his best not to eavesdrop.
A guy with a 10-year-old vendetta, BeauSoleil continues, sneaked up behind him and stabbed him in the back, through the lung.
Now the young couple to my left, who've been holding hands and staring tragically into each other's eyes, are obviously listening.
"I turned around, and he stuck me again, through the heart," BeauSoleil says.
The guards pull BeauSoleil into a hallway. I see him posturing angrily, then grinning and making cajoling gestures. He returns.
"I guess I was talking too loud," he says, loudly. "They said it might be a 'security concern.'"
He continues the story in a voice that rises in volume to again include the entire room.
"It was a miracle recovery!" he ends, triumphantly.
The performance is pure BeauSoleil. All his life he's been a rebel -- sometimes to his own detriment. In his 20s, he was a vagabond hippie musician bent on living outside mainstream society. He fell in with a seedy crowd that included Charles Manson and a motorcycle gang called the Straight Satans. Then he stabbed a man to death, partly to prove himself to Manson. The murder landed him in prison for life, labeling him as a "Manson Family" member, even though he says he was not. Ever since, BeauSoleil has been trying to re-establish himself as the artist he was before he made the biggest mistake of his life. He's done so in a typically risky fashion.
In 1977, with the consent of prison officials, BeauSoleil composed and recorded the soundtrack to a film called Lucifer Rising. It is an esoteric work made by iconic underground director Kenneth Anger to celebrate Anger's interest in black magic and the occult. As a vehicle for BeauSoleil's comeback as a serious artist, it was an odd choice. The film is arguably satanic, an acid trip-like homage to the mythical Lucifer, the fallen angel. Rather than attract attention to BeauSoleil's talents, the project had the potential to marginalize him further, as a dangerous character from the hippie fringe.
But it didn't.
After being ignored for 24 years, the soundtrack was released on CD in June and found a receptive audience. Music critics in the United States and Britain have noted that Lucifer Rising, the soundtrack, stands alone as a moving piece of music. As interesting as the work itself is the bizarre story of how it got made. It's an epic tale that begins on the decadent edges of the late-1960s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. It contains moments as arcane and darkly comic as anything Anger ever filmed. In many ways, it is a -- perhaps the -- quintessential story of modern San Francisco.
BeauSoleil was never a joiner. Born in 1947 to a middle-class family in Santa Barbara, he came of age during the height of surfing culture but refused to surf. Instead, he taught himself guitar, greased his hair, listened to rockabilly music, and landed in reform school. At 16 he dropped out and moved to Los Angeles, where he grew his hair long, discovered LSD, and got a gig playing in a band called the Grass Roots, which would later be renamed Love.
Translated from the French, BeauSoleil's name means "beautiful sun." It fit him to a T. He was poetic and slightly androgynous, with long, glossy auburn hair and freckles. He dressed like an elegant tramp in a top hat, knee-high moccasins, and frock coat.
"I never considered myself a hippie," BeauSoleil says. "I was a bohemian."
Some called him Bobby Snofox, after the big white Samoyed that was his constant companion. Others called him Cupid, because he was a chick magnet; he'd sleep with one girl, crash at her apartment, then move on to the next. "I was so uncomfortable with myself, I couldn't be with somebody long term," says BeauSoleil.
Just shy of his 18th birthday, BeauSoleil moved to San Francisco to check out the burgeoning music scene.
"To one who until just a few months earlier had been in the choking grip of the glitz and stucco squalor of the greater Los Angeles area, being absorbed by the rollicking energy and rich ambiance of San Francisco was like being dipped in mothers milk," BeauSoleil wrote recently in the liner notes of a yet-to-be-released collection of his early recordings. "It seemed an enchanted place to me. To this day it remains the only city I have ever truly loved."
In 1966, the Haight-Ashbury was still a low-rent, mostly black neighborhood. It had only recently been colonized by little pockets of white artists and musicians, such as the Grateful Dead and the activist-performance group the Diggers. BeauSoleil fit right in.
He got a job playing lead guitar in the Outfit, a group whose management was trying to market it as a boy band for teenage girls. The gig didn't last long. (BeauSoleil says he "upstaged" the rest of the group and they were jealous; the band's former rhythm guitarist, Bob Resner, says BeauSoleil was "untrustworthy" and was asked to leave.)