Jerry Garcia: Grateful to be Dead

© Brandt Hardin

Every rock fan abandons sanity to star-worship at some point, but Deadheads took rock n’ roll deification to unprecedented levels. Following their favorite band became a spiritual vocation. Jesus had his multitudes, Marx had his Maoists, and Jerry Garcia had his Deadheads.  Through the magic of vicarious identification, the icon and his devotees become One.

According to Jerry’s followers, The Grateful Dead created more than endless, noodling tunes for acid-drenched white kids to spin around in circles to. For diehard ‘heads, Dead shows were a nomadic religious rite. The Dead’s ethos and aesthetic provided a cultural raft upon which the communal idealism of the 60s could keep on floating through the money-grubbing 80s, with Jerry Garcia—aka “Captain Trips”—at the helm.

The spiritual significance of The Grateful Dead’s improvisational live performances still reverberates through the hippysphere. Most of the Dead’s 2,314 shows were captured for posterity on coveted bootleg recordings which continue to stir whirlwinds of reefer smoke, acid dreams, and flailing dreadlocks from San Francisco to Jerusalem. Jerry Garcia saw himself as a free-styling musician with a powerful imagination and even more powerful appetite, but the caravans of societal dropouts who followed him back and forth across America regard him as a psychedelic shaman pouring forth an endless fount of positive vibes.

God only knows what sort of bizarre visions swirled in Jerry Garcia’s shaggy dome. He dropped LSD for the first time in his early twenties and never looked back from the bandwagon’s driver seat. Captain Trips ate enough acid to make playing a three hour bluegrass song seem like a pleasurable diversion. Everyone agrees that without the psychedelic revolution, The Grateful Dead would have never become world famous—as in the old joke:

—What did the Deadhead say to his buddy when the drugs wore off?
—Man, this music sucks!

How appropriate that Garcia came into the “love generation” limelight at Ken Kesey’s mind-twisting Acid Tests during the mid-60s. His band’s trippy take on popular R&B songs set the ambiance as soul-searching seekers had their psyches ping pong paddled by The Merry Pranksters’ clever skits, groovy visuals, and gallons of electric Kool-Aid. It was in this brain-mush stew that Garcia started cooking his one true love—the legendary Mountain Girl, with whom he would have his second daughter. The revelry must have been a welcome relief after his tough upbringing.

Jerry Garcia grew up in hardscrabble neighborhoods in San Francisco. A dark star presided over his youth. His father was swept to his death by rapids during a fishing trip, which Garcia claimed to have witnessed despite others’ insistence that he was not present. Jerry’s older brother accidentally chopped the boy’s finger off with an axe as he held a piece of wood, yet Garcia showed promise as a musician despite the injury—although any shot he may have had as a shadow puppeteer was surely ruined. At the age of sixteen he was thrown out of a windshield in a car accident which killed his friend. That was the pivotal moment, Garcia said later, which convinced him to stop lollygagging and dedicate himself to music.

The 60s were a time to share and share alike—particularly one’s drugs—so it is fitting that The Grateful Dead started out by living communally at 710 Ashbury under the guidance of Owsly Stanley, the LSD-brewing mad scientist whose innovations in live sound revolutionized the art of large-scale concerts. This interplay of individual genius and egalitarian idealism would characterize the Dead’s career for the next three decades. The band produced a fractal array of complex musical improvisations for the homogeneous horde, becoming fantastically wealthy as their perpetually migrating fans struggled to peddle grass and grilled cheese sandwiches. Throughout the 60s the Dead enjoyed only modest success with a dedicated cult following (their brief Woodstock performance didn’t even make it into the film,) but they would go on to become the embodiment of all that is hippy after the 70s boogied most of their peers into dancefloor sludge.

It was during that era of disco fever that Jerry discovered the vitalizing wonders of cocaine, trading mind-expanding trips for tongue-wagging insomnia. By the mid-70s the band’s following had swollen to include a new generation of nomadic dust bunnies dedicated to attend every last show—no matter how far the drive—and the starry-eyed “custies” to whom they plied their wares.

Shakedown Street was a spontaneous, if self-regulating open air market which sprang up in the parking lots outside of every Dead show. This lot scene was a sub-economy for otherwise jobless drifters. There were tie-dyes and teddy bears, skeleton posters and skull t-shirts, burritos and lightning bolts, magic crystals and hemp jewelry, and of course, more neuron-jiggling drugs than you could shake a didgeridoo at.

Despite being a commercial hub of intoxicants and scalped tickets, the lot scene offered the allure of communalism and togetherness, where the haves could bestow kindness and the have-nots could have fun, where an otherwise lonesome misfit could be with ten thousand of his closest friends. Dead shows were a universe unto themselves, a place apart from the soulless, confining, stingy mores of middle class life. The possibility of spiritual transcendence crackled in the air. Concert-goers sought out what they called the numinous “X-factor”—that peak moment when all the energies of the Universe would flow through Jerry’s twanging guitar. These kids were higher than giraffe pussy, wilder than a retarded bull-rider, and smellier than a gully dwarf’s fuzzy butthole. It was like amazing, brah.

As the 80s rolled around, Garcia was disillusioned at best with this hippy horde, but they desperately needed him. Despite his increasing devotion to side projects such as The Jerry Garcia Band and his enduring compositions with longtime friend and mandolin-player David Grisman, Jerry was tied to his fans on a cosmic level. He would have to console himself with melting tubs of Häagen-Dazs ice cream and continuous smoking of pure China White heroin, but Jerry would not let the Deadheads down.

