The legacies of rock stars are predicated by their death more than their body of work. Morrison, Hendrix, Joplin, Lennon and Cobain, to name a few, became greater folklore after their deaths. Their demise is what added to their fame. I’m not sure if it’s human nature to respect their untimely deaths as part of the process of being a fan. Jim Morrison growing old, fat and spent doesn’t rest well with fans. We appreciate their talents more because of the circumstances of their death. John Lennon being murdered by a lunatic creates greater fervor for all who loved his music.

One artist that was lesser known for his music and death was Jeffrey Lee Pierce. He was the mastermind behind L.A.’s greatest punk band, Gun Club.
His lyrics were similar to those of “beat poets” like William  S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Gun Club’s music was a swamp punk template. Pierce died at 37 years old of a brain hemorrhage, HIV positive and chronic hepatitis. His constant use of opiates and alcohol were the cause of his poor health.
He constantly had to battle his demons.

Gun Club created music that was a labyrinth of darkness, which reflected the demons that surrounded Pierce. Their live performances were like a magical misery tour. He was incorrigible towards his audiences and would scream obscenities. Often he’d smirk while he antagonized the crowd by telling them how stupid they were. Pierce didn’t stand on ceremony because this is what the punk scene wanted to be told. This movement was not like the ones in New York or London. It was particular only to Hollywood. Pierce was a soothsayer and spokesman of the disillusioned youth!

He created the punk scene for Los Angeles that many bands only wished they could share part of the heritage. Jeffrey Lee Pierce was all about political anarchy and his audience were the rank and file!

Jeffrey Lee Pierce was a great follower of the blues; much like Jim Morrison of The Doors. His writing purity for the genre is what fans came to see. Unfortunately at these live appearances Pierce was so intoxicated that he couldn’t even stand up and remember the lyrics. I went to see Gun Club in concert and they were unlistenable, however it was Pierce’s pulpit to reveal the battle of his demons. His antics were famous but you still went to see him reveal his troubled soul. Perhaps by attending their shows was a reflection of our own shortcomings and to watch a man breakdown to the lowest common denominator. Human nature acts peculiar at times and perhaps the Los Angeles punk scene mirrored the world of the Hollywood tabloids. We get joy through the demise of others; and this was the case for Jeffrey Lee Pierce.

During interviews he would be lucid and particular in the words he spoke. You realized that he just may be a genius? When I met him we talked about music and we came to discover that our tastes were pretty similar. I learned that we grew up very close to each other and I even met his mother. He asked me if I could introduce him to Gene Simmons of KISS, it was one of his favorite bands. When KISS performed in Los Angeles I made sure that Jeffrey had a proper introduction to Gene. Both were respectful about their music and the dialogue lasted for a few minutes. Honestly, I saw a side of Gene Simmons that I had never seen; it was very cool!

Gun Club’s first album “Fire of Love” was their finest work. Pierce’s incorporation of delta blues was fresh and full of vigor. At the same time other L.A. punk bands like The Circle Jerks, The Cramps  and Black Flag released records but they didn’t have the soul or reflective moments like that of the Gun Club. Their fan base were sickened by apathy and socialization.

I wanted to end this article by saying that Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s role in the L.A. punk movement wasn’t necessarily the music, rather, it was his ability to reflect the anger and attitude that existed with the detached youth. The only artist I can think of that reflects the same angst is Nick Cave, who I have the greatest respect for.  Pierce’s morosely poetic and lyrical sensibility is echoed in the later work of Nick Cave, whom Pierce cited in his autobiography as “my truest mate.”Jeffrey also had a very close relationship with Deborah Harry and Blondie. Chris Stein produced the second Gun Club album, “Miami” , left critics flat and wasn’t well received.

There was a movie made about Pierce titled “Ghosts on the Highway” which chronicles his life. The film shows Jeffrey’s calamities on and off the stage but it’s a film that should be placed into a time capsule and viewed in a hundred years to show the history of a social phenomenon that didn’t exist anywhere in the world except Hollywood.