Cosmic Cycles of Violence:
John Lennon and Dimebag Darrell
Gunned Down on December 8

© Brandt Hardin

Pantera’s furious music was propelled by guitarist Darrell Abbott’s maniacal claws ripping across a Washburn fretboard. The music was aggression distilled, warfare on vinyl, the hellish harmonics of testosterone-pumped teenagers smashing beer bottles and crucifixes, the pentatonic expression of sociopathic sexual impulse turned loose on loose pussy, power chords and possession, amplifiers and alcohol, whammy bars and whimsical youth. Pantera was pissed. And yet, no one remembers the jolly Dimebag Darrell being particularly pissed in day-to-day life. Not nearly as pissed as John Lennon was, anyway.

Behind the lead Beatle’s circular granny glasses and tireless promotion of peace burned a fury unmatched by most metal enthusiasts. Lennon was pissed at his parents, pissed at his bandmates, pissed at his stay-at-home wife, pissed at Her Majesty the Queen, pissed at America’s war machine, pissed at the world for not giving peace a chance. Lennon was fucking hostile. But neither Dimebag nor Lennon were as pissed as the two pistol-wielding schizophrenics who made them into rock star martyrs, both on December 8, twenty-four years apart.

© Brandt Hardin

To be fair, John Lennon’s youth in England was marred by parental abandonment and random death. His sea-faring father left John in 1946 when he was only five, and his eccentric mother, Julia, left her son in care of his aunt Mimi in a house full of women. His mother eventually came back into John’s life a few years later—even buying him his first guitar—only to be run over and killed by an off-duty cop one sunny afternoon when John was only seventeen.

John took his personal pain and pissed disposition to the Liverpool College of Art, where he met the straight-laced Cynthia Powell, who would become his wife, and became best friends with the brilliant painter Stuart Suttcliffe, who for a brief time would become the musically incompetent fifth Beatle during their formative residencies in Hamburg, Germany.

In January of 1962, the Beatles signed a contract with their new manager, Brian Epstein, a closet homosexual Hebrew who immediately fell in love with the young John Lennon. Epstein’s savvy negotiations would see the barely-known Beatles become the biggest band in the world within two years, and that astonishing success would see Epstein become, in Lennon’s playful words, a “rich Jew fag.” Everybody wins until somebody dies.

The Beatles returned to Hamburg in April of that year, where they were to visit Stuart and his new wife. They were greeted with the news that Suttcliffe was dead. Coroners had found a brain tumor below an indentation in his skull—perhaps inflicted when a group of thugs attacked Stuart in a pub, or else by John when he kicked Stu’s head into the pavement for leaving the band. John fell into a somber silence for days, finally pulling it together to console Suttcliffe’s widow, and then resume his raucous rock star ambitions.

In July, Lennon learned that Cynthia Powell was pregnant. Rather than getting pissed and knocking her around, as he would do during jealous rages—or paying a £200 settlement for her silence, as Epstein had done for numerous others—John asked Cynthia to marry him. Their son Julian was born in April the next year, two days shy of Sutcliffe’s deathday. Family life is usually a total cock-stopper for hard rockers, but unlike many aspiring musicians, becoming a father never stifled Lennon’s rise to ultra-mega-super-stardom. It didn’t slow his groupie-scrogging, either.

That year, 1963, Beatlemania engulfed the UK on the heels of Twist and Shout. These dazzling English chaps with their shaggy mops and spiffy gentleman’s suits rode to the top of the world on a wave of squealing pubescent girls. Twenty years later, Dimebag Darrell (then known as “Diamond” Darrell) would launch what would become the biggest, most aggressive mainstream metal band in the world. Of course, in those days the glammed-out members of Pantera dressed like, well, squealing pubescent girls.


By all accounts, Darrell Abbott and his brother Vinnie Paul enjoyed a remarkably stable childhood growing up in a working class neighborhood near Arlington, TX. Their father Jerry was a musician, and fervently cultivated his sons’ ambitions to become rock stars. Their mother was no less nurturing, working hard at a factory to support her jobless boys’ hobbies.  By this point in history, rock n’ roll was just another pastime.

Darrell spent countless hours alone in his room practicing guitar licks while Vinnie hammered away on his drum set. Unlike many disturbed metal fans, the boys didn’t immerse themselves in hard music to escape from the irritating world outside so much as escape into the powerful fantasy worlds of heavy metal. While other boys went to school, played sports, partied, got laid, got jobs, and all that normal shit, the Abbott brothers continued to rock out at their parents’ house well after most kids had gone off to college and started careers.

Darrell prostrated himself before the guitar gods of his youth until the day he died. He gauged his musical progress by phlegm accumulation—while playing a particularly difficult lick, he would arch back and hock some nostril sauce over his shoulder onto his infamous “loogie wall.” Each thick splat signified another riff under his belt. Listening to the exquisite dynamic between Eddie and Alex Van Halen, the Abbott brothers wouldn’t be satisfied until they became Van Halen.

Pantera’s first six albums were recorded at Jerry Abbott’s studio near the boys’ home. Their father actually created a label for their first releases. Pantera’s early efforts were a dripping cheese sandwich on toasted metal: Metal Magic, Projects in the Jungle, I Am the Night, and finally, Power Metal, which was written by their original singer—who was a pussy—and recorded with their newfound singer, Phil Anselmo—who was pissed. Once Phil showed up, Pantera became what they were always meant to be: cowboys from hell.

Dimebag’s blistering riffs and Phil’s endless anger—at cops, Christ, corporate trendies, and the various cock-nozzles life will throw at you—propelled Pantera to the heights of Headbanger’s Ball and around the planet on multiple world tours. But it didn’t matter where Dimebag found himself—the world was his wet bar, every new face was a new best friend, and each concert was a hysterical joke for which a smashed guitar was the punchline. Darrell rarely found time to be truly pissed. Life was entirely too fun for actual fury.


John Lennon prostrated himself before many gurus during his life, in his own swaggering manner. Through absorption, projection, and continual metamorphosis, he became the most iconic guru of the revolutionary generation. Lennon became a hero wherever a hero was needed most.

The first waves of Beatlemania saw John Lennon: Sex Icon. He had watched Elvis get all shook up, and now it was his turn. One glance could unleash a spastic spontaneous orgasm—or at least, so it seems from the grainy footage. The Beatles were like sweat-soaked vibrators buzzing across the world. The teeny-boppers lined up in droves, panting, weeping, screaming, fainting, falling all over themselves to get just one inch closer to the sly, if agonized Lennon. Of course, pretty boy Paul McCartney got the lion’s share of adoration, and for the competitive Lennon that would never do.

Fortunately, no other Beatle had the nerve to touch his role as John Lennon: Rebel Icon. Sensible, traditional, down home decent folk balked at his observation that “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink…We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first—rock n’ roll or Christianity.” Inflammatory statements like that ensured that kids would love him and parents would hate him, even if they wound up buying their kids more Beatles albums.

After turning off his mind in the mid-Sixties, he became John Lennon: Psychedelic Icon. Inspired by Timothy Leary’s enthusiastic writings and bombarded with a continuous supply of LSD, Lennon began dosing on a daily basis. The first few times were freak outs, but once he got the hang of it, tripping became his fast-track to enlightenment. The Beatles’ music shifted into another dimension. Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club became psychedelic staples. “Tomorrow Never Knows” and a sugar cube might take you across the universe. It wasn’t long before Lennon got burnt out on chemical mind expansion, though, and set out looking for a heavier trip.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a creepy little gnome, but his Transcendental Meditation cult briefly captivated the Beatles in 1967, and inspired the development of John Lennon: Spiritual Icon. This short period of navel-gazing and chanting the sacred Om was to be an eerily pivotal moment in the singer’s life. After years of abuse and alienation from John’s life of stardom, his wife Cynthia made the decision to leave John after she was pushed back by a security guard while trying to board a train for the Maharishi’s retreat in Wales. The Beatles went on without her. Lennon’s manager Brian Epstein was wary of the devious guru’s exploitation of his clients’ fame, but Epstein died of a drug overdose while the band was meditating at the retreat, so that was that. “Now you will be able to come to India with me,” the Maharishi told them, which they did. Lennon didn’t last long in India, though, what with all the mindless conformity, bland food, and accusations that the Maharishi had sexually assaulted Lennon’s fellow aspirant, actress Mia Farrow. When the guru asked why he was leaving, Lennon replied, “If you’re so cosmic, you should know.” Lennon’s spiritual quest would not end there, however, as he would soon find himself kneeling at the Goddess’ feet.

John met Yoko Ono at one of her art shows at the same Indica bookshop where he had discovered Timothy Leary’s manual The Psychedelic Experience. He later said that lightning struck immediately, creating John Lennon: Pussy-whipped Icon. After a bizarre courtship in which the witchy Yoko basically stalked Lennon at his home and wedged herself between him and his already estranged wife, the two finally consummated their love. The day before, Lennon had held a meeting with the Beatles and core members of the Apple Corps, where he proclaimed with no hint of humor, “I’ve got something very important to tell you all. I am Jesus Christ come back again. This is my thing.” Yoko became his Mary Magdalene with which he could work on half-baked conceptual art projects, record bizarre noises that barely resemble music, release album covers and photo shoots displaying their fig-leafless flabby asses, abandon his band, his family, and his manhood, and of course, do up massive amounts of heroin.

By the end of 1969, Woodstock had made people believe in the power of music to create peace, Charles Manson had been inspired by The White Album to slaughter of Sharon Tate and friends to start the race war, Altamont had called all possibility of peace into question, the draft had been reinstated for the Vietnam War, and the Beatles had called it quits with extreme animosity, after less than a decade together.

With his leftist lover now permanently attached, he became John Lennon: Revolutionary Icon. The couple moved to New York and met with the Yippies to lend a hand in stirring up the shit. They wore bags during interviews to subvert the prejudices associated with race, beauty, and of all things, hair length. After marrying, they held a highly publicized “Bed In” as an eccentric “commercial for peace.” John took Yoko’s last name, becoming John Oko Lennon, and began calling his wife “Mother.” He wrote cynical songs about working class heroes, hopeful songs imagining no religion, countries, or possessions, provocative songs about women being the niggers of the world, doubtful songs about not believing in Hitler, Jesus, Kennedy, Kings, or Elvis, desperate songs asking people to just give peace a chance.

They projected the image of perfect soul mates, inspiring people who had given up on love to open their hearts. But in 1973, John took some time off from the marriage. He moved out of the house, got wasted every night, and perhaps most importantly, he started banging his twenty-two year-old personal assistant, the petite Asian May Pang—all at Yoko’s insistence. After a year and a half of belated bachelorhood, he crawled back to Yoko with his tail tucked between his legs. In 1975, Yoko gave birth to Sean. They both retired from public life to raise their son, and the new father settled into John Lennon: Family Man Icon for the last five years of his life.

