On their 1997 Vanishing
Point album, Primal Scream recycle a radical insight that has been bubbling
under for most of the twentieth century (and indeed longer). The track "Star"
with its refrain "Every brother is a star, every sister is a star"
echoes Sylvesters 1979 disco hit "Stars (everybody is one)"
and Aleister Crowleys "Every man and every woman is a star"
in the Book of the Law (1904).
We can only speculate on the causal relationships between these utterances. Had Patrick Cowley (who wrote for Sylvester) read Liber Legis? Was Primal Screams Bobby Gillespie influenced by Cowley, Crowley, both or neither? It doesnt really matter, and it is more interesting to consider the non-causal connections between these disparate characters that drew them to some kind of shared understanding. Primal Scream and Crowleys use of drugs; Crowleys homosexual experiences and Cowley & Sylvesters gay lifestyles; Primal Screams debt to 1970s dance music (cf. the guest appearance of George Clinton on their previous album), etc.
As we might expect, an English magickian, an American gay disco icon and a Scottish post-rave rock band bring differing perspectives to bear on the basic insight. Taken together they bring out the range of radical implications embodied in the notion of everybody as a star.
In a spectacular society, stardom is a magical quality bestowed only on privileged individuals, elevating them to a status as far away from mere mortals as Alpha Centauri is from Earth. The slogan Everybody is a Star poses a radical egalitarian challenge to the hierarchical "star system", staking a claim to this magical quality for all. But what is proposed is not the drab equality of the homogenous mass, but an equality of singularities.
For Crowley, "Each human being is an element of the cosmos, self-determined and supreme, co-equal with all other gods". Since "each star is unique" there can be "no standard goals or standard ways, no orthodoxies and no codes". Or to put it another way "you are a star - and you only happen once" (Sylvester).
There is a strong individualist emphasis in Crowleys formulation: "each star is the centre of the universe to itself... simple, original, absolute". Although Crowley stresses that "each star is connected directly with every other star", it is also "an independent and absolute unit". Sometimes being a star sounds rather a solitary experience - space can be a cold and lonely place.
Cowley and Sylvesters version acts as a corrective to this, grounding Everbody is a Star in the collective sensual hedonism of the disco: "Theres a party feeling that outshines them all/if youre here youve earned it/ and cant you hear that call/ everybody is a star". Unlike rock gigs where a few distant stars strut the stage, the real magic in disco (and later dance music) is shared by all on the dancefloor itself: "take a look around, tell me what you see / sisters and brothers feeling hot and feeling free / can you lighten up the sky, stars glimmering / dancing in the night, stars shimmering".
Of course "stars" in this context refers not just to the notion of glamorous celebrity but to heavenly bodies. An awareness of the links between humans, the earth and the wider cosmos has been a feature of all human cultures since the earliest times. Everybody is a Star restates this fundamental connection between all the parts of the universe: as above, so below. It links us back to the universe of astrologers, alchemists and hermeticists, like the 16th century German mystic Paracelsus who declared "Man is a star. Even as he imagines himself to be, such he is... Man is a sun and moon and a heaven filled with stars".
It is left to Primal Scream to bring out the explicitly political content of Everybody is a Star. Their take is a radical call to arms, name checking "Sister Rosa [Luxemburg], Malcolm X and Dr King" who "showed us weve got power, showed the changes we could bring... Their bodies may be gone, but their spirits still live on" (along, we might add, with the late Crowley, Cowley and Sylvester - the last two who died from AIDS in the 1980s).
While everybody might be a star, realizing their full potential requires not just personal but social transformation. But dont worry- we all have the ability. As Sylvester knew "you are here in this time and space, cosmic energy - well its in your smiling face"
Postscript (February 2001)
Since I first wrote this article for a never- to-see-the- light issue of Turbulent Times in 1998 I have become aware of many more connections. Madonna's 'Spotlight' : "Life is just a party that's all you need to know / It's your turn to shine baby let yourself go/ Everybody is a star.Spotlight, this world is yours and mine; Spotlight, this is your chance to shine"; Ultramarine's 1996 ambient album 'Every man and woman is a star'. Crucially there's Sly and the Family Stone 'Everybody is a Star' (1970), shining in defiance "when the system tries to bring you down". Sly Stone later played with George Clinton who in turn later played with the Primals - Clinton is a link in the chain of transmission of this meme, perhaps even alluding to it himself in Parliament's Flashlight: "Everybody's got a little light under the sun". Then there's Nicholas Roeg's film 'Walkabout' (1970) in which a trippy sound collage sequence includes somebody intoning 'Every man and every woman is a star' over a flaming sun. Roeg earlier co-directed 'Peformance' with Donald Cammell whose father, Charles, was a personal friend of Crowley. Donald Cammell himself appeared as Osiris in Kenneth Anger's 'Lucifer Rising' (1973). Many more magickal/mystical utterances: 'Understand that you are a second world in miniature, and the sun and moon are within you, as are the stars' (Origen, 185- 254 C.E). All in all a whole lot more drugs, dancing, politics and general weirdness to throw into the mix - somebody could write a book about this stuff.
Neil Disconaut was the editor of Everybody is a Star, newsletter of Disconaut AAA (Association of Autonomous Astronauts)