Memorial for Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson

December 23, 2010

Filed under: World News, Writings

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.