In 1986 Garcia overdosed on sugary snacky cakes and fell into a diabetic coma. It was to be a long strange trip, during which he encountered insectoid creatures on a galaxy-hopping starship. Jerry actually had to relearn to play the guitar when he landed back on Earth, but apparently he’d learned a little something about concocting a catchy hook while in space. The Grateful Dead released In the Dark the next year, which propelled the group to phenomenal popularity. “Touch of Grey” was featured on MTV and the album sold like fresh barrels of Orange Sunshine. To the horror of hardcore ‘heads, the lot scene was suddenly flooded with jocks, preppies, and corporate shills. The Dead’s show became a parody of itself overnight, and Jerry’s passion for his creation continued to dwindle as his bank account exploded.

Unfortunately, money couldn’t buy Garcia his health. Despite lumbering attempts at dieting and repeated stints in rehab, Jerry just couldn’t shake his snack-n-smack habits. His cup overflowed with love, as evidenced by his three wives, four daughters, and countless friends, but his fat-clogged heart strained to keep pumping the heroin to his frayed nerves. He continued to tour when his health permitted, but frequently forgot songs he’d played a million times in mid-strum. Fortunately, most fans were too fucked up to care, but their bootlegs survive to tell the tale.

Jerry’s last tour in the mid-90s was to be fraught with disaster. Once again, America was sick of its freeloading hippies. Numerous locales viewed Garcia’s vagrant masses with suspicion, and local police began responding to any sign of defiance with heavy clubs and pepper spray. Even oldschool Deadheads were put out with the more belligerent spirits among them. They began circulating flyers urging tie-dyed punters to “cool out,” stop breaking shit, and for God’s sake, pick up at least a few pieces of trash on your way out of town! Despite every attempt to save the scene, the Deadheads’ portable Utopia would soon come to an end.

On July 5, 1995, the chaos peaked at Deer Creek Amphitheater in Noblesville, IN, where anarchic fans lost all sense of nobility. Thousands of ticketless revellers amped up on feelings of unbridled freedom smashed through the venue’s fence, hurling planks and bottles at security. “Fuck you” was the watchword of the day, and skulls were cracked by both police batons and flying debris. The band was disgusted, cancelling the next night’s show and publishing an open letter to all Deadheads. The letter urged fans to dismantle their Lord of the Flies lot scene or else the band would stop touring. As it turned out, the death of the Dead hinged on Jerry’s indiscretions, not the unruly tribe he had attracted.

Jerry Garcia checked into the Betty Ford Clinic soon after the Deer Creek riot, but left after only two weeks. About a week after his fifty-third birthday, Jerry decided to give sobriety one more shot and checked into Serenity Knolls treatment center. A nurse found him dead of a heart attack on the morning of August 9, 1995. His continuous intake of drugs and grub had taken its toll, and Garcia joined his friend Janis Joplin and The Dead’s four “hot seat” keyboardists in the Great Jam Band in the Sky.

News of Garcia’s death hit devoted fans like an unshakable bad trip. Many gathered at 710 Ashbury—the birthplace of The Grateful Dead—to contribute flowers and photos to a growing memorial. Twenty-five thousand fans gathered at an official public memorial in Golden Gate Park on August 23rd, where the rainbow of tie-dye was darkened by a cloud of black armbands. Deadheads shed a million tears which, if collected, could probably dose an entire music festival for a weekend. As per his last will and testament, half of Jerry’s ashes were poured into India’s sacred Ganges River; the other half were emptied into the San Francisco Bay.

One fan asked the big question on everyone’s mind: “What happens to a community when its messiah, when its icon is gone?”

Typically, he is resurrected in one form or another.  In the case of the Deadheads, many went on to follow Phish and Widespread Panic. Some retreated back into the ranks of the Rainbow Family where they continue to uphold the values of communal living off the larger social grid. Out in the wider world, Grateful Dead memorabilia continues to adorn music festival vendor stalls and college dorm rooms.  The Internet has bestowed access to once-rare live bootlegs upon the initiated and the profane alike.

It has been over a decade and a half since Garcia’s passing, and yet one still occasionally sees an old VW bus covered in skeletons and teddy bears sputtering down the highway, chasing dreams of a world where universal love breaks the chains of human depravity. Who knows? Perhaps they will find it at the end of the psychedelic rainbow.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

The Grateful Dead — “Ripple

Eat Shit and Die: GG Allin’s
First Name Was Jesus Christ

© Brandt Hardin

“There is only One True God,”
GG Allin told a cringing talk show audience, “and that lives within me—I am that God.” Five days later, on June 28, 1993, he was dead.

Covered in jagged scars and needle tracks, smeared with puke and his own shit, GG Allin proclaimed himself to be the King of the Underground, the Savior of Rock n’ Roll, beyond Good and Evil.

“I believe I am the highest power, absolutely. I am in control at all times. Jesus Christ, God, and Satan all in one.”

The craziest part is that multitudes of kids followed him faithfully. At his peak, the self-described scumfuc rocker bragged that his fanbase was a million strong. Jaded, alienated youth at its finest, throw away kids living out gutter punk fantasies, drunks and junkies, the maladjusted and the mentally deranged, the abused, the morbid, the lost, a sub-society of the anti-social—they needed a hero so badly, some let their superstar pee on their faces.

“I created myself inside the womb from the fires of Hell.”

According to his brother Merle, GG’s rural, religious fanatic father originally dubbed his son Jesus Christ Allin. The Allin boys were New Hampshire hicks, born and raised. Their father was an abusive recluse, at one point digging graves for his family in the cellar and threatening to fill them in the near future. Like many a hayseed in the late 70s, GG packed his bags and headed for the city in search of rock n’ roll, but he always appreciated his up-bringing. “That made me sort of a warrior soul at an early age.” By the mid-80s, he was an underground sensation.

On the surface, GG Allin appears to be a brain-damaged retard, but there is a cleverness to his songs that can’t be denied. Not surprisingly, the singer could hardly keep a backing band for more than a year. Only his brother Merle, who played bass, stood beside him to the end.

