Danzig, Black Sabbath and Jesus

Tony Ballz

Step into the Wayback Machine, Sherman, and set those dials for the glory daze of Flagstaff’s punk scene, about ‘93-‘94ish. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Life in The Mothership with me, Dave N, and our rotating third roommate wasn’t all dance parties, cheap drugs, getting loaded with touring bands, casual sex with high school girls, and running down O’Leary street naked in the snow.

Many an evening found us sitting in our tiny living room, staring into space and bored out of our skulls. Money was scarce. Prank phone calls (in the days before caller-ID) were always dependable cheap fun, but after you’ve dialed the Village Inn and asked for the hair pie twice in a week, what’s left?

We had plenty of music, but the lack of visual stimulation was usually the issue. Cable TV was a luxury and the VCR worked about half the time. The internet didn’t exist (in Flagstaff, anyway). Dave and our friend Clea were aficionados of bad ‘80s movies, and I was fortunate enough to work in a store that had plenty of them for rent (free to employees, of course).

Fully enjoyable was the double feature of Grease II (starring Adrian “The Zmed” Zmed and the screen debut of Michelle “The Fife” Pfeiffer) and The Pirate Movie (featuring Kristy McNichol, the guy from The Blue Lagoon, and the onscreen rape of both Gilbert AND Sullivan), the pain set in around hour three of the Swayze film festival but that blind boy sure plays a mean guitar, I tell you what.

And when all else failed, there was good ol’ broadcast television. Yep, wrap them rabbit ears in aluminum foil and off we go. Flagstaff used to have TWO local stations (and we never thought in a million years BOTH of them would disappear): channel 2 was an NBC affiliate with Flag’s only local newscast (and we never thought in a million years we’d be living in a city without a local newscast), while channel 13 was a proud member of the Trinity Broadcast Network, known to us heathens as The Jesus Channel.

TBN was founded by professional clowns and hypocrites Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in the 1970s, and by the 1990s it was a flourishing industry, with dozens of affiliates all over this great Christian white-bread country of ours.

Dave and I would watch The Jesus Channel for HOURS and hours. It was our best entertainment value. We never got tired of the constant barefaced greed and arrogance, the bad music, bad hairpieces, bad makeup, bad sets … not to mention all the variations of TBN’s core message: “If you don’t want to go to hell, SEND US YOUR MONEY NOW. That’s right, God can be bought. Heaven is on sale. Eternal paradise is only a personal check away.” All you had to do was pretend these people weren’t real and it was more yuks than Saturday Night Live.

Dave always got a kick out of the fact that TBN’s logo sort of looked like the cover of A Night at the Opera by Queen. When the logo flashed on the screen, Dave would hold the album up next to the TV and we would laugh and laugh. Good cheap American fun.

The televangelists could get really grating, but it was a good night if we caught one of the faith healer yoyos who would bring up a member of their hillbilly audience afflicted with rickets or the gout and SMACK ’em upside the head to drive them Commie demons out. That will be $500, please.

Far and away, our favorite comedian on The Jesus Channel was a guy named Jeff Fenholt. He stood out from the other sweaty child molester types on TBN. Everything about him screamed aging head banger. He was well into his 40s, with a moon face framed by a curly blond rocker mullet. He looked like he belonged behind the counter at Guitar Center ringing up a strap lock and a dozen picks while cranking some Yngwie.

The Holt’s dubious claims to metal authenticity were: a) he played you-know-who in the original 1971 Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar (true, although his understudy Ted Neeley landed the movie role), and b) he was the lead singer of Black Sabbath for about two weeks in the mid-1980s.

This was refuted by Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, who stated he and Fenholt worked on some demos for a proposed Iommi solo album during a Sabbath hiatus, but that Jeff was never an official member of the band. Fenholt claims Sabbath manager Don Arden (Sharon Osbourne’s father) told him otherwise, and apparently that was enough for him to name drop Black Sabbath whenever possible on the air.

He had a “sexy” feud going on with some Wiccan priestess in Wisconsin. He would say her name and growl into the camera: “I’m coming for you, baby. Oh yes, I am.” He made a big deal out of actually flying to Wisconsin with cameraman in tow, but she went: “(Ding!) Restraining order!” and that was that.

Whether or not he was actually in the greatest heavy metal band in the world and renounced their hell-bound ways for a life filled with Jesus, one fact was inarguable: Jeff Fenholt was a douchebag.

One night Fenholt announced he and his Christian metal group (who never appeared with him on TBN, hmmm …) were touring and spreading the Good Word, perhaps even playing in your neck of the woods. We laughed and said wouldn’t it be great if The Holt was coming here? Then they showed the tour dates, and there it was: Flagstaff, Arizona. Dave and I stared at each other open-mouthed.

“No F^#ing way!”

