Wendy O Williams
aka “The Squirrel Lady”

© Brandt Hardin at DREGstudios.com

Wendy O Williams’ stage presence was so sexy, it caused temporary impotence.  A classic evening with the Plasmatics in the 80s included Wendy dangling TNT over the audience’s head before blowing cars up onstage.  TVs were smashed to bits, guitars chainsawed in two, microphones were deepthroated, Wendy O mounted speakers for some orgasm-inducing feedback, and the occasional cover was thrown in for ironic effect—such as Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.”  Dubbed “pornography rock,” the act saw the destruction of nearly everything onstage, and in the end, their lead singer.  Wendy O shot herself in the head on April 6, 1998.

April of 1998 happened to be a curiously deadly month in the music world.  Rozz Williams hung himself on the 1st, Rob Pilatus floated his pill-raft down Booze River on the 2nd, virtuoso Cozy Powell crashed his Saab while talking on a clunky 1990s cell phone on the 5th, and Wendy O Williams shot herself on the 6th—the same night that Tammy Wynette passed away from a blood clot in her lung.  To top it off, Paul McCartney’s wife, Linda, succumbed to metastasizing breast cancer on the 17th.

As it happened, a series of ferocious tornadoes ravaged the South during that month, killing 32 people in Birmingham on April 2.  On the 16th, ten freak twisters ripped Middle Tennessee apart, one of them tearing through downtown Music City. 12 people were killed that day.  I suppose Wendy O had plenty of company in the celestial waiting room.  According to her suicide note, she’d made her appointment early.

I have to admire Wendy O Williams for her ovaries of steel.  For the “Queen of Shock Rock,” femininity meant sticking e-tape on your tits, pumping some iron, and then slapping the nearest bystander with your swollen clit.  When Wendy wanted her woo woo wazzled, she sought out the biggest, baddest, hardest, nastiest men she could wrap her sweaty legs around.  It wasn’t an invitation to sweet-lovin’ with this chick—it was a ball-busting challenge.  On ”I Love Sex (and Rock n’ Roll)” she sang:

Don’t waste my urges, no I’m bored to death
Well you can save your breath
You’re fading fast

Driven by hunger, just ain’t gettin’ my fill
Don’t know the reason why
That’s who I am

What kind of man could handle such a scrotum-shredding bitch?  “Captain Kink” Rod Swenson, that’s who.  After meeting at his New York club, he immediately asked her to be his wife.  While they never tied the knot—other than some pleasant B&D action—they remained partners for the better part of Wendy’s life, which lasted much longer than one might have expected.

It’s one thing for a woman wearing a Mohawk to slap a groping cop in the face—which she did.  It’s another thing entirely to climb out of a convertible rocketing through the desert onto a rope-ladder dangling from a small airplane and fly off over a cliff—which she also did, supposedly with no safety equipment.  That makes me want to dig up her corpse and plant a big, slobbery smooch on her rotten jaw.

To say that Wendy O had a morbid sense of humor would be an understatement.  Her song “Brain Dead” sounds like it was written by Dr. Seuss while huffing paint in a fallout shelter and waiting for the New World Order to come confiscate his crayons:

Dragged off in the dead of night
Disappear without a sight

For global peace is what we pray
As long as things are done our way

Disagree or acting rude
We will chop you up for food

The song comes from a concept album recorded in 1987 called Maggots: The Record, which chronicles a catastrophic attempt at geo-engineering.  Scientists developed a breed of maggots which would eat all the trash on earth, and then die.  But they just kept eating everything, turning humans into zombies before wiping them out completely.  When asked about the violence of her artistic expression, Wendy responded, “Talk about violence—I don’t do anything violent.

“Talk about violence, what’s going on in Nicaragua? What’s going on in El Salvador?” she railed. ”That’s violent. What are they doing to the planet with chemicals and acid rain? That’s violent. What are people doing to each other? Raping. That’s violent.

“I’m striking out at an icon that has no life. There’s a big difference between what has life and what doesn’t. I mean, I’ve been a vegetarian for 16 years.”

The Plasmatics couldn’t peddle their schtick forever, and when their heyday was over, Wendy O retired with Swenson to a cabin nestled in the woods of Connecticut.  She spent the rest of her life in seclusion, being a friend to animals and contemplating the Void, which earned her the nickname “The Squirrel Lady.”  In fact, it appears that feeding acorns to squirrels was the last thing she did before feeding herself to the worms on April 6, 1998.  Her body was found in the woods by Swenson when he returned home from shopping.  The pistol was laying in a bed of dead leaves.  Her suicide note read:

The act of taking my own life is not something I am doing without a lot of thought. I don’t believe that people should take their own lives without deep and thoughtful reflection over a considerable period of time. I do believe strongly, however, that the right to do so is one of the most fundamental rights that anyone in a free society should have.