GG played at various times with the Jabbers, the Scumfucs, the Holy Men, the Texas Nazis, the AIDS Brigade, and a number of others before assembling his final band, the Murder Junkies. Nearly all of his songs were primitive punk rock, though he did a number of country tunes in the vein of the only hero he ever claimed, Hank Williams. A perusal of his song-titles shows the direction of his message:

  • Bored to Death
  • “Drink, Fight, Fuck”
  • “Anti-social Masturbator”
  • “Expose Yourself to Kids”
  • “Young Little Meat”
  • “Last in Line for the Gangbang”
  • “You’ll Never Tame Me”
  • “Castration Crucifixion”
  • “Suck My Ass It Smells”
  • “War in My Head – I Am Your Enemy”
  • “Die When You Die”
  • “Violence Now – Assassinate the President”
  • “Kill the Police – Destroy the System”
  • “I Am The Highest Power”
  • “No Room for Nigger”
  • “I Live to be Hated”
  • “Kiss Me in the Gutter”
  • “Immortal Pieces of Me”
  • When I Die

GG Allin’s albums spread through the punk scene like hepatitis germs on Sid Vicious’ syringe, but his true claim to fame was his ultra-violent stage show. “If you come to my show, you’re going to a war,” he proclaimed. “My mind’s the machine gun, my body’s the bullets, and the audience is the target.”

Going to a GG Allin show was like swimming in a sewer full of drunk Irishmen—you came out battered and smelling like shit. The singer usually took the stage in nothing but a studded dog collar. His shaved head, hairless torso, toothless maw, and thimble-sized penis gave him the appearance of an overgrown infant covered in jailhouse tattoos and throwing a temper tantrum.

“My rock n’ roll is not to entertain, but to annihilate. I’m trying to bring danger back into rock n’ roll, and there are no limits, and no laws, and I’ll break down every barrier put in front of me until the day I die.”

GG smashed bottles and sliced into his flesh like old newspaper. He would typically ingest laxatives and empty his bowels on stage, eating his own turds like a household dog before smearing the bacteria-infested feces into his self-inflicted wounds, which frequently put him in the hospital.

Geared up on dope and ear-shredding guitar chords, he tore into the audience throwing kicks and punches—along with handfuls of poo with all the fury of a pissed chimpanzee. GG even claimed to have raped both women and men on stage, although there were plenty of damaged goods in the audience who were more than willing to service their Savior.  He liked to brag about defiling girls barely in their teens.

“My body is the rock n’ roll temple,” he told Geraldo’s jeering audience, “and my flesh, blood, and body fluids are a Communion to the people—whether they like it or not.”

Some fans cheered, some puked, and more than a few beat the living damnit out of Allin. At one Texas show, fifteen kids fed him the boots at once, breaking his arm. Love him or hate him, such vile intensity has never been seen before or since.

“It’s not a performance, it’s a ritual.”

GG’s antics, on stage and off, got him arrested over fifty-two times in twelve states. “I’ve been to jail many, many times…and every time they put me in jail…I come out that much stronger.” In 1989 he did a year and a half in Jackson State Prison (MI) for assaulting—and allegedly raping—a female fan. He told Jerry Springer’s talk show audience:

“Okay, I cut her, I burned her, I drank her blood, but she also did the same to me! It was a consensual agreement, but in the courtroom they said I was to blame because I’m GG Allin. I’m the King of the Underground—they need to nail me to a cross.”

For all of his insistence that whiners should overcome their weaknesses instead of playing the victim, GG certainly groaned under the unfairness of his own cross like a true martyr. Much of his allure revolved around his repeated promises to kill himself onstage. Year after year, he assured fans that on Halloween he would off himself and take as many people in the crowd as he could with him.

“I will commit suicide on stage and the blood of Rock N’ Roll will become the poison of the Universe forever.”

There is an astonishing degree of mysticism to GG Allin’s performance art. His unconcealed indulgence of primal desires was juxtaposed with material simplicity that only a monk could appreciate.  Most rock stars make a pact with the Devil so they can enjoy lavish lifestyles and physical perfection.  Not GG.

“Pretty much everything I own [will fit] in a paper bag. To me, it seems like it’s the only way to live… So possessions don’t mean anything to me. I don’t need anything, so that way they can never catch me.”

Allin was profoundly self-absorbed, and yet his self-mutilation and disregard for things of this world are reminiscent of the fleshly mortification and renunciation common to the most stringent yogis of India, the shamans of tribal societies, or the Gnostics of the ancient Mediterranean.

“It’s like my soul is just, it’s just beyond this fucking Universe… It can’t be confined. It’s like I’ve got this wild soul, it wants to get out of this life. It’s too confined in this life, and I think, to take yourself out at your peak, if you can die at your peak, your strongest point, your soul will be that much stronger in the next existence.”

GG Allin’s turd-hurling rampage across America was conceived as an infernal ceremony.

“I believe you can make forces of good and evil work for you, to get what you want. I’ve done black masses that worked for me.”

Upon being released from Jackson Prison in 1991, he began to gather his emotionally crippled fans around him for the complete destruction of society as we know it, hastening the arrival of what Aleister Crowley would call the Age of the Crowned and Conquering Child. Talk show producers and club owners lined up to provide a soapbox for GG’s psychotic Christ complex.

“I have so much hatred because I look at these people, these robots, these conformists, these people that dress in these uniforms, and I’m sick and tired of it,” he told Jane Whitney’s disapproving audience.

“I am the Messiah, I rule the rock n’ roll underground. I’m bringing us to a revolution against the government, against the police, against any form of society that is trying to put us down and restrict us in any way, shape, or manner.”

The scumfuc kids went apeshit for his delusional rants.

In June of 1993, GG Allin went to see the culmination of his career in film, Todd Phillips’ Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies. Fired up on his own image, the 36 year-old singer appeared on The Jane Whitney Show with two 17 year-old girls who referred to him as “God.”

