The body was laid out by the bar. The lifeless husk that was once Papa Nihil — a.k.a. Papa Emeritus Zero, ancient saxman for the unholy modern sounds of Ghost — silently greeted visitors Wednesday as best he could as fans entered the Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip. The great man was dead, on grim display in the world-famous nightclub within a plexiglass coffin, dressed in golden vestments, his face covered in black-and-white corpse paint.
The occasion was a tribute to the earliest Golden Age of Ghost in the form of a pop-up exhibit in the old rock club called Ghost: Reverence & Resurrection, which filled the space with artifacts and ephemera that illustrate the legend of band's early days in the 1960s. The one-day event was timed to this weekend's Grammy Awards, where Ghost is up for Best Metal Performance (along with Ozzy Osbourne and Turnstile, among others), bringing band mastermind Tobias Forge to Los Angeles. Why not celebrate the group's origin story on the Strip?
Waiting patiently outside Reverence & Resurrection, a long line of some of Ghost's most dedicated obsessives stretched around the corner of the Whisky and way up the street. Many waited one or two hours to get in, not quite knowing what to expect. The show was hosted by Metal Myths, an obscure (i.e. apocryphal) television program that is said to explore the mysteries of rock & roll, and that few have actually seen.
"The way that [Ghost] incorporate art and music and performance art, especially with the rock opera element, is unlike anything I've personally seen before," said Zoe Jinishian, 23, a fan for the last three years and an animation student. "I'm just really glad to be here."
Aside from Papa Nihil's body, fans were treated to some vintage artwork, including a soiled early T-shirt and a framed used cocktail napkin where the Ghost logo was supposedly first drawn. In a glass case was Papa Nihil's saxophone, just out of reach from his cold dead hands. An old TV set was frozen on a cartoon image from Ghost's guest appearance on Scooby-Doo, and one wall was covered in old magazine covers featuring Ghost — Rolling Stone, Creem and Life Magazine, the last of which warned in a headline: "Papa Nihil: Who is this man, and why are your children ready to follow him?"
But the main attraction stood onstage: five mannequins dressed as Ghost circa 1969, in mod haircuts and leather jackets, ornate crosses upside down over their chests. Out front was the mannequin representing Nihil as a young man in the Sixties, in a priest's collar and corpse paint, leading a crew of Nameless Ghouls in their earliest form. Fans took turns posing with the heroic display, then climbed up the catwalk to the upstairs bar and a merch table selling T-shirts, hats, hoodies and more with groovy psychedelic designs. Among the top-selling items was a purple vinyl 7-inch reissue of Ghost's Seven Inches of Satanic Panic, an allegedly 1969 recording with the songs "Kiss the Go-Goat" and "Mary on a Cross," the latter a Billboard pop hit decades after its original release.
Kaitlyn Hobson, 20, was wearing a Ghost hoodie with bat wings, which miraculously arrived at her house the day of the Whisky event. "Just being here, soaking in all of it, was just amazing," said Hobson, who drove out with her friend, Anthony Acevedo, 20, from the nearby San Fernando Valley. Neither have seen Ghost live yet but are already committed followers who left with fresh vinyl. "I think it's pretty sick," said Acevedo of their hours with the exhibit. "It's really cool that they put all of these things together."
Many of the band's faithful, of course, came in costume, including Johnny Petroni, 19, who only recently became a fully immersed Ghost fanatic and arrived in a classic silver Nameless Ghoul mask. The theater student drove in from Tehachapi two hours away. "I became, like, a diehard fan in September," he said, adding that he was pulled in by "the atmosphere of the band, and then I heard the song 'Square Hammer' and I immediately fell in love."
One of the most elaborate costumes was worn by a devotee in his mid-thirties who only identified himself by his Instagram handle, @fakeghostpapa, and arrived in full Pope regalia after a two-hour-drive from Ventura County, then another hour in line, all without complaint. First stop? Papa Nihil's corpse.
"It was good to pay my respects," @fakeghostpapa explained. "I was obviously upset that he's no longer with us, but I was glad I was able to be here today."