Three weeks after the release of their comeback album, Double Fantasy, John Lennon signed a copy for a disgruntled fan waiting outside the Dakota apartment building in New York. A few hours later, that same fan shot him dead. The signed copy is presently on sale for nearly one million dollars.


Dimebag Darrell’s story isn’t nearly as complicated or convoluted. The details of his life are scant compared to someone like Lennon, whose every burp and fart was documented and filed away, but by all appearances, life was really quite simple for Dimebag. He celebrated Halloween like it was New Year’s Eve, and approached life like every day was Halloween. Special occasions called for a drink, and every moment was a special occasion. If you were invited, you had to drink, most likely a black tooth grin (two shots of whiskey and a splash of cola.) And it didn’t matter who you were, everyone was invited.

If he didn’t have a guitar in his hand, Dimebag had a drink or a bottle rocket ready to blast it in your face. He was a tireless prankster. If he caught you asleep, you were canvas. If you were looking the other way, you were a target. If you took yourself too seriously, like the time he stumbled across tedious guitar god Yngwie Malmsteen at a hotel and had his roadie accost him with a bag of donuts (“No, I don’t like donuts! I don’t like donuts!”), you were a piece of performance art for his home video collection. One of his posse’s finest productions was short skit in which a roadie gets his hand smashed off by a road case and stolen by a random passerby. Had he not been so engrossed in music, Dimebag may have been an America’s Funniest Home Videos contender.

First and foremost was family. Dimebag was fiercely dedicated to his brother, Vinnie Paul. When Dave Mustaine left Metallica, he offered Dimebag the spot as lead guitarist in Megadeth. Darrell agreed, on the condition that his brother would be the new drummer. But Megadeth already had a drummer, and Dimebag had better songs to write, anyway.

Whenever Darrell came home to Texas from touring, the first thing he did was have a drink. The next thing he did was visit his mother and pay off her credit cards. Even after he had earned a small fortune, Dimebag’s home was never more than a few miles away from the house he grew up in, which was just a few miles from his father’s recording studio. Pantera’s first six albums were recorded with his father, and the seventh, Far Beyond Driven, was recorded with another producer at their father’s new studio in Nashville, TN. Dimebag never tired of familiar places. His love life was no exception.

Darrell met Rita Haney at the age of eight when she kicked him off of his bicycle. They remained friends until they were teenagers, when he made his first move. They never looked back from that kiss, and were joined in common law marriage until the day he died. By all accounts, Rita never slowed Dimebag down. At the very least, she never asked him to wear a fucking bag during interviews. If Dime wasn’t partying at home or playing onstage, he was doing both at a strip club. How many women Dimebag slept with is not a matter of public record—it could have been one, it could have been one thousand. Considering the typical road rules of the rock star fraternity, one is inclined to believe the latter. A gentleman does not kiss and tell, but it’s doubtful that Rita would care if he did either.

When the band settled into their final four-piece—Phil, Dimebag, Vinnie, and Rex—they shed their girly outfits for regular street clothes. Pantera’s true debut was Cowboys from Hell in 1990, and it blew up like a car bomb. Vulgar Display of Power had twice the blast radius, and 1994′s Far Beyond Driven remains the most aggressive album to ever chart at #1. Any pissed off kid who didn’t want to be pissed alone gathered around Pantera. Their message was blood simple: Fight for your friends and fuck up your enemies.

Phil Anselmo wrote all of the lyrics, but of course, Dimebag sang along to every song. The message flowed through him. Phil was an archetypal warrior male, furious at the world. His words aimed the machine gun and Dimebag fed him the gain-heavy ammunition. Fuck your parents, fuck your girlfriend, fuck the cops, fuck their government, fuck the Christians, and on a bad day, fuck the Christ they stood for. Pantera’s sound was as provincial as Dimebag’s drawling Texas accent, as Southern as the Confederate flag on his custom Washburn, as damaging as the black tooth grins soaking into his liver. Funny thing is, Dimebag never stopped smiling. Everything was a laugh.

While the trials must have been many, Dimebag’s biographies only describe three traumatic experiences in his life. The first was the death of his mother, who succumbed to cancer in 1999. The second came after 9/11, which left Pantera stranded in Ireland for two weeks. Phil had been struggling with heroin addiction for years, exacerbated by degenerating discs in his spine. The tension was mounting over his erratic behavior. When the band arrived back in the States, they went their separate ways but never came back together. In 2003, they finally announced the break up of Pantera. The Abbott brothers had become the “enemy” that Phil was so intent on fucking.

So far as Dimebag was concerned, Pantera and their road crew were family, thick as blood. Nothing could hurt him like the dissolution of his tribe. The Abbotts formed a new band, Damageplan, but had fallen from playing packed arenas to filling small clubs. “The highs and lows of rock n’ roll,” was all the bitching Dimebag would indulge. To make matters worse, a war of words continued in the press between Anselmo and the Abbotts.

In December of 2004, Metal Hammer published an ominous interview with Phil Anselmo in which he unleashed his fury:

“[W]hat comes around obviously goes around, and that is definitely something that is a very powerful force in my life…Cycles on top of cycles. Revenge on top of revenge. I suggest no one do me wrong…Things don’t go so well for them…And I lift not a finger…”

When the subject moved on to the Abbotts, Phil said:

“[Dimebag] would attack me vocally, and just knowing that he was so much smaller than me, I could kill him like a fucking piece of vapor…He knows that and the world should know that and so, physically of course, he deserves to be beaten severely…

“I was…a unique, unbelievably magnetic front man…I have a devoted following that would do anything for me, anything that I say.”

One week later, a crazed fan jumped onstage and gunned Dimebag Darrell down as well as a body guard, a stagehand, and a fan, before being shot by Officer James Niggemeyer. Talk about unfortunate timing.


Happiness is a warm gun. So heavy in the hand. So easy to pull the trigger. One flick of the finger makes a tiny hole. God-like power. Any idiot can do it.

Nathan Miles Gale grew up in small town Ohio. He was batshit crazy, and pissed as all hell. He believed that Mike Judge was watching his every move, basing Beavis and Butthead off of his pathetic life. He also believed that the guys in Pantera were up to the same tricks. He listened to their music so much that the songs became his own. They were stealing his lyrics for their songs. Why wouldn’t anyone else understand that?

He saw menacing faces hovering above his bed at night. Their voices taunted him, called him a homosexual, told him to hurt people.

Nathan enjoyed drugs. He smoked dope, dropped acid, ate pills, snorted coke. When the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, Nathan was alone in thinking that Marilyn Manson was behind the attacks. He joined the Marines at nineteen, but was discharged when it was learned he was schizophrenic. He moved into an apartment next to his mother. In December of 2002 she bought him a 9mm Beretta. Two years later, he took it to a Damageplan concert at Alrosa Villa in Columbus, Ohio to find Dimebag Darrell and settle the score.

Mark David Chapman was born in Texas, but went to school in Georgia outside of Atlanta. He traveled the world from there. He also smoked dope, dropped acid, ate pills, snorted coke, and became a born again Christian. He was also batshit crazy, a god in his own mind, ruling over the voices which he called the Little People.

After cheating on his fiance, he decided to go to Hawaii where he would kill himself. He was committed to a mental facility there, but was so liked that he was hired on part time after his release. He eventually married a Japanese-American woman, just like John Lennon. He listened to Lennon’s music obsessively, just as he read The Catcher in the Rye. After reading a book about Lennon’s lavish lifestyle in New York, he was extremely pissed. He was indignant that Lennon would arrogantly disavow Jesus. And how could John Lennon: Revolutionary Icon tell people to imagine no possessions and yet live as a millionaire? He told the Little People that he would kill John Lennon. They begged him not to, but his mind was made up. The Little People fell silent.

After two previous attempts were aborted in last minute panic, Chapman arrived in New York on December 6, 1980. The last thing he did before finding John Lennon was buy yet another copy of The Catcher in the Rye, in which he would write: “This is my statement” signed—Holden Caulfield. He left the book in his hotel room, but brought a copy of Double Fantasy and a loaded .38 with him.

By demons be driven.


John Lennon gave his final print interview to Rolling Stone the day Mark David Chapman arrived in New York, but it was never published until thirty years after his death, one year ago. Many people claim that Lennon had shown foreknowledge of his death, and this interview shows an eerie prescience that makes one wonder if Yoko’s nutty New Age ideas of cosmic connections were really that far-fetched, though it raises a number of questions about the couple’s belief that projecting one’s thoughts and intentions can create one’s reality.

“They only like people when they’re on the way up,” Lennon told Jonathan Cott, “and when they’re up there, they’ve got nothing else to do but shit on them. I cannot be on the way up again. What they want is dead heroes, like Sid Vicious and James Dean. I’m not interested in being a dead fucking hero….So forget ‘em, forget ‘em.”

© 2011 Joseph Allen

John Lennon — “Woman is the Nigger of the World

Pantera — “This Love

Tupac Shakur Lived by the
Mic and Died by the Gun

© Brandt Hardin

Tupac Shakur was admired for being extraordinarily handsome, extraordinarily intelligent, and extraordinarily pissed off. On September 13, 1996, with five studio albums under his belt and a dozen bullets under his skin at the age of 25, ‘Pac was pronounced extraordinarily dead. Fifteen years later, his high ideals and low brow gangsta swagger continue to inspire the world’s disenchanted to raise up out of despondency—or at least, to raise up their weapons.

Tupac did time in prison before he was even born. His mother, Afeni Shakur, a radical Black Panther, was released just a month before she went into labor. She was acquitted for her alleged part in a Panther bombing conspiracy, but his grandfather (also a Black Panther) was convicted of murdering a school teacher and his stepfather spent four years on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. ‘Pac came up from revolutionary fire on both the East and West Coast. It only makes sense that he would climb out by becoming an actor, a ballerino, and an aspiring rapper during his years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. After his debut with Digital Underground in 1990—who took him on as a roadie, then a dancer, then a rapper—it wasn’t long before all eyes were on him.

At different times in his life, every man shows multiple faces to the world. Browsing through the hundreds of photos taken during ‘Pac’s life, we see every possible persona: Happy Tupac, Sad Tupac, Silly Tupac, Pissed Off Tupac, Sly Tupac, Romantic Tupac, Gangsta Tupac, Guilty as Hell Tupac, Intellectual with Spectacles Tupac, Reborn in All White Tupac, Confused Tupac, Concerned Tupac, Indifferent Tupac, and of course, the Always Thoughtful Tupac.