“I will die for him,” Wendy said to the consternation of a finger-wagging public. “He is my God, he is my daddy… On Father’s Day, my daddy gave me the great gift of letting me watch him masturbate and I got to piss in his mouth and it was the greatest father/daughter experience I’ve ever had in my life.”

All across America, hand-wringing housewives in the grip of the Satanic Panic prepared for the worst. Is this what children have become? Surely the world must be coming to an end.

On June 27, GG played a brief show at The Gas Station in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, after which he roamed the streets covered in blood with a gaggle of grubby fans trailing behind him. The only things missing were a donkey and some palm fronds. GG wound up at an apartment nearby, where he snonked a fat bag of heroin. His friends thought it would be funny to take pictures of themselves next to his unconscious body. The next morning, they realized he was dead.

The postmortem photo ops didn’t stop there, though. A few days later, GG Allin laid in his casket wearing nothing but his leather jacket and a jock strap that read “EAT ME”, which attendees pulled down to playfully diddle his wingy. They placed a microphone in one hand and a bottle of Jim Beam in the other, then crammed his mouth full of pills and tapped cigarette ashes on his discolored face as they remembered his life.

Sure, GG’s death was pretty anticlimactic for those who envisioned him cramming a stick of dynamite up his ass and blowing half the audience to smithereens, but they made the best of it.

GG Allin’s artistic career is viewed by some as the equivalent of a chronic sex offender who carries a video camera into a nursery, while others paint a more grandiose, metaphorical picture of American society eaten alive with sexual deviance and an unquenchable thirst for violence.

As I write this from a ghetto motel, listening to the sounds of tireless domestic violence above me, I am inclined to agree with the latter interpretation. GG’s work may have been decadent and disgusting, and I would undoubtedly shoot his ass and bury him in the woods if he ever moved into my neighborhood, but perhaps the artist should have the last word on his own demented legacy:

“Strip away all the shit from rock n’ roll and what you got left is me.”

© 2011 Joseph Allen

GG Allin and the Murder JunkiesBite It You Scum

Four Faces of Michael Jackson

© Brandt Hardin

The only constant is change: the seed becomes a tree, the caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly, the world-famous pop star whose indiscretions brought shame in life becomes a pixelated god after death. Even before his deification, Michael Jackson was transformed from a cute black boy in the 70s into what Dave Chappelle calls a “white, ghoulish-like creature” by the late 90s. Perhaps this is an ominous omen of the Post-Human Age that is fast approaching. As fans consume MJ’s corpse on this second deathday like autograph-hungry maggots, at least they can take comfort knowing that one day they will all become beautiful flies.

Baby Mike

When little Michael Jackson came to the forefront of the Jackson 5, the pop world stood still for his love songs. How could such a young boy be so grown up? What does an adolescent kid from Gary, Indiana know about romantic love and relationships that gives him such passion and insight on the subject? Of course, little Michael knew nothing of love—but he did know that one false note would earn him a belt-lashing from his father, Joe, so he quickly learned to perform a convincing charade.

Joe Jackson was one mean son of a bitch. He beat all of his many kids relentlessly, boys and girls alike. If you pissed him off, he would beat your ass. If you made him happy, he would beat your ass some more, just to make sure you didn’t think he was going soft on you. Michael attributed his excellence in song and dance to his father’s strict discipline, but the emotional scars would rise to the surface in time.

Michael was completely isolated by child stardom like a self-obsessed midget in a doll house. His days were spent rehearsing under threat of beatings, his nights were spent performing with Joe watching backstage. La la la, boogie boogie boogie—backhand to the chin. What a life. Any spare time he found in between was spent mulling over his own flaws, consistently pointed out by his sadistic father.

Joe Jackson made fun of his son’s acne and called him “Big Nose” because of Michael’s wide, African snout. Little Michael couldn’t even bear to look in a mirror. To the world he was the cutest little button in the bundle. To his own eyes, he was a fucking monster. How ironic that the tables would turn completely at the hands of various inept plastic surgeons and the kazillion photos that would make him immortal.

The King of Pop

© Jeffrey Bertrand

The 80s came like a foaming wave of pop obsession, with Michael Jackson riding atop on a sequined surfboard. We saw him knife-fighting his way through “Beat It.” We watched him attempt to moonwalk away from accusations of sexual irresponsibility in “Billie Jean.” We were terrified at his monstrous transformation on “Thriller.” The yellow eyes, the prominent cheekbones, the button nose. I am still scared shitless.

The theme of “Thriller”—in which an otherwise normal guy morphs into a blood-thirsty beast, then later on, into a rotten, urban zombie gyrating his pelvis with lascivious pop star sensuality—is a striking metaphor for the primal urges we all feel from time to time. Beneath the fur, fangs, and grunts of classic monster movie villains are the disturbingly mundane desires that overtake men with weak impulse control.

The Werewolf is a symbol of unbridled violence and sexuality. The seductive Dracula is the wealthy noble who goes after virgin village girls, draining them of life and making them into slaves. Swamp Thing is a fish-smelling coonass who carries his buxom victim off to the marsh to have his way with her. Frankenstein’s monster is a stitched up freak that only a child could love. No wonder Michael could relate.

Thriller remains the best-selling album in the world, though Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream may soon break Thriller’s world record as the only album to have five #1 singles. The success of the album rocketed Michael Jackson into the farthest reaches of space, where his quasar continues to pour radiation down to Earth. Jackson’s choreography is impeccable, copied from the black street dancers of New York and Los Angeles. His vocals are at once impassioned and totally under his control. The beats were no joke, either—unless you count “Weird” Al Yankovic’s renditions. Michael Jackson was a pop genius, pure and simple.

By the end of the 80s, he was raking in millions of dollars. The entire world knew his name. Fans would risk life and limb to touch the hem of his garment. Grown men wore single sparkling gloves in imitation of their idol. Women would burst into tears upon catching a glimpse of his white smile. Despite his pious rhetoric, which stemmed from a devout upbringing in the Jehovah’s Witness sect, Michael Jackson had become a god on Earth with a halo of flaming hair and a spirit animal, “Bubbles” the chimp, to guide him on his way.

