Earth and the Artist: Len Del Rio's Psychetronic Trip

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on electronic music and the conjunction of Pluto and Uranus in Virgo in the 1960s.  I wound up writing so much on that topic that I never got around to profiling a musician friend of mine, Len Del Rio.  Len’s birthday is in a few days, so this is a timely post.  Len is an electronic musician, but many of his professional highs have been in another genre altogether: prog rock.  Len has had the honor to join the bands of Nik Turner (of Hawkwind fame) and Damo Suzuki, of the legendary prog rock band, Can.  He’s played on stage with Genesis P-Orridge, remixed songs for Gary Numan, paid musical homage to Bruce Haack and Jean-Jaques Perry, and participated in festivals hosted by Moebius and Rodelius of Cluster.  Most recently, he toured with the iconic prog rock band, Brainticket, in support of another 1970’s prog sensation, Nektar.  

Electronic musician Len Del Rio (far right) on tour with Brainticket in 2011.  Also pictured: singer Abby Travis and guitarist Andrew Scott.

Electronic musician Len Del Rio (far right) on tour with Brainticket in 2011.  Also pictured: singer Abby Travis and guitarist Andrew Scott.

For some of you, I’ve been speaking Greek for the past few sentences.  Others of you will recognize a lineage of kraut rock, space rock, and electronic music royalty in the names I’ve listed above.  Electronica and the umbrella genre, prog rock, were closely allied in the 1970s as electronic music was finding its feet; now they seem rather far apart.  Electronic music on the whole has gotten pretty clipped, mechanical, and spare, while prog rock, with its rich and full sonic landscapes and improvisational ethic, no longer draws the fans it used to.  But once upon a time, new-fangled electronic sounds and a progressive musical ethos met in a land called Psychedelia.

"The Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators," released in 1966.

"The Psychedelic Sounds of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators," released in 1966.

Now what the heck does a guy born in 1966 have to do with psychedelia?  That’s the question I’m here to answer for you today.  Carl Jung once said that the moment of birth is the most synchronistic in a man’s life, and 1966 was the first year rock bands started using the word “psychedelic” in their album releases. 

Let’s take a quick glance at Len’s chart.  Right away we notice that he is a ninth house Aries Sun conjunct Mars, with Leo rising.  Ninth house placements can show a person who travels or tours professionally, fiery Aries likes to express himself creatively, and Leo is a natural performer.  Not everyone with such fire-heavy placements will become a touring musician, but here we have the bare bones of the artist archetype.  I firmly believe that all of us have an artist inside somewhere, but the difference with the fire signs is that the artist is just chomping at the bit to come out!  Earth signs worry a lot about being artistic versus being “practical,” air signs can dither over the long-term implications and significance of what they create, and water signs struggle with externalizing their private inner worlds.  But creativity is the life-blood of the fire signs – if they don’t express themselves, they burn up inside.  

1966 Aries baby, Len Del Rio!

1966 Aries baby, Len Del Rio!

Having said all that though, you might remember that the title of this post is “Earth and the Artist,” and see that Len has something of a dramatic earthy trine.  A tight conjunction of Uranus and Pluto, mere minutes apart, trines a Capricorn Moon, followed by another trine to the Taurus Midheaven.  Here’s how we get more nuances in the natal chart.  Isolating Len’s fiery placements can show the touring musician, but they could also describe the salesman who is constantly on the road for business.  Ninth house is the professional traveler, remember, Sun conjunct Mars shows an especially aggressive personality, and Leo has the gift of gab and charm.  This chart might also describe a community college professor who is a gifted raconteur, an interpretation which emphasizes the ninth house association with higher education and Leo’s theatrical gifts.   

Len Del Rio on tour in 1997.

Len Del Rio on tour in 1997.

Len’s earthy trine helps mitigate some of that locomotive fiery force; his earth planets also ground the creative fire and put it into physical form.  The Midheaven reveals how we are known to society at large, and Len has Taurus, archetype of the musician, at this point.  The reasons why Taurus signifies the musician are complex, but part of the symbolism stems from the fact that Taurus prefers music (or silence) to words.  Taurus understands how a song – say, the national anthem – can unite the most opposed forces in the country, tugging at the heartstrings of both cynical liberals and jingoistic reactionaries.  Len’s comfort with non-verbal (i.e., musical) modes of expression is reinforced by the eighth house conjunction of Saturn and Mercury in Pisces. 

