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October Obituaries: Category II – Rozz Williams

In Memoriam
6th November 1963 – 1st April 1998

‘I see the end, I see the end well, it was open so I crawled inside’

– Deathwish

One of the greatest presents anyone gave me at the age of sixteen was a listening session and a copied tape of material by a band called Christian Death. I was played different sounds up to their Sex, Drugs and Jesus Christ album in 1989. The Sex Drugs and Jesus Christ material was impressive with Gitane Demone and Valor fronting the band as the singers. However, on that night my older friend also played me a picture disc of an earlier Christian Death album called Catastrophe Ballet from 1984, this immediately grabbed me in a profound way I could not explain, something shook me inside. Firstly the picture disc has a picture of a beautiful and naked Gitane Demone painted fully in white body paint; her naked figure spun around as the record played. But the lead male vocal on this album was different to that of Valor Kand, it was soft, feminine and the lyrics were complex; this was the voice of Rozz Williams. My musical tastes were shaken forever, I was grabbed immediately. The majority of Gothic material I heard after this except for that of the Virgin Prunes never quite reached the consistent high art standards set by Rozz Williams & Christian Death.

Rozz Williams was born on 6th November 1963 in Pomona as Roger Alan Painter, California. Little is known about his childhood other than he was raised in a religious family with his sister and brothers. He took the name Rozz Williams from a gravestone in a Pomona graveyard. Williams became musically active during the beginnings of the L.A. punk scene in the 1970s, forming several bands such as the Asexuals, the Upsetters and No. These bands played live and led to the formation of Christian Death in 1979. The core Christian Death line-up of this time featured Rozz, James McGearty, Rikk Agnew and George Bellanger. This would be the band that Rozz was most well-known for. Their rabid inspired theatrical performances would give them an immense reputation on the Los Angeles live scene and make them one of the leading lights of the Deathrock scene.

Christian Death’s debut album was Only Theatre of Pain and this was seen as one the key early American gothic/Deathrock albums; however the line-up eventually disbanded due to infighting and other issues. The album was reissued many times over the next 30 years by Frontier, Invitation au Suicide, Normal, Vap Inc and Seventeen Records. Williams’ distinct vocal and extreme yet literary lyrics highlighted the left-of-field punk musical madness on the album. The demos to this album were later released by Invitation Au Suicide in 1984 as the Deathwish EP. A line-up of Rozz, James McGearty, Eva O of Superheroines and Rod Figueroa did a few live appearances, but this line-up was short-lived as the group broke up in 1982.

It was after this time around 1983 that Rozz reformed Christian Death with members of a band called Pompeii 99; Valor Kand, Gitane Demone and David Glass. Pompeii 99 had previously recorded an album in 1981 called Look at Yourself and an EP called Ignorance is the Control in 1982. There was meant to be a joint European tour with a reformed Christian Death and Pompeii 99, but Christian Death broke up again and Rozz joined with Gitane, Valor and David Glass to form a line-up of new Christian Death. They then recorded the seminal Catastrophe Ballet album in 1984 at Rockfield studios in Wales, UK. Williams’ vocal was a lot smoother than on Only Theatre of Pain, with complex cut up lyrics and the music was less abrasive. Catastrophe Ballet and its more experimental follow-up Ashes would cement Williams and Christian Death’s reputation in musical history. Williams left/disbanded Christian Death in 1985, however Christian Death continued with Valor as frontman along with Gitane Demone and David Glass, a Valor-fronted version of the band still recording today. There was a lot of acrimony over this issue that continued for over twenty years later with Rozz reforming the band with different line ups for gigs, tours and new albums whenever he felt the need to. After his death the Only Theatre of Pain line-up reformed with Eva O singing as Christian Death 1334 for a brief time.

For many years it was thought that Williams was musically inactive for a long time after he left Christian Death. However this was completely the opposite; during the early years of Christian Death around 1981 Williams had formed a noise performance duo called Premature Ejaculation with his lover Ron Athey. They had recorded self-released tapes and performed in many nightclubs around the Los Angeles area. This line up of Premature Ejaculation gained notoriety for their No magazine shoot and outrageous live performances, but ended some time around Only Theatre of Pain. However upon leaving Christian Death in 1985 Williams began making noise/industrial material again. Firstly there was his Happiest Place on Earth cassette – Body of a Crow and around this time he reactivated Premature Ejaculation with Chuck Collison. Williams and Collison made a large amount of recordings as Premature Ejaculation over the next two decades. Premature Ejaculation was Williams’s favourite project and over time established his reputation as an experimental artist. There were other experimental musical projects Rozz Williams was involved in such as Heltir, EXP and Bloodflag.