For me much of the world makes no sense, but my feelings about what I am doing ring loud and clear to an inner ear and a place where there is no self, only calm.

Love always,

Swenson said of the love of his life:

“She had been talking about taking her own life for almost four years. She was at home in the peak of her career, but found the more ordinary ‘hypocrisies of life’ as she called them excruciatingly hard to deal with. In one sense she was the strongest person I have ever known, and in another, a side which most people never saw, the most vulnerable. She felt, in effect, she’d peaked and didn’t care to live in a world in which she was uncomfortable, and below peak any longer.

“Speaking personally for myself, I loved her beyond imagination. She was a source of strength, inspiration, and courage. The pain at this moment in losing her is inexpressible.”

That people will sit down one day, get their affairs in order, and blow their brains out is absolutely baffling to me.  I’ve know a number of men to do so.  In fact, there were recently two public suicides down the road from my hometown.

In the first instance, a young man in his early 20s walked into Wal-Mart where his ex-girlfriend was eating with her new beau.  He told her that he was going to kill himself, walked back into the space between the automatic doors, and then shot himself in the face in front of everybody.

A few days later, a 77 year-old man parked his car in front of the local hospital, carefully pinned a note to his shirt,* tasted the barrel, and then pulled the trigger.

For loved ones, self-inflicted pistol wounds are the ultimate act of selfish abandonment.  For gossiphoppers, it is a fresh bit of fat to chew, and for custodians—a nasty mess to clean.

For Wendy O Williams, suicide was a final act of destructive performance art.  April of ’98 was a hot month for dead rock stars, and she wasn’t about to be upstaged by some nancy boy like Rozz Williams.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

A trailer for
Wendy O Williams and the Plasmatics:
10 Years of Revolutionary Rock n’ Roll
featuring a montage of classic Wendy O footage

*[corrected from: "laid his note on his lap"]

How Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley
Attained Intravenous Enlightenment

It is an interesting coincidence that the respective coroners’ reports for Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley place both of their deaths on April 5, and that they were born within six months of each other just before the Summer of Love.  Yet these two Seattle icons made dramatically different exits.  Kurt went out with a bang in 1994, while Layne slowly faded away, finally disappearing completely in 2002.

They were suffering saints in my formative, pube-sprouting years, and I enshrined their brooding images in my superstar iconography. Inspired by rock n’ roll fantasies, I steeled my will against the Christ to whom eunuchs bow, tasted 31 flavors of fucked up, and my grandmother even gave me an old maroon cardigan to match my long blond hair. Monkey see, monkey do.  The result was the long-awaited loss of my virginity to an avid Hole fan and constant harassment from rednecks at school. Thanks, Grandma.

Then my heroes killed themselves. I never had to really miss Kurt or Layne, though, because the cd-player kept their souls spinning and drowned out the noise of the outside world. Those songs still bring back memories from my childhood.



© Brandt Hardin at DREGstudios.com

Kurt Cobain was a lonesome, sensitive child. His parents always bickered with each other when he needed attention, leaving him to his only friends—an imaginary specter named “Boddah” and his gay pal from school, Myer Loftin. Naturally, he was bullied by local yokels for maintaining the latter relationship, setting him squarely against the surly sons of loggers and their masculine redneck values.

Kurt faced a cruel, predatory cosmos throughout those early years in Aberdeen, WA. It was a world populated with judgemental adults and their ruthless, piranha-like spawn, where harsh criticism and bathroom bitch-slappings lurked around every corner—a world which Cobain would never make peace with.

“I wouldn’t have been surprised if they voted me Most Likely to Kill Everyone at a High School Dance[,]” he mused years later.  “[B]ut I’m sure I would opt to kill myself first.”

Nothing seemed to satisfy the young man, so he left the comfort of home to seek enlightenment in the gutter. He bummed change like a wandering mendicant, did cheap drugs, surfed couches, and occasionally slept underneath the bridge. This bitter taste set him apart from the flavorless middle-class and their wealthy overlords.

Legend has it that Kurt bought his first amplifier with his father’s guns. His mother had tossed them into the river after a vicious domestic dispute, and Kurt fished them out to take them to the pawn shop. After a brief spell with a punk band called Skid Row, Cobain formed Nirvana with bassist Chris Novoselic, playing a particularly angsty variation of quirky garage rock which resonated with the wayward youth of Seattle.

In 1989 Nirvana was signed to the Sub Pop label, where they enjoyed moderate underground success. Kurt wrote in his journal, “Punk is musical freedom. It’s saying, doing and playing what you want. Nirvana means freedom from pain and suffering in the external world and thats [sic] close to my definition of punk rock.”