In my “Tech Geek” article, I talked about how the sixties conjunction of Uranus and Pluto corresponded to the new technology of electronic music, and how this same conjunction a few centuries before gave rise to the modern piano.  Fittingly, Len is a keyboardist, and he’s made a name for himself as an analog synth player, the signature instrument of the electronic musician.  Len’s technical proficiency (Virgo) with new technology (Uranus) has allowed him to be part of the sweeping cultural transformation (Pluto) that we call the electronic age.  The placement of these two planets in his second house of values and resources shows that these gifts provide him with income (resources), and also that he values independence (Uranus) and radical authenticity (Pluto) more than cash.  In other words, here we have the profile of someone who might choose to lead the hard life of the touring musician, one in which it’s pretty difficult to gather moss, for the privilege of “making the scene” (Uranus) with shadowy artistic material (Pluto).  

Well let’s face it, not everyone born in the sixties has become an electronic keyboard player.  But you can bet that there were more electronic keyboard players born in the 1960s than ever before, for fairly obvious reasons.  Sometimes the most important innovations in any society are not visible until a hundred years later, when they’re rendered more obvious by the 20/20 vision of retrospection.  So the wider contributions of this generation, now in their forties and fifties, might only be recognized after their deaths.  But some trends make an impression right away – in my previous article about this conjunction, I made a glancing reference to punk rock.  The performers who first broke this genre to the public were born before the Uranus-Pluto conjunction (exact in 1965-1966), but the kids who heard the message and kept it alive were from this sixties generation. 

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Len has a strong, emotional identification with punk rock which he developed while in high school.  Shortly after graduation, he moved to London, then a haven for the punk scene, where he got a job on swingin’ Carnaby Street and landed a role as an extra in the Alex Cox film, Sid and Nancy, dedicated to the rise and fall of Sex Pistol, Sid Vicious.  Something of the punk ethos survived into Len’s mature career as a musician; you’d have to have the soul of a punk to put out a few albums with outspoken icon Lydia Lunch, as Len did in the 2000s with long-time musical partner, Tommy Grenas.  

At this point I’d like to introduce another chart as a point of comparison; Len will absolutely hate this comparison, but it serves a purpose.  The musician usually given credit for breaking “industrial” music to the public is Trent Reznor, the force behind the popular band, Nine Inch Nails.  The purists among my friends will squawk at this, and put the origins of industrial music in the 1970s with Throbbing Gristle.  They might be technically correct, but Nine Inch Nails has become a household name and Throbbing Gristle has not.  There are the avant-garde pioneers, and then there are the mediators who translate this edgy material to the mainstream, and Trent’s music is definitely in the latter category.  Mundane astrology also has to pay attention to album sales and public penetration since it is concerned with large, cultural trends.

Trent Reznor, born May 17, 1965, at 11:53 PM in Newcastle Junction, PA.

Trent Reznor, born May 17, 1965, at 11:53 PM in Newcastle Junction, PA.

You’ll notice that Trent also has a fairly earthy chart.  He’s a Taurus with Capricorn rising, and the most salient feature of his chart for my purposes is that Uranus-Pluto conjunction in the eighth house.  The relevant point here is that the guy who transported industrial music out of the avant-garde and into the mainstream is of this Pluto and Uranus in Virgo generation, in which the programmer has transmogrified into the performing musician.  Nineties rave and DJ culture also contributed to this epic transformation of what the public was willing to call “music,” but Nine Inch Nails has become symbolic of a certain kind of electronic music with a dark edge – your grandpa stands a chance of knowing who Trent Reznor is, in other words, while gramps might draw a blank on naming another industrial artist.  Note that Trent has the Uranus-Pluto conjunction in the taboo-busting eighth house, conjunct restless Mars: a fine combo for bringing shadow elements to the surface with the driving (Mars) power (Pluto) of electronic technology (Uranus).

