Rudy Kilowatt is a love-mad healer with twenty guitars, ten thousand gleaming steel needles and a head full of Maximum Shiva Mystic Ooze.
I see Rudy every few weeks, at his headquarters down in Livingston County. I lie on the magic bed and hear Sanskrit chants while I dream of big throbbing color blur. He tells me that “the purple ooze is coming from your crown chakra” and a minute later, he’s trying to get me to see a band he loves, “if you’ve got the sonic itch in your pants.”
For Rudy, rock and roll and true mind-melting mysticism are manifestations of the same cosmic power. This started early for him, listening to the Monkees, the Mamas and the Papas, and the Beatles. He grew up in a small town, a few minutes bike ride from the Letchworth Gorge, New York State’s Grand Canyon.
“When I was sixteen, I went to some teen rap sessions - that’s what they were called - at the White Church.” This was the most conservative and benighted church in a fairly conservative and benighted rural town. “It was hard core missionary evangelical baptist. And we were down in the basement.”
The rap sessions were supposed to be open discussions, but they were more like debates, with a topic to be argued at each session. One such debate was about God’s punishing nature. Was God’s love or his desire for retribution more important?
Rudy was on the forgiveness side, telling the rap session leader, “I have compassion for all beings because even the darkest of them, their actions have purpose. They carry a terrible weight and I can forgive them.” Then he told the group that the Jahweh of the Bible was a petty vindictive thug. So, he announced, “if that’s who runs heaven, send me to hell.”
“There was a kid there that night who quoted chapter and verse about God smiting with boils and blood. He was sure that I’d better get myself on the narrow path or I’d get my eternal ass kicked.”
Rudy, already deeply immersed in his own private church of Rock and Roll, told the others that love had to be God’s true nature. The Hard Core Smiting Kid of course argued that Rudy’s favorite music was “infused with the Devil. He was convinced that there was some Satanic secret ingredient in Rock and Roll. He said that my ‘All You Need Is Love’ thinking was a sick hippie panacea, and was of the Devil.”
As a perfect example, he brought up John Lennon’s song, “Number 9 Dream,” which had been released as a single in late 1974. The chorus of the song goes “Ah! Böwakawa Poussé Poussé.” That seemingly nonsense phrase, the Kid told Rudy, was “a Haitian incantation for Voodoo.” Rudy argued back that the phrase, Lennon had said in interviews, came to him in a dream and was pure nonsense, like Little Richard’s “Womp bop a loo bop a bomp bam boom.”
“It’s satanic. It’s from voodoo,” the Kid insisted.
“Number 9 Dream” is beautiful, dreamy, about as far from voodoo drumming and Afro-Carib ululation as one could get. The song is drenched in a wash of strings, as though stuck in a ghost-loop groove. A slide guitar reiterates the eerie melody. The chorus - “Ah! Böwakawa Poussé Poussé” - is the secret pop cult mantra, a spell chanted millions of times, converted to microwaves and poured out around the globe. In the background, a woman’s voice whispers “John,” and then “Nahj” - the name run backward.
On this tune, Lennon is the somnolent mind-traveler returning again and again to the dream-site. He chants about the unfolding of the “spirit dance,” drifting out and upward into the atmosphere - half awake and doubly alive.
Almost twenty years after the teen rap session, Rudy was living in New York City, living the life of the “Bugs Bunny Brooklyn shaman, making it up as I went along.” His mystic reading and hours of meditation blossomed in the spring of ‘97.
“I was aware of what a mantra was, aware of what Terrance McKenna called the Ur-sprach, the primal timeless language. The universe speaks to you in a language that you know - which makes you sound like you’re insane. The poetic details of your life make you seem schizoid.”
Rudy’s ur-sprach mantra in that magic spring was “Ah! Böwakawa Poussé Poussé. Sha la la.” Knowing that the first part came to Lennon in a dream, as did the “Jai Guru Deva Om” chorus in his “Across the Universe,” gave the sounds deep-brain trans-rational power. The second phrase shows up in a hundred different rock and roll songs, but Rudy traces it back in his own personal mythology to the Beatles’ “Baby It’s You.” Al Green’s “Sha la la Means I Love You” also floats as a possible source. “The specific meaning of the mantra was this: ‘magic inspiring love and love inspiring magic.’ And it’s reversible, like the Hari Krishna chant.”
Rudy and some friends had checked Maya Deren’s The Divine Horsemen out of the public library. This was in the pre-video days. They screened it in their basement in Williamsburg Brooklyn (“before the gentrification”), watching the voodoo rituals captured by Deren on film.
Soon afterward, Rudy was walking down 14th street in NYC and saw the guy they called the Bead Man. He was, Rudy knew, originally from Africa, but now made his living selling trinkets on the street of NYC. He wasn’t just a huckster, but had some kind of connection back to “black ecstatic religion.”
Stopping to buy items for a ritual he planned to perform at Strawberry Fields in Central Park, Rudy got talking to the Bead Man and mentioned his mantra. “He was stunned. He stared at me and said, ‘Where does an American white boy learn about that? How do you know those words?’ I told him they were in a pop song, played on a million radios all around the world.”
The Bead Man was amazed. “On the radio?”
“Yeah, John Lennon,” Rudy told him. “Number 9 Dream.”
“That is very very powerful. Ah! Böwakawa Poussé Poussé! Very old magic.”
Rudy is still laughing. “So the kid in the church basement was right. At least about one thing. He knew something about those words. Even if he was wrong about everything else.”