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The Intellectual Odyssey of Former Rolling Stones Promoter Peter Swales

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On the anniversary of the day St. Patrick expelled the snakes from Ireland, Peter and Julia are enjoying a dinner of sausage and potato salad to celebrate the arrival of Julia's stepfather from South America. Well into a bottle of rum, Swales is jabbing ferociously at his food with a knife and fork, while his "aesthetic muse," Kate Bush, warbles on a cassette player from the top of the refrigerator. He is describing psychoanalysis as little more than a self-fulfilling prophecy. "It seems to me that analysts, by and large, live a very 'dildo' existence," Swales says. "Their contact with life is so vicarious. They're locked in a permanent state of infantilism in terms of subordination to substitute parental figures — be they institutes, analytic societies, hospitals, whatever — or for that matter society itself, which funds them. They're not free thinkers, because they're not capable of it. Unlike analysts — or for that matter all academics — I never made a pact and mortgaged my soul to any Satan. If one were to concede that there is some truth in my 'gnostic' version of Freud — why it should be that I came up with all this — I would have to say that this is the sole reason: I was thinking for myself."

Swales insists that he came to Freud without prejudices, but in fact his sensibility had been shaped — some critics might say poisoned — by rock culture. Perhaps only a survivor of the late Sixties could have seen through the demonic imagery, manipulation and paranoia at the root of Freud's life and thought by fastening on the greatest legacy of that decade: its iconoclasm, its rebellion against authority and desire for personal freedom. Except for a few passionate enthusiasms — Kate Bush, Nina Hagen and Laurie Anderson — Swales has little interest in today's music; he returns to his own version of his music roots later this evening at a small community hall in Little Italy, where some 150 neighbors have gathered for a concert.

The emcee, a Puerto Rican woman wearing a dress slit up to the hip, introduces the next act: "Tonight we have a very special treat all the way from Wales. He is 'one of the world's leading authorities — perhaps the leading authority — on the early life and work of Sigmund Freud,' and a musical sorcerer who has put on his red jacket especially for the occasion. Ladies and gentlemen, Peter Swales."

Dressed in an Elvis Presley brocade, obviously a little drunk, the subject of this introduction moves in a buoyant stagger from the wings to center stager. He hauls a power drill out of his jacket pocket and lays it on the floor, muttering, "Sorry, they didn't give me enough time to tune up." Then he unwraps a shiny silver carpenter's saw from a Spanish shawl, seats himself, positions the handle of the saw between his legs and begins to run a cello bow along its bent edge. The melody is "Molly Malone," and a beautiful, haunting sound fills the hall. "I want to dedicate this next number to the late, great Elvis Presley," Swales is saying, before plunging into "Are You Lonesome Tonight."

"God bless America; I mean it," Swales says, then finishes off with "Amazing Grace." A half dozen people sing along.

"It was a credible interlude, wasn't it?" he asks backstage, where he's slugging down a beer and watching a band rip through "Gypsy in My Soul." By the end of the night, Swales is completely plowed, strutting around the auditorium like a rock star and posing for a local photographer with a fistful of bills he has grabbed from the bar. On the street afterward, he stumbles and falls flat on the pavement, then pulls himself up to brandish the saw at a few startled motorists, running on to Houston Street to accost a cab before returning home to howl in the hallway of his building.

This is a story from the September 27, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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