“Who the fuck is Fu Manchu over there?”
I’m standing near the entrance to the stage at Webster Hall, when a
sandy-haired prole sticks his fat finger in my face and asks me the
question. Fat Finger jerks his head in the direction where a guy with a
goatee and long jeweled braids topped with a cowl had been standing. I
explain to the gentleman that Fu Manchu is Paul K, a Satanist art
photographer from Los Angeles who, because of the recent economic
turmoil, has recently lost half his trust fund. Then I get belligerent.
“But, who sir, the fuck are you?” I say. For a second I think I’m going
to get knocked down the steps with a ham fist, but the clod just gapes
at me drunkenly and says in an old-school New Yawk accent, “I’m Joe
from the Bronx. Just tell him, ‘You’re a fucking asshole. Why don’t you
take a fucking hike?’”
I’m hanging with Paul, a thirtysomething guy who does have a peculiar
flair, and his lithe Goth gal pal Kat after meeting them earlier in the
day. It’s a purely selfish act on my part: I’m curious about the state
of affairs of the idle rich. And both of these Satanists are grappling
with rapidly diminishing trust funds. Paul’s appearance does begin to
remind me of Dr. Fu Manchu—out for a night at the clubs. And his fellow
trustafarian looks a lot like Elvira. I figure, that’s what the idle
rich do: They dress up.
It may seem strange to worry about unemployed weirdos who have a safety
net. But the reality is they are responsible for untold artistic
extravagances. Who will produce the cult films? Without them, who pays
for vinyl pressings of the latest lo-fi fad? Or those slick artsy zines
that you’re always reading for free in Gem Spa? It all comes from
someone, and this stuff is usually made on Daddy’s dime. Personally,
I’ll take the money spenders to the moneymakers any day.
But Satanism? Really? Isn’t that a little far out? Check your history,
kids, the Devil and money go hand-in-cloven hoof. Who tempted Christ
with all the riches of the earth, if he would only kneel down and
worship him? The Devil did! Faust sold his soul to whom for fame? Yep,
you can bet it was Lucifer.
So where was big Mr. D when I was strung out and my opiate denuded
cells were screaming for a fix? Not buying. He was busy with the movers
and shakers. The hedge fund managers. The super capitalists. The
builders and destroyers of worlds. But the Devil is a trickster, a con,
a thief in the night. Where’s your big bad trust fund now,
motherfucker? Gone. It’s called paying the piper.
But I’m thrust from my reverie because Fat Finger Joe is jostling me at
Webster Hall. Hey, buddy, I work for a living. I’m not throwing down to
defend a globetrotting Satanist (he’s visited 60 countries in five
years) that’s lost $300,000 of his unearned money—more than I’ll see in
I tell Joe that the dude with the cowl is only a nominal Satanist.
Anton LaVey, the one who started the movement in the 1960s, was just an
atheist organ grinder with a B-horror movie fetish who wanted to throw
wild parties. He looks perplexed. Did I just say Satan?
So I try calming Fat Finger Joe with chitchat, learning that he’s an
unemployed pipe welder. We start walking toward Satanic Paul—who’s
oblivious to the upheaval he left in his wake—when Joe decides to get a
little realer with the rage.
“I bet he’s a fucking Jew, dressed like that… right?” Yeah, Fat Finger,
the Jews are well known for their cowls, bloused silk tunics,
ornamented hair and purple suede boots. I keep my mouth shut, but Fat
Finger won’t stop needling me. “Right, he’s a Jew?” he asks.
I wheel around. “What the fuck, man?”
“Oh, I hope I didn’t insult you,” says Joe. “You’re not a Heeb, are you?”
I’m silent, and he looks dejected but manages to sputter quietly, “Just ask him. Or I will.”
I settle my frayed nerves with a watery, overpriced drink in a small
plastic cup and contemplate the scene. What triggered that hateful fit?
Maybe the term “trust fund.” Or Satan. Fat Finger Joe, with his
“toity-toird-and-toird” accent and thick digits is a vestige, a
cartoon, his anti-Semitism something out of Dylan’s folk juvenilia. Fat
Finger Joe is only a pawn in their Game.
Fat Finger Joe’s rage would have been a little more understandable if
he wasn’t such a hateful piece of white trash. If I had to weld pipes
all day—hey, don’t we all in our own way?—I might be offended that such
a willful freak is gallivanting around without having to earn his keep.