Cobain’s choice of band names is compelling.  The original Sanskrit term simply means “to extinguish the flame,” as in the flames of desire. The Buddha used the word “nirvana” to describe the state of Enlightenment which frees the soul from this miserable karmic cycle of endless reincarnation.

The Buddha taught four Noble Truths, which come off to many Westerners as being extremely emo:

  • Everything is suffering.
  • Suffering is caused by desire, which chains every being to fleeting pleasures—and the subsequent sorrow of loss.
    Food? Fighting? Fucking? Friendship? Family? Freedom? Feelings? Fuggedaboutit!
  • The only way to end suffering is to end desire—to extinguish the flame.
  • To end desire, one must obtain Enlightenment through the Eightfold Path:

Right Understanding
Right Intention
Right Speech
Right Action
Right Livelihood
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration

According to the Buddha, there are no Absolutes to cling to—no heaven, no soul, no God. The Universe is plagued by eternal Entropy, and the only hope is to escape.  For Cobain, there was only one way out.

In 1991 Nirvana released Nevermind, and the teenage universe was suddenly cloaked in lumberjack flannel. The album—featuring an infant swimming toward a fishing hook baited with a pistol—eventually sold over 25 million copies worldwide, knocking Michael Jackson’s Dangerous into the Abyss of Not-Number 1. When not completely obtuse, the lyrics were sorrowful, paranoid, and incurably cynical.

Immediately, MTV cameras revolved around Kurt’s face like black-eyed cherubs. Rolling Stone indulged every painful memory and complaint. Teenagers across the globe were inspired to lament their own pathetic lives before they even graduated highschool. They were goaded to buck the fascist trends of corporate America by buying alternative commodities, and a few were even moved to blow their own heads off after Cobain’s suicide.

Kurt wasn’t trying to be a trend-setter, though. He surveyed the sea of Cobain-clones before him, and it made him sick to his stomach. Literally. The waifish, chain-smoking singer suffered from chronic gastroenteritis, which he medicated with heroin until his dying day. Burning guts. Nausea. Loss of appetite. Vomiting. Constipation. Mud-butt. All was suffering for poor Kurt, and the grunge crowd doted over his every tummy ache.

Kurt despised their sympathy, and claimed to hate the fame. He didn’t want “to be a fucking spokesman” for MTV’s alternative marketing scheme. Like the black-clad anarchists gathering in the Pacific Northwest in the 90s, he wanted to break the constraints of “evil corporate Oppressors” with Universal Enlightenment. In his wildest fantasies, Kurt was ready to start a Revolution, even if that meant breaking a few eggs.

One of the drawings in Cobain’s posthumously published journals shows a camoflage-clad soldier wearing a football helmet dangling from a noose. In one passage, he states (with grammatical errors left unedited):

“I am in absolute and total support of: homosexuality, drug use, in experimentation (although I am living proof of harmful results from over indulgence) Anti oppression, ie (religion, racism, sexism, censorship and patriotism) creativity thru music, art, journalism, Love, friendship, family, animals and full scale violently organized, terrorist-fueled revolution.

“You cannot de-program the Glutton.

“It would be nice to see the gluttons become so commonly hunted down that eventually they will either submit to the oppposite of their ways or be scared shitless to ever leave their homes[...]

“Arm yourself, find a representative of Gluttony or oppression and blow the motherfuckers head off.”

In a letter to Tobi Vail (drummer for Bikini Kill) composed just after the recording of Nevermind, Kurt wrote (without corrections):

“Yeah, all Isms feed off one another, but at the top of the food chain is still the white, corporate, macho, strong ox male. Not redeemable as far as im concerned[...]

“But there are thousands of green minds, young gullable 15 year old Boys out there just starting to fall into the grain of what theyve been told of what man is supposed to be, and there are plenty of tools to use. The most effective tool is entertainment[...]

“We can pose as the enemy to infiltrate the mechanics of the system to start its rot from the inside[...] And the hairy, sweaty, macho, sexist dickheads will soon drown in a pool of razorblades and semen, stemmed from the uprising of their children[...]

“Homophobe vaccectomy[...]

“The revolution will be televised[...]

“As you may have guessed by now Ive been taking a lot of drugs lately It might be time for the Betty Ford Clinic or the Richard Nixon library to save me from abusing my enemic, rodent-like body any longer.”

Drug addiction would take precedence over any of Cobain’s revolutionary aims.  As with the Buddha, the world hit Kurt like a hot kiss on a raw nerve, and he was eager to subsume all earthly desires under one.