It’s hard to say what Tupac was thinking when he fumbled and dropped his loaded pistol during a skirmish at a Marin City music festival in 1992, which allegedly went off and fatally wounded six year-old Qa’id Walker-Teal as he pedaled his bicycle down the street.  Once the weight of the matter had sunk in, it was never far from his conscience. He was less apologetic about the 1993 incident in Atlanta when his driver nearly hit two off-duty police officers as they crossed the street with their wives. The cops confronted Tupac aggressively and so the rapper popped a cap in one of their asses—literally. Having spent his early years being beaten down by life’s little insults, it was a triumphant moment indeed.

Every gangsta rapper talks about “comin’ from the real” and “bein’ real.” Not content to be lumped in with the average G, Tupac left the East Coast fold and signed with the infamous Death Row Records on the West Coast, proclaiming himself to be “the realest.”

“We’re just being who we are,” he maintained. “It’s beyond good and evil. It’s Thug Life.”

Thug Life was so near to ‘Pac’s heart, he had the words tattooed on his stomach with a bullet in place of the “i.”  Jon Pareles—sounding like the biggest cracker on the cheese plate—described Tupac’s position thusly in The New York Times: “In some raps, Mr. Shakur glamorized the life of the ‘player,’ a high-living, macho gangster flaunting ill-gotten gains.”

To hear Tupac tell it on his later records, you’d think he left a pile of dead gangstas in his wake that would stack to the moon. His unique style is so impassioned, so convincing, so enthralling, that it is hard to listen without feeling the youthful desire to unleash total violence on your enemies. One envisions Wrathful Tupac, Blood-soaked Tupac, Absolutely Invincible Tupac.

Despite such brash claims, Tupac’s gangsta bona fides were called into question by ostensibly “realer” detractors. Was he a true G or just a former ballerino playing out his violent fantasies in a campy performance of The Thugcracker? While in prison on sexual assault charges, Not Guilty as Hell Tupac did a bit of backpedaling, telling Vibe magazine:

“This Thug Life stuff, it was just ignorance. My intentions was always in the right place. I never killed anybody, I never raped anybody, I never committed no crimes that weren’t honorable—that weren’t to defend myself.”

The years spent as Accused Sodomite Tupac—from the date of the alleged rape in late 1993 to his release from prison on appeal two years later—were to become a dramatic turning point in the rapper’s state of mind. Tupac claimed to be the victim of an opportunistic set up by a “dumpy” groupie; his accuser claimed to be the victim of a humiliating gang rape instigated by the rapper. No one but God can judge ‘Pac at this point, but the jury found him guilty of sexual abuse.

On November 30, 1994, the day before Tupac’s sentencing for sexual assault, he walked into Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan where Biggie Smalls and Puffy Combs happened to be upstairs. Two gunmen in army fatigues drew on Tupac and his crew, demanding their jewelery. Tupac refused, so one of the men popped five bullets into him. One of the shots went straight through his nutsack. Bloody and confused, Tupac found himself upstairs with Biggie and Puffy. Tupac later claimed that the two were completely aloof toward him before the ambulance arrived, as though they were surprised that he made it upstairs. Until his death two years later, Tupac suspected that the East Coast rappers were somehow involved in the shooting.

Despite Tupac’s pitiful, bullet-riddled, wheelchair-bound presence in the courtroom the next day, the judge sentenced him to hard time in Riker’s Island Prison—where he became the first artist to have an album reach #1 while behind bars with Me Against the World. He wound up serving only nine months before his appeal, but it was long enough for the rapper to recover his potency and return to his radical roots. He immediately began recording All Eyes on Me with Death Row Records upon his release on bail.

“What I learned in jail is that I can’t change,” Tupac told a KMEL interviewer in April 1996. “I can’t live a different lifestyle—this is it…All I’m trying to do is survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty, unbelievable lifestyle that they gave me. I’m just trying to make something good out of that.”

Despite the relentless violence of tracks like “Hit ‘Em Up”—in which he promises to rain bullets on Biggie Smalls and the whole of the East Coast in a Rambo-esque tirade—Tupac would redeem himself to liberal observers by trying to help ghetto kids turn their lives around through mentoring and organized sports. As his social consciousness and dramatic delusions of grandeur gained momentum, he began to refashion himself as a militarized revolutionary icon.

“I’ll follow any great man, black or white,” he stated in his last interview. “I’m gonna study him, learn him, so he can’t be great to me no more…

“[I'll take] the discipline, the seriousness, and the bond that the Mob has, take the enthusiasm, the morals, and the principles that the Black Panthers had…take the ‘all of us as a team’ that the police have…[take the] ‘whatever we got to do to be Number 1” that the United States has…

“That’s what makes me unstoppable…

“I didn’t get that power from guns, because there’s no guns in jail, I got that power from books, and from thinking, and by strategizin’—that’s what I want little niggas to see…

“When the East Coast, and the West Coast, and the Middle Americans get together we got power…and that’s when we closer to Armageddon…

“I’m the future of Black America.”

On September 7—coincidentally, the birthday of Buddy Holly—Tupac attended a Mike Tyson boxing match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas with Death Row founder Suge Knight. After the fight, Tupac and his entourage spotted an alleged Crip “Orlando” Anderson in the hotel’s lobby, who had supposedly robbed one of their homies at a Foot Locker some time earlier. Anderson immediately became the guest of honor at a Death Row boot party.

'Pac's final photo op

Satisfied that justice had been served, Tupac climbed into Suge’s BMW and set out for Club 662 followed by a convoy of riders. A photographer snapped the famous last photograph—Do I Know You, Muthafucka? Tupac—about twenty minutes before a white Cadillac pulled alongside the convoy and peppered Suge’s BMW with hot lead. Suge made it out with a flesh wound on his dome, but bullets slammed into Tupac’s hand, leg, and torso, shredding his right lung. After fighting for his life for six days, ‘Pac no longer had to wonder if heaven has a ghetto.  His murder stirred up various accusations of police cover-ups, conspiracy theories, and false leads, yet his killers still remain at large.

The media unleashed a sensationalist frenzy that put the national spotlight on gang violence—stoking the mythical rivalry between the East and West Coasts—and exalted a new rock star martyr to the right hand of Elvis Presley. Three weeks later, Death Row released the first of eight posthumous ‘Pac albums under the pseudonym Makaveli, entitled Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory. The tracks were written and recorded in three days and then mixed over the next four days. The album’s cover is perhaps the most brazen facsimile of the Christ image ever produced by pop culture, given the circumstances. Surrounded in mystique and subject to endless synchronistic interpretations, Don Killuminati sold 664,000 copies in its first week and over four million to date.

Tupac’s story continues to inspire various disillusioned and angry youths across the globe with his tragic mythos and fierce lyrical skill, which keeps him enshrined as another secular Son of the digital God. His meteoric rise and abrupt fall reveal the grinding contradictions between empathic idealism and the craven animal impulses that arise in every human heart.  His own ideas on the nature of good and evil are poignant:

“I’m the religion that to me is the realest religion there is…I think that if you take one of the “O’s” out of ‘Good’ it’s ‘God,’ if you add a ‘D’ to ‘Evil’, it’s the ‘Devil’…

“The bible tells us that…because [God's chosen] suffered so much that’s what makes them special people. I got shot five times and I got crucified to the media. And I walked through with the thorns on and I had shit thrown on me…I’m not saying I’m Jesus but I’m saying we go through that type of thing everyday. We don’t part the Red Sea but we walk through the hood without getting shot. We don’t turn water to wine but we turn dope fiends and dope heads into productive citizens of society. We turn words into money. What greater gift can there be?”

It’s easy for uptight folks to write Tupac off as a failed messiah, a whining hypocrite, a narcissistic fruitcake, or a wannabe warlord, but we’ll let him have the last word on his legacy:

“[If] you saw a rose growing from concrete, even if it had messed up petals and it was a little to the side, you would marvel at just seeing a rose grow through concrete. So why is it that when you see some ghetto kid grow out of the dirtiest circumstance and he can talk and he can sit across the room and make you cry, make you laugh, all you can talk about is my dirty rose, my dirty stems and how I’m leaning crooked to the side—you can’t even see that I’ve come up from out of that.”

© 2011 Joseph Allen

2Pac ShakurDear Mama

Robert Johnson Opened the
Gates of Hell for Elvis Presley

The Devil and Robert Johnson

© Brandt Hardin

Even after the abolition of slavery, life in the Mississippi cotton fields was brief, brutal, and as boring as an aging preacher’s Sunday sermon. No wonder fieldworkers sought the fleeting comforts of cheap moonshine and loose women at the Saturday night juke joints.

Robert Johnson could mix it up with the best of them, but he was never one for hard work. His bizarre, spider-like fingers weren’t intended for cotton-pickin’ and penny-pinchin’. They were made for crawling across guitar necks, whiskey bottles, and the legs of middle-aged sugar mamas. If Johnson was going to suffer hell to make a dollar, it would be as a wayfaring musician. His road was full of adventure and ecstasy, but ended in hell just the same. On August 16, 1938, Robert Johnson became another silent corpse wrapped in the shrouds of rock n’ roll mythology.

As legend has it, Robert Johnson obtained his profoundly influential guitar licks after trading his soul to the Devil at a dark, isolated crossroads. As usual, Ol’ Scratch came through with the goods, but America was still dragging itself out of the Great Depression and debt-collectors were ruthless. Why should Satan be any different? Johnson had enough time to make his name as a blazing live musician and to record forty-two immortal tracks before Satan came to collect the player’s soul at the prime age of 27.

Like the crossroads myth, Robert Johnson’s handful of recordings would not surface until many years after his death. Also like the myth, these forty-two recordings have been open to interpretation and elaboration ever since. His slick slide guitar style was first taken up by black blues players. Son House, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker were among the many to follow those smoking hoofprints to notoriety. Ultimately, it was only when Robert Johnson’s work was unearthed and re-released during the Delta blues revival of the 1960s that the man and the myth came into their own. White rock stars—Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Paul McCartney—rode Johnson’s Afro juju to the top of international charts, where the fires he unleashed burned the soul of Western civilization.

As a journeyman guitarist, Robert Johnson was the laughing stock of his juke joint peers. His unorthodox style sounded like a stray cat shaken violently in a metal trashcan. After a brief hiatus, Johnson returned to the scene with a totally unique style in which he would hammer a rhythm with his thumb while picking a slide melody with his fingers. Johnson’s recordings may sound like the goofy meanderings of a slap-happy simpleton to the average listener, but in those days he was the bee’s knees. No one had done anything like that before.

An offhand and perhaps jealous remark by Son House was the start of the crossroads myth, when he said that Johnson had “sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for learning to play like that.” The location of this diabolical deal came from Tommy Johnson via his brother:

“If you want to learn how to play anything…and learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to…where a crossroads is…. Be sure to get there just a little ‘fore 12 that night…. A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar, and he’ll tune it. And then he’ll play a piece and hand it back to you. That’s the way I learned to play anything I want.”