But don’t the idle rich make the best eccentrics? And who elected a
drunk working stiff like Fat Finger Joe commissar? Of all the soulless
rich leeches created by a boom economy, Paul is far from the first that
should be put against the wall when the revolution comes. Oh, Fat
Finger Joe: When the revolution comes, you’ll still be an asshole.
In fact, our Dr. Fu—despite his flashy exterior—has the soul of Spock,
that damn frustrating Vulcan. He doesn’t smoke, drink or do any drugs,
even though his friends frequently ingest Ketamine and buckets of booze
in front of him. His only problem now seems to be that he invests in
Worse yet, Satanist Paul is an admitted snob. When I first arrived at
Webster Hall to meet him, he was rattling off the nicknames of three
“Persian” girls—“Aye-trail-ya, Aye-tool-ya…”—that he was sleeping with
in L.A. If Satanism isn’t a real religion, then it’s at least a way to
get laid. Maybe it’s the idea of selling your soul for no real reason
that reels them in: You’re just selling it for some added luxury.
But I’m still trying to work out what I think about this whole Satanist
thing, so I bring up Anton LaVey’s desire to use people like cattle—not
to eat, but to work to death—and don’t have to wait long for a response.
“Well aren’t they cattle? You’re a journalist in a city of 10 million
people,” Satanist Paul snaps back. “How many have real value?”
This comment seems more suited for someone wearing a top hat rather
than a cowl. Cultist Kat, another dyed-in-the-wool Angelino with her
own trust fund, haughtily agrees: “We need people who are willing to
serve.” At the moment Kat is attending cooking school in New York. Her
funds are mostly tied up in military stocks, tobacco and
pharmaceuticals. Real pig shit. With all her freak flags, mood rings
and wacky beliefs—she is involved in a cult that worships Shirley Jones
of Partridge Family fame as a god—Cultist Kat has the heart of a cash
Kat probably believes this shit about most people being sheep (she
certainly talks about it enough). Maybe she even sees herself as one.
But with Satanist Paul, it’s more complex. He frequently throws out a
completely inflammatory claim—like “the Nazis suffered for aesthetics;
I do as well”—to only nullify it with an abstruse philosophical
concept. The intellectual apologist of an evil movement is a well-known
archetype. Satanist Paul even lived on Mt. Athos for three months with
But there’s evil, and then there’s Evil, of the Danzig variety. LaVey’s
notion of Satan is of a trickster challenging the shackles of control,
and Satanist Paul is a very bright guy, so it’s hard to know what he
These days, though, it’s all about the cash, and I can’t help but think
of that old saying: “If you’re so smart, then why aren’t you rich?” Or
in Paul’s case: If you’re so smart, why don’t you make any money?
“The mutual funds that my grandparents set up for me are to start a
business, or buy a house with; it’s not to spend,” Cultist Kat
explains, her BlackBerry lighting up. “I don’t look at that money as
real.” Only someone who’s never worried about money is able to think of
hundreds of thousands of dollars as not real.
“Well your funds are worthless now, aren’t they?” Paul asks with a
sardonic smile. Further complicating matters, Satanist Paul is bothered
by Kat’s investment choices. You see, his old man made his fortune
designing missile radar in Hermosa Beach. The town was an enclave of
the crew-cut and slide-rule boys who won the Cold War.
“I didn’t know one person that wasn’t a defense contractor when I was a
kid,” Paul explains. “During the weekends, these guys were going to
little league games and then, on Monday, they were inventing ways to
kill people. It’s a truly horrible way to make a living.”
“I hear you’re a Satanist and a fucking Jew,” Fat Finger Joe taunts Paul when he catches up to us after the show.
“Well, I’m not a Jew,” Paul says.
“L’cheim, L’cheim,” our friendly pipe welder replies.
Satanist Paul’s face tenses, but then his usual stoic look comes back.
“I’m sorry my look offends you,” he says. Fat Finger Joe gives up with
puzzled disgust and disappears into the throng of club goers.
“How the fuck were you so calm?” I ask Satanist Paul as we walk down
East 11th. Bridge-and-tunnel teen princesses in skimpy see-through
dresses pile out of Hummer Limos
“Do you really think his reactions have anything to do with me?” Paul
answers as a Last Night’s Party photog shunts me aside and snaps a few
pics of him. Both reactions—the hipster’s pic-taking and welder’s
insults—are superficial, he says, and therefore meaningless. “Still,
Joe and the photog are idiots,” I say.