In February 1992 Kurt married Courtney Love, the brash, bitchy frontwoman for the feminist fatale rock band, Hole—which was a much more appropriate title than her own surname. Love was also a junky, happy to slave over a hot spoon for her husband. It is telling that Kurt seemed to intentionally misspell the drug’s name in his journals, calling it “heroine.”

During one of the Buddha’s sermons, an earnest seeker asked the Awakened One, “What is Enlightenment?” The Buddha simply smiled and held up a flower. It must have been a red poppy.

The junky’s pursuit of Nirvana is like an opioid variation on the Eightfold Path.

  • Right Understanding: Opiates can kill the pain of desire, if only for a moment.
  • Right Intention: Seek a fix to annihilate one’s Self.

Not long after Kurt and Courtney’s daughter, Francis Bean, was born, an interviewer for Vanity Fair reported that Courtney had shot heroin while pregnant. The public reacted with disgust, and Francis Bean was soon taken into state custody for a short time. Unable to stem the tide of media criticism, Kurt and Courtney resorted to leaving violent threats on journalists’ answering machines. Despite the couple’s erratic behavior, they were awarded custody of their daughter in early 1993.

While he was disgusted with the world, Kurt was fascinated by childbirth. His last album, released in 1993, was called In Utero (though he originally intended to call it I Hate Myself and Want to Die.) He was obsessed with the ability of male seahorses to bear children, and famously said: “Holding my baby is the best drug in the world. I don’t want my daughter to grow up with people telling her that her parents were junkies.”

The situation quickly deteriorated from there.  Police were called to the Cobains’ Seattle home a number of times in 1993. On one visit they confiscated an arsenal of Kurt’s guns, which he claimed were for personal protection. On another occasion he was arrested for assaulting Courtney—who had quite a reputation for beating the shit out of her lovers as well. The Cobains’ nanny and various others close to the couple have claimed that Kurt was making plans to cut Courtney out of his will and file for divorce.

Nirvana embarked on a tour later that year, which ended abruptly in March 1994, after Kurt overdosed on Roofies and childrens’ sleeping pills in Italy. He was promptly flown back to America and checked into an LA rehab facility—from which he escaped over the fence. For days, Kurt Cobain was missing. Courtney Love even hired a private investigator, Tom Grant, to look for her husband.

Kurt was finally found by a maintenance man on April 8, 1994, behind the locked door of “the greenhouse” above the garage of the singer’s home in Seattle. A 20-gauge Remington shotgun was cradled in his arms, and a hole was blown through his head. There were syringes, baggies, and enough heroin to kill a small horse in his veins. No fingerprints were found on the gun or the bullets. A farewell letter addressed to his imaginary friend “Boddah” was placed beside his body.

Like Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Pete Ham, and Seattle riot grrrl Mia Zapata, Kurt Cobain was 27 when he died.

Conspiracy theories abound.  Some see an assassination by greedy record industry executives, who sold Nirvana albums at a rate of 50,000 a day in the wake of Cobain’s death. Tom Grant, P.I. believes that his former employer, Courtney Love, had her husband killed to secure her inheritance. Curiously, Hole’s new album was released two weeks later, entitled Live Through This.

On April 10 a crowd estimated at up to 10,000 gathered in Seattle’s Space Needle Park to pay homage to their newly christened rock star martyr. A recording of Courtney Love was played over a sound system, in which she alternately read portions of Kurt’s alleged suicide note, wept, and incited the crowd to deride her late husband for being so selfish. The devout followers burnt their flannel shirts, called their fallen angel an “asshole” in unison, and at least sixty-eight copycat suicides were recorded worldwide.

The last lines of Kurt’s letter to “Boddah” are particularly insightful:

I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

peace, love, Empathy,
Kurt Cobain



© Brandt Hardin

Like Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley came to be portrayed as a Seattle-spawned Opiate Icon.  But unlike Cobain—about whom many millions of words have been composed—Staley’s life languished in obscurity. Many argue that Layne’s exacting musicianship far outpaced Cobain’s sloppy style, and that he did not receive the commemoration he deserved. Perhaps if Layne had gone out in an equally dramatic fashion, he would have become a celebrated dead rock star like Kurt. But whereas Cobain talked about hating the media while occupying the spotlight, Staley actually preferred to remain in the shadows, where he slowly slipped out of existence.

Like many of the kids who came to worship him, Layne had a sorry start in life, growing up in Kirkland, WA.  As with Cobain, his father left when he was only seven, an abandonment that would haunt the boy into adulthood. When Layne finally did reconnect with his estranged father—after the old man saw his son in a magazine—Layne encountered a withered junky who used his now-famous son to stay high.

Layne was attracted to the sex and drugs in rock n’ roll from the start. “I wanted to do blow, and I wanted to have those babes under my arms,” he said candidly during his last interview with Rolling Stone in 1996. “I didn’t know what blow was, and I didn’t know what sex was, but it looked impressive to me because it was written in [a rock music] magazine.”

