Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cocktail of the Week - The Devil Cocktail

The Plum in the Golden Vase

Judging from our subject this week, it would be understandable if you assumed we were running out of cocktails to share, but nothing could be further from the truth! The fact of the matter is that Minnie & I only recently discovered this particular drink after purchasing a water-damaged copy of Robert Vermeire's 1922 reference, Cocktails: How to Mix Them from the damaged book sidewalk bin in front of Left Bank Books in the West Village. The book was warped & the pages were rumpled & stuck together so they resembled corrugated aluminum more than paper, but after spending an hour separating them with a letter-opener, we had at our disposal hundreds of rudimentary, but long-lost, cocktail recipes. I won't lie, neither Minnie nor I were adept enough with the letter-opener to save all the pages, but we were able to decipher more than 85% of Vermeire's opus, though a great many of the pages contained brown water-damage whorls more fascinating than the recipes themselves.

We nearly had a spat over whether or not to include this in our blog, seeing as the cocktail's name inspired a simultaneous shrug & sneer from both of us, but after trying it & finding a few variations in the stack of cocktail books piled on the floor behind the bar, we decided to share it. There was some discussion of renaming it The Mephistopheles or The Sabbatic Goat, but the simplicity of the damn thing didn't seem to warrant the elevation in status a name-change would suggest.

L'Art de Martell Cognac

Before we begin, we should state that our cognac tastes are a bit idiosyncratic. For sipping before bed, we prefer the L'Art de Martell given to us in 1997 by a man in Hong Kong who referred to himself as "The Last Real Chinese Warlord" & to be sure, his demeanor did remind us of Boris Karloff's General Fang in West of Shanghai, though he was infinitely more refined in his tastes for clothing, food & alcohol. He graciously presented us with the L'Art de Martel (only 2,000 were produced) after giving us a tour of a secret museum filled with pornographic statues, paintings & decorative objects recovered after the Senshi earthquake of 1556. Much like the Gabinetto Segreto in Naples, which houses the most graphically erotic objects from the destroyed city of Pompeii, this museum operates on the sly. Once located in the labyrinthine bowels of Kowloon's infamous Walled City & then moved, piece by piece, to an even more unsavory alley-front in Hong Kong before the region was handed back to Mainland China in 1997, this storehouse of sacred transgressive objects requires a familiarity with rather unsavory characters in order to gain admittance.

This Warlord (really a heroin kingpin) was infinitely more cordial than we'd been led to expect. While acquaintances of ours had described him as an "oriental grotesque", we found his company delightful & his expertise regarding these altogether unwholesome museum objects truly awe-inspiring. On our final evening in Hong Kong, the Last Real Chinese Warlord presented us with this paradisiacal bottle of cognac & a centuries-old copy of the erotic classic, The Plum in the Golden Vase by "The Scoffing Scholar of Lanling", illustrated colorfully & anonymously with all manner of sexual gymnastics. We were saddened to hear from Chinese friends that the dismembered remains of our host were discovered several years later in an urn painted with interlocking daisy-chains of grinning sodomites.

A brick embossment from the Chinese Museum of the Forbidden, Hong Kong

Of course, this bottle of cognac is saved for very special occasions & has never been blended with other ingredients, no matter how enticing the recipe.

For mixing, Minnie & I prefer bottom-shelf brandy (a $10 bottle of Korbel will do), mainly because the rot-gut taste cuts ably through any sweet-stuffs the recipe requires us to add. And, of course, we've risked virtually nothing in our experimentation. Because we'd had a few cocktails while separating the pages of Vermeire's book, we decided, rather capriciously, to use the prized Martell cognac for the first of the Devil Cocktails.