“They’re human beings,” Satanist Paul answers.
With all that’s changed in this city during the last 10 years, it’s
uplifting to know that a rich L.A. Satanist has a more humanitarian
outlook than your average New Yorker. And he’s definitely more polite.
“Look, do you really think it’s the first time someone hasn’t liked me
for the way I look?” Satanist Paul continues. I drop the disagreement,
and we part ways. Paul is heading off to Starbucks to read Lavatsky and
wait for a girl. “It’s just a test of endurance and will,” he says,
patting one of the massive volumes in his messenger bag.
When I get home after my night out with the trust-fund Satanists, a
long, rambling email screed, riddled with misspellings, is waiting for
me. It was from John Aes-Nihil (aka John Cagle), a 60-year-old Andy Warhol look-a-like and
Charlie Manson fanatic who is the godfather of the L.A. Satanism scene.
If you except Satan as your Personal Demon, You will be Provided for,
Hail Satan! I don’t get to be a Counter-Culture Sensation like Paul,
nor do I get to be labeled a Leading Satanist and followed around and
acused of not only being a leading Satanist but of being an actual Jew,
and on Yom Kipper no less, Oy!
Enough devil talk. It’s time for bed.
I first met Satanic Paul earlier in the day while standing in St. Marks
Books reading some hardboiled stuff off the front racks. My old friend
Sean started knocking on the window and gesturing for me to come
“Dude, you’ve got to meet Sara’s friend. Remember I told you about the
guy she went to that huge Satanist wedding with?” I tried to recall,
but Sean—short-spiked hair, in all-black denim—was already tugging me
down the street. “He lost a bunch of money in the stock market today
and wants us to go down to Wall Street with him and yell at the traders
Sean made it sound like the trio was going on a day-trip to Oz. I guess
I’d try to make the best out of Sean’s girlfriend’s Satanist
ex-boyfriend coming into town.
Sean met Sara while they were both working at CBGB. Sara had a demure
rockabilly look that every Downtown shithole used to have—skinny
glasses, teased blond hair and black boots—that made you question what
she was doing there. She was that girl at CB’s during its final years.
So Sean—a former squatter with long, greasy hair—got a Modish haircut.
He traded in his Hardcore T-shirts for Fred Perry polos. Soon he just
wasn’t around anymore.
Anyway, ex-Hardcore Sean is dragging me down the street, talking about
this Satanist ex-boyfriend of Sara’s that lost some dough.
“So this freak show lost a few thousand bucks?”
Sean turns and looks me dead in the eye. “Dude, he lost $300,000. Just today.”
The four of us pile in a cab and…Cue looks of embarrassment. None of us
know the cross street of the Stock Exchange. No reason why any of
us—save Satanist Paul—should have a clue: We’ve never owned a single
stock between us. We’ve spent our whole working lives pouring drinks
for Eurotouristas claiming ignorance of elementary tipping practices.
Sean and me used to high-five each other and strut around blowing money
on records after we made a couple of hundred bucks. That was how we
invested our capital. I tell the driver to take the FDR hoping I can
fake it when we get there.
Turns out Satanist Paul is one of those eternal grad students, a much
more productive societal role for an L.A. trust-funder than producing
movies or throwing parties at Teddy’s. But where there’s excess
capital, usually there’s a vanity project lurking, and Paul’s was
shooting photos of wax saints in the basement of a church in Newark. He
usually used his family money to travel.
The money came from proceeds from a house he inherited when his father
died of Hantavirus—a horrible disease that comes from mouse shit—in
France. “He actually died the day I graduated from college, which was
kind of weird. And my mom died a year later from cancer.” These
tragedies are listed in a bouncy, scholarly manner, as if Satanist Paul
was laying out a not particularly vexing syllogism for some restless
undergrads. Dr. Spock, indeed.
A coming-of-the-apocalypse-type scene greets us when we arrive in front
of the Exchange. European tourists snap photos of floor jockeys in
vests as a grizzled hustler in a sandwich board emblazoned with “Put
Your Money in Gold” waves flyers in our faces.
“Why is that man wearing pink, Mom?” a boy asks, pointing at Paul.
“Don’t stare at those types of people,” his mother replies.
Satanist Paul goes up to the nearest security guard to ask about
visiting, only to discover that people aren’t allowed to take tours of
the floor anymore. The rent-a-cop gives him the once-over and asks why
he wanted to go in anyway.