He wasted no time pursuing his dream. After high school, Layne began playing in various glam bands before meeting guitarist Jerry Cantrell in 1987. They worked on a few different projects together, eventually moving away from the 80s metal sound with Alice in Chains’ first album, appropriately entitled We Die Young, in 1990. This was followed by the release of Facelift later that year—which would go double platinum.

Their second LP, Dirt, is generally considered to be Staley’s brooding masterpiece, even though most of the lyrics were written by Jerry Cantrell.  The album sold over six million copies, and remains one of the most influential albums of the 90s—after which every frontman began singing out of his tonsils.  It was soon followed by the sorrowful Jar of Flies, which was actually the first EP to go platinum in the US.  Staley contributed most of the lyrics on that album.  The meloncholy songs lull the listener into a contemplative stillness, and paint a desperate picture of a man whose innocence and joy has all but dried up.

It was Layne’s work with Mad Season in 1995, however, that yields the most insight into his state of mind.  Even the cover art was his own illustration.  You might call the mellow music ”crackhead blues”: songs about addiction, depression, and the disappointment that accompanies false religion.  It was a surprising success, selling more than a million copies.

Unfortunately, success was not as kind to Staley’s soul as it was his bank account.  It didn’t take long for the excess to wear him down. ”If I ever got a gold record, I was going to do my first line of coke on that. I had a great time riding around in limos and eating lobster and gettin’ laid[...] But I can’t physically or mentally live in that lifestyle constantly.”

Layne even claimed to have had a couple of near-death experiences which he thought might turn his life around.  “I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of where I was going to go if I did not follow through with [sobriety.]  That makes me sad for my friends who have taken their own lives, because I know that if your time is not finished here, and you end it yourself, then you gotta finish it somewhere else.”

This was to be Staley’s last magazine interview before dwindling into obscurity. He would lose his long-time girlfriend, Demri Parrott, to a drug-related bacterial infection later that year. After this, he simply withered away.

By 2002 he was living in Seattle’s notoriously drug-saturated U District. He became a complete shut-in, flushed with cash, and his only visitors were basically his drug dealers. His body was shattered, and his teeth had rotted down to black gums.  With one foot in the grave, he denied his body according to the Eightfold Path of the Junky.

  • Right Speech: Gets you the right amount for the right price.
  • Right Action: Keeps your dealers from thinking you are a narc.
  • Right Livelihood: Brings in enough income to get you to the next fix.

“My liver is not functioning and I’m throwing up and shitting my pants,” he told biographer Adriana Rubio, about three months before succumbing.  “I know I’m near death.  I did crack and heroin for years.  I know I have no chance.  It’s too late.”

On April 20 the police kicked in his door after neighbors complained of a horrible smell. They found Staley surrounded in drug paraphernalia, having been dead for at least two weeks. He was 34. Like so many before and after, he had turned his back on the world in pursuit of liberation. His family and friends were devastated. Incidentally, Layne’s last visitor, former Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr, died about a month ago from a methadone overdose on March 8.

“I believe there’s a wonderful place to go after this life,” Layne had said back in ’96, ”and I don’t believe there’s eternal damnation for anyone.  I’m not into religion, but I have a good grasp of my spirituality.”

  • Right Effort: Measure out the perfect amount for a good hit.
  • Right Mindfulness: Cook the goods slowly so you lose the cut but not the rush.
  • Right Concentration: Tie off, plunge the needle, and lay back in eager anticipation as the flames of desire flicker out.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

NirvanaLake of Fire

Mad SeasonRiver of Deceit

*[4-6-11 Ed. note: Some minor editing has occured since the original post.]

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, CNN.com, and BrutalManLove.xxx, 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

Del Shannon: Another Dead White Man with an Itchy Trigger Finger

Del Shannon: February 8, 1990

On February 8, 1990, one-time teen idol Del Shannon sat down in his rocking chair, removed the toupée from his graying skullet, and shot himself with a .22 rifle. He was 55 years old.  That most young readers won’t know Del Shannon’s name shows the difference between a rock star martyr and a troubling statistic.  However, anyone who has listened to a Golden Oldies station should know his one and only #1 single, “Runaway.”

Shannon’s cartoonish falsetto and keyboardist Max Crook’s space age Musitron gripped the youth of that black-and-white era by their gonads and applied a jarring electrical current.  At its peak in 1961, Del’s runaway hit (I had to say it) was moving more than 80,000 records per day. Considering the Dyonysian affection he received from groovy girls in the wake of “Runaway” (as seen below,) I hope Del went out with a satisfied smile on his face.

