Sway: A novel

by Zachary Lazar (Afterword)

Hardcover, 2008





New York : Little, Brown, 2008.


"In the last days of the 1960s, the worlds of the Rolling Stones and Charles Manson accidentally converged at the razor's edge of an era." "Sway is the story of those two forces and how they became entwined. It is the story of the Rolling Stones - from their days beating out their new sound and their new identities in freezing apartments and tiny clubs - focusing on Brian Jones, the first leader of the group, and on his growing confusion and jealousy as his band changed into something else." "It is also the story of a young man named Bobby Beausoleil, a handsome drifter under a dangerous influence. Beausoleil was befriended by the filmmaker Kenneth Anger and appeared along with Mick Jagger in Anger's film Invocation of My Demon Brother. When the film premiered, Beausoleil had been charged with a murder committed under the deranged leadership of Charles Manson, in whose commune he had found a temporary home." "Sway dares to imagine these lives, moving from the innocence and glamour of the young Rolling Stones to the awful events of 1969 - Brian's drowning in his mansion's swimming pool, the murder of a fan at the Stones concert at Altamont, and the Manson murders. Zachary Lazar weaves these scenes from real lives together into a true but heightened reality, making superstars human and demons palpable and restoring mythic events to the scale of daily life."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ChazzW
Zachary Lazar's Sway is yet another novel that attempts to capture that elusive spirit of the '60's. William Blake's line from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: "Energy is eternal delight" may point in the right direction. Using Blake's words as the epigraph for his novel, Lazar spools out the strange, ambivalent energy that he saw in the stories of The Rolling Stones, underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger and the Manson cult. Although he may start with a different angle than many of the other attempts to define this era, he ends up in the same place, yet seems to just miss the mark, somehow.

In the story of Bobby Beausoleil, Lazar gives us a person with an only murkily defined sense of self and only a limited amount of talent to tap into that energy. Beausoleil was a minor figure on the periphery of the Manson Family, who ended up committing one of the murders associated with the cult. As it transpired, Beausoleil, a would be musician, was selected by Anger to star in one of his films.
After Beausoleil had stolen the early work on the film he was making, Anger eventually ended up trying to get Mick Jagger to take over the role. Although they did collaborate on one film, this also never really worked out for Anger.

The rise of the Stones from a pub band to the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World is the third thread from which Lazar attempts to weave his thesis. Although the threads themselves are interesting to one degree or another, they never result in a cohesive argument for me. And Altamont as seminal moment has been captured better.

Nevertheless, in his writing on the Stones, Lazar shows real insight and these are by far the most compelling parts of the novel . His descriptions of Jagger, the most visually recognizable member of the Stones to even the most casual observer of 20th Century Pop Culture, are uncanny. Even his writing on the 'lesser' members of the band, Keith Richards, and especially Brian Jones are quite well done. Some of the songs (if only by inference) are brought to vivid life as well.

As for the actual events and their significance, I suspect there are better sources for those - probably these and others listed in Lazar's acknowledgement: Blown Away:The Rolling Stones and The Death of the Sixties (A. E. Hotcher) and Bugliosi's Helter Skelter.
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LibraryThing member phoenixcomet
Disturbing from start to finish. Occasionally hard to follow, but all in all a compelling read, enough for me to have trouble sleeping. Although fiction, it sounds more like fact, and it is helpful if you have some understanding of the characters of the 1960s such as Mick Jagger, Anita, Pallenberg, Keith Richards, Kenneth Anger, Charles Manson, Bobby Beausoleil, and Brian Jones. Without that understanding, you'll find yourself using Wikipedia to know who the author is talking about. He rarely uses a last name, so undertanding the times is helpful.… (more)
LibraryThing member FicusFan
I just finished this book, and am still mulling. I can't say I overly enjoyed it, nor did I find it all that interesting at the start. Still it does stick with me.

The book is supposed to be an exploration of the dark side of the 60s. It takes real life people and their real life intersection and weaves a fictional story that is supposed to explain it. Didn't work for me.

The three threads are 60s experimental film maker, Kenneth Anger, the Rolling Stones (Brian, Mick Keith, girlfriends: Marianne, Anita), and Bobby Beausoleil and the Mansons.

The story is told in fragments that often make no sense, and are about how things look as a way into their thoughts, feelings, and intentions. A lot of dissonant images are used, much like the films of Anger. In fact some of his movie scenes are narrated, some multiple times.

The Stones' threads are told from Brian's viewpoint, until he dies. The author seems to be one of the Brian fans who discounts both Mick and Keith. Lazar doesn't seem to understand the dynamic of the band. Both Mick and Keith come off as non-entities until Brian dies. Lazar seems to believe in the the whole sacrificial goat aspect of Brian's death. Once Brian is out of the picture they both become more vibrant and the band becomes interesting.

Beausoleil is just empty and useless. He is an aimless pretty drifter. Perhaps thats true, but it make a very boring aspect to the story. He is the connection between the Mansons and the Stones, and he also has an interlude with Anger.

Anger is a gay man at a time when it was not OK, and not something to admit, even to the flower children of the 60s. He kept trying to make films and pick up males. He gave shelter and had a passionless fling with
Beausoleil. Anger also eventually meets the Stones and films them.

