Interview with producer Danny Fuentes | By Janelle Jones
One of the more intriguing and experimental artists to come out of the fertile punk grounds of 1980s Orange County was Rozz Williams and his punk-goth hybrid band, Christian Death. Williams’ distinct life story is a great topic to delve into, and Danny Fuentes—owner of Lethal Amounts, a gallery in Los Angeles—is doing just that. “Spiritual Cramp: A Rozz Williams Story” is a documentary that explores the artist’s extraordinary life, art, struggle with depression, untimely death, and influence on generations to come.
“I’m a big fan of Christian Death and Rozz Williams,” Fuentes says. He relates that he had done an art show exhibiting the work of Williams, “things that he’s done, photos, lyrics, just everything we could get our hands on.” This exhibit led to a relationship with the band’s other original members, including guitarist Rikk Agnew of Adolescents, who joined the band early on after realizing something exceptional was happening there.
Fuentes, already drawn to post-punk and goth, realized there were tons of straight-up punk documentaries but not many goth or post-punk features. He mentions with a laugh, “I don’t even know if The Cure have a documentary on them other than VH1 ‘Behind the Music’ or something like that.”
At first, Fuentes considered embarking on a documentary that would cover the entire genre. When the breadth, scope, and difficulty of that endeavor hit, he realized it was a bit “overzealous,” concluding that making a film solely about Williams and Christian Death would be better. “All the Christian Death members are here in L.A., and it’s a very L.A. topic. Nobody’s touched that,” he explains. Besides, it would be even more personal to him. “I love [them] and what Williams represents to me, and I can speak about that firsthand rather than speak about a whole music genre,” he says. “The story is just more compelling.”
“There’s a lot of layers to Christian Death,” Fuentes elaborates, citing “the fact that [Williams] committed suicide [and] was dealing with depression; they had a breakthrough album, [1982’s Only Theatre of Pain on Frontier Records]; they lost the name to a member of the band.” Then, there’s the band’s artistic originality. “There’s a lot of sophistication to Christian Death,” he says. “Sometimes, it gets overlooked. I think that’s what I’m trying to do with the documentary. It wasn’t just another punk band. It wasn’t a goth band, necessarily.”
“Oftentimes, things are either magical or they don’t work,” he adds. “In this case, I think this first record was magical—striking.”
Williams’ identity as an out gay man in the hypermasculine early ’80s Southern California punk and hardcore scene is significant. He didn’t go the easy route and hide his identity to fit in; he wore dresses and makeup, expressing his true self. “He was a teenage boy in a dress, playing with hardcore bands in Orange County. You can’t be more out of place than that,” Fuentes says. “Now, we have a lot of words that would describe the type of person [Williams represented]: genderfluid, non-binary, androgynous, all these words that exist for people to have some sense of identity, what they associate with. Back then, it was either ‘you’re gay’ or ‘you’re straight’—and if you’re gay, you might get beat up.”
Fuentes says “Spiritual Cramp” is less a “rock-bio” fluff piece and more a truly interesting tale. As he has no background in filmmaking and no major funding for the film, it is more of “a passion project.” He first mentioned the idea to the original band members and Frontier founder Lisa Fancher, and they were all very supportive. So far, he has just been gathering as much photography, footage, and as many interviews as he can, “anything to draw some sort of a timeline and start understanding what […] topics I wanna focus on.”
“Ultimately,” he concludes, “I wanna point out that Rozz was more than just a frontman to some goth band. He was a true artist who did a lot more than Only Theatre of Pain.” Fuentes wants to try to understand Williams’ complexities. “He was always battling depression and ultimately killed himself. Could that have been avoided?” he muses. Also of great personal importance, Fuentes says, is “to point out he was a gay man in a hypermasculine community and rose above that and set an example for disenchanted young gay people who didn’t have a hero who really spoke to them.”
“Spiritual Cramp” is still in production. Donate to the project here!