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Sothern Exposure

Inside a Satanic Hoedown in the Valley of the Damned

The year is 1985, and I've got a gig taking pictures at a satanic hoedown. A warlock in a black cape ushers us into a two-bedroom apartment where about a dozen devil disciples are hanging about, plotting the end of days.

by Scot Sothern
11 February 2014, 5:07pm

1985

I got a gig taking pictures at a satanic hoedown in the San Fernando Valley of the Damned. All I have to do is stand upright and point and shoot. My friend Stephen does interviews, pays the tab, and parks the car. We go to a second-floor apartment and knock on the door. A warlock in a black cape ushers us into a two-bedroom apartment. About a dozen devil-disciples are hanging about, plotting the end of days. I’d take time to find out what their beliefs, are but faith-based belief is not based on anything I believe in. I’m sure they take themselves seriously and are perfectly nice and deserve the same respect as everyone else.

When we walk inside I’m reminded of a Pentecostal church in south Georgia where I photographed a preacher in the early 70s. A couple of weeks after I’d taken his portrait, delivering the print on a Wednesday evening, I walked into the sanctuary and witnessed a group of about 30 kooky Christians in the throes of holy fits. They were mumbling and yelling gobbledygook, rolling back their eyes and bouncing around like vibrators on a linoleum floor. At the time I thought it was funny, but over the years politics, ignorance, and fanaticism have stripped religion of its goofy fun, and now I just find it fucking scary.

At the little cult in the valley, I’ve got my camera out, and I’m taking a shot here and there. Young demonic proletarians looking for love connections with like-minded individuals mill about. In the living room, along with a curbside couch, a television with rabbit ears, and a fantasy painting on black velvet, the high priestess, an attractive woman who is older than the others, about my age, is gabbing with Stephen while he jots down notes.

In the bedroom/church-of-the-dark-arts, an altar is set up, and I photograph a guy in Dracula drag. He has a voodoo doll, which he stabs, mercilessly, with a hat pin. I take a couple of pictures and ask him whom the doll represents, and he tells me not to worry about it, because it’s not me, and I say if it were it wouldn’t be the first time. In the kitchen the sink is filled with dishes, and a cat's litter box needs to be emptied and replenished. Next to the fridge is a cute blond babe in a terrycloth bathrobe.

“Hey, how’s it going? Can I take your picture?"

“Yeah, sure. Cameras like me. That’s what everybody says.”

“I can see why; you’re pretty hot. Are you a Satanist?”

“I’m the human sacrifice.”

“Really? What a waste.”

“They don’t really sacrifice anybody—that’s not what they believe. It’s a mock sacrifice.”

“Are you going to get naked?”

“Yeah, but I like getting naked and showing off. I’m a model, so you know, it’s OK.”

“Yeah, I know, and what a coincidence: I just happen to be in the market for naked models who look exactly like you.”

“You’re kind of dirty, aren’t you? I can tell.”

“Yeah, well, maybe. Takes one to know one. Are you wearing anything under your robe? Maybe we can take a couple of pictures here before the hullabaloo starts.”

She opens her robe and gives me a flash. I focus, and behind me a guy comes into the room and ruins my good time. He has an unpleasant tone and volume. “What’s going on? You shouldn’t be talking to nobody, Janey.” He’s my size with pale blue psycho eyes. He’s dressed like Zorro without the hat and mask. He has a mole in the center of his forehead, like a blind third eye.

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Who are you? Why are you bothering Janey?”

“He’s not bothering me.”

“I’m Scot. I’m taking pictures of the ceremony. The head priestess cleared everything; it’s all cool.”

“Not with me it’s not. I’m the sergeant of arms, and you need to leave Janey alone.”

“Sergeant of arms? Seriously?”

“Seriously—like I’m gonna kick your ass.”

“Hey, hey, there’s no need for that. I come in peace.”

“It time for you to go,” he says.

I flex and visualize banging my camera into the mole on his forehead, punctuating it with a James Bond–ish quip: Seems that hit the spot.

“Look, I’m sorry; you’re right. I’m just a visitor here, and this is your thing. I’m supposed to take pictures. I’m not looking for problems.”

“OK—you want to take your pictures, go ahead. But I don’t want you taking any of me, and you leave Janey alone.”

“He wasn’t bothering me.”

“I wasn’t bothering her, and if she’s going to be in the ceremony, I’m going to be taking her picture.”

“OK, but that’s it. And anyway, aren’t you kind of old to be hitting on Janey?”

“He wasn’t hitting on me.”

“Well, yeah, I was, actually. But from here on out it’s all business.”

The guy calls me an asshole, and somebody jingles some bells, and we all adjourn to the devil’s den. The ceremony, or ritual, goes on way too long. Satan is taking his time trying to get Jesus to lick his boots. It’s an intense crowd in the peanut gallery, but no one is rolling around on the floor. I stand in the back taking pictures and thinking about sex with Janey. Afterward Janey goes into the bathroom and comes back out a couple minutes later in tight jeans and a Ramones T-shirt. On our way out, Stephen hugs the high priestess goodbye, and Janey slips me her phone number. When I dial it a week later, a guy answers; I ask for Janey, and he says that she’s not home and he’s her father and asks if I would like to leave a message. I say, "No thanks, I’ll try again later," but I never do.

Scot's first book, Lowlife, was released last year, and his memoir, Curb Service, is out now. You can find more information on his website.