Though it would make it easier for me, I won’t try to glamorize his death into an art statement. Rozz Williams hanged himself in his West Hollywood apartment on April Fools’ Day. Best known as the founder and front man of seminal goth band Christian Death, Williams played and recorded under the names Shadow Project, the Whorse’s Mouth and Premature Ejaculation. His memorial Sunday night at the El Rey Theater dragged out new fans as well as old collaborators and peers.
Back when he was a not-so-sweet 16 and I was 18, Rozz and I became involved in a love affair that lasted three years. Ours was a volatile relationship that revolved around music, art and monstrous public personas. We met in a garage in Claremont, where Christian Death was rehearsing prior to its first gig. We were true punk romantics — he pierced my nipple, I tattooed his name on my wrist and slashed his palms open with a straight razor. We started a performance collaboration called Premature Ejaculation made up of noise soundtracks and recited text we wrote together; I developed a knack for self-mutilating onstage. We took acid, speed and heroin, and read and wrote together. During that time we lived on and off with Rozz’s parents, and I discovered that his given name was, unsuitably, Roger Allen Painter.
From 1982 until his death, I had very little contact with Rozz. I did see him this last Christmas Eve; he had tattooed an “X” on his forehead, à la the Manson Family. I couldn’t handle it because it seemed out of character — Rozz’s personal style changed very little from the time I met him until this latest transformation. The last few times I saw him, I did notice that his health appeared to be poor, possibly as the result of his heavy alcohol consumption.
Wedlock: Pure love is a deathwish — our right to bleed in public contract/Essential to life/Beauty has seen the marked Beasts born to die/lead all/They follow down/Accept end-world teachings/Blood consumption nurtures censorship.
—Ron and Rozz, excerpt from Premature
Ejaculation text published in NoMag, 1981
Contradictory to Rozz’s isolation was the prolific rate at which he produced work in his last year. He created a multifaceted swan song and bowed out just before its release. For Triple X Records he had recorded a Shadow Project CD with his ex-wife of five years, Eva O., as well as Premature Ejaculation’s Wound of Exit, and The Whorse’s Mouth, a spoken-word collaboration with theater artist Ryan Gaumer. Close to the hour of his death, the final edit of a short film, Pig, had been completed; the film, which Rozz shot with Amsterdam-based director Nico B., is about the ambiguity of the role-playing in a killer/victim relationship.
This was the life of an artist, a true Romantic who sacrificed normality, health and happiness for the sake of vision, and a man overcome and destroyed by the demons he lived with: a tragedy. Rozz was fixated on the year 1334 — the height of the Black Plague — and it seems apparent that he’d planned to commit suicide on April Fools’ Day of his 34th year. True to form, his life was dedicated more to symbology and art than it was to life. He’s finished now, but the recordings and the disciples live on.
I can die a thousand times/but I will always be here/With the powder skull secrets/of forgotten years/The hangman’s noose is drenched/with bloodstained tears/my hands are the killer that confirms/my fear.
—”Spiritual Cramp,” Christian Death