Just as an enterprising black man of large stature might make a few bucks by hanging around a crossroads to dupe superstitious guitar students, so the media myth-making machine was able to turn a profit by misattributing Tommy Johnson’s statement to Robert Johnson. The rest is sketchy history, but as with many myths, Johnson’s crossroads story remains poignant.

© Jeffrey Bertrand

By all accounts, Robert Johnson was a diehard rake. His first wife was a girl in her early teens who died while giving birth to a stillborn child. After that tragedy, Johnson would not be tied down. He wandered from town to town, seducing local women for bed, booty, and breakfast. This song and dance took him from the reeds of Memphis to the towers of Chicago. Hopping trains with crisp suit and a guitar under his arm, Johnson knew how to get around cheap and still sleep in a warm bed. His usual prey were plain, aging bar-hoppers who could not resist his sharp dress and blistering guitar licks. Johnson was one of a special breed that sings while playing rhythms and melodies simultaneously—who knows what sort of sexual percussions he could hammer out in the bedroom.

The only thing he loved more than pulling another man’s woman was a stout glass of whiskey. Amped up on booze and ego, he frequently found himself in bar room brawls, usually over another man’s woman. He was just as quick to take on a gang as he was to fight one-on-one. Unfortunately, he was a skinny blues player in dapper attire, not a street tough, which meant that he took a lot of ass-whippings for his efforts—as did many of his friends who stood up to defend him. Apparently, victory in battle was not part of his deal with Ol’ Scratch.

Johnson’s solid reputation as a smoking live guitar player led him into the hands of ARC producer Don Law, who recorded Johnson’s first sessions in San Antonio, TX in 1936. The results were thrilling, and Johnson was as proud as a purple puppy. One night, as Don Law ate in a restaurant with his wife, he received a phone call from jail. Robert had been arrested for vagrancy and needed bail. Law made arrangements for the player’s release, and an hour later received a second call. Johnson had immediately found himself a hooker, but there was a problem. “She wants fifty cents and I lacks a nickel.” Rock n’ roll excess has come a long way since the Depression era.

Johnson left Texas with a hundred bucks in his pocket and his earthly immortality encased in acetate. After wandering the highways for a spell, he returned to Dallas in 1938 to record a few more sessions with Don Law. It was then that he laid down his nefarious tracks “Hell Hound On My Trail” and “Me and the Devil Blues.” They are both about the troubles of hopping from town to town milking old maids for muff and money, but the second is more direct—an infernal, if playful ode to the burning core of all phallocentric rock n’ roll shenanigans:

Early this morning
when you knocked upon my door…
And I said “Hello, Satan. I believe it’s time to go.”

Me and the Devil
walking side by side…
I’m going beat my woman until I get satisfied

She said you don’t see why
that I be dog her ’round
(Now baby, you know you ain’t doin’ me right…)
It must be that old Evil Spirit so deep down in the ground

You may bury my body
down by the highway side…
So my old evil spirit can catch a Greyhound bus and ride

Robert Johnson was found dead in a Mississippi plantation house at the age of 27. He officially opened the doors of the 27 Club to all later members: Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Pete Ham, Kurt Cobain, and most recently, Amy Winehouse. Rumors abound about the cause of Johnson’s death—everything from bad moonshine to poisoning by a jealous lover to syphilis—but one thing seems certain: he chased excess to its logical conclusion.

I have no doubt that Robert Johnson was among the multitude of artists who met Ol’ Scratch at the crossroads of the human soul. If the kingdom of God—on His better days, anyway—is benevolence, mercy, chastity, discipline, and unwavering faith, then the domain of the Devil must be the vast expanse of human potentialities between these virtues and the Void.

The fires of Hell burn in humankind’s lust, greed, gluttony, and wrath. The flames come on warm, like sweet liquor on a dry tongue, and everyone gets a little taste. Most turn back there, but plenty more linger until they are scorched into a disfigured husk of what was once human. You could say that Robert Johnson opened wide the gates of Hell for every rock star martyr to come.

Enter Elvis Presley.

Elvis Presley: The King of Dead Rock Stars

© Jeffrey Bertrand

Elvis Aron Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935—just an hour as the crow flies from where Robert Johnson would die a few years later. Elvis’ twin, Jesse Garon, was a stillborn herald to the King of Rock n’ Roll. Elvis would later claim that he took his dead brother’s power at the moment of his own birth, making Elvis a god.

The surviving Presley twin spent his earliest years in a shotgun shack—like ‘at genu-wine white trash. When Elvis was still a boy, the Presleys moved into Memphis’ Lauderdale Courts housing projects. His over-protective mother, Gladys, would walk him to school every day. She frequently took young Elvis to church and feverish Pentecostal revivals, where he would get his first taste of true showmanship. But this doting couldn’t stop the boy from finding his way to Beale Street.

Memphis night life exposed Elvis to every sin under the sun, if not in the flesh then at least in song. Presley grew up with gospel and loved country, but he was head-over-heels in love with the dark and dirty blues. Years later, his records would be shunned by white stations for being too bluesy and passed over by black stations for being too country. Such racial quibbling wouldn’t be enough to stop Presley, though. He was destined to become the King of Rock n’ Roll.

Still a fresh-faced teenager in 1953, Elvis walked into Sun Studios where he cut his first singles to bring home to his mother. Some time before, producer Sam Phillips had quipped, “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.” Phillips heard the Call of Cthulhu in Elvis’ early attempts and immediately brought the boy into the Sun Records fold. Within three years, Elvis Presley was the most famous motherfucker in the world at age twenty-one.

Many fans agree that Elvis’ early years were his most inspired. The rockabilly swagger of “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Heartbreak Hotel” had the nation swinging its hips in imitation of their lascivious leather-clad icon. Who knows how many pregnancies this lip-curling Dionysus inspired? Elvis was derided by pious commentators as an uncouth cuckoo, but the former carnival huckster “Colonel” Tom Parker knew exactly what that meant. Elvis was the goose who shot golden sperm, and Colonel Parker wasted no time taking the loony bird under his wing and managing his brilliant, if debaucherous career.

Then in 1958, Presley was called to serve his country. He got a clean cut hairdo, a uniform, and a rifle. Within a few months, he was on a plane to be stationed in Germany. For snooty connoisseurs—including John Lennon—Elvis’ enlistment marked the end of his meaningful contributions to rock n’ roll, but without a doubt, it was a fine stepping stone for a budding pussyhound.

Presley was known to fool around with the wild black girls of Beale Street and various squealing groupies in his youth, but Europe would take him to depths unknown. The photos of Elvis published in Private Elvis after his death show the young soldier between the folds of Moulin Rouge mammaries and under the tongues of various spooky-toothed Euro whores. Hey, man, be all that you can be, right?

As it happened, it was during his time in Germany that the twenty-three year-old singer met the pubescent American girl Priscilla Beaulieu, who at fourteen was offered up to the rising star by her mother as a sort of child bride. Dog will hunt! From then on, Priscilla would fool around with Elvis—even play “dress-up video sex games” with him—but they never had sex until the time of their wedding ten years later, when Priscilla became pregnant. According to her next lover, Elvis’ karate coach Mike Stone, the celebrity spouses never had sex again.

After the excesses of the 60s had desensitized the nation, Elvis’ gyrating pelvis seemed pretty innocent in comparison. He wasn’t there to burn wombs with great balls of fire—he was there to love you tender. At the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Elvis was widely regarded as the universal sex symbol for Miss Norma McNormalson.  Not the brightest eyes, but man, you could break a cinder block over his square jaw.

For the duration of his god-like superstardom, Elvis’ PR team labored to portray him as a sweet lil’ mama’s boy with an angel’s voice and a heart of gold—even when he wore mutton chops and gaudy rhinestones during his final, bloated Vegas years. No doubt this was true to some extent. He did move his parents into Graceland where they lived out the rest of their lives in comfort and splendor. He was known to write checks for many poor souls who needed his help—sometimes for four or five figures. “Nnnnnnew Cadillac!” I mean, goddamn, how many pictures did he take with feeble old ladies and snot-faced little kids? On his best days, the man was practically a saint!

Then there were his other days. For all of his spin as a good ol’ boy from tha holler, Elvis certainly had peculiar tastes behind closed doors, and I’m not talking about peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Albert Goldman’s Elvis is a tabloidesque lost gospel that peels the rhinestones off of Presley’s shades and replaces them with all kinds of dirty little gems.

According to blabbermouths within the Memphis Mafia—the King’s heavy-fisted retinue—Presley was a pervo of Pan-like proportions, plying his pretty polly with pillow fights and Placidyls. Like many rock stars, he liked ‘em in their screamin’ teens—you know, he couldn’t go on with suspicious minds—but unlike his peers, he mostly liked to watch. He threw orgiastic parties and regularly brought out the video camera for posterity’s sake.

Toward the end of his life, the tattletales of his inner circle alleged that the only thing that could rouse the King’s hunk ‘a hunk ‘a burnin’ love was to watch women—and occasionally men—love themselves tender and true. Listening to his flaming gay hair-dresser and “personal spiritual advisor,” Larry Geller—whose craftsmanship is responsible for that immaculate black mop in both life and death—lisp on and on about his intimate relationship with his patron, one gets the impression that Elvis’ pelvis was swinging every which way. Surely it was the drugs.

From Elvis’ first drinks on Beale Street to his first speed given to him by the Army to the cornucopia of uppers, downers, laughers, screamers, and the brain-blasting pants-creamers his doctors prescribed to him in his later years, the karate-chopping King stayed high as a plastic baby Jesus punted into orbit. No wonder he was shooting holes through television sets and dreaming of demolishing skyscrapers. He was a walking chemical bath. Of course, the rest of America was not far behind.

Of all the bizarre rooms in the King’s white trash palace, including the unnerving “Jungle Room,” I am most intrigued by the one they never show you on the tour of Graceland. I asked the tour guides, “Don’t we get to see the Death Throne?”  But they just rolled their eyes at me.  It seems like that would be the climax of the tour. After all, Elvis’ Death Throne is the rock n’ roll Golgotha. On August 16, 1977, the King climbed up and crucified himself on this sacred commode. The world will never be the same again.

A roadie friend of mine was working on Willie Nelson’s tour at the time. Willie took the stage in Memphis on August 16, 1977, but the audience was inconsolable. Willie turned to his tour manager and barked, “Never book me in Memphis the night Elvis dies again!” Little did he know that the weeping crowd would never let their King die.