“I’m curious what happens here,” Paul explains. “I wanted to see the
system I was a part of, but never belonged to.” The rent-a-cop just
“I really wanted to check it out. But being excluded is symbolic of
what I’ve always felt,” Paul says. I later learn this is the type of
detached, self-examination that he often hides behind. We walk around
the corner and Paul points at a Prudential branch: “That’s where I lost
money…until I started losing money there.” He waves his hand toward
We find the bull at Exchange Place, the massive monument to unstoppable
capitalism, where kids climb atop and ride, grabbing the horns with one
hand and waving with the other. A chubby tween tries to make it up but
slides back to the ground.
“What a perfect metaphor for the market, with that big scrotum and ass,” Paul says. “Like, it’s all a bunch of bull, you know?”
“The artist probably had a really good sense of humor or none at all,” I say, and we all laugh.
Satanist Paul, Cultist Kat and Rockabilly Sara came out of a ’90s scene
in Los Angeles focused on music, theatrics and Satanism. John Aes-Nihil, of
the rambling email, is their mentor. He learned the tenants of Satanism
from Anton LaVey himself. That’s the legend anyway.
Over the phone, in a painfully slow, whispery cadence, Aes-Nihil tells me
about Anton’s church. “All we talked about were movie palaces, old
movies, theater organs and organists,” Aes-Nihil says. “He was really into
was a return to the High Aesthetics and Ultimate Glamour of the ’30s.
But he picked up on a loaded word and played the humans with it as did
Charlie. Manson was the greatest philosopher since Nietzsche and the
only serial killer who never killed anyone. Why do you think that is?”
We went from organs and movie palaces to serial killers rather quickly.
“The government wanted to get rid of the Resurrection,” he said.
“I’ve never heard Manson compared to Christ before,” I tell him.
“I hear it all the time. I’m completely surrounded by people that agree
about the significance of 1969.” When I ask about significance of 1969,
John lets out an evil, loud chuckle.
Not getting any further with ’69, I ask about the markets. “I try not
to even use money,” he replies, laughing again. But he’s been affected
by the last boom-and-bust cycle. Before the housing bubble Aes-Nihil had a
home: “5,000 feet above the desert with a 200-mile view.” When he was
ready to put down a payment on property, the price skyrocketed. “I got
chased into the desert,” he explains. “Now there are amazing houses for
50 grand that were 250 a year ago. But there’s no way to get a loan.”
These kind of weird cults seem to thrive in California. There are no
cults that I know of in New York devoted to worshiping the Partridge
Family or serial killers. Aes-Nihil’s prophets are sinister loners who
found gods in the desert while on LSD—then bought their own psychosis
and sold it back to some kids as a religion. Now those kids are grown
up. Cultist Kat tells me later how she misses the “culty life” of L.A.
“In L.A., because of commuter culture, you can just deal with your
bubble and preserve your fantasy in a way that you can’t in New York.”
Satanist Paul agrees. Every once in a while he ventures out of the
bubble to buy some mementos.
Stanton LaVey—the founder’s grandson—was born in one of these bubbles
and will probably die in one. He considers himself heir to the family
religion. He shaves his head and wears a goatee in order to look like
When I speak with LaVey, he kicks off our conversation by describing
his grandfather’s religion as an elaborate con and a highly stylized
self-help technique. “It was started by fags and serial killers, but
it’s the perfect capitalist philosophy,” he explains. “It’s about being
true to your own aims.” He then claims he has powerful disciples that
he cannot name in the business world.
When I bring up money, LaVey’s conspiracies get even more paranoiac. He
says he has a powerful mission to spread the gospel that the Jews
invented monotheism in order to control humanity, and 1969 was the last
chance for the world to be free of their control. What is it with you
guys and 1969? There’s a long pause. “What I’m about to tell you might
get me assassinated: The world ended in 1969. We’re living in hell.”
According to LaVey, Manson was the return of Christ, and when he was
crucified (sent to jail for life), the world ended. “And my grandfather
was the Devil,” Stanton adds. So much for a stylized self-help group.
“Well that’s interesting, because Anton LaVey was born Levy,” Brian
Butler—an apostate who works with experimental queer filmmaker Ken
Anger—told me after I read him Stanton’s quotes. I had called him right
after I spoke with Stanton, the latter’s paranoiac fantasies—reaching
back to ancient Egyptian history—swirling around in my head. “All these
guys are playing Dungeons and Dragons. Nine times out of 10, they’re
broke and living in their mother’s basement.” Even Stanton, I ask?
