elisa_rolle (elisa_rolle) wrote,

Craig Lee (1956 - October 8, 1991)

One of the most wonderful and sharpest thorns in the rose garden of underground culture, Craig Lee, died at home last week of AIDS-related illness on October 8, 1991. He was 37. (Picture: Alice Bag and Craig Lee)

Writer, critic, producer and musician, Craig roamed the outer extremities of the local alternative scene. Most people will remember his influence on Los Angeles music during the early days of the punk-rock movement. He was the controversial music editor of LA Weekly for two years during a crucial period of its evolution and was a regular contributor to its pages for a decade.

Craig was also a music reviewer for the L.A. Times and a frequent contributor to L.A. Style, The Advocate and various fanzines. Though he was a rock critic he also enjoyed reviewing films, plays, demonstrations and exotic locales. Lately he had begun writing fiction. Three of his stories will be published in gay men's anthologies.

Craig was sometimes controversial because his extreme views were taken for snobbery. His unshakably opinionated views were impish, catty, incendiary. But Craig's most sincere concern was the advocacy of hometown talent and the promotion of Los Angeles as a rising star. Craig initiated and produced the LA Weekly Rock Music Awards, based upon a reader generated poll for selecting and awarding the best L.A.-based musicians. He co-authored the book Hardcore California: A History of Punk and New Wave.

Craig also produced Rock Against AIDS, the first benefit in which local rock musicians donated their services for an AIDS organization. Also, in 1987 he produced "Music for Life" which took AIDS education to Latino communities around MacArthur Park.

He was a Hollywood Kid whose office bore a movie still of his actress/mother aiming a ray gun. Born in Ventura County, Craig was educated at Interlochen Academy in Michigan and later at CalArts. But his real education was in the world of punk bands and dark movies that was the L.A. punk scene. The environment was one of an outrageous pre-viral party of innocent sex and drugs and rock & roll on a scale that makes today's Strip rockers look like they're on a Sunday school picnic showing their little tatoos and piercings to everyone in the park. In a milieu of dark clothes, dark humor, dark music and parking lot parties-- amid the sometimes poetic, often more crude and stupid shock of punk-- Craig was a familiar sight, his expression one of bemused furrowed puzzlement, like a punk cartoon of Charlie Brown.

As the glaring guitarist in Catholic Discipline, he was one of Penelope Spheeris' pet weirdos in "The Decline of Western Civilization." Other bands he played and wrote for included The Boneheads, The Bags, Funhouse, Soave Bolla, and, most recently, Alarma. Craig was also the Svengali behind "Lotus Lame and The Lame Flames," a bizarre bondage/bikini-clad group fronted by a moonlighting bank manager. Craig wrote all the tunes in their show, a smash on the pre-Club Fuck! underground party circuit.

For five years Craig lived with a Thai man, Pravit Ouisunanaroj ("Pat"), who nursed him through the end. The pair traveled together frequently. Craig studied gamelan music and tutored English to Buddhist monks who officiated at his funeral.

For many months Craig was afraid to disclose or discuss his disease. This reticence was aggravated by the insidious illness he had, PML (progressive multifocal leuko-encephalitis), a relentless brain infection which renders slow irreversible paralysis.

As a figure in a field of macho creativity like rock & roll, Craig was subject to a steady stream of corrosive harassment. He was called a fag on stage and in print. His tires were slashed. AIDS rumors flew long before he was sick-- and after. In fact, when Craig applied for his last job as a music publicist, his boss was told not to hire him because he had AIDS. She did anyway.

A few months ago Craig wrote an obituary for his friend Jim VanTyne, the entrepreneur of the Anti-Club and other underground venues who also died of AIDS related illness. "I Could Use A Little Rain," the most powerful song Lee's new band, Alarma, recorded, was inspired-- or perhaps jarred loose-- by Van Tyne's death. "I'm overwhelmed by the anger and pain," Craig wrote. "When will this drought ever end?"

The few friends who tended him and helped him on this unjust exit remain in a state of disbelief that his voice is stilled. We grimly prepare for others to be stolen from our lives. Let it rain.

Source: http://mobilization.com/theoretical.com/craig.html (by Brendon Mullen, Stuart Timmons and Geza X, reprinted from the LA Weekly, October 18, 1991)

Further Readings:

Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality by Patrick Moore
Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: Beacon Press (January 14, 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 080707957X
ISBN-13: 978-0807079577
Amazon: Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality

The radical sexuality of gay American men in the 1970s is often seen as a shameful period of excess that led to the AIDS crisis. Beyond Shame claims that when the gay community divorced itself from this allegedly tainted legacy, the tragic result was an intergenerational disconnect because the original participants were unable to pass on a sense of pride and identity to younger generations. Indeed, one reason for the current rise in HIV, Moore argues, is precisely due to this destructive occurrence, which increased the willingness of younger gay men to engage in unsafe sex.

Lifting the'veil of AIDS,' Moore recasts the gay male sexual culture of the 1970s as both groundbreaking and creative-provocatively comparing extreme sex to art. He presents a powerful yet nuanced snapshot of a maligned, forgotten era. Moore rescues gay America's past, present, and future from a disturbing spiral of destruction and AIDS-related shame, illustrating why it's critical for the gay community to reclaim the decade.
Tags: gay classics, musician: craig lee

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