This article is not about CHRISTIAN DEATH, nor is it about the ROZZ/VALOR debacle *(get over it), or anything of that nature. That was already covered here back in October, in my 4 part CHRISTIAN DEATH feature, AN ORAL HISTORY OF AURAL HORROR.
This is instead about ROZZ WILLIAMS, whom I had met twice in his often varying states of mind, before his suicide April 1st, 1998. But was it truly ROZZ I had met, or his moods and the demons lurking within?
A brief overview for anyone not familiar: ROZZ WILLIAMS was born ROGER ALAN PAINTER on November 6, 1963. He was raised in a strict Southern Baptist household, of which I’m sure planted the seeds of the beautiful blasphemy and art that was to come. At 16 he started performing and playing with various bands, none of which released anything. They were THE CRAWLERS, NO, THE UPSETTERS, THE ASEXUALS, and DAUCUS KAROTA *(a name he would use again many years later). With the guitarist from DAUCUS KAROTA they eventually formed CHRISTIAN DEATH *(a clever bust on CHRISTIAN DIOR) in 1979. RIKK AGNEW took over guitar and assisted with music-writing duties. By 1981 CHRISTIAN DEATH had become a fully (dys)functional unit, releasing the blasphemously brilliant and classic “ONLY THEATER OF PAIN” Lp. Not too soon after, due to drug issues, creative conflicts, and lineup changes in ‘82, they broke up. Then ROZZ reformed CHRISTIAN DEATH in 1983 with the remnants of a band called POMPEII 99, featuring a guitarist named VALOR and his keyboardist girlfriend, GITANE DEMONE. This version of the band went on to record two amazing and quite different sounding albums, being incredibly well received in Europe and invariably relocating there. In 1985, due to bad contractual deals, they were stranded there, broke (despite their popularity), strung-out, and in a pretty dark place. ROZZ had a psychotic-break of some kind and quit the band right before a major tour, somehow making it back to the U.S. He had been performing occasionally with an experimental/noise project called PREMATURE EJACULATION, since 1981, and went back to creating bizarre material with that project until 1987, when he reformed another CHRISTIAN DEATH. VALOR had been releasing and performing under the name for years, ignoring an agreement with ROZZ over the use of the name. Eventually he had to release material under CHRISTIAN DEATH FEATURING ROZZ WILLIAMS, after a series of court disputes he could not afford. ROZZ was simultaneously releasing and touring with he and wife EVA O.’s SHADOW PROJECT *(both bands had essentially the same lineups). ROZZ’S “new” CHRISTIAN DEATH released three studio albums, as did SHADOW PROJECT *(primarily EVA O.’s creation, this was definitely the stronger of the 2 acts, in my opinion). Then both projects collapsed simultaneously. From there on ROZZ released several solo/spoken word albums, as well as releasing material by EXP, HELTIR, and DAUCUS KAROTA. Then on April 1st of 1998, took his own life, hanging himself from a kitchen cabinet. His life at this time was an utter shambles, I’ll spare the various details, which all seem to differ a little depending on which source you hear or read it from.
But it most certainly was the end of a particular era, and the sad passing of a romantically tortured, ex-junkie turned severe alcoholic, brilliant, confused, beautiful, endlessly creative, virtually unheard of (but within the genre circles, of course) artist of many mediums and quite prolific proportions. *(For further info on all of this, refer to my aforementioned 4 part career analysis AN ORAL HISTORY OF AURAL HORROR: THE LEGACY OF CHRISTIAN DEATH in the ROSETTA BONES vault).
I had the chance to see ROZZ perform live twice, as well as meet him. Now as we all know, meeting a long-time influence of any kind is usually not what you think or hope it will be, and sometimes it is. And sometime it’s both at once. But I’ll get to that.
