As I stood on the outside and watched the careers of musical groups like The Beatles and The Stones, I didn’t see that time as “the heart of darkness,” simply a startling new way of seeing the world, a truer, grittier way, than the sanitized ’50s. In a dream-like, often nightmarish, fashion, Sway carries the reader into the early years of the Rolling Stones, complete with juicy bits, the rise to fame and self-destruction of Brian Jones and the affair between glamorous Anita Pallenberg and the less-than-glamorous Keith Richards.
Sway’s real subject, however, is the strange intersection where the legendary rock band, the gay avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger, his object of desire, Bobby Beausoleil, and the Manson Family all came together. The novel moves between points of view, sometimes less than seamlessly, although the writing is always beautiful. Lazar’s characterizations don’t always come off, perhaps because it’s difficult to convey numbness and emotional isolation, not to mention the drug-induced haze in which this group of artistic narcissists lived. Playing with the idea of evil might bring notoriety to Anger and cash to The Stones, but a genuine “sympathy for the Devil” led Bobby Beausoleil to follow his psychotic mentor to torture and murder. Lazar understands it’s no longer a matter of free will, when, as Jagger sings: “That Evil Eye has got you in its sway.”