I'll digress a bit now to discuss Minnie's infatuation with creme de menthe during the 1950s & early-1960s, specifically her infatuation with a New Orleans staple called the Grasshopper. While tasty enough, the drink is an aesthetic abomination, a sickly sweet, desert-flavored concoction that has the same relationship to beauty as the foliage-covered Gainsborough ladies hats of 1907. Still, if one has not developed a disciplined approach to the more serious alcoholic potables, The Grasshopper is a seductive trinket. Even watching a barman pour the ice-cold emerald liqueur, creme fraiche & Creme de cacao from the silver shaker beneath the dim amber lights of a 1960s cocktail lounge has -- I'll admit it -- a certain visual magnetism. In an age where shag carpet began to climb up the fronts of bars & even the walls of nightspots all over America, something as gaudy as The Grasshopper was sure to capture the imagination. And it captured Minnie's just long enough for me to be charmed by it, but not long enough for me to develop a distaste for her. Thankfully.

So I had a moment's trepidation when the book's recipe called for creme de menthe, an ingredient I've assiduously  avoided during our pursuit of boozy delights. While some recipes we discovered asked for white creme de menthe for a proper Devil Cocktail, I decided Minnie could handle Vermeire's green. Plus, with white creme de menthe The Devil Cocktail is basically the same as a Stinger, so we agreed to chart a course for adventure.

The recipe asks for a quarter gill of cognac for each drink & just to get into the spirit of things, we excavated our copper gill jugs from the back of the liquor cupboard. We filled our shaker with ice & I added two ounces & a splash or two more of the precious Martell (we'd make more substantial portions once we'd switched to the cheap stuff). Minnie added a little less than two ounces of the green dessert topping, then covered & went into that marvelous Shake the Cocktail rumba dance she's been doing all our lives, the leprechaun grin & the slightly sinister twinkle in her eye as pronounced as the day we met.

While she was shaking the elixir, I was furiously pawing through our cocktail library for ways to make this drink somehow better than drinking the Martell without embellishment. Finally I found the answer in a guide from 1968 in which the dos & don'ts of key parties had been cleverly laced with cocktail recipes, each guaranteed to replenish the sapped libido. This version of the Devil ('s) Cocktail asked for a sprinkle of cayenne pepper over the top & NOW we were in business, as they say. My curiosity about the drink had finally been piqued. I'd recently made a powder & a paste from long purple cayenne peppers & since we were using the fine Martell cognac, why not turn this drink into an upscale "experience" by adding the most sought-after cayenne imaginable?

The Long Purple Cayenne
Neither of us could begin to imagine what effect the long purple pepper powder would have on creme de menthe & our incredibly rare cognac, but we were, at long last, eager to try our new concoction. 

Minnie whirled out of her rumba & strained our frigid Devil into two Cosmopolitan glasses. I cautiously sprinkled the purple cayenne powder across the top of each, we toasted to Satan & His minions & took a sip. This first sip was a little off-putting, the heat & the sweetness fighting for our attentions. I took the initiative & took a gulp, swishing it once in my mouth to dull the contrast a little & the cocktail took on a shape, became an idea we could build upon. Despite having used the Martell for the inaugural drink, we downed those like shots & pulled a bottle of J. Bavet ("A brandy of character") from the cabinet. For this drink, we tripled the amount of cognac, used the same amount of creme de menthe & carefully dusted the insides of the Cosmo glasses with purple cayenne powder. Minnie rumba'd like a woman who'd just had a hearty shot of brandy & I did the honors, watching the slightly green-tinted amber pluck grains of cayenne from the sides of the glass & darken evocatively as the three contrasting ingredients intermingled. 

The cocktail had earned its name. I gently stirred each drink just once with my index finger & we raised our glasses to the light, watching the little black specks of cayenne whip around in the burnt sienna liquid's nebulous emerald heart. We took big mouthfuls of The Devil instead of sipping & it was a minor triumph. So much so that we made four more shakers of them before curling up on the sofa with snifters of the Martell & leafing lazily through The Plum in the Golden Vase.

Hail, Satan!

