Sway (Review)

Zachary Lazar (Little, Brown and Co.)

If Zachary Lazar has an inherent enthusiasm for the Rolling Stones, his novel's subject, he keeps it hidden. Rather, he meticulously challenges a truism of the 1960s, that the Stones' performance at Altamont dramatically ended the '60s.

The Stones hired Hells Angels to police a free concert at northern California's Altamont Speedway on Dec. 6, 1969; the Angels terrorized and attacked audience members and killed a young man brandishing a revolver. It was captured in the movie Gimme Shelter.

Pop culture has come to see that as a watershed event, a wrenching break from the communal Woodstock-y spirit of Rock up to that moment. But Lazar's take is different. He sees the moment as a long time coming, for the Stones and for us: the natural outcome of being attracted to demons.

One of the book's interlocking plot strands concerns the Stones — especially guitarist Brian Jones — as they get arrested on a drug bust, hang out in Morocco and flirt with "Sympathy for the Devil." Another is that of avant-garde California filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who explored homoerotic and black-magic themes in such films as Scorpio Rising, Lucifer Rising and Invocation of My Demon Brother and found himself an object of the Stones' fascination.

The third plot strand involves a young drifter/musician who lived with Anger for a while and appeared in his movies, Bobby Beausoleil. If the name sounds vaguely familiar, it's because he became part of Charles Manson's family and participated in one of its infamous 1969 murders. Lazar discreetly gets into that, seeing it both through Beausoleil's eyes and from a distance.

Sway doesn't have any great revelations; it even treats potentially climactic scenes as fait accompli. But its vision of the 1960s is thought-provoking. There was an underground that was slowly, inexorably moving toward making the violence of 1969 inevitable.

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