Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, one of the great pioneers in electronic music and music video director for Diamanda Galas’ ‘Double Barrel Prayer,’ died on November 25, 2010. ‘Double Barrel Prayer’ will be shown at MoMa (NYC) in 2011.
Memorial by Michael Flanagan
Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson has been part of my consciousness for well over thirty years. The images that he produced as a partner at Hipgnosis, including the iconic cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and the first three Peter Gabriel albums infiltrated our minds in the 70s before we even knew of his existence. This speaks volumes about the kind of influence he had and will continue to have as an artist. His work was beyond the works of artists who are consciously approached and consumed. It exists as a viral subrosa which entered our minds unbidden and continues to affect our vision.
Many of the memorials which have appeared in the press have mentioned the display which Sleazy did for Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s shop ‘Sex’ but none I could find described that the window featured body parts from mannequins and looked more like the product of a serial killer than an artist. It caused quite an uproar – even in the days of punk rock. Sleazy never stopped pushing boundaries in this way. He released songs with names such as ‘Boy in a suitcase’ and ‘His Body Was A Playground For The Nazi Elite’ and just recently released a video for The Threshold HouseBoys Choir which required my explaining to a fellow San Franciscan online that Sleazy was an artist who pointed to Passolini’s ‘Salo’ as one of the films which influenced him most. I hope that when people remember him they will remember that he was a transgressive artist who truly challenged the comfort level of his audience. In days that closely followed the era of ‘All You Need Is Love’ he was asking how you explain all of the horror and destruction in the world.
Part of the joy of Peter Christopherson was his sense of humor. I first called him after an introduction from Diamanda in 1991 on a stopover in London. The late author Steve Abbott had written a piece where I was quoted talking about the Coil song ‘The First Five Minutes After Violent Death’ and the first thing Sleazy said to me was ‘you mean you’re not a fictional character?’ A few years later, when talking with him about how appropriate the name ‘Mute’ was regarding Diamanda and the promotional efforts of the label he said that equally appropriate was the label name ‘Nothing’, which was (at the time) supposed to release the Coil CD ‘Backwards’ [they never did – it was self-published by Sleazy and Threshold House in 2008.]
I would be remiss if I didn’t say what a wonderful partner I thought Peter was to John Balance throughout their relationship. After the death of Derek Jarman John went through a very difficult period and the person who was always there providing support in a quiet yet constant way was Peter. By the end of John’s life they had moved past that part of their relationship, but it speaks volumes that they continued to live and work together. If people are to be known by their personal as well as their professional aspects then it should be known that Peter was a loving partner and friend to John.
His visual influence extended into the world of video in the 80s when he worked with artists such as Marc Almond, Gavin Friday, Nine Inch Nails and Jah Wobble on videos for their music. It was through his video work that Sleazy first work with Diamanda, on the video for her work ‘Double Barrel Prayer’ in 1988. And though he did work with musicians who challenged the often complacent music world it should also be noted that he was very successful in this field and was well represented in videos he did for popular artists including Van Halen, Paul McCartney and Robert Plant too.
As for his musical output I am at a loss as to how I can express what an impact he had on my life. As part of TG Sleazy was part of my sonic landscape since the late 70s. I was working in a record store in East Lansing, Michigan when ‘The Second Annual Report’ was released in 1977. Throbbing Gristle fulfilled a hunger I had in the Seventies for music which was visceral, noisy and challenging in days when Fleetwood Mac and the Bee Gees ruled the charts. I followed him through Psychic TV and into Coil. Coil was so much a part of my life that I had the logo from Threshold House tattooed on my arm. I was at the Castro theater when the Coil soundtrack accompanied the film ‘Frisk’ at the LGBT Film Festival. That film nearly caused a riot. From the first coil release ‘How To Destroy Angels: ritual music for the accumulation of male sexual energy’ through the release of ‘Panic/Tainted Love’ which benefited the Terrence Higgins Trust (among the first if not the first works to benefit an AIDS charity) they were part of my musical life. When their music appeared as part of the Derek Jarman films ‘The Angelic Conversation’ and ‘The Last of England’ I was in bliss. When their music appeared in Jarman’s last film ‘Blue’ I wept bitter tears. I was obsessed with the release of ‘Moon’s Milk (In Four Phases) and again found myself weeping openly when listening to the beautiful elegy ‘The Ape of Naples.’
How can a person who I only met once have had such an impact on my life? As someone who did not know him well I can only muse that if he had such an impact on my life I can barely imagine the loss felt by his friends. For me I am left with a hole in my life that I doubt will ever be filled as it is unlikely that someone with unique alchemical combination of characteristics that he had will reappear any time soon.
David Wojnarowicz’s A Fire in My Belly Excerpt featuring Diamanda Galás’ The Law of the Plague
There is a long history to David Wojnarowicz’s disputed film, A Fire in My Belly, as several versions have been created and circulated over the years.
A 7-minute edit of A Fire in My Belly was created, featuring Diamanda Galas’ song, This is the Law of the Plague. The music comes from Galas’ controversial Plague Mass, a requiem for those dead and dying of AIDS, which she performed at Saint John the Divine cathedral in New York City in 1991. As for A Fire in My Belly, This Is the Law of the Plague was condemned by the catholic Church (John Cardinal O’Connor at the time), who tried to prevent its performance.
Statement from Diamanda Galás
December 2, 2010
I am the composer and librettist for THIS IS THE LAW OF THE PLAGUE, the work from my mass for PWA’s, performed at ST JOHN THE DIVINE’S in 1991 against the wishes of John Cardinal O’Connor, who tried to prevent its performance.
THIS IS THE LAW OF THE PLAGUE was composed in 1986. I will presume this is the music composition upon which David’s film A FIRE IN MY BELLY was based, or with which he felt a strong affinity, because I have been asked to defend our work, this collaboration. And I shall do so now.