“I think he lives on a friend’s floor. He sells T-shirts online,” says
Butler. “None of these people have the most elementary sense of
business. They fall back on these fantasies because they have nothing
going on in the real world.” Butler’s impressed with a more ritualistic
group of Satanists, the Setians.
But I want to know if there are any rituals they can do to get their
money back. “Well they can start with taking some business classes;
even the ones that inherit a ton of money—like Crowley—lose it,” Butler
answers. After I press him a little harder he admits, “There is
something that involves Mercury, the trickster god, who’s been
associated with Satan.” He pauses to pay a toll, and then continues:
“But it should have been done last year. Now we’re fucked.”
When our eclectic bunch of misfits returns to the East Village from
Wall Street, we sit down for blintzes and pirogies at the Odessa. While
we speak over the Ukrainian hubbub, our booth becomes a sort of NYC
headquarters for West Coast Satanism. Every two minutes Paul receives a
call from someone involved in the movement who wants to talk to me.
“That was Giddle, she started the Partridge Family Cult, but she can’t
speak with you until Monday,” he explains. “She’s upset because Marilyn
Manson’s bassist just died of an OD.” He asks me not to call her before
Monday because she’s known to hit people with bottles that she
I begin to wonder why Paul and Sara—basically earnest art teachers—are
involved with such violent people? Sara’s moved away from the scene and
now lives her life in typical creative underclass fashion. “Her
apartment is very typical of how people live in Brooklyn, a couple of
guitars, some mismatched furniture and empty space,” Paul explains.
Meanwhile Satanist Paul fills his own house in Silver Lake with more
weird stuff: mannequins in historical dress sitting on antique chairs,
gilt-framed religious portraits hanging on the ceiling, hundreds of
pieces of taxidermy. There’s not a foot of empty space. “I want to
overwhelm you with my aesthetic so you can’t think straight,” he
But I think it’s about voyeurism. People like Partridge Cult Giddle are
violent and impulsive—associating with them offers bits of insanity
into one’s life without losing control. All of Paul’s manifestations of
eccentricity are external. It’s the opposite of Burroughs’ call for
hedonists to dress like bankers.
The others leave, and Paul and I are left on First Avenue, making plans
for the Man Man show later that night when he receives a text from
Stephanie, his banker. The Dow had closed at a 500-point loss.
“It’s ironic to be sucked into that system. Society only offers two
choices, blow your money, or invest it,” Paul says. I try to keep him
talking about finance, but he dodges the questions. He tells me to call
his banker if I want to know more. So I do.
“Is Paul you’re typical client?” I ask Stephanie the banker.
“Well, he looks eccentric, and he’s a very wealthy guy, but he’s a
conservative investor,” she nervously replies. Then Stephanie tries to
bury me in figures. The only thing I understand in the flurry of
aggregates and interest rate variables is that Paul was very rich and
lost a lot of money. “He’s kind, gentle and generous,” she says, as I
pinch myself to stay awake. I ask what charities he gives to. “None
that I’m aware of.”
“Do you know he’s a Satanist?”
“No, I didn’t know that,” Stephanie says after a long pause. I joke
that her phone number prefix has three sixes: Was she the Devil’s
banker? I could hear her jump up from her chair and then she cries out:
“I love Jesus! I’m a good Christian.”
“Shouldn’t the Satanist be taking the Christians’ money?”
In 1999, Paul was driving a Toyota Celica down the L.A. Expressway when
a truck broadsided him. According to Paul, he broke 20 bones, and it
took him six months to teach himself how to walk again. He didn’t tell
me this until minutes before our fourth, and final, conversation. Going
broke—and he’s been losing money just about every day—isn’t going to
change the way he lives his life, he said.
“My father lived his life as a dead man; you’re either living or dying,
and for all his money he was dying,” Paul explains. It’s an attractive
sentiment, but for all his intelligence, he’s never developed a
marketable skill—at the very least he might have to sell his house for
“I never really thought I’d have much money anyway,” he explains before
returning to L.A., fanning my smoke away from his face. I ask him if he
could still get something for his soul, or if was it a done deal.
He looks at me as if I’m a complete fool and says: “The Faustian bargain is a myth. God pays better than the Devil.”