Monday, February 11, 2013

More LaVey: The Mystery of the Second Oboe

Throughout his career as Black Pope Anton LaVey swore that he had played second oboe for the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.  Yet in 1991 Lawrence Wright found:
By the time he was fifteen, [LaVey] said, he was sufficiently accomplished to play second oboe with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.  (According to the San Francisco Performing Arts Library, there was no such orchestra in 1945. The ballet employed the local symphony for its performances, and none of the three oboists was named LaVey or Levey).
In the introduction to the first edition of The Satanic Bible (which appeared from 1969-1972) Burton H. Wolfe stated "At sixteen [LaVey] became second oboist in the San Francisco Ballet Symphony Orchestra." He repeated that in his 1974 book The Devil's Avenger (which he edited and re-released in 2008 as The Black Pope).  Only later did LaVey change that number to fifteen.

Is this proof he was lying? Or is it proof he was born on April 11, 1930.

I wonder what the local symphony's employment records might reveal for the first half of 1946.  I also wonder how many ballet companies were active in San Francisco at the time.  And given that LaVey was living in Mill Valley in 1945-1946, I'd like to see if contemporary local papers mention a young "Howard Levey" playing oboe in San Francisco.

The oboe's tone is frequently associated with Orientalism and the exotic, so it would appeal to a teen steeped in 1940s pulp fiction. And given his resume there's no reason to think he wouldn't be up to playing a double reed instrument.  By 1969 Anton LaVey had spent over a decade as a professional musician. Why make up a story about "playing second oboe at 15" when he could point to several years manning the Civic Auditorium's pipe organ or the Lost Weekend's Wurlitzer?  And why keep talking about that particular instrument and that particular position for decades?

This night, I believe, was a pivotal experience in LaVey's life.  It was so important that he went back and corrected a misunderstanding ("Yes, I said 1946 but I was fifteen, damn it, fifteen.").  For a suburban kid San Francisco was the big leagues.  It was that glorious first gig that sealed his fate, that moment when "musician" became a real career possibility.  And even when he put his oboe aside and took up the organ, he never forgot it.  So no, I don't think he made the second oboe story up or embellished it in any significant way. If anything, I'd bet it was honesty that got the Black Pope in trouble.

Can I prove that with documentation? No. (Anybody with access to 1940s Marin County newspapers might want to give it a shot).  But given how often LaVey repeated this story, and how tenuous the case against him is, I'm reasonably certain he was telling the unvarnished truth here.

The Satanic Bible's first edition also contained a very interesting dedication. But that's for another post.