The Art of Remembrance

Every now and then he comes to visit. What affinity towards, I do not understand. We understand each other. But there is much more in his solace-locked art and candor than I could ever dare to express. I never knew the man. It is safe to say I could have. Had I awakened to his craft, had I sensed him sooner, I could have. In this world of single degree separation, I may have known the man. I may have experienced his art live. But I never did. One September evening, I did meet his successor, an artist of his own vision and scope, Valor Kand.

And now the initiated know.

I actually interviewed Valor (unpublished and possibly difficult to obtain now, oh dearest technology) and manned the merch table when he brought Christian Death through Texas sometime ago. That in itself was an experience to have, and just in time for birthday season. I also had the opportunity to speak with Zara Kand, Valor’s daughter. Zara is a magnificent artist in her own right, not falling far from the family tree. Long time friends of mine, too, have toured their music with some of Rozz’ brood and relations, right down to the matriarchs themselves, Eva O. and Gitane DeMone. All this name dropping, you may say. But my point: we’re always one or two degrees from separation. It could just be small world syndrome. Or the specialized sub-culture all these beautiful people inhabit. Still, in the absence of his being, and beyond his musical creations, I sought to engage the late Rozz Williams in poetry.

Rozz Williams, born Roger Painter, was known greatly as an underground icon for the American goth and deathrock scene. He was iconographic, as many photos of him may prove. He was influenced by great artists, Bowie and Roxy Music not withstanding. But for most, the fascination of Rozz Williams ends with the seminal album Only Theater of Pain by Christian Death, a band he founded in the early 1980s. A listen to the follow-up, Catastrophe Ballet, gave fans a much deeper, and melancholic sound that took the frenetic energy and dark, punk sentiments of Only Theater of Pain and subdued them into rock and roll art that was layered and thought provoking. The combination of music and lyric let listeners know a much more substantial work was at play here. It was as if the heart of the Parisian, surrealist artist had jumped into the body of this youthful expressionist, and channeled their darkest moments through his work. Considering some of his literary influences, Jean Genet and Baudelaire included, I wanted Rozz’ poetry.

 

But for most, the fascination of Rozz Williams ends with the seminal album Only Theater of Pain by Christian Death, a band he founded in the early 1980s.

 

Readers of this blog may recall the four poems I shared at the beginning of National Poetry Month. They were tributes to Rozz and spotlights on his work, in memoriam. Rozz became physically removed from this realm on April 1, 1998, in his apartment in West Hollywood. I found him a few years later. And years since, I have discovered the various facets of his art. The man, though life short lived, was productive, a prolific artist; and a theme with most in his circle, Rozz was an artist of all trades: visually, aurally, literarily. To date only one book I am aware of exists that collects the poetry of Rozz Williams, and that is And What About the Bells? or “Le Theatre des Douleurs,” because it’s in French (I don’t own a copy, personally. It’s a trite expensive at import). It was published by Camion Blanc in 2010. The book is a biography and poetry collection. Supposedly, an English version was rumored to be in the works, but that may have been just a rumor. I can say for certain that it is a shame there is not an English version, or an American release, at that. He was, after all, an original American artist.

The Art of Rozz Williams: From Christian Death to Death, was released by Nico B. and is a collection of Rozz’ artwork. The book contains some verse, though they are presented as original copies, rough drafts, and visual art (this I do own, first edition; the second edition is hard cover and I want a copy of that). It was inspiring to see the hand-written texts, the sprawled out messages seeped from pen to page. The engaging work produced by procuring and interweaving the art of others (collage). But, again, this is a collection of his visual art, with some discography, photos and text, but by no means substantial for a deep, lengthy read of his verse. So, what then? All we have is a hard-to-get, foreign publication, and an artbook, the two providing a mere tease. There was some reprieve in Rozz Williams’ sound recordings. He had many projects, and spoken word was definitely an artform he dabbled in. He released two formal spoken word studio albums, Every King a Bastard Son and The Whorse’s Mouth (the latter being a personal fave). Visions of Bowie and Morrison and Burroughs and Ginsberg abound. Countless more, I’m sure, but my scope is limited. It is always refreshing to me to experience poetry in a different way. Spoken, is definitely one I enjoy. Spoken set to sound track is even better. Audio adds another depth to the work. It may strip the listener of free-roam interpretation by providing a focused tone or tempo, but enriches the piece nonetheless.

 

…readers may ask (and some have), about the content of the work. It’s heavy stuff. But, only a shard of the crystalline spectrum that is the art of Rozz Williams. In the case of The Whorse’s Mouth, the spoken word album dealt with heroine addiction.

 

The pieces I shared come from the album The Whorse’s Mouth, and, I believe, are some of his strongest literary works. The sophomore spoken word album was less experimental and the poetry was elevated, crafted. The writing while aligning with the music and soundcraft, does not feel like a reaction to it, or secondary, as I felt it did in Every King a Bastard Son.

As I will reblog the four poems, readers may ask (and some have), about the content of the work. It’s heavy stuff. But, only a shard of the crystalline spectrum that is the art of Rozz Williams. In the case of The Whorse’s Mouth, the spoken word album dealt with heroine addiction. He frequently looked inward at personal demons and experiences as substance for his creations, but also, as artists do, he gave an outward view, and provided perspective and commentary in regards to social issues, the metaphysical, and in a couple instances, became semi-political. These ideas swam in the deeper end of the soul, and truly there may have been some torment there. But, again, I never met the man. And in lieu of sharing the information provided by others regarding his personal and emotional state, I’d rather not say anything. While it is understandable the type of energy and emotion that his work taps into is not the most desirable feeling to linger on (as one dear friend once said to me, “But why would you want to feel that way all the time?”), it is a part of the human experience not many address, and not many are equipped to express. To take a look at his body of work, one would consider this man to be a brave artist, with bold expression, and ahead of his time.

I will disclose that I edited the four poems (structure only [and some grammar]), but not the content. I, unfortunately, do not currently own a copy of from The Whorse’s Mouth (don’t get me wrong, at one point I owned two copies), but this gem has become increasingly hard to find. Most of his work is becoming rare. Still, these were procured from the inter-webs. And if memory serves, the poems were included in the insert of the album. So these may be reputable, yet, but that’s the editor in me coming out. Enjoy the poems, start a discussion, look him up. Rozz Williams was an American, gothic icon, a pillar of the underground, and a forefather of shock and abstract rock. Still, he may yet provide something you’ve been missing or looked over, like that small, dark corner waiting to see the light.

 

“The Art of Remembrance” is an essay written by Michael Aaron Casares. All rights reserved. 

 

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