Statistically speaking, blowing your own brains out is a Caucasian activity.  More specifically, it is the domain of middle aged-to-elderly white men.

The New York Times published “An Accounting of Daily Gun Deaths” five days after the 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre, putting the firearm-enabled tragedy into a national perspective.  Citing 2004 CDC statistics, Bill Marsh uses colorful graphics to show what a typical day of American gun fatalities looks like. 29,569 people died from gunshots that year.  Divided by 366 days, an average of 81 people died per day.  Each color-coded bullet represents one gun-related death on a generic day:

Pretty nifty, huh?  The graph breaks these 81 deaths down by age, sex, and race (Hispanics are dispersed across white and black classifications.) Assuming these trends have remained steady, four kids died today—two of which were murdered.

The gangsta-leaning folly of youth violence just put six young black men in their graves, while groaning depression prompted four young white men to turn their guns on themselves.

A black man is about as likely to get capped in full maturity as he was in his youth, while a white man becomes even more likely to shoot himself in his later years.  By midnight, seven paleface gunslingers approaching mid-life will have called it quits in their prime.  White men are also more likely to be murdered by guns later in life—perhaps because of their continuous belly-aching about the cruelty of a meaningless universe.

It comes as no surprise that if a black man has made it past 40, the last thing he’s gonna do is shoot himself. But today a whopping twenty-five middle aged-to-elderly white men cocked the hammer and followed the light to the end of the tunnel. We also see four sweet old white ladies tasting the blue steel, which doesn’t take into account those who emptied a bottle of pills or left the car running in the garage.

Catherine Barber – Harvard Injury Control Research Center

Suicide rates peaked in America during the 90s, when they began falling off in tandem with gun ownership until the around the year 2000.  Perhaps malcontents were waiting to see if the unbearable world would just end.  Well, it didn’t—and since 2000, suicides have increased steadily, at least among whites and Native Americans.

And I wonder…I wah wah wah wah wonder why so many aging white males choose to bite the flying bullet. I mean, we all know that getting old is tough but it beats the alternative.  As my grandfather was fond of saying, “At my age, you realize you’ve overestimated the pleasure of a good lay, and underestimated the relief of a good crap.” Time ravaged his body as it will everyone’s, and yet ol’ Pap took it like a man, keeping faith that the immortal soul is greater than this sack of shit and bones.

The pain starts in joints and old injuries. Before you know it, you grunt with every motion. You find yourself reading the news compulsively, balking at taxes, grumbling about politics.  And damnit to hell, these kids today!  They call that music?!  Of course, you’d diddle the cuties if you could, but you’re getting a bit long in the tooth for the young stuff.  Probably couldn’t keep it up, anyway. Not with that swollen prostate pressing against your bladder.  The mirror becomes your harshest critic.  Your hairs are hapless natives—your scalp is Manifest Destiny.  Those sexy suntans of years past have become deep lines and budding lumps of melanoma. Your torso is a ball of fur and sagging man-tits.

The best friends you ever had are either shells of their former selves or dead.  The workday brings a barrage of insults and indignity.  You’re just a number, and it ain’t Number One.  Maybe that’s why your kids never call and your wife cuddles the dog more than you.  Late at night, sodden with booze and regret, you caress old photos of the little runaway who wouldn’t stay.  The memories are fading.  The muscles atrophy.  Death wafts from gaping pores into your veiny nose.  Ascendant young lions are ready to take your wobbly knees out from under you at any moment.  So you decide to beat ‘em to it.  If you’re going to be a victim, why not be your own?  Click…bang.

I feel your pain—you vainglorious, self-absorbed asshole.   Sure, I’ll clean that up.  No problem.  Hope you feel better.

Del Shannon’s wife, Bonnie, found his body slumped in his bathrobe.  It was the pathetic end to a life of constant sorrow.  Del was big time #1—but only once.  After the British Invasion swept him off the map in the mid-60s, he fell into a dark depression that dogged him to the bitter end.  In 1964, he released his cover album Del Shannon Sings Hank Williams—one month before Hank’s sixth Death Day—which practically no one bought.  He turned to the bottle for support, famously saying, “I hated the taste of booze, but I liked where it got me—into oblivion.”

Del made repeated attempts at a comeback, to no avail.  You saw his face smiling, but his brow continued to frown. Still, he plugged away in earnest.  His last performance was five days before he died, at Buddy Holly’s 31st [Death] Anniversary Concert and Dance. Maybe the morbid romance of that event rubbed off on him, or perhaps there is a pharmacological explanation.  Two weeks before killing himself, Del began taking Prozac, which is now known to hurry chronic Eeyores along on their mopey race to the grave.  And of course, Del’s .22 rifle was there to provide instant gratification.