The first meeting was “arranged,” per se, as I had indeed purchased the meet-n-greet tix. It was for the “DREAM HOME HEARTACHE” tour, early winter 1996 I believe, with GITANE DEMONE, at a little old Philly goth club (no longer there) called The Asylum. The show was great, classy even, as they did covers, new material, and a couple CD classic surprises. THEN came the meet-n-greet. A long line of fans stood for what seemed like an eternity, until things started to move. The room was small and dark, smoke filled. ROZZ and GITANE were seated side by side behind a cheap fold out table, selling copies of stuff to be signed, also offering a small but free poster for the same. But the vibe was tense, chaotic. ROZZ had one empty bottle of whiskey next to him, and was working hard on and well into another. He did not want to be doing what he was doing, and made it quite known in that weird passive-aggressive manner that has forever haunted the goth scene. He scribbled “1334” on my poster and cd, refused eye contact (with all participants), and did not reply to any questions or sycophantic compliments from anyone. The look on his face was akin to something of a belligerent goth drunkard *(though on a side note, ROZZ never considered himself a “goth”). GITANE however was an absolute sweetheart, talking, hugging, smiling, and appreciating her fanbase. However, I came away from that show with the impression that the obviously agitated ROZZ hated what he was doing. I tossed it up to too much whiskey *(I was a whiskey drinker then, I know what the wrong mood can do when mixed). But I sensed a truly unhappy individual.
The second meeting was by chance, odd, and much more pleasant. It was also not only one of his last performances, but one of his most controversial ones as well, being captured on the “ACCEPT THE GIFT OF SIN” cd *(in which the songs are horribly out of order, and the show is incomplete). This was spring of 1997, I believe. ROZZ was doing a special one-time only performance in Philadelphia, his backing performer being none other than philly goth/bizarre/experimental music legend and native *(and one time owner of the sadly now defunct GERM BOOKS, where I spent many a dollar) DAVID E. WILLIAMS (no relation). A group of five of us went, two couples and myself. I drove. Out of sheer boredom *(and my wanting to smoke a couple of joints before the show – – – they were drinkers) we went extraordinarily early. It was a nice day so we hung out, sitting on a concrete wall, right around the corner from the club, a restaurant that rented floors for shows, called The Middle East. We were just sitting, yapping, people watching, until this fellow with very long black hair, and dressed in a classy, dapper fashion, began to approach us. He was flanked by two scenester goth-chicks I’d seen around before. Upon further inspection, we realized this “dapper fellow” was actually ROZZ, and he was now standing right in front of me, holding a box of Dunkin Donuts. He extends the box and says to me “Have a doughnut.” He was in a terrific mood, 180 degrees the opposite of what I had met a little over a year prior. I looked at him quizzically, head probably cocked to the side like some cartoon character, and he said again “Have a doughnut.” Another few seconds pass and he playfully bellows “Take the fukking doughnut!” So I grabbed a powdered (of course) jelly, and he proceeded to offer one to each of my cohorts. The final to take a doughnut, Dan, I loathed, but was good friends with his girlfriend so tolerated him. *(By the way, Dan, if you’re out there somewhere and reading this, she did hook up with me that night, chump).
Two hours later we entered the Middle East, and this long awaited performance. By the time ROZZ came on, he needed two people to assist him and hold him steady the first two songs *(which I’ve suspected was more a nod to NINA SIMONE’s gag than his being way fukked-up, but he definitely was way fukked-up, so who knows). Then he got into his performance, far better and more energetic than when I’d seen him previously. He did some new stuff, covers, DAVID E. penned songs, and of corpse some CD classics. However, during his cover of the song “Tomorrow Belongs To Me,” from the classic film/stage musical CABARET, he pulled out a certain, shall we say, prop. ROZZ, never one to shy away from high theatrics during some performances, pulled out a Nazi swastika flag, and draped it over himself like a cape whilst dramatically crouching and singing. As soon as the song ended, the lights came up. The show had been cut short by the club. ”Well, I guess that’s it – – – I was going to do ‘Romeo’s Distress’ next, too,” were his parting words for the evening. Perhaps wearing a SWASTIKA cape at a place called THE MIDDLE EAST was not such a hot idea.
Pissed goths moped out by the boatload. Some kind of loud argument was starting between promoters and management over money inside. Everyone just kind of herded up outside, waiting to see ROZZ and pummel the poor bastard with questions and sycophantism. What came out was not the chipper bearer of doughnuts from mere hours ago, but a drunken, pilled-up, angry, crying, histrionically upset and further breaking man who just found out he was NOT going to be paid, and was trapped in Philly, after just putting on one of the most intense, intimate, passionate performances I’d ever seen. He laid on the sidewalk, curled up and shrieking obscenities and seeming gibberish, hysterically crying. Several scenester broads tried to calm him, but there was nothing anyone could do.