In 1987 Rozz Williams married Eva O (formerly of the band the Superheroines) this also marked the formation of their band Shadow Project. Shadow project initially consisted of Rozz Williams, Eva o, David Glass and Johann Schuman, there were line-up changes over the years until David Glass and Schuman had departed to be replaced by Jill Emery, Thomas Morgan and Paris Sadonis. This line-up recorded the Shadow Project LP on Triple XXX records in 1991. Despite having being very active with experimental recordings and performances through Premature Ejaculation and Heltir, the debut Shadow Project marked a resurgence of activity from Williams in a rock context. Williams’ collaboration with Eva O spawned two strong studio albums of Shadow Project material; Shadow Project and Dreams for the Dying. They were both creatively successful and were of the same high standards as Christian Death. Williams and Eva O also reformed Christian Death for a line of releases on the Cleopatra label these continued the same high standards, particularly the Path of Sorrows and Rage of Angels releases. There were new premature Ejaculation, Heltir and solo spoken word releases around this time too. Another high point was Rozz’s making contact with Gitane Demone and making an album of Piano ballads; Dream Home Heartache in 1995. This resurgence of activity produced a lot of new albums and some of his best work.

For a variety reasons Rozz Williams ended up hanging himself on April 1st 1998 at the age of 34. This was a pointless end to a highly prolific artist considered shamanic in his influence, accumulation and ability to bring out the best in the artists he worked with, many of whom are still active today as successful underground musicians. The list includes: Rikk Agnew, Eva O, Valor Kand, Gitane Demone, Ron Athey, Brian Butler, Paris Sadonis, Christian Omar Madrigal Izzo, William Faith, Stevyn Grey, Casey Chaos, Jill Emery and Ryan Wildstar. It is largely considered he had the ability to be a far bigger than he was, however he favoured difficult and challenging underground music over the rock band format. Posthumous releases included Nico B’s film PIG (written and starring Williams), Premature Ejaculation’s ‘Wound of Exit’, a live cd ‘Accept the Gift of Sin’ and a book by Nico B – the Art of Rozz Williams.

Throughout this time he was a prolific Poet and visual artist. Many of his original collages fetch high amounts of money when they appear on eBay, his writings and art were collected in two books after his Death; Nico B’s The Art of Rozz Williams and a collection of his poetry by Ryan Wildstar and Sebastein Michaud called What About the Bells. Unreleased and long out of print Premature Ejaculation material was reissued by Malaise Music as well as various reissues and compilations by Candlelight and Cleopatra records.

Nico B Rozz’s former manager and friend has made a follow up to PIG about the last days of Rozz Williams called 1334 to be released in 2012.

Written by Lazrs3 2012.

Photo by David Uzzardi – Rozz Williams live with Shadow Project, The Limelight, New York City, 1992

References:

The Art of Rozz Williams – Nico B – Last Gasp Publishing 2003.
Deathrock magazine – 25 years of Christian Death – Ryan Wildstar – Jamie Pinter.2007.
Deathrock Magazine – Gitane Demone – Christian Death, Solo and Beyond – by Alex Baker 2007.
Years of interaction on the Land of Rozz forum.

Discography [Christian Death]:

Death Wish EP (1981)
Only Theatre of Pain (1982)
Catastrophe Ballet  (1984)
Ashes  (1985)
The Decomposition of Violets (1990)
The Iron Mask  (1992)
Skeleton Kiss EP (1992)
Stick A finger Down Its Throat (1992)
The Path of Sorrows  (1993)
Iconologia  (1993)
Sleepless Nights: Live 1990 (1993)
Invocations: 1981-1989 (1993)
The Doll’s Theatre : Live OCT. 31. 1981 (1994)
The Rage of Angels (1994)
Tales of Innocence: A Continued Anthology (1994)
Death in Detroit (1995)
Death Mix (1996)
Death Club (2005)

Discography [Shadow Project]:

Shadow Project (1991)
Dreams for the Dying (1992)
Dead Babies/Killer Cassette (1992)
In Tuned Out — Live ’93 (1994)
From the Heart (1998)
Shadow Project 2005 (Release of demo handed around at shows circa 89)

Discography [Premature Ejaculation]:

PE – Pt.1 Cassette (1981)
PE – Pt.2 Cassette (1981)
A Little Hard to Swallow Cassette (1982)
Living Monstrocities/Descent Cassette (1985)
Death Cultures Cassette (1987)
Assertive Discipline Cassette (1988)
Death Cultures III Cassette (1988)
Night Sweats Cassette (1988)
Blood Told in Spine Cassette (1988)
Death Cultures Cassette (1989)
Anesthesia CD (1992)
Necessary Discomforts CD (1993)
Estimating the Time of Death CD (1994)
Dead Horse Riddles Cassette (1994)
Error genetico (1995)
Wound of Exit double CD (1998)

Discography [Happiest Place On Earth]:

Body of a Crow Cassette (1986), CD 2010

Discography [Daucus Karota]:

Shrine EP (1994)

Discography [Heltir]:

Il Banchetto Dei Cancri/VC-706 Cassette (1989)
69 Rituals Cassette (1989)
Neue Sachlichkeit (1994)

Discography [EXP]:

S/T (1996)

Discography [Rozz Williams and Gitane Demone]:

Dream Home Heartache (1995)

Discography [Rozz Williams]:

Every King a Bastard Son (1992)
The Whorse’s Mouth (1996)
Live In Berlin (2000)
Accept The Gift of Sin (live album) (2003)
“Flowers” on Projekt’s A Dark Cabaret compilation album (2005)