Considering the fact that someone, somewhere, commits suicide every 40 seconds, why should anyone care about Del Shannon?  Well, most people don’t.  But there is at least one person who was absolutely devastated.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

February 3: The Death Day of
Buddy Holly

Courtesy of Jeffrey Bertrand

Anything cool you ever did, Buddy Holly did first. Those trend-lemming black specs? Buddy wore those when glasses were for nerds. Your hip, four-piece rock band? Buddy set that standard, son. Radical race-mixing? Buddy played with black musicians and married a Latina before such associations yielded multiculti cred—back when it got you bludgeoned by mongrels. Those teenage girls shaking hips by the jukebox? Buddy got the first slice of Miss American Pie, and by all accounts, she was home-grown cherry. And your tragic demise in the passenger seat of a hexed death-machine? Buddy beat you to it, dude. He’ll be worshipped forever, and you’ll be another statistic.

Like a sacrificial life-force, rock n’ roll was in Buddy Holly’s blood. His voice won over crowds from kindergarten on. As a teen in 1955, Buddy marveled at Elvis’ rockabilly performances, eventually opening for the King later that year. By ’56, he was recording his first singles in Nashville, which flopped. Undaunted, Buddy hooked up with recording studio manager Norman Petty, who nurtured Holly’s eclectic talents through the next hard year, and helped himself to Holly’s money when his singles finally topped the charts. Buddy’s career took off in September of 1957, only to crash in a spiraling fireball on February 3, 1959—along with stars Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. The Day the Music Died. That’s when record sales shot past the Sputnik.

Buddy Holly and the Crickets wrote hits about true love in an age of innocence. John Lennon was changed for life after seeing him play on TV. In fact, the Beatles’ name was inspired by the Crickets, and their first recording was reputedly a cover of “That’ll Be the Day“—whose lyrics sound like an emo suicide threat to an unrequiting lover.

Holly’s tunes echoed through subsequent careers. His chop-heavy “Not Fade Away“—a funny little ditty about male dominance, genital exposure, and an unshakable priapism—was played by the Grateful Dead a bazillion times before Jerry Garcia gave up the ghost. The list goes on and on.

A fascinating take on this all-pervasive influence comes from author Gary Patterson, of Knoxville, TN. His book, Take a Walk on the Dark Side: Rock and Roll Myths, Legends, and Curses, explores the morbid coincidences surrounding Buddy Holly’s passing. Although a few of his sources are sketchy, one gets the impression that Mr. Patterson has spent many a witching hour listening to his short-wave radio for voices of the dead—which is enough to keep me reading.

Courtesy of Brandt Hardin at DREGstudios.com

So get this: In 1957, the Big Bopper pulled a 122 hour sleepless Disc-A-Thon, after which he was carried away on a gurney. Did no one tell him that sleep deprivation can kill you? While suffering hallucinations, he claimed to have seen his own death—and apparently he enjoyed it.

On January 31 of that same year, 15 year-old Ritchie Valens missed school to attend his grandfather’s funeral. When he stepped outside, a flaming airplane fell from the sky and blew up in the distance. In a rubbernecking frenzy, his family piled into the car and followed the smoke. They arrived at Ritchie’s school, where the plane had smashed into his playground during recess. Young Valens had only just gotten over his fear of flying when he crashed two years later.

Not long before his fateful flight, both Buddy Holly and his young wife had simultaneous dreams involving plane crashes. That’s pretty weird, but here’s the real doozy, described in great detail in Dave Thompson’s Better to Burn Out: The Cult of Death in Rock n’ Roll.

In early 1958, British studio engineer Joe Meek—best known for his bizarre, yet effective recording techniques—held a Tarot session with Jimmy Miller and a mysterious Arab on a (presumably) dark and stormy night. As Meek flipped the cards, the Arab began writing automatically. The message read: “Buddy Holly Dies February 3.” Cue crackling thunder. After weeks of frantic searching, Joe Meek finally delivered the message to Holly in March, who replied with something like, “Thanks… weirdo…” and went on his way.

Scared yet?

With a pregnant wife and a flat wallet, young Buddy Holly joined the Winter Dance Party package tour in 1959. The bands traveled the frozen Midwest in a rickety bus with a broken heater, and after a wearisome performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy decided to fly to the next gig. Holly’s bassist, Waylon Jennings, gave his plane seat up to the sickly Big Bopper. Holly’s guitarist, Tommy Allsup, actually lost his seat to Ritchie Valens in a coin toss, inspiring Allsup to later open a bar called “The Head’s Up Saloon.” During their famous parting moment, Buddy yelled, “I hope your bus freezes over!” To which Waylon Jennings replied, “Yeah, and I hope your ol’ plane crashes!” Which, as we all know, it did.