[word “fucking” edited by the editor]

“Dude, we’re going.”

“Oh HELL yeah, we’re going.”

It should probably be mentioned at this point that Dave and I were singular in our passion for TBN and all things Fenholt. Most of our friends didn’t get it. “How can you guys WATCH this crap? OK, once in a while for a laugh, but EVERY NIGHT?” JRo would hole up in his room when we had it on. Clea gave it a shot, but couldn’t hack it.

Luckily, Primitive Tribes frontman and armchair anarchist Sasha Davis was cut from the same cloth as we, and was just as excited at the imminent arrival of The Man Himself to our shit town. Between the three of us (and several 12-packs of Olympia), a plan was hatched: on the day of the event, we would amass a battalion of local punks, get rip roaring drunk, righteously march into wherever the show was, and scream out the most obnoxious offensive blasphemous profanities imaginable at Mr. Bigshot Mullethead Jesus Rocker Guy and let him know THIS was the face of Flagstaff and that he sucked a big hairy gorilla weiner and so did his band and so did everyone at TBN.

Like I said, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

About a week before the showdate, fliers started popping up around town:

“LIVE! Former BLACK SABBATH vocalist JEFF FENHOLT!”

There was an eastside address and a photo of The Holt’s face leering maliciously at you through his curly blond mullet. Absent were the following words: God, Jesus, holy, church, Christian, Trinity Broadcast Network, and douchebag.

It was laughable, and we laughed. Did this guy think we were total rubes who just fell off the turnip truck and that we would be fooled by his clever ruse and show up expecting a rockin’ good Satanic evening and instead be hit BLAM! with the Lord’s healing power? What a dick.

I tacked a flyer up on our living room wall and The Holt’s glowering mug was immediately defaced with bloody fangs, whited-out eyes, a forehead pentagram, and a speech balloon reading “I Y Satan”. Again, we were REALLY bored.

The first seed of doubt was planted when I rode past the address on the flyer and yep, sure enough, it was a church. Dave and Sasha didn’t care: “Great! It’ll make our blasphemy more blasphemous. And hey, you grew up Catholic … haven’t you always wanted to be drunk in church?”

I had to admit I did.

The next seed of doubt came during our futile attempts to get ANYONE interested in coming along. “Uhh … you’re going to go into a church drunk and HECKLE some guy? Have fun.”

The great day finally arrived, and I raced home from work to find that our army of drunk punks consisted of: me, Dave, Sasha, Clea (our driver and always a good sport), and special guest Mario, undisputed king of the Flag Fiends, worshipper at the altar of Danzig and all things unholy, and future local musician. Oh, and our fuel consisted of a single 12-pack of Olympia between the five of us (did I mention we were really broke?).

These days you can get a pleasant conversation out of Mario, but back then all you got were two or three mumbled words and a silent devilocked glare through a haze of cigarette smoke. I believe on that fateful day he had just stopped by our house to see what was going on and Dave and Sasha hornswaggled him into coming along. The two of them could be quite persuasive.

We polished off the beer and piled into Clea’s little Toyota. The final seed of doubt was finding the church parking lot PACKED full of cars, and the thought “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea” flew across my mind. The church’s doors were wide open but no metal, Christian or otherwise, was emanating. Posted at the doors were the Sweater Zombies, and their eyes lit up at the sight of us.

“Hey! Thanks for coming! WOW! Here, let us get you seats DOWN IN FRONT!!!”

“NO!!!” we all shrieked. We told them we could find our own seats, thank you very much, and stepped inside.

The church was pretty full. I estimated the mean age of the crowd to be about twelve. They all turned around and gaped at us. I flashed back to my Catholic school days and thought, these kids probably have to be here. Well, they don’t HAVE to, but it was STRONGLY SUGGESTED by their parents and teachers that they attend.

The Holt was at the lectern and his spiel barely missed a beat. Some of the kids started giggling, but Fenholt ignored our arrival and spieled on, drawing the little ones’ attention back to him. The guy was a pro.

We stood frozen at the back of the church. Where was his band? We didn’t see amps or a drum set or any equipment normally associated with rock and/or roll. Just an altar, candles, the tabernacle that housed the Body of Our Savior … church stuff. This was unquestionably the last place on Earth I wanted to be. I said goodbye to the remnants of my two beer buzz.

Dave led us to a spot along the far right aisle, about halfway down. We tried to be inconspicuous, but it was impossible. Anyone who didn’t know we were there before did now, and the giggling started again. The first one in the pew was Mario and you should’ve seen those kids scoot.

Fenholt kept ignoring us. I can’t recall one word of his speech, but I can make a pretty good guess as to its content.