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Well let’s jump back to Len’s chart, and please note that, though Trent was born only a year before Len, no one could accuse him of having anything to do with psychedelia.  More on that later.  Part of my inspiration in analyzing Len’s chart was to recuperate his Capricorn Moon, for all of us out there who have one and feel a little grumpy about it.  The existing astrological literature on the Capricorn Moon is pretty grim – dreamy, warm-fuzzy Luna is not herself in this sign of business and professional decorum.  She’s in detriment in Capricorn, sign of the stern father, and some books will tell you that you’ll never feel loved or nurtured enough with this placement.  One of my first astrology teachers glanced at my chart and said archly, “Capricorn Moon; the Prostitute.”  That’s what happens when loving Luna meets Capricorn’s keen eye for strategy and playing every angle: “Love for sale …”

Thankfully, I didn’t take her advice, if that’s what it was.  I’ve learned to love my Capricorn Moon, and to appreciate all the gifts it’s given me.  Len Del Rio pulls off this lunar placement better than almost any Cap-Moon I’ve ever met.  One thing I tell my Cap-Moon clients is that, “Your soul is nurtured by work.”  Once people get beyond how funny-sounding this concept is, they see that it’s true.  Capricorn Moon and her close cousin Virgo Moon feel nurtured by laboring busily at a project.  Instead of curling up with a bowl of ice cream and watching sentimental movies, like a Cancer Moon might do, Capricorn Moon battles the blues by channeling energy into a Great Work.  Remember that Capricorn is ruled by the taskmaster Saturn, and in Saturn’s domain we must labor diligently at a big project: Saturn prefers the novel to the magazine article, the finished album to just “jamming on the weekend with the guys.”  The high number of albums that Len has either played on or recorded (available to view at discogs) gives you some sense of how adept this Moon placement is at nurturing projects; Capricorn Moon has a catalog of impressive work, in comparison to the “one-hit wonder” of the dabbler. 

A sample of Del Rio's releases ...

A sample of Del Rio's releases ...

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Moon, the Great Mother, gives birth and tends to her young.  Len even has the Moon in the abundant fifth house, the house that can tell us about a client’s children.  But Len’s children in this lifetime have not been physical extensions of his being; Len has given birth to artistic progeny instead.  As far as “earth and the artist” goes, Len’s Capricorn Moon is what has allowed him to sublimate his fiery vision into consistent artistic production.  Many artists experience highs and lows and go through periods of creative drought, but Len’s earth trine draws him continually back to the mill stone to grind away at his musical craft.  I know few people who work as hard as Len, though he does so in arenas we consider “fun” (stamp of the fun-loving fifth house).  Ever since I’ve known him, he’s held down a full-time job, and then come home to give another forty hours to his craft on nights and weekends.

Len labors not for the expectation of financial reward or recognition (though we all welcome these things when they come), but for the good of his Soul.  How many talented artists and musicians do you know who struggle with actually picking up a guitar every day, or who are turned off their art by one bad review?  Diligent, determined Capricorn is not swayed by public opinion and holds fast to his integrity, working for work’s sake instead of for the brass ring.  At this point I should also point out Capricorn’s solitary nature; Capricorn’s tendency to single-mindedly pursue a goal in spite of suffering and opposition is one reason why this sign and the Moon are not always well-suited.  Capricorn Moons often need reminding that they have a lunar nature, one that needs hugs and encouragement from those notorious “time-stealers,” friends and lovers.

Anais Nin poses with her life's work of journals.

Anais Nin poses with her life's work of journals.

I think my favorite example of how a Capricorn Moon can ground the turbulent artist is Anais Nin.  If you’ve read her famous diaries, you know that Anais Nin’s life was characterized by a tumult of conflicting desires and illicit erotic adventures.  She championed her boundary-crossing intrigues and mystical sensibility as the flower of her Pisces Sun, but guess who was crafting those grand, fantastic passions into readable art?  Nin’s Capricorn Moon in the third house began keeping a journal at age eleven, and she diligently maintained this practice until her death in her seventies.  Lacking that Capricorn workhorse in the third house of writing, Nin might have died a particularly storied adventuress, but otherwise unremarkable; instead she left behind the magnum opus of an intimate view into a woman’s psyche over the whole of her life. 