Wacko Jacko

© Jeffrey Bertrand

As his music matured, the King of Pop began to inject Messianic visions of One World under Michael into his songs. We would save the children and heal the world with love and indiscriminate acceptance of personal idiosyncrasies. That’s pretty cynical—and clever—when you consider the allegations of child molestation which surfaced against the singer in the early 90s.

Of course, young Jordan Chandler’s claims that Jackson enticed him at 13 years-old into kissing, wanking, and felating were dismissed by the legal system after an undisclosed monetary settlement closed the case. But after that, many of us began to wonder if Michael Jackson was really a wholesome secular Messiah, or just another smooth criminal.

Absolute excess is nothing new to the entertainment elite, but somehow Michael Jackson’s increasingly bizarre appearance made the prospect of child molestation that much more disturbing—for those of us who cried “Guilty!” anyway. Others were more charitable. Like Christians who are willing to go to blows at the suggestion that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman centurion, or neo-Nazis who maintain that Hitler was just misunderstood, obsessed MJ fans refuse to believe that their hero would ever stoop to buggering children.

If I ever had any doubts about MJ’s guilt, they were completely dispelled when Living with Michael Jackson aired in 2003. At the opening of the documentary, we see Michael sitting beneath a fine arts painting of himself as a muscular pagan god with alabaster skin. Youthful cherubs caress the painted pop star as he stares impassively at the viewer. The effect is chilling.

Over the course of the film we listen to MJ lie through his teeth about his plastic surgery. He claims that he is the biological father of his three children, then finally he denies any sexual misconduct with the twelve year-old boy with whom he holds hands and cuddles with on camera.

By this point, the plastic surgery is beyond obvious—the guy looks like Marilyn Manson with Tinker Bell’s nose for Christ’s sake. His hair is as straight and black as Eazy E, his eyes are slanted like media reports on Biggie Small’s death, his lips are thinner than Karen Carpenter, his cheekbones are higher than Sid Vicious, there is a dimple in his chin as deep as Patsy Cline’s vagina, and his nose is barely hanging on. Yet he looks the interviewer in the eye and tells him that God made him that way. Unless “God” is a metaphor for medical ingenuity and millions of dollars, I call bullshit.

Strike one.

Michael parades his pale children through the streets wearing carnival masks. All three are whiter than the blue-eyed Devil. He dangles baby “Blanket” from a fourth-story balcony, then crams a bottle into the squalling kid’s peachy face the next day, saying, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” staring with psycho almond eyes. When confronted about the baby-dangling, he denies responsibility, arrogantly stating that he was just being kind enough to let fans see his veiled rug rat. The kicker: Later on Michael not only claims to have contributed his own thoroughly African sperm to Blanket’s genetic make-up, he insists that the unpigmented infant’s mother is actually black!

Strike two.

At the end of the program, Michael defends himself against suggestions that it is inappropriate for a middle-aged man to share a bed with adolescent boys in his magical Neverland mansion, but I have lost all sympathy for him at this point. When he says, “The most loving thing to do is to share your bed with someone”—particularly impressionable, prepubescent boys—my Pervo-Meter is spitting out sparks and springs.

Strike three.

Dedicated fans rallied behind their golden idol. They kept chanting in unison, “Fuck the press, you’re the best!” Over the course of the 2005 trial, it became clear that the accuser Gavin Arvizo’s parents were as shady and opportunistic as Jordan Chandler’s parents had been in 1993. And who would deny that any parents willing to accept money to allow their child to sleep over at a celebrity robber baron’s mansion are untrustworthy?

The media was equally calloused—after all, how cruel do you have to be to make multiple teenagers world-famous for getting molested by Michael Jackson? Still, only a rube would buy into Jackson’s bald-faced insistence that he was an innocent victim of a worldwide conspiracy to rob him of his Messianic destiny. Nonsense. MJ was just another billionaire lab monkey with a button wired to the demented pleasure centers of his brain, and he just couldn’t keep his sickly bleached thumb off of that motherfucker.

They don’t call it a sick, sad world for nothing.


Even after the “not guilty” verdict, Michael was ruined. Bankrupt, humiliated, and perhaps hungry for some Arab action, he high-tailed it to Bahrain where he was hosted by the sheik in his palace. Decadent elites of a feather?

Then in 2006, the incorrigible King of Pop(ping man-cherries) was ready for a comeback. He began recording with the Black Eyed Peas’ in Ireland. The next year, he did a final interview with Ebony magazine. In 2009 he rounded up the roadies and geared up for yet another world tour. The Earthlings still loved their fallen angel—within two hours, over a million tickets were sold for MJ’s first residency stint at London’s O2 Arena. Then came the grand finale.

Just when you thought the cult of dead rock stars was a thing of the past, on June 25, 2009 Michael Jackson died of cardiac arrest. You have to wonder if the appropriately entitled This Is It tour was an intentional reference.  His personal physician stands accused of manslaughter for administering the anaesthetic Propofol, along with a cocktail of other pharmies, to relieve Jackson’s insomnia—which Propofol was never intended for.

The entire world went nuts. Every day, for days and days and days, all you heard were Michael Jackson songs. They played “Billie Jean” at bars. They bumped “Smooth Criminal” from their cars. They showed “Thriller” on TV. Billions of frantic searches for more information on the star’s death broke the fucking Internet.

Fans gathered to weep and mourn together at the Staples Center in LA, where MJ held his tour rehearsals. They left flowers and devotional prayers on his star on Hollywood Boulevard. Even now, they are gathering in his hometown of Gary, Indiana to honor their mutant Lord. Fans will forgive anything if you just make the hook catchy enough. Most people will cover their eyes and follow spiritual charlatans, corrupt political leaders, and yes, even pedophile pop stars over the edge of a moral precipice when the piper calls the tune. It’s just human nature. The technological creation that was Michael Jackson is no exception.