My favorite appraisal of the religious significance of Elvis’ death and tabloid afterlife comes from Jim Goad’s The Redneck Manifesto:

“Pop stars are the devotional fetish items of modern worship in ways identical to which saints were venerated in the Middle Ages. Dead pop stars all the more so. But unlike most resurrected idols, Elvis had already started to rot before he died…

“If he had lived, it wouldn’t have been pretty. Elvis with a grape cluster of hemorrhoids and a hearing aid. The Lord snatched him up not a moment too soon. Elvis wasn’t so dissipated or old at the time of his death that it’s impossible to imagine him in heaven achieving an erection. Up at the right hand of God, Elvis can stay hard forever.”

© Brandt Hardin

But many white trash believers refused to envision Elvis up in heaven. Sons of God don’t just die! Surely Elvis was pulling everyone’s leg. The tabloids which once graced every check-out aisle before the Internet rendered them obsolete—The National Enquirer, Weekly World News, The Star, The Sun—kept Elvis Presley alive with a new sighting every week, like Jesus in the last chapters of the Gospels. And millions of people bought it. Many of them even bought into it!

The most remarkable moment of my tour of Graceland, which Greil Marcus calls “a 1957-77 version of King Tut’s tomb” in Dead Elvis, was Presley’s gravesite next to his meditation shrine. A few other visitors stood or knelt silently before the supposed final resting place of the King. One of them, a woman in her forties wearing waist-high khakis, was on her knees weeping into folded hands. Scattered around the grave were numerous offerings left by reverent fans—mostly photographs and figurines—upon which they had scrawled direct messages to Elvis, like prayers to a saint or letters to Santa Claus. I asked one of the security guards how often these prayer offerings are made, and she told me that people still leave dozens of them every day. That must be one hell of a bonfire at the end of the month.

Elvis’ posthumous sales continue to fill record industry coffers. Between merchandising, television rights, books, CD/DVD sales, and legal downloads, the King’s estate still raked in upwards of $60 million last year. If Robert Johnson was the Devil’s phonographic child, then Elvis was the televised Son of God. The Internet Age has yet to produce such an Earth-shaking rock star martyr. But then, this tech era is still young, and the new media’s crosses are ready and waiting.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Robert Johnson — “Me and the Devil Blues

Elvis Presley — “Suspicious Minds

Marilyn Manson — Holy Wood
(In the Shadow of the Valley of Death)

In case you weren’t watching TV that day—any channel, at any given moment—on April 20, 1999, two black-clad teenage boys walked into their high school in Littleton, CO with an action hero’s arsenal of guns and homemade explosives. They had prepared for over a year, alternately referring to their plot as “Judgement Day” or “NBK”—after Natural Born Killers. The bombs were set to destroy the entire cafeteria, but when they failed to blow, the two boys proceeded to shoot and kill twelve students and one teacher in a sixteen minute rampage. Over two dozen others were wounded. A few are crippled for life.

After a brief standoff with the police, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold sat down side-by-side in the school library, lit one last Molotov cocktail, and blew their brains out in turn. Marilyn Manson wrote an entire album about it. He called it Holy Wood.

It bears repeating here that Marilyn Manson’s name was taken from Marilyn Monroe and Charles Manson, the most popular sex symbol and murder icon of the Woodstock Generation. Marilyn Manson was conceived as a collective symbol for America, combining polar opposites: male and female, beauty and ugliness, Eros and Thanatos, God and Satan.

His early persona was like a luciferic Cat in the Hat taunting Jerry Falwell on a Saturday morning cartoon. The sleeve of his 1994 debut album features the singer’s face grinning on a television set above a young boy smeared with make-up and holding a revolver.

As a sort of disclaimer in his first newsletter, Mr. Manson made it clear to his growing cult of adoring adolescents that killing one’s parents or oneself “has no place in our movement.” He wasn’t building an army to fill a graveyard. He wrote:

“When WE become the majority, we will decide who ‘doesn’t belong.’ As misanthropes and throw-away kids we will not submit to mainstream. We will become it. And America should be very, very afraid.”

Small-town parents were horrified to see their kids wearing playful t-shirts that read WE HATE LOVE—WE LOVE HATE, and the classic:

Warning: the music of Marilyn Manson
contains messages that will
in your impressionable teenage minds.
As a result, you could be convinced to
and eventually in an act of hopeless
rock and roll” behavior you will
Please burn your records
while there’s still hope

With the release of Antichrist Superstar in 1996, Manson’s following grew exponentially. The album is a satire on the self-righteous shit-flinging between America’s polarized moralists. Playing upon the premillennial tension of the late 90s, Manson describes the so-called Antichrist as a hateful force lurking within each of us. The story’s protagonist is an alienated boy who becomes so infected with his culture’s megalomaniacal intolerance that he is ready to destroy the whole world in a sort of suicide/apocalypse:

I went to God just to see
And I was looking at me
Saw Heaven and Hell were lies
When I’m God, everyone dies

The album went platinum. Liberal politicians called it sick and offensive, while Christian protesters swarmed to arenas with picket signs, driving ticket sales through the roof. In concert, Manson stood on a podium reminiscent of Nuremberg or The Wall, tore pages from the Bible, and instructed his fans to spit loogies all over him.

“They want you to go to church,” he screamed, “but this is your church, motherfuckers!”

The message of his sermon?

“Be yourself.”

In 1998, Manson finally broke into the global mainstream with Mechanical Animals, a glam-inspired concept album poking fun at the bland MTV rock culture of the day. An androgynous alien descends to Earth lookin’ for love, only to find a dying world populated by doped-up, dumbed-down automatons “as hollow as the ‘o’ in God.” The album debuted at #1, and “the world spread its legs for another star.” The Rock is Dead tour sold out arenas, with Manson poised to become “bigger than Satan.” But there was trouble popping off behind the scenes.


Throughout Manson’s rise to superstardom, school shootings ramped up at an alarming rate. All across America, small-town white boys were arming themselves and waging war on the world:

  • October 12, 1995Blackville, SC. A 16 year-old shot and killed two math teachers before shooting himself.
  • November 15, 1995Lynnville, TN. A 17 year-old shot three people, killing a teacher and an 8th grader before he was tackled.
  • February 2, 1996Moses Lake, WA. A 14 year-old came to his algebra class in a long black coat. He shot and killed two students and a teacher, saying “This sure beats algebra, doesn’t it?” The line came from Stephen King’s novel Rage. The killer said his outfit was inspired by a scene in Natural Born Killers.
  • February 8, 1996Pala Alto, CA. A 16 year-old drove his car onto an outdoor basketball court, tossed dollar bills out the window, and unloaded on the kids running up to grab the money, injuring three before killing himself.
  • February 19, 1997Bethel, AK. A 16 year-old went on a twenty minute spree, killing his principal and a student, injuring two others. He held the gun to his own head before surrendering to police.
  • October 1, 1997Pearl, MS. A 16 year-old self-proclaimed Satanist and Hitler fan smothered his mother with a pillow, beat her with a baseball bat, and stabbed her to death with a kitchen knife. He then went to his school and shot his ex-girlfriend before firing at random, ultimately killing two and wounding seven.
  • December 1, 1997West Paducah, KY. A 14 year-old tried to impress the goth crowd by shooting up a prayer circle at school, killing three and injuring five. A copy of King’s Rage was found in his locker.
  • December 6, 1997Stamps, AR. A 14 year-old hid in a treeline and fired on students walking to class, injuring two.
  • March 24, 1998Jonesboro, AR. Inspired by the Stamps shooting, two boys—13 and 11 years-old—stole various firearms and a van, then drove their arsenal to their middle school. The younger boy pulled the fire alarm, then ran to the woods to join his friend. As the students filed out, the pair fired 30 rounds, killing four preteen girls and one teacher, injuring ten others.
  • April 24, 1998Edinboro, PA. A 14 year-old shot and killed a teacher and wounded two classmates at a graduation dance.
  • May 21, 1998Springfield, OR. A 15 year-old killed his parents and booby trapped their bodies with homemade bombs. He then went to school, where he fired on 400 students in the school cafeteria, killing two and wounding twenty-two.

In each of these cases, the shooter was a rural (or suburban) white male. It was like a psychopathic version of Revenge of the Nerds. None of the shooters were high up on the school pecking order—many were at the bottom of the food chain. All of them were either bullied (typically called “faggots”), sexually abused, compelled by a desire to prove their masculinity, suffering from feelings of persecution, desperately suicidal, or some combination thereof. It goes without saying that they all had access to guns.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had been watching these tragedies unfold on television. “Every day news broadcasts stories of students shooting students, or going on killing sprees,” Eric wrote in an English paper. “It is just as easy to bring a loaded handgun to school as it is to bring a calculator.”

“Thorough and logical,” his teacher remarked.  “Nice job.”

Eric was particularly taken by the meticulously planned massacre in Jonesboro, AR, and was itching to top the young pair’s body count. A competitive egomaniac, Eric even aspired to top the 168 deaths caused by Timothy McVeigh. Eric and Dylan’s “Judgement Day” was originally planned for April 19, 1999—the 4th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing—but due to a delay obtaining ammunition, they settled for Hitler’s birthday instead. They dreamed big, and even discussed hijacking a plane to crash into a building in Manhattan, but their high school was more realistic. They constructed numerous propane bombs intended to collapse the columns in the cafeteria, which would send the library upstairs crashing down. They hoped to kill at least 500 students, and would shoot any survivors running out of the building.

“it’ll be like the LA riots, the oklahoma bombing, WWII, vietnam, duke and doom all mixed together,” Eric wrote. “maybe we will even start a little rebellion or revolution to fuck things up as much as we can. i want to leave a lasting impression on the world.”

In the end, they killed thirteen people and then themselves—undoubtedly, the impression was lasting. News teams descended on Littleton in droves. CNN and Fox News charted the highest ratings in their history, and proclaimed Columbine to be the bloodiest school shooting ever recorded—and recorded live, to boot. Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, arrived with Amy Grant by his side to lead the mourners in prayer. Pop psychologists built entire careers around the shooting. Souls would be saved. Psyches would be probed. History would be made.

Before the day was over, Marilyn Manson became an instant scapegoat, carrying the sins of America’s homocidal youth. Headlines read: KILLERS WORSHIPPED ROCK FREAK MANSON and SHOCK ROCKER WHO FILLED PAIR WITH A THRILL TO KILL. He certainly looked the part.

Of course, the original claims that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were dressed like Manson were completely false, but first impressions tend to stick. Eric was obsessed with KMFDM, and Dylan listened to Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral again and again. It is certainly possible that they listened to Marilyn Manson as well, as some students claimed—or maybe they always thought he was “a joke,” as the killers were later quoted as saying.

Manson watched in horror as his contacts in show business and the music industry turned their backs on him one by one. Anonymous death threats began arriving soon after.