We were obviously the hit of the evening, or rather Mario was. He was definitely the only one present with a leather jacket or devilock. Kids kept turning around and whispering and giggling. Dave and Sasha were nonplussed. Clea and I were a bit shellshocked, but kept straight faces. Mario was slouched so far down next to me he was almost horizontal. He looked like he wanted his body to implode upon itself and collapse into a pile of smoldering ash.

After about ten painful minutes, Clea whispered:

“I need a cigarette.”

I whispered back, “I’ll join you.”

I told Mario what we were doing and the three of us stood up and tried to walk over Dave and Sasha. They decided they needed one too. As we all filed out of the pew, Fenholt stopped mid-spiel and addressed us directly:

“Aw come on, where are you guys going? You don’t have to leave!”

Dave turned, looked at Jeff Fenholt and said loudly:

“Oh, we’re just going for a smoke, we’ll be right back!”

It was one of the funniest things I had ever heard him say and I started cracking up. The impudence in Dave’s voice triggered something in those kids too, and the whole church erupted in laughter as we trooped up the aisle wearing stupid grins.

As we exited, I heard Fenholt trying to get his captive audience back, saying those guys came here expecting some heavy metal, but the REAL heavy metal is God’s … blah blah blah. I thought, tomorrow these kids are going to have some great stories to tell their friends who couldn’t make it (“Dude, you should’ve been there, it was AWESOME!”).

Outside, we lit up. The Sweater Zombies had followed us, and they ran the Divide And Conquer. Dave and Sasha each had three or four of them buzzing around. Dave sounded like he was making some headway with his bunch:

“TBN and the Church always want your money, but look at all that expensive jewelry and stuff they wear. Doesn’t the Bible say ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ and ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’? You know, Jesus and the Apostles were dirt poor. They were fishermen and carpenters, they weren’t rich …”

“Hey … you’re RIGHT!”

We found out that Jeff’s band couldn’t make it, but out of the goodness of his heart he decided to come anyway and, you know, just TALK to the kids. What a guy.

I smoked and tried to put on my best “don’t come near me or I’ll kill you” face, but one of them spotted me, smiled widely, and approached with outstretched hand. About 3 steps in, his hand fell and so did his face.

“Hey, there’s a …”

I followed his gaze and observed Mario with his back turned to us, in the classic “man about to have a piss” stance.

“… restroom in the …”

Too late. All conversation stopped, and we listened to Mario pee for a few seconds. The Danzig skull logo stared hollow-eyed at us from the back of his jacket. The expressions on the faces of the Sweater Zombies were priceless. I was shocked, but I felt like applauding. The words “all right” may have passed my lips. Dave, Sasha, Clea and I met each others’ eyes and the same thought ran through all our heads:

“YES!!!”

It was perfect. Mario didn’t actually relieve himself ON the church, just by a shrub planted next to the front doors, but the effect was the same. I don’t know if his intention was to make it a big sacrilegious thing, he probably just had to take a whiz. Nevertheless, it was a fitting comment on the evening’s events. The last word, so to speak. I only wish The Holt could have seen it.

Our cigarettes were done and so was Mario. The sweater Zombies nervously invited us back inside.

“I’m not going back in there.”

It was Mario’s voice, and he wasn’t mumbling. The words weren’t loud, but they were quite clear. His statement was not scared or angry, it was matter-of-fact, like “It’s raining today”.

I decided I had had enough as well. I also realized at that particular moment I needed to smoke a bowl more than I ever had in my life. I asked Clea for her keys and said we would be hanging out by the car.

Our group split up. Mario and I walked to Clea’s car and got inside. I looked at him.

“Wow. That sucked.”

“Yeah.”

We sat in silence. I loaded a bowl and puffed away. A short time later the driver’s side door opened and Clea got in.

 “Let’s get out of here.”

“What about Dave and Sasha?”

“They’re staying. They said they were having fun.”

“Oh.”

As we drove away, I had a mental image of a group of Sweater Zombies in front of the church the next morning holding crucifixes and one of those incense things on a chain, uprooting the tainted shrubbery (to be burned and its ashes scattered) and dousing the ground with holy water.

Apparently after we left, our punker friends Chris and Matt showed up at the church drunker than hell and implored Fenholt to heal them of their alcoholism. It almost made me wish I’d hung around.

I lost my taste for the Trinity Broadcast Network. Seeing that those people actually existed kind of killed the humor.

In 1997 it was revealed that in the late 1970s, Jeff Fenholt was a “boy toy” of the late Gala Dali, widow of Salvador. In her declining years, she was notorious for having a stable of young male lovers, setting them up financially in exchange for sexual favors. She paid Fenholt with several of Dali’s paintings and a million dollar Long Island house. Gala was in her 80s, Jeff in his 20s.

The resulting brouhaha caused Fenholt to disappear from TBN for several years. He eventually made a triumphant comeback, his sins forgiven and his mullet shorn.

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