Fuck me once, shame on you. Fuck me twice… well, I guess that means I asked for it.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Michael Jackson — “Thriller”

Bradley Nowell:
Sublime’s Eternal Sun of a Beach

© Jeffrey Bertrand

If you didn’t know that today is the 15th deathday of Bradley Nowell, don’t feel bad. Millions of kids bought up Sublime’s 1996 self-titled album—released two months after the singer overdosed on you-know-what in a San Francisco hotel room—but most didn’t know he had died. Nowell is what you might call a late-start martyr, illuminating an otherwise seedy state of affairs with his posthumous halo.

What kind of asshole pawns his band’s equipment right before a gig, casually shits his pants on clonidine patches, and kills himself one week after his wedding and two months before his album goes platinum? A junky, that’s who.

That’s not to say that Brad wasn’t loved. His many friends, his wife, his one year-old son, and his loyal dalmatian absolutely adored him. He was the sort of shirtless surfer boy that has you laughing beer out your nostrils as he recounts the time you accidentally stuck your finger on his dirty needle while fishing for change under the couch cushion. It shouldn’t be funny, but it’s all in the delivery. Charismatic drug-addicts are a lot like cult leaders, lawyers, and cynical writers—totally lovable despite being self-centered pricks.

Bradley Nowell embraced elitist heroin chic like a hipster’s skinny jeans cling to his sweaty butt crack. All the dead rock stars were doing it, and Brad wasn’t about to be left out. Janis Joplin and Sid Vicious were immortalized with a spike to the vein like a nail in the palm. Just like GG Allin, Kurt Cobain, and Shannon Hoon in the early 90s, Bradley Nowell’s body was found stabbed full of more holes than a desperate fat girl who wields a pocket-knife on herself so the entire football team can get it on with her simultaneously. It was an attention thing.

Funny thing is, the wider world never cared about Nowell’s personal struggles until the year after his death. Before that he was just an evening’s worth of good vibe guitar licks bouncing around the Long Beach party scene.

Sublime sold more than 60,000 copies of their 1992 debut 40 oz. to Freedom out of the trunk of a car. They recorded their second album, Robbin’ the Hood, in an obscure Long Beach crackhouse. It was only after a local radio station repeatedly played their peppy single “Date Rape” in 1995—which playfully describes the karmic odyssey of a horny scumbag who goes from picking up victims at the bar to getting forcibly fucked behind bars—that Sublime was given their shot at the national spotlight.

Brad had to do a long stint in rehab to finish off his self-titled mainstream masterpiece, Sublime. The album is a brilliant mix of punk, folk, and reggae—polkeggae, if you will.  He kept it together just long enough.  Two days after his Vegas wedding, Nowell was back on the road and back on the smack, and within five days he was flat on his back and zipped in a sack. With one hot shot he traded his long dreamt-of success, his fatherhood, and God knows how many surfside barbecues for six feet of dirt and a bucketful of worms. Is there such a thing as buyer’s remorse in the afterlife?

© Brandt Hardin

To commemorate Nowell’s passing, my girlfriend and I spent last night listening to his last album under a sweet cloud of schmoke-well. As with “Date Rape”, the most popular tracks on Sublime obscure Nowell’s twisted subject matter with catchy, upbeat tunes. When I was a teenager, Sublime was just the stony soundtrack to my two joints in the morning and two joints at night, not a nightmarish voyage into the heart of darkness.  My, how perception changes with age.

We tapped our feet to “Wrong Way” and sang along to the story of some pervo protagonist driving off with a fourteen year-old prostitute who was broken in by her father and seven brothers, only to have this crafty Lolita steal his car as the cops drag him away. “Santeria” is another love song about reclaiming a street-stepping sweetheart by blowing her new boyfriend’s head off and slapping the shit out of her in full on caveman style. Great mood music for a romantic evening.

“April 29, 1992 (Miami)” is a relaxing romp through the Rodney King riots—a cracker loot anthem about snatching up consumer goods and burning down Babylon for fun. At one point Nowell becomes indignant that certain demographics are overlooked in the chaos:

They said it was for the black man
They said it was for the Mexican
And not for the white man

But Nowell finds that some pastimes transcend race:

It’s about coming up
And staying on top
And screamin’ “187 on a muthafuckin’ cop!”

By the end of the song, my girlfriend and I were ready to take to the streets with Molotov cocktails, but were too blitzed to be bothered. Besides, we had a riddle to unravel.

Sublime’s biggest feel good hit is undoubtedly “What I Got”. On the surface, the tune is as blissfully optimistic as any fortune cookie prediction. But the wise Chinese buffet-goer knows that you have to decode the otherwise vacuous message by adding “in bed” to the end, as in:

“You find beauty in ordinary things, do not lose this ability in bed.”

“Humor usually works at the moment of awkwardness in bed.”

“It takes more than good memory to have good memories in bed.”

“Ideas are like children; there are none so wonderful as your own in bed.”

Through a similar cryptographic analysis, we were able to decipher the true meaning of “What I Got” by reading between the lines:

Early in the morning, risin’ to the street
where there’s heroin
Light me up that cigarette and I strap shoes on my feet
to find heroin
Got to find a reason, a reason things went wrong
Got to find a reason why my money’s all gone
because heroin
I got a dalmatian, I can still get high
on heroin
I can play the guit-tar like a motherfuckin’ riot!
which sounds like a drowsy musician struggling to play his instrument while on heroin

Life is too short, so love the one you got
like you would heroin
‘Cause you might get run over or you might get shot
up with too much heroin


I don’t cry when my dog runs away
because heroin is more important
I don’t get angry at the bills I have to pay
I pay my dealer instead
I don’t get angry when my Mom smokes pot
because nobody likes a hypocrite on heroin
Hits the bottle and goes right to the rock
Fuckin’, fightin’, it’s all the same
when you’re on heroin
Livin’ with Louie dog’s the only way to stay sane
other than heroin
Let the lovin’, let the lovin’ come back to me
or maybe just give me more heroin

Lovin’ is what I got
that, and a spoonful of heroin
I said remember that…

If only anti-drug campaigners had a sliver of the talent Bradley Nowell possessed, there might be no more drug users inspired to write music as powerful as Sublime made.  I often wonder if the drugs open artists up to their fantastic potential—as Nowell believed heroin did for him—or if the music in their souls is simply strong enough to pour out despite the dope.