The music didn’t just die that day—it was ground into a smoldering ball of split skulls, twisted steel, and yes, a torn scrotum. The papers related the story in grisly detail, creating the biggest, brightest, most fantastically heart-wrenching Death Icon ever—until JFK took over. AM radio stations were awash in innocent blood. Holly was 22, Valens was 17, the Bopper was 28. Dead babies, man, read ‘em and weep! Cry your fucking eyes out.

Buddy Holly’s death continued to reverberate through the music world, opening new doors and splattering them with blood. As Holly’s last release, “It Doesn’t Matter Any More,” sold by the truckload, his friend and fellow pop star, Eddie Cochran, was thrown into a full-on freak out. Eddie was supposed to be on the Winter Dance Party tour with Buddy—maybe even that doomed flight—but had skipped it to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. Convinced that the Grim Reaper was now after him, Cochran holed up in a dark room with Holly’s records, listening to them obsessively. He even recorded a weepy tribute called “Three Stars,” but refused to release it. Instead, he gobbled tranquilizers and became a general mess.

Ronnie Smith, on the other hand, got his moment to shine when he took Buddy’s place on the Winter Dance Party. Yes, the tour carried on—less three stars, and plus one Ronnie.

David Box stepped behind those goofy specs as well, joining Buddy’s former band, the original Crickets. After their single “Peggy Sue Got Married” failed to make an impression, Box went solo and headed for Nashville with stars in his eyes.

Wayward rocker Bobby Fuller also followed in Buddy’s footsteps. Under the guidance of Holly’s former manager, the shiesty Norman Petty, Fuller broke into the charts with the fatalistic classic “I Fought the Law,” written by Crickets guitarist Sonny Curtis.

Enter the Reaper.

On April 17, 1960—as the world celebrated Jesus Christ’s victory over Death—Eddie Cochran’s car hit a light pole. He was hurled into a field along with his Gretsch guitar. The instrument was found unscratched. Eddie was smashed to hell, and died in the hospital at age 21—surrounded by the Crickets, who just happened to be in town.

On October 25, 1962, Ronnie “the Replacement” Smith was found swinging from a self-tied noose in the drug-treatment ward of a nut-house. If he couldn’t be Buddy Holly, he could at least join him.

On October 23, 1964, David Box was on a flight to Nashville to cut his next single when the little Cessna Skyhawk took a fatal nose dive. Like Buddy, he was 22.

On July 18, 1966, Bobby Fuller was found in his mother’s car near her Hollywood apartment, beaten to a bloody pulp and doused in gasoline. Coroners even found gasoline in his stomach. It could have been the LSD, it could have been the fact that Fuller was schmoozing a gangster’s special lady, or it could have been the Curse of Buddy Holly. The Law that he fought called it an accident.

On February 3, 1967, Tarot-reading doomsayer Joe Meek—who had become convinced that the late Buddy Holly was feeding him riffs from beyond the grave—blasted his landlord’s wife with a 12-gauge shotgun. He then turned the gun on himself, transforming his face into “a burnt candle,” according to one witness.

And the bad juju doesn’t stop there.

On September 7, 1978, the Who’s drummer Keith Moon was found dead in the same London apartment that “Mama” Cass Elliot had died in four years earlier. Moon had spent the previous evening at the premiere screening of the fallacious Buddy Holly Story with Paul and Linda McCartney, as well as munching one Heminevrin pill for every year of his life. September 7 happens to be Buddy Holly’s birthday.

On December 30, 1985, the Ozzy & Harriet star turned cheeseball musician, Ricky Nelson, played Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” for his final encore. He died later that night in a fiery plane crash.

Finally, on February 8, 1990, Del Shannon, a Golden Oldies favorite who spent his last days wallowing in personal sadness and antidepressants, popped a .22 caliber into his temple.* His final performance was the week before—on February 3 at Buddy Holly’s 31st Anniversary Concert and Dance,* with the Crickets as his backing band. So now do you believe in black magic?

I can already hear the smug skeptics chuckling. Circumstantial evidence, you say. Meaningless connections. Happenstance. As if your paltry intellect could grasp the lattice of coincidence underlying mundane events. You think you’re the first brainiac to cut through the mystical bullshit? Step in line, pal. Remember how Buddy Holly casually dismissed Joe Meek’s dire prophecy? Looks like he beat you to voguish skepticism, too.

© 2011 Joseph Allen

* [2-6-11 - ed. note: Two corrections made.  Relying on Patterson, I originally wrote that Del Shannon used a shotgun, and that his last show took place at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa.  It was actually a .22 rifle, and the Fargo Civic Auditorium in North Dakota.]