The end of the book and the 60s, brings in the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK, Brian's death, and Altamont as the end of the ideal and the triumph of darkness.

There is a modern day wrap up, with Anger being old, and no longer making films, Beausoleil in prison for life, and the Stones still rolling on and strangely all still alive (except for Brian) and well, even Anita and Marianne.

It just never made much sense to me, and the threads and their experiences never integrated.
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LibraryThing member miriamparker
I just kept thinking: why is this person writing this book? The topic feels so distant from the prose. And it is a book about topic.
LibraryThing member bridget3420
I just finished reading Sway by Zachary Lazar, a book about sex, drugs, violence and rock and roll. The lives of several young men are weaved together in this unstoppable novel.
The Rolling Stones, Charles Manson, a wanderer named Bobby and an obsessed filmer Kenneth. They are all trying to find themselves and in the process end up finding each other. This novel gives the average, everyday person a glimpse of fame and all the horrors that go along with it.Zachary Sway is able to capture an audience and keep them interested.… (more)
LibraryThing member Storeetllr
In this fictionalized retelling of some of the more sordid and shocking events of the wild and heady 60s, the mix of sex, drugs, violence, and rock-and-roll is spot-on. Featured characters are some of the iconic figures of the age ~ Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones of the Stones, Anita Pallenberg, muse to both Jones and Richards consecutively, Charles Manson and Bobby Beausoleil, and Kenneth Anger, the filmmaker who knew both the Stones and Beusoleil and, thus, was at the center of the novel.

I won't pretend the novel was perfect. For instance, it was often disjointed beyond what it needed to be, and the culmination of Altamont seemed anticlimatic somehow. Yet it managed to achieve the flavor, the paranoia, the fervor of the 60s in a way that has stuck with me since I finished it a week ago.

As I've already noted in other places, I came of age in the late 60s, and, when I say I lived through the 60s, I mean that I experienced most of what those years had to offer. In other words, while certain events shine through the purple haze with the clarity of the noonday sun, I don't clearly remember much about that time as a whole. While reading Sway, I found myself feeling a bit like you do when you remember an old dream you had a long time ago, and you KNOW it's a dream, but you suddenly can't help feeling in some eerie way that maybe it really did happen after all. Or maybe I'm thinking of a flashback.

Either way, I am glad I read this slim novel and am putting on my list to be reread sometime in the next year or so.
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LibraryThing member morbidromantic
I honestly don’t know what to make of Sway by Zachary Lazar. On one hand it is a somewhat fictional telling of the early The Rolling Stones and the Charles Manson murders, based on real life and about real people. On the other hand, it’s a dreamlike sort of novel where every human emotion and action is given a significance that isn’t typically true to real life. Purposefully, I think, Lazar wove his words into chaotic (almost) anti-poetry- beautiful because it is raw and aggressive- in order to put this special significance to things. The entire book has a surreal quality that makes it even more difficult to accept the reality of what is happening.

Now, none of this is bad. I quite like a book that reads like a fractured and distorted fairytale. I said I didn’t know what to make of the book, not that I did not like it.

Sway, as I’ve said, takes two different stories and winds them together. Lazar recounts the rise of The Rolling Stones, some of his information falsified but some of it quite true (I‘ve seen the picture of Mick in the Uncle Sam top hat and the Omega t-shirt), and the Charles Manson murders. These two isolated groups and the events included are connected by a thin thread that goes by the name Kenneth Anger. Anger is a struggling film maker whose avant-garde styles of imagery and symbolism make him less than idea for the mainstream, which is just where he seems satisfied to be.

From the way the book describes itself, I was thinking that the two stories would intertwine on a deeper level then they did, and this was a bit disappointing. I guess it was meant to be this way. I gave me to see how things, even great things that seem so grand and therefore isolated within their own distinct worlds, can touch and brush and never impact. How sometimes you just manage to miss something larger than simple life allows without even knowing it.

There are moments, though, that the book is starkly real and you no longer feel the invader of a dream. The characters cease to be actors or players on a grand stage and become actual people, no longer characters but objects of existence just as we all are. Flawed, confused, prone to mistakes, and sometimes empty. Sometimes acting without excuse or reason. Sometimes just inflicting. Brian Jones is an abusive mess who is so out of touch with his own needs that he is self-destructive, Bobby just ambles along and thoughtlessly does whatever he decides to do for no good reason, and Anger doesn’t seem to fight for anything and only exists to make his films.

The anger and escalating chaos of the 60s and 70s is depicted nicely in Sway. Vietnam, militaristic groups, disenchantment with the government and society, and the rejection of the early 60s Summer of Love ideals brought about a new society and destroyed the former not with a whimper but a bang. In fact, many of them. There is a sense, even when reading nonfiction of the time, that America was ready to explode. Indeed, much of the world was. The Rolling Stones and Charles Manson both, in their own ways, embody this feeling. The Rolling Stones is the passion, the rebellion, the new face of youth and expression while Manson is just how bad it can get.

Though if Sway did anything, it made me like The Rolling Stones just a little more.
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