About a month after the shooting, Manson published an article in Rolling Stone entitled “Columbine: Whose Fault Is It?” He held violent human nature responsible for such tragedies, played upon by religion and mass media:

Christianity has given us an image of death and sexuality that we have based our culture around. A half-naked dead man hangs in most homes and around our necks…The world’s most famous murder-suicide was also the birth of the death icon—the blueprint for celebrity…

[The media] just created two new [folk heroes] when they plastered those dipshits Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris’ pictures on the front of every newspaper. Don’t be surprised if every kid who gets pushed around has two new idols.

Manson does take on some of the blame, however, by virtue of his membership in the intrinsically violent human race:

In my work I examine the America we live in, and I’ve always tried to show people that the devil we blame our atrocities on is really just each one of us.

That said, the singer crawled into his attic for three months, where he wrote Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). The record was released on November 14, 2000—just before the deathday of JFK—along with this on Manson’s website:

Is adult entertainment killing our children?
Or is killing our children entertaining adults?


Holy Wood approaches these questions with morbid curiosity rather than definitive answers. In some ways, Marilyn Manson shows more empathy for the troubled kids gathering in his shadow than on any other album. The narrative is cohesive and lucid as the inner world of a teenage killer unfolds with each song.

The album opens with a child’s prayer. God is Jesus Christ hanging on a cross. God is John F. Kennedy shot in the black limousine. God is John Lennon in the happy gun. God is a child killed on camera. God is dead, and so everybody loves him.

Manson elaborates on “Lamb of God”:

If you die when there’s no one watching
Then your ratings drop and you’re forgotten
If they kill you on their TV
You’re a martyr and the lamb of God

Columbine, the 2009 exposé by Dave Cullen, explores Eric and Dylan’s aspirations to televised deification in uncomfortably vivid detail, as well as providing heart-wrenching accounts of the victims, the survivors, and their families. Cullen draws on documents that were sealed during much of the media circus surrounding the tragedy, including the boys’ journals.

Eric Harris proudly entitled his writings The Book of God. The first line reads: “I hate the fucking world.” Further on, he writes:

“I feel like God. I am higher than almost anyone in the fucking world in terms of universal intelligence…ever wonder why we go to school? its not to obvious to most of you stupid fucks but for those who think a little more and deeper you should realize it is societies way of turning all the young people into good little robots.”

Despite these god-like flights of fancy, Eric was an avowed atheist disgusted by the megachurch-attending Christians that thrive in Littleton. “its just all nature, chemistry, and math. you die. burn, melt, evaporate, decay.” From this standpoint, he adopted a Nazi-like view of evolution.

In Eric’s twisted peanut, natural selection has been hijacked by medical care and special ed programs, leaving him surrounded by retarded automatons who not only refused to bow down, but had the nerve to insult him continually. Among his proposed solutions was to imprison the human race in an Ultimate Doom game and pick us off one by one. Another option, meticulously detailed in his writing, was “Judgement Day.”

“I know I will die soon; so will you and everyone else.”

Despite the constant irritation, Eric revelled in his ascendant position as the highest lifeform on Earth. For Dylan Klebold, being unique was depressing.

Dylan called his journal Existences: A Virtual Book. It’s pages are filled with sadness creeping toward suicide. “My existence is shit,” he wrote.

Dylan lamented his inability to shake society’s droids from their torpid ignorance. Early on, he only wanted to set “the zombies” free. While Eric was a hater who still managed to get laid now and again, Dylan was a lover who pined after girls in vain. The pages of Existences are filled with sketches of floating hearts surrounded by stars. He doted over the smallest details of his highschool crushes. These girls would never understand the universe opening up in his teenage mind.

A firm believer in God, Dylan tortured himself with the struggle between good and evil, Heaven and Hell. He frequently purified himself of vices such as playing Doom, watching porno, drinking booze, and notably, making fun of other kids—which he and Eric did relentlessly. Dylan’s soul was threatened with damnation, while on earth his fragile ego was menaced by the persecution of his peers. The slightest insult could send him spiraling into a vicious, overly-defensive tantrum. Again and again, he wrote, “the screws are tightening.” In the end, he followed his friend Eric to the only freedom he could imagine: NBK.

Holy Wood’s primary narrator is Adam Kadmon, who embodies the universal innocence of mankind. The naive Adam wants to change the world—to start a revolution that will free its inhabitants. He pursues the love of humanity, personified as his Eve (called Coma Black.) But in the end, she is just another plastic doll “the color of TV,” and so Adam decides to end the world that refuses to be saved on his terms.

The climax of the album is the frantic industrial track “King Kill 33°”. The title comes from James Shelby Downard’s freaked out conspiracy theory tract of the same name, which reconstructs the Kennedy assassination as a ritual sacrifice orchestrated by the Freemasons in order to harness the public’s emotional response through sorcery.  In the song, the rejected Adam Kadmon turns against the world in fury, then becomes a dying god in his own mind:

But I have to show you that you played a role
And I will destroy you with one simple hole
The world that hates me has taken its toll
But now I have finally taken control

You wanted so bad to make me this thing
And I want you now to just kill the king…

And I am not sorry, and I am not sorry,
This is what you deserve


There is always the question of blame whenever blood is spilled—without an answer, a killing becomes meaningless. Eric held the world responsible for its own destruction—people were just too stupid to live. His t-shirt on the day of the massacre read “Natural Selection.” (How ironic that he selected himself out of the gene pool.) Dylan blamed God for being so indifferent to his suffering. His t-shirt said “Wrath.”

After Columbine, evangelical Christians were quick to claim that Satan kills kids for lack of Jesus. Gun control advocates kept their sites on “the great equalizer” that allows anyone with a strong finger to end someone else’s world. Anti-bullying activists and minority advocates insisted that if everyone was just nice to everyone else all the time, kids would have no reason to kill. Various pop psychologists and political action committees pointed fingers at violent video games, violent movies, and yes, violent music as being the examples from which killers learn their behavior.

Dave Cullen promotes the FBI’s conclusion that, in the case of Columbine, neurological predisposition was to blame. Criminal psychologists determined that Eric Harris was a textbook psychopath—a sadistic manipulator and compulsive liar without the biological prerequisites to feel empathy. His sidekick Dylan was just a chronic depressive for whom the vacuum of despair opened a space for murder. In this reductionist view, Nature simply produces diabolical genetic aberrations here and there, making human reproduction into a game of Russian roulette that will periodically put a murderer under the firing pin. For Cullen, Eric Harris was a natural born killer, no matter what kind of music he liked.

Media coverage of the Columbine shooting sensationalized the link between rock n’ roll and violence, as they did with Charles Manson and The Beatles’ White Album, or Richard Ramirez and AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. Maybe the borderline retarded Seung-Hui Cho unloaded clip after clip—killing 32 fellow Virginia Tech students—because he listened to Collective Soul’s “Shine” a hundred million times.

So what album was 23 year-old Wellington Oliveira listening to earlier this month when he systematically executed twelve small children at his old elementary school in Rio de Janeiro? That is uncertain, but we do know that he was inspired by Cho and a previous Brazilian school shooter, calling them his “brothers” in the fight against the bullies of the world.

Cho considered Harris and Klebold to be “martyrs” for the cause, and Eric Harris was inspired by the school shooting in Jonesboro, AR—just as that incident was an imitation of a previous school shooting in Arkansas. Like Harris, Klebold, and Cho, Oliveira left rambling video messages which put the blame for his murderous rampage on the world that persecuted him. “Each time you see someone making fun of someone else for their physical appearance, the clothing or any reason…remember that type of person is responsible for all these deaths, including my own.”

By their bloodthirsty nature, the news media then broadcasted each losers’-call-to-arms to the next psycho turning in the pistol’s chamber.  Loren Coleman’s research into “the copycat effect” gives strong evidence that mass shootings and suicides come in clusters, beginning with one widely publicized incident.  It seems that at any given moment there are a handful of wackos ready to snap, and seeing a gruesome news story validates their rage.

Despite recent claims that school shooters are typically not bullied outcasts, the most notorious school shooters complained of being disrespected, shunned, insulted, and/or beaten up by their peers. Whether they were just being hyper-sensitive whiners or were viciously attacked, in their own minds they were backed into a corner. Taking it on the chin was not an option. The indignities of life stuck to their souls, and revenge was the only purification.

In the early days, Marilyn Manson often spoke of his resentment at being bullied in school. He was tall, gangly, and weird, so naturally kids beat the shit out of him. For him, becoming a rock star was the greatest revenge he could have on his tormentors. He realized his vindictive impulses through art rather than with a gun, and kept his dick wetter than most for the effort.

Amplifiers cranked Brian Warner’s otherwise soft spoken murmer up to Marilyn Manson’s ear-drilling shriek, drowning out parents and priests.  Recording technology allowed him to break free from the ancient male pecking order by catching the camera’s eye and enticing the kiddie Id with taboo urges.  It is no surprise that people would find links between Manson’s music and hate-filled teenagers—they occupy the same spiritual space.  No salvation.  No forgiveness.

Show biz is a dirty business.  For all of his accusations that the media exploits tragedy for profit, Manson has sold over 9 million copies of Holy Wood to date.

Civilization has provided numerous ways to get around the rulership of brute force, including intelligence, cooperation, rhetoric, and art. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold utilized a relatively new technological alternative to liberate themselves: the gun.

For millennia, evolution selected for males endowed with physical prowess. Tribal leadership was granted to the greatest warriors. By the dawn of written history, mankind had created swords to maintain worldly power.  This gave some smaller men an edge, but a sword still requires strength and dexterity to wield. The revolver is a kid’s toy.

The rough-and-tumble environment of the schoolyard mimics the ancient environment, where the strongest muscles command the most respect and the frail are casually knocked out of the way. I imagine that weaklings have resented the blows dealt by stronger hands since vivid cerebral memory overtook blessed animal forgetfulness, but they were always powerless to do anything about it.

Today, the availability of guns provides an avenue to subvert this carnal hierarchy, granting power to the weak and the despised. In the blink of a scowling eye, any idiot with an opposable thumb and an itchy trigger finger can momentarily claim the ultimate right of an earthly King: the power to deal death as he chooses.  The popular media then line up to give voice to this whimpering proclamation of sovereignty.

In typical amoral fashion, Manson screams:

This is evolution
The monkey, the man
Then the gun

The possibility that unhinged individuals might draw destructive inspiration from such dismal visions should be unsettling—but not nearly so disturbing as the human condition that these expressions describe.  Sadly, as long as there are cameras, guns, and psychotic discontents, Holy Wood will continue to be a relevant piece of art.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Marilyn MansonThe Nobodies


Coleman, Loren.  The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tommorrow’s Headlines. New York: Paraview Pocket Books, 2004.