Len on stage (in background) with Nik Turner and Helios Creed.

Len on stage (in background) with Nik Turner and Helios Creed.

But what about Len’s psychedelic roots?  Len played with the prog-inspired industrial band Pressurehed in the 1990s, which led to members of that band backing up the prog giant Nik Turner on tour.  Len and Tommy Grenas released some albums with Nik as Nik Turner’s Space Ritual, whose primary thematic substance was the Egyptian Book of the Dead.  Notice how this material differs from the angst and fantasies of vengeance one might meet on a Nine Inch Nails album, for example.  I can’t help but fixate on the word “ritual” in their ensemble name, because that is what those shows felt like to attend.  Nik dressed up as a silver-suited space-man, while psychedelic images bathed the audience in a shifting array of colors, and haunting space-age melodies streamed from Len’s synths.  When Len and Tommy split off to form their own electronic duo, Anubian Lights, their shows maintained this same trancey feel and Egyptian mystique, using samples of Middle Eastern music and rhythms borrowed from exotica records.  A belly-dancer completed the ritual feel of these gigs, during which the audience would often bond together as one swaying, spellbound body. 

The Anubian Lights (Len Del Rio and Tommy Grenas) in Berlin, 2001, with dancer Spencer.

The Anubian Lights (Len Del Rio and Tommy Grenas) in Berlin, 2001, with dancer Spencer.

Music and trance are close bedfellows; the instant bonding and altered states that happen at rock shows are not rare, and there’s a reason why today’s pop stars inspire Maenad-like devotion in their fans.  As this whisper of the Dionysian should make you aware, musical abandon falls under the domain of the intoxication-loving god, Neptune.  I’ll note that Trent Reznor has Neptune in the uber-public tenth house of “how people are going to remember us after we die.”  Len Del Rio has his in the opposite placement, the hyper-private fourth house, though close enough to the vertical axis of the MC to make a dent.  If both musicians have Neptune in Scorpio, why are trance music and psychedelia so much more prominent in Len’s music than in Nine Inch Nails?

In the type of astrology I practice, I’ve learned to pay a lot of importance to the South node, that cup-looking glyph in Len's fourth house next to Neptune’s trident.  For all intents and purposes, Len came into the world with a “dream state in his mainframe,” to paraphrase an Anubian Lights song.  Len will tell you that he’s not spiritual or into any New Age gobbledygook, which is not uncommon for a self-willed Aries, but he does have an enormous receptivity to music and a natural ability at programming trance rhythms.  When clients tell me they don’t relate to the mystical end of nebulous Neptune, I switch my channel to art and music, which are other ways of accessing the Neptunian need for healing, redemption, and escape.  The South node shows where we have built up a talent, a groove, and also a limitation in our series of incarnations.

Len’s South node and Neptune in Scorpio show me that he has spent lifetimes cultivating transformative trance states (Neptune in Scorpio).  The clannish nature of the fourth house tells me that he may have been part of a spiritual collective that practiced trance, like a Sufi monastery.  In fact I can think of no more appropriate metaphor than the whirling dervish to describe the longing for transcendence (Neptune) expressed through ecstatic trance (Scorpio) within a cloistered religious tribe (4th house), which Len’s South node suggests.  The limitation indicated by this incarnational groove is one in which the individuality of the Soul is sacrificed to the collective – not a lot of “soloists” in the Sufi monastery, in other words, but a uniform means of expression through which the personal identity must be abandoned.  

Mevlevi dervishes, 1887

Mevlevi dervishes, 1887

Len Del Rio live at Spaceland, 2001

Len Del Rio live at Spaceland, 2001

Len’s task in this lifetime is to move away from his South node and embrace his Taurus North node, the archetype of the hands-on artist or musician in the public tenth house.  While he’s already come out as a public figure via all his touring and album releases, a lot of the shyness and deference of the private fourth house still clings to him, even overpowering the brightness of his Aries Sun.  So I’m embarrassing him a bit today for his Soul growth – stand up and be recognized, Len!  Happy birthday! 

Please check out the Anubian Lights music page, and Len's youtube channel for more of his psychetronic sounds!