Music For a Monday: Christian Death

Christian Death is a band that evades simple description. Partly, this may be due to their history of lineup shifts, legal battles over the right to the band’s name and the horde of associated side projects. For most people, Christian Death is Rozz Williams. Williams formed the band in California in the late 70s. Punk’s influence is strong in the band’s early work. There’s something I can’t quite put my finger on about CD that makes them sound so . . .  American. Williams’ vocal style is histrionic, emotional and dramatic. His voice is not the cold, controlled Bowie-eqsue Goth style used by Andrew Eldritch or Carl McCoy. If anything, it reminds me of the punchy voice of Johnny Rotten. The entire enterprise of Williams’ cult of personality is the morbid drama of Goth cranked up to 11. Williams was rumored to have had several bisexual affairs. He was, for a time, romantic and creative partners with Eva Ortiz–a woman who had previously been involved with serial killer Richard Ramirez.  There’s something in Christian Death’s work that that strikes me as so very American. The preoccupation with a certain vision of religion seems to come in response to the particularly American strain of Protestant religion. Christian Death shares much of the 80s hair metal (another product of California) obsession with Satan, demons and sacrilege. In that sense, it seems much more American in that America still takes it Puritanism seriously, and anything that directly challenges that is still seen as subversive here.  The name Christian Death was picked up by remaining band member Valor Kand after Williams left the band in 1985. There are conflicting stories on why the band split. Some say Williams abandoned the rest of the band while on tour in Italy. An alternate story posits that Williams took a break from the band and Kand entered contract negotiations for a new album in Williams’ absence. Frankly, I don’t find this sort of inside baseball very interesting. Just know that there are basically two Christian Deaths, one with Rozz Williams and one with Valor Kand. I don’t really have an investment in the Valor vs. Rozz hate. I have come to prefer the music they worked on together to either’s solo work.

Ok, Valor anecdote here. As a baby bat, I’d heard plenty of Christian Death but never really investigated why some of their albums sounded so radically different. Honestly, they were never one of my favorite acts. I thought they were okay, but not interesting enough to go all geek on. I had the opportunity to see Christian Death with Switchblade Symphony sometime in the early 90s. At the show, I was somewhat underwhelmed when Valor and crew took the stage (“stage” here being a spot on the floor of this dive bar that had been taped off so people wouldn’t stand there) in bizarre leopard print workout gear. I think Valor himself was in a teddy sort of thing? He looked like a transvestite wearing a costume out of a Boris Vallejo drawing. His hair was super permed 80s style and was doing a sort of Donna Summers sexy disco thing. As the band started playing, the lights went out in the bar. At this point Valor whipped out two flashlights and began swinging them around as he sang. People in the crowd booed and shouted. I felt terribly embarrassed for everyone.

Williams hung himself in 1998. He had substance abuse issues, which likely contributed to his choice to commit suicide. There is an extensive bio of Williams available at Rozznet.com. Kand is still working under the name Christian Death. If you’re interested in his work, it can be found here: christiandeath.com

Valor sings on this one:

 

Rozz live:

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