Cullen, Dave.  Columbine. Boston: Twelve, 2009.

Newman, Katherine S.  Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings. New York: Basic Books, 2004.

Did Christianity Kill
Marvin Gaye and Rozz Williams?

In private moments otherwise shrouded in darkness, Christians feel the presence of God looming over their shoulders. The Omniscient Eye bears witness to every messy indiscretion behind closed doors and probes dirty thoughts like a supernatural panty-raider.

In view of their popular images, Marvin Gaye and Rozz Williams seem as different as sly grins and slit wrists, but the camera overlooks their common heritage. They were both children of a church-dwelling God, and His relentless imposition of conscience drove both them to the very edge of sanity—where they promptly jumped into the Abyss.

Both met their Maker on April 1st. No foolin’.



© Brandt Hardin at DREGstudios

Marvin Gay Jr. grew up under the thumb of the “Hebrew Pentecostal” House of God denomination. His father, Marvin Gay Sr., was an ambitious preacher in the Washington DC congregation, and swung an iron fist on any defiant soul living under his roof.

The rules were simple: No make up, no television, no wine, no swine, no sweethearts, no playing after dark, no bed-wetting, and don’t even think about having fun.

The ministry brought many blessings to the Reverend Gay—despite his hobgoblin visage—including the loose “sisters” of the congregation who were more than willing to service a man of God under the nose of his timid wife. In his own mind, the pastor was destined to become a big time prophet. His dreams of sainthood were shattered, however, when theological rifts within the House of God left him with a meager flock to tend.

Defeated and disillusioned, the failed spiritual leader retreated into the quiet sanctum of his stank bedroom, where he would slip into his wife’s silky dresses and nylon stockings, swig jugs of liquor, and stare into the mirror while wearing a stringy, honky-haired wig. If that got boring, he would just go out and slap his family around. He particularly despised his handsome and talented son, Marvin Gay Jr., calling him a “sinner” and a “faggot” for abandoning the choir to sing the Devil’s boogie-woogie.

Marvin Jr. escaped this oppressive teenage existence by joining the Air Force in 1956. He didn’t much care for the military’s rules, either, but at least he got a chance to “do the nasty” off base—with a blubbery whore at Patsy Prim’s Cathouse. This two-pump poke-down was hardly the sacred act Marvin’s preacher had talked about and the post-coital guilt nearly crushed the young man’s soul.

Within a year, Marvin was granted an honorable discharge after faking the crazies. He headed back to his old ‘hood in DC, moved in with a sexy new girlfriend, and set about becoming a star. Of course, there was one final tie to sever. Upon realizing that the slang of the day had shifted against his surname, he immediately added the now-familiar “e” to dispel any confusion. Can you blame him?

Marvin made his way to Detroit in 1959, where he would find his destiny in Anna Gordy—a gorgeous, world-wise woman seventeen years his senior. She immediately fell in love with Marvin’s voice, and soon insisted that her brother—the founder of Motown Records—give him a listen. Berry Gordy saw an R&B star ready to burn, and wasted no time buying the rights to the singer’s soul. Before long, Anna Gordy said, “I do.”

In the early days of his touring career, Marvin remained faithful to Anna. He was content to just smoke a joint, rub some cocaine on his gums, and cozy up in his hotel room with a stack of skin mags. After awhile, though, he began to bring a prostitute or two into the mix. Perhaps it was a lingering tendency from porn-consumption, but he generally preferred to simply watch his hired help undress and fondle each other. If the specter of guilt arose, he would remind himself that the Patriarchs of the Old Testament were polygamous, so why shouldn’t he enjoy some variety?

“Prostitutes protect me from passion,” Marvin maintained. “Passions are dangerous. They can cause you to lust after other men’s wives.”

Publicly, Marvin was famous for his steamy duets, but it was pure magic when in 1967 he stepped into the national spotlight with the vibrant Tammi Terrell singing by his side. While race riots set Detroit on fire, America gazed in wonder as Tammi and Marvin sang of precious love, and for a moment it seemed possible that there “ain’t no mountain high enough” to keep true lovers apart.

Then one night Tammi fainted into Marvin’s arms onstage. Doctors discovered a tumor in her brain. A series of unsuccessful operations left the once gorgeous performer in a wheelchair—blind, bald, and unable to perform the simplest tasks. Marvin was so distraught that he would not go onstage again for four years.

Throughout Tammi’s decline, Marvin sought peace in solitude, reefer, and spiritual self-help books like Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan. “I would like to become a man of power and knowledge,” he proclaimed to one interviewer. At 31, he developed megalomaniacal athletic aspirations. He played basketball, took up boxing, and even considered trying out for the Detroit Lions—to everyone’s amusement. The numby gummies had lost their luster at this point, so Marvin began sniffing instead.

Continuous television coverage of Martin Luther King’s assassination, the endless Vietnam War, and America’s deteriorating black ghettos erupted upon Gaye’s consciousness, stirring his troubled soul. He turned to the Spirit, gravitated toward New Age Gnosticism, and became convinced that the End was nigh—but that he was chosen by God to lead the Spiritual Elite to glory.

The long-awaited release of What’s Going On in 1971 took everyone by surprise. Beneath the album’s soothing vocals is a call for social justice, a wail of racial despair, and a warning of immanent ecological and/or nuclear catastrophe. Emerging from this hopeless vision is the plea to just save the children. Backed by groovy percussion and fronted by Marvin’s winning smile, the project was a smash hit whose impact endures to this day. The revolutionary youth fell in love with it. Marvin was no longer “The Sound of Young America.” On this album, he became the Voice of Black America.

Janis Hunter was also in love. The young girl stopped by the studio one day in 1973, and Marvin could not help himself. Her creamy, Cuban complexion, her lithe body and bubbly admiration—it was just too tempting. His wife Anna was 51 at this point—seventeen years older than Marvin. Janis was seventeen years younger—making her seventeen years-old. She was Marvin’s last chance to bask in innocence, purity, and the naïve optimism that is the folly of youth. Janis had much to learn.

This period saw the release of such seductive hits as “Let’s Get It On” and “You Sure Love To Ball.” Marvin left his humiliated wife and retreated with his little love bunny to a rugged cabin on the coastline. By the late 70s, Marvin and young Jan were married with children. They toured the world on a wave of erotic fame, snorted snow drifts of cocaine, and strained the limits of bizarre sexual pleasures.

Marvin’s New Age obsessions continued. He got into biofeedback and vegetarianism, wore brass pyramids one his head around the house, and remained convinced that Armageddon would soon purge the Earth of the unworthy—leaving him and the Elite to start anew. Perhaps these survivors would listen to sexy R&B tunes while disposing of irradiated mutants.

Marvin’s adventurous nymph eventually grew tired of his power trips and started exploring other partners. The early 80s found Gaye holding the #1 spot with “Sexual Healing,” while Teddy Pendergrass and Rick James were laying hands on his young wife. It drove Marvin to slap Jan silly, but he also blamed himself for corrupting her.

Time rolled over him like a train to Batshitville. The End was nigh, and his nostrils were blown out. Marvin took to free-basing instead. He did one last tour in 1983 to scrape up cash. Sometimes he brought multiple couples up to his hotel room, and had them soak his sheets with some midnight love while he stopped, looked, and listened.

He would occasionally repent in desperate moments, once smashing a glass pipe under a Bible as a symbolic gesture. Again and again, he vowed to live a life of purity and ferociously condemned the drug use of his companions. God forgives. Jesus is the Truth and the Light. But cocaine was readily available. A million dollars, a million record sales, a million brain cells boiling on aluminum foil and sucked through a glass tube. That shit is terrible for your teeth.

Threatening voices emanated from the television set like gakked-out Jiminy Crickets. Marvin would frequently dismantle telephones to search for recording devices. His soul was exposed. Everyone was out to get him. Maybe they would come after his parents instead. His beloved mother! Marvin sent his father an unregistered .38 pistol, just in case.

In Marvin’s mind, he was the biggest star in the world. A Savior of the human race. But his sins were rotting hot dogs stuck to his ribs, and the hounds of Hell drooled in the shadows. Groupies’ husbands, Jan’s father, unpaid drug-dealers, radicalized black supremacists, Berry Gordy’s henchmen, the FBI, the IRS, and of course, God Himself had a bone to pick with Marvin Gaye. One night he thought the Devil had finally come for him, and his bodyguard found him blabbering on the hotel bed with 666 pasted to his sweaty forehead.

The last months of Marvin Gaye’s life were spent under his father’s roof in the suburbs of LA. Marvin had bought the home for his parents some years back, but was still ashamed to live there. He was forty-four, fat, balding, bankrupt, and estranged from both Anna and Jan. His children were kept from him, and his career was all washed up.

Threats of suicide became commonplace but Marvin considered that to be an unforgivable sin. So he holed up in his darkened bedroom wearing a soiled bathrobe, consumed quantities of coke and PCP, and stared out the window for his coming assassins. Like father, like son. One close friend claimed that in his isolation, Marvin had taken up “some weird sexual thing” so perverse the friend refused to give details. I have my guesses, though.

Marvin’s father stayed drunk and disgusted with his son. His mother prayed for him in tears. Marvin just disintegrated. Then, without warning, Judgment Day arrived.

Marvin was laying on his bed talking to his mother, when his father came to the door griping about a lost insurance policy. He cursed at Marvin’s mother like she was a dog. So Marvin leapt from the bed and began to beat the shit out of him. “Motherfucker, you want some more?” He punched and kicked the pitiful old man repeatedly, then returned to his room.

Marvin Gay Sr. took the .38 his son had given him, walked to Marvin Jr.’s room, and shot him in the chest—then popped one more into his torso for good measure. Marvin Gaye was pronounced dead on April 1, 1984—one day before his forty-fifth birthday.

People close to him said that Marvin intentionally took his own life by his father’s hand. It puts a twisted spin on Jesus’ last words on the cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.”

Marvin Gay Sr. had warned Marvin Jr. many times, “I brought you into this world, and if you lay a hand on me I’ll take you out.” If nothing else, he was a man of his word. While in jail, a reporter asked Marvin Sr. if he loved his son. After some hesitation he replied, “Let’s say that I didn’t dislike him.” It turns out that Marvin Sr. had a wicked brain tumor. He was given five years probation for voluntary manslaughter and confined to a nursing home, where he gradually lost his marbles.

“I could never imagine [Marvin Gaye] living to be an old man,” Jan said of her late husband. “He was drawn to danger[...] The dark side of life and the dark side of the mind really fascinated him. There was stuff that just went so deep, so dark and so bizarre. That was the driving force with him for many years.”