Did Bradley Nowell shake off his mortal shitbag for sake of a stupid smack habit, or did he ride the Tao into the jagged rocks of Destiny?  Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between, as ambiguous as a Yin-Yang decal on a freshly waxed surfboard.

The ancient Tao Te Ching say: “True words are not beautiful. Beautiful words are not true (in bed).”

© 2011 Joseph Allen


Ian Curtis: In a Lonely Place

© Jeffrey Bertrand

Having followed his dreams and procured a length of solid rope, Joy Division’s vocalist Ian Curtis is now immortalized as the sad boy whose brief life amounted to a self-created death icon.  Born and raised in the small city of Macclesfield—situated between  hilly pastureland and the grey industrial husk of Manchester in north England—he saw little else to aspire to besides a world-famous tombstone.

Ian never got too far from home—and never for long.  Most of his intense rock n’ roll career was nurtured within a clinging arm’s length of his highschool sweetheart, Debbie—whom he married in his teens—and a pint glass’ throw from his childhood home.  Music was his only escape into a wider world.  By the time he closed the curtain on May 18, 1980 at the age of 23, he had only recorded two full-length albums and a handful of singles.  So he was damn sure to make every song count.

Like many boys in the bleak, economically depressed 1970s, Ian Curtis was immersed in the morbid iconography of martyred pop stars.  He loved James Dean and Janis Joplin.  Among his favorite songs were Jim Morrison’s “The End,” David Bowie’s “Rock n’ Roll Suicide,” and Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes” (also written by Bowie.)  Ian frequently said he didn’t want to live past his twenties, and spent his few years with Joy Division writing songs to an oblivious world about why it was not worth living for.

Joy Division’s droning post-punk minimalism is a fitting compliment to Ian’s mesmerizing, if overly-affected baritone vocals—a voice that seems completely disconnected from the singer’s boyish face, like he was huffing keyboard duster before every song.  Curtis’ jerky, robotic dance moves were as disturbing to fans as they were thrilling—and made for a peculiar preview of the epileptic seizures that would wreck his health during his last years alive.

The band’s name is taken from The Doll House, a German novel about a Jewish girl sent to a concentration camp brothel provided for Nazi officers known as “the Joy Division.”  Ian’s raw-nerve sensitivity to the jagged edges of a cruel world is evident in their first full-length album, Unknown Pleasures, particularly the bitter distance that grows between two lovers:

Me in my own world, yeah you there beside
The gaps are enormous, we stare from each side
We were strangers for way too long…

Ian met Debbie when he was only sixteen.  Their first date was  to see David Bowie’s performance of Ziggy Stardust in Manchester.  Despite his father’s reservations, Ian sold his guitar to buy a wedding ring for his one true love.  He took a job as a civil servant and they bought a house together, though Ian’s rock n’ roll fantasies never wavered.

According to Debbie, her husband was consumed by incorrigible jealousy.  She claims that he only proposed to keep other men from showing her too much attention.  Ian did tend to freak out a lot, like the time he saw his wife-to-be dancing with one of her young uncles at their engagement party and threw a Bloody Mary in her face.  He was constantly worried that Debbie would meet someone else, and refused to let her wear anything remotely sexy out of the house.

Perhaps his fears were simply guilt-projection.  He later confided to a friend that he nearly backed out of the wedding because he felt sure that one day he would eventually be unfaithful.  Of course, a musician predicting his own philandering is like a hitch-hiker predicting a roadside molestation—it’s bound to happen eventually.

It was decided early on that wives and girlfriends had no place at Joy Division’s shows.  A rock star’s main squeeze always gets in the way of tour antics, and Joy Division’s endless pranks—which tended to involve their own shit and piss to an alarming extent—would have undoubtedly put off their lady friends.  So would the groupies.

Ian and Debbie’s daughter, Natalie, was born in the spring of 1979 during the recording of Unknown Pleasures.  Ian witnessed the birth, but it was a momentary connection for a young man prone to detachment.  While Debbie poured her affection onto her newborn baby, Ian’s eyes were fixed on the stars.

Annik Honoré was doing a bit of star-gazing herself, and after seeing Joy Division perform at Nashville Sounds in London, she decided to reach out and grab one of those crazy diamonds.  The lovely Belgian writer arranged to do an interview with the band for a fanzine, after which she and Ian remained in contact.  Ian was hardly a skirt-sniffing cad, but there was something about this exotic young woman that sparked an inferno inside him.  “There was some electricity in the air every time we would see each other,” she said after his death, “every time we looked at each other.”

Annik was everything that Ian’s wife was not: educated, articulate, well-traveled, and unwaveringly self-determined.  They would talk for hours about art, literature, and film, her sexy Belgian accent captivating the provincial English singer.  After their first kiss at London’s Electric Ballroom, there was no turning back.  Time was too short to waste on patience—yet Ian’s conscience was too strong to stave off the guilt.

Curtis tortured himself to death in the chasm between domestic responsibility and the romance of rock stardom.  He withdrew from his wife and daughter when at home, spending endless hours alone in his blue room with his notebook and little dog, Candy.  His grand mal seizures had also grown progressively worse, usually triggered by performances, though occurring more frequently at home.