Creme de menthe & suicide, 1951

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

And at the organ, Anton LaVey...The Strange Music 10-Inch (Armadillo Records,1994)

Here are the record's original back-cover notes: 

Those who know only of Anton LaVey from hysterical Christian anti-Satanic tracts might be surprised that the devil's most outspoken advocate is actually a multi-talented musician, artist, writer, and collector of esoterica. LaVey has played a number of instruments professionally -- oboe, drums, theatre organ, calliope -- in venues ranging from the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra to carnival midways to the legendary El Rey Burlesque. He has been a long-time advocate for and collector of neglected, forgotten music and musical styles. Not only does he have a vast collection of oddball, exotic recordings, his own playing reflects an aggregate of circus, burlesque, martial, ethnic, novelty, vintage pop and classical genres too long ignored. 

The selections on this album showcase Mr. LaVey's musicianship as he plays a battery of synthesizers, all of which he's programmed to duplicate acoustic instruments as closely as possible. There are no sequencers or multi-track overlays here -- just one track for music (often recorded in one take) and, in two songs, an added track for voice. The strength of LaVey's playing comes from his faithful reproduction not only of the sound of each individual instrument but of the style and phrasing characteristic of each, whether it's an accordion, an Hungarian concert cimbalom, a piano or a lonely late-night saxophone. 

The first number on side one, "Thanks For the Memory", is long associated with Bob Hope, who introduced the song in his screen debut in Paramount's The Big Broadcast of 1938. Though it was usually Bing Crosby who did all the singing in their "Road..." pictures, two of the songs Hope introduced on his own -- this song and "Buttons and Bows" in The Paleface -- both became solid standard tunes, this one receiving an Academy Award. When Ralph Rainger (music) and Leo Robin (words) were told to write the song, they were told by the director that it was supposed to be a love song but not mention love directly, and that it was  to be a serious song but, because Hope would be singing it, it had to have laughs too. When they finally put the song together, they were hesitatnt to present it to the director because they weren't sure it would be humorous. The lyrics deftly portrayed a sophisticated couple who were still in love but couldn't admit it, reflecting on their past together. They were right; everyone they played it for cried. 

The second selection, "Strange Music", was written by Robert Wright and George Forrest. You might find the melody vaguely familiar; it's based on Edvard Grieg's "Wedding Day at Troldhaugen". Wright and Forrest included it in the 1944 operetta, Song of Norway, which was based on Grieg's life and music. 

"Temptation", the concluding song on side one, has seldom been played straighter than in this hypnotic, bump-and-grind version. It's a song that many have known by title but have never heard; the archetypal burlesque exotic number. It's been around since Bing Crosby introduced it in 1933 in the MGM musical, Going Hollywood, with words by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb Brown. Although vocalists have hit the top of the charts with "up" vesions of "Temptation", it has seldom been recorded in LaVey's driving burlycue style, which best seems to accentuate the song's exotic nature.

"Start the Day Right", which opens the second side, should be included on a play list of "Bugs Bunny's Hit Parade". It was written by Charles Tobias, Al Lewis and Maurice Spitalny and often sung by Connee Boswell, one of the original Boswell Sisters, who disbanded in 1936. Here, Blanche Barton does a distressingly optimistic rendition. 

"One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)" has been lucky for  many performers, and was one of Harold Arlen's favorites among the dozens of well-known songs he and lyricist Johnny Mercer had written. Introduced by Fred Astaire in 1943 in The Sky's the Limit, the song gained fame in the 1948 film noir, Road House, where it was sung by Ida Lupino. LaVey's arrangement captures the after-hours sleaze required.

"The Year of Jubilo", or "Kingdom Comin'", by Henry Clay Work, is an American Civil War number that has been neglected because of its references to "Darkies" and slavery. The politcally correct ban is unfortunate because not only is it a good tune in the style of "Dixie", but the lyrics are intended to make fun of the "Massa" who is hastily vacating the plantation ahead of the invading Northern troops. As with all the instruments on this album, the cornet and banjo, as realistic as they may sound, are played on synthesizers.

