from the LA Weekly, October 18, 1991
by Kateri Butler)
by Brendon Mullen,
Stuart Timmons and Geza X
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. He was 37.
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 this paper 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. Recently 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
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
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.
Bag and Craig Lee (left)
Lotus Lame and The Lame
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
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
), 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.
can only imagine the inside scoop
these two (Craig shown with Pleasant Gehman)
must have been drooling about in preparation
for the next LaDeeDa column in the LA Weekly...
photo: Terry Dorn
A LETTER FROM CRAIG
...to thank those
who played and attended his benefit last month (at Hollywood's Palace),
Craig Lee left an unfinished letter.
The following is an excerpt:
I've just finished watching
seven hours of videotape from my benefit concert. It looks like a show
from my dreams. It's too bad this dream had to come from a nightmare,
but the nightmare will stop as soon as people stop this disease.
I have never wanted
to hide from the truth, even when it's less than pleasant. I had big problems
letting people know I had AIDS. I was scared of how some people would
react when I turned positive five years ago. I didn't mean to be a coward,
but I've let the A-word become as much of a stigma for me as for most
people and we need to break that stigma down. It's only a stigma if you
let it be one. Obviously the many people who helped me out that night
were not afraid to get close to the demon. If we're going to fight this
thing, we have to be truthful about what it is and who the real enemies
Part of the reason I'm
such a critical person is that I've always had a hard time accepting love
and encouragement from others. Watching that video, I felt there was a
lot of love on that stage and if that power could heal me, I'd be out
of my bed dancing with Vaginal Creme Davis to Phranc's
songs. I ,too, have a lust for life. But I am not afraid, and receiving
that much concern will make what ever passes before me a lot easier.
Love means never having
to say you're sorry, so I'm not going to apologize for whatever I've done.
But I hope people can put together another show like this, not because
someone's dying, but because they are happy to be alive and vital.
Treasure life. Don't
abuse your bodies and souls. Don't do anything to stop it. And the next
time you see some racy girl screaming her lungs out while playing three
chords on an out-of-tune guitar, know that I'll be there in spirit cheering
Thanks for all the beautiful
of Craig's band buttons and press photos
remembrances in the West Wing...