© Brandt Hardin at DREGstudios

There was nothing gradual about Rozz Williams’ descent into darkness. One day it was Gummy Bears, the next it was bears at the leather bar. The little guy was so precocious, he might as well have been born into an open grave.

Raised by Southern Baptist parents on the outskirts of LA, Roger Alan Painter found his Savior to be repellent at an early age. He had too many questions and the church’s vapid answers were hardly satisfying.

Why is the world so mean?
(Jesus loves you)
Who am I?
(Jesus loves you)
What do I do with all these erections?
(You’ll go to Hell)
Is that all there is?
(Jesus loves you)

The kid was bored to death and willing to try anything to break free. Rock n’ roll was the obvious choice.

In 1979, at the age of sixteen, he founded the seminal goth band from which all black nail-polish still flows: Christian Death. The name Rozz Williams was lifted from a tombstone in a neighborhood cemetery. I have no idea where he picked up that haunted, faux-Shakespearean accent.  Not southern California.

Rozz’s church-going parents were alarmed at their son’s penchant for flamboyant blasphemy—especially after seeing his tapes condemned by pastors on TV—but what were they gonna do, spank him? He was already dressing like Boy George-meets-the-Exorcist and bringing boyfriends home so he could strip them down and tie them up and wrap them in plastic and cut them up with razor blades and lick their bloody wounds and then hold hands in public.

The details of Rozz’s private life are pretty murky, but he was never shy about expressing his perversions onstage or on film. This guy was cutting himself when blood-sucking was still left to Béla Lugosi, performing Crowlean black magic rituals at the height of the Satanic Panic, and openly defying gender norms back when LGBT was just a funny way to spell lug-butt.

“I’ve never understood the idea that men are supposed to wear pants and women are supposed to wear skirts[,]” Rozz mused. “We both have male and feminine sides to ourselves, so there’s no reason not to explore them.”

His breakout moment was with Premature Ejaculation in 1980. It was a bit of nasty performance art created in LA with his gothic dreamboat, Ron Athey. Inspired by massive amounts of acid, heroin, and yes, sado-masochistic games with preteen boys, this visual representation of animal abuse included a boy tied up on the floor, handfuls of putrid animal organs hucked at the crowd, the live crucifixion of a rotten roadkill kitty from which Ron took a few bites, and subsequently, a great deal of vomiting.

“I’d rather play a show which the audience walks out of en masse, than one they just stand around and talk through.”

His goth rock career took off in 1982 with the release of Christian Death’s Only Theater of Pain (not to be confused with Mötley Crüe’s pseudo-satanic Theater of Pain, released three years later.) Rozz took the stage in pancaked corpsepaint, black lipstick, silk gloves, smoldering cigarettes, and a flowing white wedding dress that just screamed, “She’s a liar!”

The lyrics ranged from the Jesus/Satan dichotomy to candlelit pederastic romance. You’d think he was raised Catholic. An amoral tone of dispassionate curiosity was established early on, which would endure throughout his subsequent work. Rozz sang:

Burning crosses on a nigger’s lawn
Burning money, what’s a house without a home?
Dance in your white sheet glory
Dance in your passion


Kiss on my hand
After dark
Hand for a kiss…

People weren’t sure what to make of it. Was it ironic satire? Sadistic indulgence? Soulless observation? Gothic nonsense?

Rozz explained, “I feel that people should be allotted freedom to look into whatever it is they’re looking into, and make up their own mind about it.”

After Rozz crucified himself at the Whiskey A Go Go on Easter weekend, few people in the press were asking him any questions, anyway. Christian Death came years before Madonna made out with black Jesus and Robert Mapplethorpe peed on crucifixes—sacrilege hadn’t gone mainstream yet.

By this time, Rozz had fallen head over heels for his wife-to-be, Eva O, a vamped-out, guitar-slung “queen of darkness” who occasionally played with Christian Death. She had recently left a relationship with the pentagram-emblazoned serial killer, Richard Ramirez, so she was ready for a rebound. Considering the fact that preshy-poo Rozzy wrote letters to Jeffrey Dahmer and pored over Charles Manson’s rambling philosophies, you have to wonder where him and Eva hid the bodies.

Eva and Rozz began writing songs for Shadow Project together in the late 80s. The name refers the charred “shadows” left on concrete walls by the vaporized victims at Hiroshima, and the sound was pure death rock—which is akin to straightforward rock n’ roll, but with a consistently, obsessively, slavishly morbid twist.

Christian Death became a goth sensation in America and Europe, and was to be Rozz’s most widely known work. But Rozz soon found himself bored with this project, as he eventually did with most things in life. He allowed the guitarist, Valor, to take over the group under the condition that they drop the name and not play Rozz’s songs.

“Call yourself ‘Satanic Life’ or ‘Evil Watermelon,’” I can hear Rozz saying, “But don’t use my material. Deal?”
“I am in such mortal anguish,” Valor moans, “but okay—deal.”
“Blood oath?”
“But of course.”
Slice. Slice. Splat.

Rozz fluttered off on bat wings, and Valor immediately started touring both sides of the Atlantic as Christian Death, playing all of Rozz’s songs. Which pissed Rozz off—but he took it like a sport, really. Everybody copied Rozz Williams—that’s just how things were. And after all, he had other things to occupy him.

There were snuff films to watch and demons to conjure and poetry to compose, and of course, heroin to zap up his veins. Gobs of gooey, womb-like, feel-no-pain-when-you-cut-yourself-with-an-old-school-razor-blade smack-in-the-dirty-needle. Bang! Zooom! To the moon, Eva!

Although Rozz would occasionally do Christian Death reunion shows—withdrawals are a bitch—he was always focused on the next endeavor. Shadow Project’s second album, Dreams for the Dying, was recorded while locked in their LA studio during the race riots of ’92. The songs are among his most deranged. It seems that Rozz was devoted to one mission throughout his career: Explore the underbelly of the Universe. Transgress every taboo. See what happens.

“What I like to do with anything I do is push it past the boundaries. I like to break a lot of new ground and try new things[...] We’re not interested in staying in a format, we don’t want to be labeled as just a gothic band.”

Rozz detested labels. Christian, Satanic, good, evil, gay, straight, normal, perverted, junky, rockstar—mere words!

“Everybody’s a human being,” Rozz insisted, despite evidence that he was a ring wraith. “And if you want characters, then create them on paper or something, don’t expect people to be your characters.”


Eva O became a born-again Christian in the early 90s. Although she continued playing Jesus Freak goth, Shadow Project was disbanded in 1994. Her marriage to Rozz—which he described as “a very informal marriage, more of a partnership”—was dissolved soon after. They would go on to record one final album together, not long before Rozz’s death. The tearfully sentimental From the Heart was released later that year.

Rozz continued to explore the oozing, Id-saturated mess that was his soul. His musical output—or whatever you want to call it—was constant, leaving the world an endless stream of cassettes to ponder. One of his last formal projects was the spoken word album, From the Whorse’s Mouth, written during a period of intense heroin addiction in 1996.

Without question, the most disturbing track is “Raped.” The recording combines Rozz’s poetry with snippets of Porky Pig’s voice, advertisements for gay porno, and an answering machine message from an obscene caller named Frank Lee, retrieved from an abandoned police station. Porky Pig stutters, Frank Lee threatens to sodomize a young child, and an enthusiastic barker promises potential customers “the hottest fist-fucking double fuck films ever made.”

Granted, this is pretty tired material for anyone who has clicked between YouTube,, and, but in ’97 it was a cult classic—a coveted glimpse into the evil that men do. But why would anyone want to hear that?

I had a good friend who adored Rozz Williams, but he’s not available to answer that question. After a brief, dysfunctional marriage to his body, he shot up a fatal dose in the underbelly of Detroit.

“I’m not saying I don’t have hatred toward myself,” Rozz said, about a year before he died. “There are certain things that I despise about myself, but I try to direct those things out of myself into something that can be positive.”

Also, “Frank Lee is my hero.”

Curiously, he went on to say, “I have a personal relationship with Christ, and that’s mine—it doesn’t belong to a church or an organization[...]

“I believe in [God and Satan] as literal—it’s also things you see day to day. As simple as someone passing you on the street and saying ‘hello,’ which most people do not do—they pass you by and give you a dirty look.”

His last undertaking was a short film with Nico B., in which a faceless killer kidnaps a hairless male youth, ties him up in an abandoned house—pauses to read from some infernal tome—and then proceeds to slowly mutilate and murder him. “Let’s say, if I weren’t doing this on film, you would be talking to me from a prison cell right now,” Rozz explained. “I’m living out some fantasies on film.” Which is entitled Pig.

Rozz was also working hard on his paintings and collages, and had kicked heroin for some time at this point. According to Nico B., Rozz remained clean until his dying day. He continued to knock back plenty of booze, however, and was left extremely depressed after the suicide of his best friend, Erik Christides, in 1997. People said Rozz looked unhealthy. Rumors spread that he had contracted HIV.

On April 1, 1998, Rozz was supposed to catch a movie with Nico B., but didn’t show. When his friends finally busted into his apartment, they found Rozz dangling from his doorway with the “Hanged Man” Tarot card laying nearby. He was 34. Many fans were disappointed that he left no suicide note, but having reviewed Rozz Williams’ prolific lyrics and visual art, I think a note would be a bit redundant.

“In 1994 Rozz told me he had accepted Jesus,” claimed his would-be widow, Eva O, “And before he died he called his mother and let her know that he accepted the Lord. In his last conversation with his roommate he said he was going to be with God. I believe he is safe now.”

When an interviewer mentioned that Rozz has been described as “an angel” by some, Nico B. responded:

“Well, he’s an angel now. I think he was a devil sometimes! (laughs) You know, when he was having fun[...]  But he was a very humorous person as well.”

He was obviously fond of April Fool’s Day.


In his coffin, Marvin Gaye wore the white military uniform from his last tour. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Rozz Williams wore something black, with black underneath. Around 10,000 people viewed Marvin’s body at his memorial service. As far as I know, only a handful paid respects to Rozz’s remains.

Both were cremated. Marvin’s family offered his ashes to the Pacific Ocean from the deck of a yacht. Rozz’s family sprinkled his remains into Runyon Canyon, CA. The state of their eternal souls remains a mystery.

Marvin Gaye was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame on 1987, where his legacy continues to enamor the public. Rozz was given a memorial niche at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in 2001, and a plaque that reads:

All truth is parallel
All truth is untrue

For those who can muster the strength to carry on, Life is a precious struggle. As for those who cannot, their memories are enshrined as the living see fit. Who can say what is or is not forgivable?

© 2011 Joseph Allen

Marvin GayeWhat’s Going On/What’s Happening Brother?

Christian DeathRomeo’s Distress

For Vadim