"Gloomy Sunday" is probably the world's champion suicide song, at one time banned from the radio in some 15 countries, found as mute evidence on the turntables of significant numbers of people who did away with themselves, using it to accompany their final exit. Fortunately, it has a history befitting its effect. It was originally an Hungarian instrumental number by Rezso Seress. Written in 1931, it finally gained English lyrics by Sam Lewis in 1936 and was recorded by Hal Kemp among others. It wasn't until five years later that Billie Holliday made it a best-selling hit, despite the ban. The man who wrote the lyrics was also the one who had written so many of the forced-upbeat Depression-era songs, like "I'm Sitting on Top of the World". Seress, the original composer, eventually killed himself, as did the woman he wrote the song for. This version, sung by Blanche Barton, incorporates original Transylvanian chording, played as a funeral dirge with a cimbalom interlude. 

If you are interested in contacting Anton LaVey, or wish more information on his organization, please send a SASE to: Church of Satan, Post Office Box 210082, San Francisco, California 94121.

Rev. Morris Cerullo's Witchmobile, 1972

For many young people who grew up during the late-1960s & early-1970s, appreciation & understanding of our admittedly peculiar approach to the divine was unfortunately biased by touring "Christian" ministries whose sole purpose was to frighten the dickens out of curious, open-minded teenagers. For the most part, these evangelical ministries had no more in the way of good intentions than your average carnival sideshow tent, shocking impressionable children & their parents into filling the collection plates at the end of multi-media presentations that owed more to Z-grade horror films than to the teachings of their manipulated martyr, Jesus Christ (a character for whom we Satanists have nothing but sympathy). 

In fact, Rev. Morris Cerullo, the half-Jewish head of Morris Cerullo World Evangelism, used a recreational vehicle that once housed a particularly venal carnival attraction as his "Witchmobile". This cleverly branded caravan had been the traveling home of an obese drug addict who attached himself to various midway companies throughout the 1960s, putting himself on display as a cautionary tale for cotton candy-brained rubes. When the wretched geek (for he came from a long tradition of sideshow bottom-feeders whose main freakish characteristic was a penchant for self-destruction) drown in a corrugated steel stock tank that doubled as his bathtub, Cerullo purchased the vehicle, cleaned up the junkie's squalor, repainted it in "groovy" colors & filled it with sinister gewgaws meant to reveal our diabolic practices to the laypersons of Iowa, Kansas & Nebraska. 

To quote from Cerullo himself: "The Witchmobile is colorfully painted to show the 'pretty' mask being stripped off Satan to reveal the true ugliness underneath. That is what we have done, presented the ugliness underneath the bait that traps the unwary. Inside the unit are hundreds of occult items, including a real human skull and a robed satanic priest. The seemingly 'pretty' side is depicted by meditation lamps, beads, etc., as well as the more horrible appearing details."

Though there was nothing in the refurbished recreational vehicle one couldn't find in the darker corners of your average Sears Christmas Wishbook, presentation is everything & what menace the cumulative effect of the objects couldn't evoke was supplied by recordings of eerie sounds & music, psychedelic lighting & chilling personal anecdotes. The latter were provided by such cottage-industries of Satanic Panic as Mike Warnke, author of the best-selling anti-debbil memoir The Satan Seller & performer on a slew of popular Christian stand-up comedy records. Enjoy & as always, Hail Satan!

 Inside Morris Cerullo's Witchmobile: 

Rosemary & Roman by Jerry Schatzberg, 1968

Ray Bradbury on the film of Rosemary's Baby, Santa Barbara City College, 1982

Forrest J. Ackerman & Ray Bradbury
Excerpted from Ray Bradbury: Uncensored! by Gene Beley

Friday, January 24, 2014