Oddly enough, years before he suffered his first seizure in 1978 Ian had worked with a number of epileptics while employed as a Disablement Resettlement Officer, where he witnessed rooms full of pitiful patients wearing helmets and pads.  The song “She’s Lost Control” is apparently about one of these unfortunate souls:

And she screamed out kicking on her side and said
I’ve lost control again
And seized up on the floor, I thought she’d die
She said I’ve lost control…

Doctors fumbled in the dark to find a pill that could fix his brain, but effective treatments would not be developed for more than a decade. Too late.  The chemical cocktails began to fry Curtis’ circuits, sending him into long bouts of uncommunicative depression. Somehow he managed to take the stage night after night anyway, and in January of 1980 Joy Division embarked on their first—and only—European tour.

Debbie wanted to come along for the sights and adventure, but Ian stoutly refused, leaving her at home with the baby and their dog.  Despite Annik’s attempts to walk away from her impossible love, she would join him for six days in Europe.  It was to be the longest time they would spend together, and one of the last.

According to Annik, she and Ian never once made love.  Aside from her own guilt over an affair with a married father, she says she was a virgin, wary even of Ian’s modest sexual experience.  This apprehension, coupled with her lover’s rapidly deteriorating health, ensured that Annik’s nubile body would remain for Ian an unknown pleasure.  Their romance would continue in an urgent exchange of letters, but they could never come closer.

“You are the only thing that makes me truly happy at this moment,” Ian wrote, “when I’m with you, when I’m near you, when I think of you…

“I am paying dearly for past mistakes.  I never realized how one mistake in my life some four or five years ago would make me feel how I do.  I live beyond obligation and responsibility…. I struggle between what I know is right in my own mind and some warped truthfulness as seen through other people’s eyes…  I thank God I have my solitude…”

On the night of Ian’s return home, Debbie came home to find her husband pilled-out on the blue room’s floor and stabbing holes into a Bible with a kitchen knife, having already cut himself up a bit.  The next day she asked him if he didn’t love her anymore.

“I don’t think I do,” he said.

A few days later Debbie became desperate for answers and tore through Ian’s notebooks.  There she found Annik’s name and address.  She confronted him, and he admitted infidelity.  Debbie decided to get a divorce.

Upon considering the fact that Ian carried pictures of his dog instead of his family, Debbie decided that she was done taking care of little Candy and gave her away as well.  She then proceeded to call Ian’s parents and tell them everything.  Finally, she called Annik at her office to berate her for being a home-wrecker.

Joy Division continued playing gigs around England and started work on their second album, Closer, but their singer was teetering on the brink.  On Good Friday 1980 the band played two shows back to back.  Ian worked himself into a spastic frenzy as usual, but fell unconscious at the peak of both sets, bringing the performances to a grinding halt.  The drinking, lack of sleep, and flashing stagelights had become more than his electrified neurons could handle.

On Easter Sunday he wrote a suicide note and swallowed a handful of Phenobarbitone.  Upon realizing that he had not taken enough to die, he woke his wife to call an ambulance so as to avoid becoming a brain-dead zombie pissing blood all over himself.  His failed attempt to play a show the next night resulted in a riot.  Ian’s manager found him crouched upstairs afterward, weeping.

Despite Ian’s ragged state, the band decided to go forward with an upcoming American tour, and were set to leave on May 19.  Rock n’ roll slows down for no man—“there’s no room for the weak,” as the lyric says.

Ian stayed away from home for a couple of weeks to let things cool off, but on May 17 he returned to pick up some things and say goodbye to his daughter.  Debbie found him there that afternoon, and he begged her to call off the divorce.  She agreed to spend the night with him and left for a bit, but by the time she got back he had changed his mind again and told her not to come back until he was on his way to the airport.  Apparently he had spoken to Annik on the telephone and promised to honor his last letter and end his marriage for sake of true love.  She was on her way from a trip to Egypt to see him.

Alone again, Ian pulled out pictures of his wife and daughter, and wrote an impassioned letter begging Debbie for reconciliation.  He watched Werner Herzog’s Stroszek, a film about a European artist who cannot decide between two women and so chooses to kill himself.  He put Iggy Pop’s The Idiot on the record-player, drank a pot of coffee, and finished off the last of a bottle of whiskey.  Then he tied a cord to their old-fashioned clothes rack and hung himself in the kitchen.  Debbie found the letter first, then noticed his body.  The noose had cut deep into his throat and he had practically sunk to his knees. 

© Brandt Hardin

Ian Curtis was pronounced dead on May 18, 1980, and was cremated a few days later.  His friends and family were devastated and confused, but his fans were riveted.  The single for “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was released that June, along with a music video—the last footage of Ian alive:

When routine bites hard
And ambitions are low
And resentment rides high
But emotions won’t grow
And we’re changing our ways, taking different roads

Then love, love will tear us apart again…

This single was followed the next month by the release of Closer, which was recorded a mere two months before the singer’s death and is perhaps the most mystifying posthumous album I have ever heard.  It is a suicide note set to gloomy keyboard hooks.  The icy vocals describe public torture for entertainment, complete alienation, and tragic love, but most of all, Curtis’ lyrics speak of the soul-crushing guilt of a heart torn between domestic devotion and burning romance.

In truly grim fashion, Debbie had “Love Will Tear Us Apart” carved into her husband’s tombstone (which, incidentally, was stolen by some curse-thirsty jerkoff in 2008.)  The grave remains a pilgrimage site for dour souls who still gather en masse on five- and ten-year deathdays.

“In a Lonely Place” was Ian Curtis’ final recording, finally released in 1981 by Joy Division’s surviving members, now known as New Order:

Warm like a dog round your feet
How I wish you were here with me now

Hang man looks round as he waits
Cord stretches tight then it breaks
Someday we will die in your dreams
How I wish we were here with you now

They might as well have slipped straight razors into the album sleeves, just in case.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Joy DivisionTransmission