My crew were only a few feet from this disaster. After some horrid, ill-corseted broad held her right hand to her head, tilted it back, and said “It’s a goth life *sigh*” we turned and left, disgusted by the way the Middle East was handling the situation, and by not being able to hear “Romeo’s Distress,” and by the idiocy surrounding the incident. We wanted to leave the man with some dignity. *(Leaving people with dignity is not big in Philly.) Watching ROZZ break was painful, ugly. It was obvious life had been eating him alive for some time, and that he was only getting worse.
It was no surprise when I got that phone call late on April Fool’s Day, 1998, from my friend Bill (with whom I’d attended both shows), who found out in a very small newspaper paragraph. When I was in Los Angeles in 2010, I went to Hollywood Forever Cemetery and saw his memorial place there. He was cremated, most of his ashes spread out over Runyon Canyon Park. I also went to The Museum Of Death *(GREAT place, highly recommended) and saw the cabinet from which he took his life. I also got to stay with EVA O. for three days (quite randomly, at that), and saw some amazing things – – – things truly iconic. But that, my fiends, is another story for another time.
R.I.P., ROZZ, and thank you for the amazing art you left us with.
ROZZ WILLIAMS FULL DISCOGRAPHY:
Christian Death (1979–1985)
- Only Theatre of Pain (1982)
- Catastrophe Ballet (1984)
- Deathwish (EP; 1984)
- Ashes (1985)
- The Decomposition of Violets (live; 1985)
- The Doll’s Theatre: Live Oct. 31. 1981 (live; 1994)
Christian Death featuring Rozz Williams
- The Iron Mask (1992)
- Skeleton Kiss EP (1992)
- Stick a Finger Down Its Throat (1992)
- The Path of Sorrows (1993)
- Iconologia (1993)
- Sleepless Nights: Live 1990 (1993)
- Invocations: 1981–1989 (1993)
- The Rage of Angels (1994)
- Tales of Innocence: A Continued Anthology (1994)
- Christian Death: Live (video; 1995)
- Death in Detroit (1995)
- Death Mix (1996)
- The Best of Christian Death (Featuring: Rozz Williams) (1999)
- Death Club (2005)
- Six Six Sixth Communion (2007)
- Death Box (box set; 2012)
Shadow Project (1987–1998)
- Is Truth a Crime? (1989)
- Shadow Project (1991)
- Dreams for the Dying (1992)
- Dead Babies/Killer (1992)
- In Tuned Out – Live ’93 (1994)
- From the Heart (1998)
- The Original Shadow Project (2005)
Premature Ejaculation (1981–1998)
- PE – Pt.1 (1981)
- PE – Pt.2 (1981)
- A Little Hard to Swallow (1982)
- Living Monstrocities/Descent (1985)
- Death Cultures (1987)
- Assertive Discipline (1994)
- Death Cultures III (1988)
- Blood Told in Spine (1991)
- Death Cultures (1989)
- Anesthesia (1992)
- Necessary Discomforts (1993)
- Estimating the Time of Death (1994)
- Wound of Exit (1998)
Happiest Place on Earth (1986–1990)
- Body of a Crow (1986)
- PULSE (1989)
- Environments: Birth, Death, Decay (1990)
Daucus Karota (1979, 1986, 1993–94)
- Shrine EP (1994)
- Il banchetto dei cancri/VC-706 (1989)
- 69 Rituals (1989)
- Neue sachlichkeit (1994)
- EXP (1996)
Rozz Williams and Gitane Demone
- Dream Home Heartache (1995)
Rozz Williams (1992–1998)
- Every King a Bastard Son (1992)
- The Whorse’s Mouth (1996)
- Live in Berlin (live album; 2000)
- Accept the Gift of Sin (live album; 2003)
Vincent Daemon, writer, editor, musician, photgrapher, film/music buff and historian, and rabblerouser, can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vincent.daemon.1 as well as his spontaneously updated blog of writing news and nonsense THE WRITINGS OF A DEPRAVED MIND http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/ Some of his music can be painfully experienced at http://www.reverbnation.com/vincentdaemonsageofdesire3 His email is firstname.lastname@example.org