Showing posts with label Aleister Crowley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Aleister Crowley. Show all posts

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Red Clover

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)—a species of clover, native to Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa, but planted in many other regions

Trifoliumfrom the Latin tres, “three,” and folium, “leaf,” named after the characteristic form of the leaf having three leaflets (“trifoliate”)

Pratensefrom the Latin, “found in meadows”

The colors red (crimson) and green (the color of a clover leaf) are, of course, primary colors. The two colors, along with blue, are referred to as “additive colors,” meaning that the blending of these colors can create many others, including white. The use of multiple colors, as a metaphor for social harmony, is common. Additionally, in the Western world, the colors of red and green are associated with Christmas, a consequence of the use, during the middle ages, of pine trees adorned with red apples as part of the dramatization of the story of humankind’s Fall, the story of Adam and Eve (the pine-apple tree serving as the stand-in for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). Of course, the color red and the color green also have multiple symbolic meanings (e.g., red for passion; green for envy), and so possess what is called "multivalency."

I no longer remember the first time I saw a “black light” (and hence its spectacular alteration of the apparent color of quotidian objects); certainly, at the latest, by 1969. (I may have seen a black light much earlier than this, because natural history museums often used--still use--a black light in order to highlight the presence of certain, colorful, minerals in what seemed to be in the light of common day just plain-looking rocks.) At any rate, by the mid-60s, water-based fluorescent paints were popularly available, thus giving rise to a form of art with especially vivid colors that came to be closely associated with the psychedelic experience—black light paintings. By the mid-60s, black light poster painters were using the “fluorescent” colors of magenta, cerise, blue/azure, chartreuse yellow, red, and, of course, green. The psychedelic experience, at least in its LSD or acid-trip version, came to be associated with vivid, swirling colors, evoked in live rock concerts by what was known as a “light show,” a form of synaesthesia (the swirling colors were to the eye what the sound was to the ear). The black light painting thus served as a single snapshot of an acid trip. But the essential goal of a psychedelic experience was to alter everyday perception, to defamiliarize the familiar, and so, on occasion, to achieve a mystical insight.

Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Crimson & Clover” was recorded late in 1968—at the height of the psychedelic era, the period of High Psychedelia—and released as a single in December of that year, a remarkable serendipity considering red and green, crimson and clover, are so conventionally associated with December--and hence Christmas. The 45 rpm single quickly rose to the #1 spot in early 1969, and became one of the band’s biggest hits.

The question is—Is “Crimson & Clover” the aural equivalent of a black light painting (and therefore an example of High Psychedelia)? Or is it about something else? Or, conceivably, both? After all, it isn’t titled “Red, White, & Blue,” or “Magenta & Azure,” although it shares with other songs of its era a color in its title (and I don’t mean the term for a particular musical form, “blues”). Here are a few songs containing colors, right off the top of my head (meaning hardly definitive):

Blue Suede Shoes (Elvis)
Blue Angel (Roy Orbison)
Blue Velvet (Bobby Vinton)
Blue Turns to Grey (The Rolling Stones)
Crystal Blue Persuasion (Tommy James & The Shondells)
Roses Are Red (My Love) (Bobby Vinton)
Red Rubber Ball (The Cyrkle)
1-2-3 Red Light (The 1910 Fruitgum Company)
Black is Black (Los Bravos)
Paint It, Black (The Rolling Stones)
Black Magic Woman (Fleetwood Mac)
Chartreuse (Ken Nordine)
Mellow Yellow (Donovan)
Yellow Submarine (The Beatles)
Purple Haze (Jimi Hendrix Experience)
White Room (Cream)
White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)
Green Tambourine (The Lemon Pipers)

“Crimson & Clover” contains rather minimal lyrics, so minimal, in fact, that they seem to elude any definitive meaning:

Now I don’t hardly know her
But I think I could love her
Crimson and clover

Well if she come walkin’ over
Now I been waitin’ to show her
Crimson and clover (over and over)

My mind’s such a sweet thing
I want to do everything
What a beautiful feeling
Crimson and clover (over and over)

Crimson and cl(over) over and over...
Crimson and cl(over) over and over...

I think this song to be unintelligible without referring to occult theories of sexual alchemy—what famed occultist Aleister Crowley called “sex magick.” The trifoliate leaf, a feature of the red clover plant, is very similar to the deliberately phallic letter “A” that Crowley used as part of his obscene signature: a penis with testicles (the outline of the trifoliate clover leaf is used on the cover of the album Crimson & Clover). Red, the color of menstruation, is associated with the female (and perhaps, also, with Crowley’s “Scarlet Woman”).

White Tantrism: a form of sexual alchemy involving a man and woman making sexual contact for the purpose of transmuting sexual energies rather than achieving orgasm.

Hence crimson & clover refers to a form of Tantric sexual alchemy, suggested by the lyric, Now I don’t hardly know her/But I think I could love her, and, Well if she come walkin’ over/Now I been waitin’ to show her. The use of “love” in this context is ambiguous, but it doesn’t seem to suggest merely a Platonic (chaste) relationship. Moreover, our singer avers that he has been waitin’ to show her...what?

White Tantrism (continued): This form of sexual act is considered by its adherents as a spiritual exercise to awaken consciousness, not as an act of erotic love (or rather, the sublimation of sexual energy into mental energy).

My mind’s such a sweet thing
I want to do everything
What a beautiful feeling

Psychedelic music sought to find aural equivalencies to heightened, acute insight, or mystical knowledge, and in that sense, “Crimson & Clover” seeks to express just that desire. The obsessive repetition of crimson and clover over and over serves as a Tantric mantra, the word clover containing both the word “lover” but also the word “over,” as in the sexual action of physical movement repeated over and over (and over).

What we call a flower—as in, for example, the crimson flower of the red clover plant—is in fact the exposed sexual organs of the plant for all the world to see.