I must begin, however, by making a behavioral and medical diagnosis of the rather shocking reaction of the Catholic League of Washington DC and particular members of the House of Representatives to this work. Their complaint is that the work “offends Christians,” or so I hear. I have heard many stories, but working off of this assumption and the Smithsonian’s own decision to either independently censor the work or cave in to these organizations, there are possibly three guilty parties here. What the Catholic League and certain members of the House presumably wish to remove from their consciousness is thirty years of death sentences handed down to their parishioners and citizenry, who were told not to wear condoms, and the mistreatment of those stigmatized as miscreants and sinners by their viral status and/or homosexuality and/or status as drug addicts.
They wish to remove the UNSEPARATE CHURCH AND STATE conduct throughout the epidemic, which this film articulately reflects.
A FIRE IN MY BELLY is a HOLY film. IT MUST be. And why is this?
The text that I chose in 1986 in London was from LEVITICUS, chapter 15, THE BOOK OF LAWS, from the OLD TESTAMENT – whose treatment of the unclean is proscribed therein by any church that employs this text, and by the many legislators who for years have wanted to separate the infected from the uninfected. My liturgical treatment of LEVITICUS is a march of the priests and lawmakers forcing the unclean from the gates of the City into warehouses out of town, and is very gently illustrated by David’s depiction of the crucified Christ covered with ants. Ants are only one of the many insects and animals that would cover a man removed from his village and deposited in a leper asylum. There would also be maggots and rats and crows. David was gentle, I must insist.
I remember the doctors who told me they believed this was the way to go, and this was in 1993. There was Plum Island, after all, and other places where the contagious could be housed.
Here, Catholics and HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVE is YOUR OWN TEXT written so long ago and practiced in the USA to a brutal degree in this country for thirty years and to a much MORE brutal degree now in the countries of Africa and the Middle East, among others. Do not forget the punishment of Iraqi homosexuals with hum (anal glue), which glues the anus shut, and, in combination with the forced imbibing of laxatives, explodes the colon.
Here Protectors of the Public Good is your text and a Merry Xmas to you!
LEVITICUS CHAPTER 15 from THE OLD TESAMENT
When any man hath an issue out of his flesh.
Because of that issue he is unclean.
Every bed whereon he lieth is unclean
and everything whereon he sitteth, unclean.
And whosoever toucheth his bed shall be unclean,
And he that sitteth whereon he sat shall be unclean.
And he that toucheth
the flesh of the unclean
And he that be spat on by him unclean
And whosoever toucheth anything under him
shall be unclean.
And he that beareth any of those things
shall be unclean.
And what saddle soever he rideth upon is unclean
And the vessel of earth that he toucheth, unclean.
And if any man’s seed of copulation go out from him,
he is unclean.
Every garment, every skin whereon is the seed, unclean.
And the woman with whom this man shall lie
shall be unclean.
And whosoever toucheth her will be unclean.
This is the law of the plague:
to teach when it is clean and when it is unclean.
And the priest shall look upon the plague
for a rising, and for a scab, and for a bright spot.
And the priest shall shut up he that hath the plague.
He shall carry them forth to a place unclean.
He shall separate them in their uncleanness.
This is the law of the plague:
To teach when it is clean and when it is unclean.
I performed Plague Mass in Italy in 1989 at Pogio a Caiano and was called a heretic by the CHRISTIAN DEMOCRAT PARTY, led by Rinaldo Innaco. I was not allowed to perform in the country for many years. I was shocked and very offended. As a Greek, Italy is the country that had always most welcomed me, and our cultures are very close. I was surprised at the massive amount of publicity, which questioned me as an enemy of Christ.
BUT CHRIST WAS NOT A CHRISTIAN!!!!!
HE WAS A VISIONARY AND A FIGHTER WHO WISHED TO OPEN THE DOORS OF THE SANCTUARIES TO THE SICK, AND FOR THIS HE WAS MURDERED BY THE LAWWMAKERS.
The word ‘sanctuary’ is based upon the Greek expression ithiateron thomation, which means ‘safe harbor, private room, a space of one’s own.’ It also is based upon the Greek expression ieros assilon, which means ‘holy asylum,’ an asylum from predators. To call the name of the exhibition Hide/See: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture and remove this work from it because it is too unpleasant strikes me as truly shocking. Is this film an insult to the spirit of Twinkletoes’ whitebread Christmas, to his Christmas tree and its friendly beacons of light which whisper “Good cheer, One and All!”?
The video was removed. The cross is a symbol of the CRUCIFIXION, among the cruelest tortures in the world. This is the sentence of slow and horrific death in which the spinal column breaks and the organs rupture. This is the torture for the worst of outlaws – the man who protested that the sick and the poor were not allowed into the church for the crime of being perceived as UNCLEAN, rather than “pristine” and moneyed, for his advocacy that the church BE a sanctuary to the sick, rather than a citadel for the rich family man, who comes to exchange invitations for tea and other such serious matters with OTHER rich family men.
David Wojnarowicz was a great artist who died a terrible death in 1992. It was one of the worst times in this country for people with AIDS. My brother, Philip-Dimitri Galas, died six years before him in 1986 of the same disease in San Diego. THERE WAS NO HOPE WHATSEOVER THEN FOR THIS DISEASE.
So what is so shocking about the truth now in 2010? Does it remind the clergy and the lawmakers of what the cross stands for: PUNISHMENT AND SAVAGE CRUELTY, and make ugly with the NICE and FRIENDLY WARM xmas spirit?
WHO in countries other than our own are dying horrific deaths of AIDS this Christmas? Christmas comes but once a year.
AND YOUR LIFE? It comes to you but once.
NYC, Dec 2 2010