Part I: First Communions and Spiritual Cramps
On the day of my 18th birthday (the 29th of December, 1992), a very close friend gave me a cheap and used cassette by some band with a great name, and of which we had never heard of before. This band was called Christian Death; the album “The Decomposition Of Violets (live 1985).” It was like nothing I had never heard before, and not too dissimilar from what my own deathpunk band Age Of Desire, was doing at the time. We were the only two punks in our school. It was a bizarre time, music being our bond (one of many, still friends with Bill to this day), and our only escape. I can truly say punk rock saved my life.
Sure, by this time we’d already discovered (and were naturally quite drawn to) the darker and more fun sounds of the Misfits, Samhain, Bauhaus, The Cramps, The Sisters Of Mercy . . . but this was different. The next day, of course, we ran out to Tower Records and traded them all our Xmas monies for anything bearing the Christian Death name.
I picked up an album called Only Theatre Of Pain. It was their first, and only original member release. It was one of those albums that fundamentally changes the way you hear music, your outlook on life. I connected with this, it’s religious agony paranoia and just plain sickness, it’s swirling deathpunk (as we called it — now people call it deathrock, but in 1993 only little pockets of underground-music whack-job punks like us hid in musty basements, listening to this over and over) rhythms and searing-whine occultic lyrics — it felt real, took you to hell. The songs all seemed to run together, connecting to each other almost as one piece. It was, and still is, fukking facsinating, mesmerizing.
It also began a legacy of deviancy, confusion, lies, myth, drugs, suicide, and controversy that sluices on to this very day. Most fans of this band are rabid, and quite polarized in their silly and infantile arguments over which singer is better to the point of sometimes violence and incessant silly verbal abuse. I happen to both love and loathe bits from each period. Valor is just as legitimate as Rozz, and this article is not about that old game.
This, my friends, is merely the retelling of a strange tale, far from innocence, filled with as much doom, gloom,and ambiguity as their music.
By 1979, Southern California punk rock had spread like some kind of raging venereal infection out from the heart of the initial Hollywood/Los Angeles scene, out and into the endless wastelands of Orange County and the beach communities. The initial artistic and aesthetic concepts were disappearing as real kids with very real problems found themselves a voice, a forum from which to bellow their pain. A forum that was theirs and only theirs.
Like all things, however, there were splits and factions and fractions and sub genres. These were splits in an initially collective community. Hardcore was taking over, bringing with it the violence that has become synonymous with punk since Penelope Spheeris’ 1980 film The Decline Of Western Civilization.
In 1979, in a dark garage in Pomona, California began a band called The Upsetters, by a young man named Roger Allan Painter. He would eventually take on the name Rozz Williams (as he shall henceforth be known and referred to as), after seeing it on a tombstone one day. In fact, Rozz Williams grew up in a quite strict Southern-Baptist family, and rebelled against it, essentially, for the rest of his life. He was born November 16, 1963 (he died April 1, 1998, but thats for a later chapter). He played in several bands before CD, including Crawlers, NO, Asexuals, Daucus Karota (which he did later use, in the late 1990’s), among others.
But it was The Upsetters who became Christian Death. Comprising of Rozz Williams on vocals, James McGearty on bass, George Belanger on drums, and Jay (John Albert) on guitar. At 16 Rozz Williams was walking down Hollywood Blvd. with his band mates (and friend/eventual wife Eva O.) and saw a huge sign for Christian Dior, inciting Rozz to pronounce Christian Death as the final name that would become legend and cause neverending turmoil for all involved. Jay was replaced by one already legendary Rikk Agnew (D.I., Adolescents, Social Distortion, etc) and Baby Death had been born.
Theatrically, their shows were madness inducing, theatrical nightmares featuring blood, transvestism, on-stage crucifixions, noise, and a musical style that was something different, something indescribable. They had indeed created this uniquely morbid cobwebbed-cacophony death-dance known as Death Rock. (Some claim Rozz himself coined the term; there is much debate about that; personally, I don’t think so). Taking the bizarre shock-rock of early Alice Cooper’s stranger moments and creating something even more sinister. Truly sinister. They actually practiced the occult, each show like some mad ritual, and indulged in heaps of multiple mind altering substances, and bizarre behaviors, which is what eventually led to the original lineups ultimate demise.
Their first vinyl appearance came in 1981, on the infamous (and excellent) HELL COMES TO YOUR HOUSE (Bemis Brain Records) compilation, with the odd and eerie song “Dogs.” The comp featured other notable deathrock/punkrock legends as well: 45 Grave, Social Distortion, Modern Warfare, and the Super Heroines (featuring Eva O.), among others from the Pomona/OC section of SoCal.
Gaining in popularity due not only to the intensity of their music and live performances, but the ever enhancing and strange, drug addled theatrics of those shows, some things began to fall amiss.
Which, inadvertently, began to backfire on them. The drug issues, as well as personality and creative conflicts , was rapidly beginning to do them in. In 1982 Frontier Records released the ONLY THEATER OF PAIN lp, their only full-length. Not too soon after both Rikk Agnew and George Belanger had left the band, being replaced by Eva O. on guitar and Rod “China” Figuera on drums for some 1982 live performances. It did not go well, and Rozz’s drug problem would not abate. By the end of 1982, Christian Death was no more.
There was one more release, the DEATHWISH ep, put out in France only I believe, though now available on all OTOP re-releases (most recent on Epitaph (?) Records. Recorded before OTOP (essentially the original versions of several songs on OTOP), DEATHWISH was not released until 1984.
During one of their final performances,perhaps EVEN their last one, Christian Death had a band open for them, Pompeii 99. This band consisted of three people: Valor Kand, Gitane Demone, and David Glass. Rozz and Valor discovered some form of mutual respect in each others work, becoming friends, and exchanging themes, ideas and sounds, Pompeii 99 becoming a new and much different Christian Death. In becoming friends and doing this they had indeed now created something that would mutate into a nightmare and tragedy all unto itself.
Note: In the 1990’s, Cleopatra Records released several shady “lost” recordings and live show cd’s from the original line-up, most of which sound so bad that they really aren’t worth picking up.
Original Line-up Discography:
Hell Comes To Your House comp (1981, Bemis Brain Records, song: Dogs)
Only Theater Of Pain LP (1982, Frontier Records)
Deathwish EP (Recorded 1980, released 1984 L’invitation Au Suicide Records)
The Doll’s Theater Live LP (Recorded live Halloween 198?, Released 1994 Cleopatra Records)
For Part 3 Click Here
Vincent Daemon, writer and rabblerouser, can be followed on FB @ https://www.facebook.com/vincent.daemon.1 , and join his blog The Writings Of A Depraved Mind @ http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/?zx=e40931ba40511a11