c. 2007 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) Most of Brian “Head” Welch’s tattoos are new.
It seems like the multicolored ink sleeves and matted brown dreadlocks would be remnants of the “old” Brian, the one who spent a decade pounding out power chords to lyrics like “Right now / I feel it scratch inside / I want to slash and beat you.”
But the tattoo near his makeup-lined eyes gives him away. It’s a small teardrop _ a traditional gang symbol _ juxtaposed with a cross. When he got it a couple years ago, he thought it symbolized the intense love of Jesus Christ.
Now, he says, it’s a permanent symbol of the unrelenting hardship, and prevailing joy, he discovered in 2005 when he abandoned riches and rock-star glory to become a Christian.
Welch, 37, released “Save Me From Myself” earlier this month. The book chronicles his years as lead guitarist for the hard-core band Korn, a quintet whose albums splintered parents’ ears with profanity, sexuality and proclamations of rape and murder.
The band’s “cathartic rock” was so offensive that it earned national fame in 1998. A principal at a Michigan high school suspended a student for wearing a Korn T-shirt on grounds that the music was “indecent, vulgar and obscene.”
For their teenage fan base, Korn’s tracks were a chance to release pent-up anger and aggression. For Welch, they were a fitting soundtrack to a drug-induced downward spiral.
Raised as a nominal Episcopalian, Welch said his spiritual experiences were limited to the influence of one Christian friend when he was in junior high. By the time his guitar prowess and speed addiction propelled the band to fame in the mid-1990s, he had plunged into a dark culture where every night on tour was a drunken orgy and God was out of sight, out of mind.
“No one would bring it up,” he said of Christianity in a recent interview. “I remember making fun of Christians on TV and stuff. But until I heard from God myself, I didn’t know it was real.”
In his memoir, Welch describes the moment when he knew his life was careening out of control. His 5-year-old daughter, Jennea, was tagging along during a tour with the band when she innocently started humming a Korn hit _ “A.D.I.D.A.S.,” an acronym that stood for “All Day I Dream About Sex.”
Couple that experience with Welch’s insatiable methamphetamine habit, prescription drug and alcohol addictions, and a physically abusive relationship with his former wife.
After a decade of headlining concerts with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and Marilyn Manson, Welch realized he now knew a different kind of rock _ rock bottom.
How the jaded rocker “melted” is a complex plot. There was the random e-mail from a Christian friend. A Bible for Christmas. Spiritual questions from his young daughter. A haunting dream of his own death.
But the defining moment came one night when he was sitting in front of his computer, simultaneously snorting speed and writing e-mails telling Korn he was quitting the band to get a grip on his life.
His voice crescendos when he describes the supernatural experience he felt,sitting still in front of the keyboard: It was “an overwhelming sense of the presence of the love of God,” he recalls. “I knew it was God, I knew I was changed and I’ve never been the same again.”
Waking up the next morning, he opened his Bible, read a verse in Ezekiel that said “the soul who sins is the one who will die,” and immediately flushed all his meth down the toilet.
Skeptics have questioned whether his 2005 conversion was “for real.”
“I knew it was wigging everyone out,” he said. “One day I was in Korn, the next day I looked like Jesus.”
But Welch knows he’s a new man. Two and a half years later, the rocker is still clean and says he’s at peace in his newfound faith, even though it meant giving up fame and glory to forge a path alone.
He says he’s focusing on things of greater significance _ like being dad to Jennea, now 9, and sharing his story through the book.
He’s also back in the recording studio once more. He’s got new songs _ ones that seem to offer answers to the musings in Korn’s hit “Alone I Break”: “I am hoping I can find / where to leave my hurt behind.”
Nothing is certain, especially with the music. But asked if he ever regrets the decision to abandon rock-star glory, his voice halts with emotion.
“I already had that, and it wasn’t anything like what I thought it would be,” he said. “I wasn’t content. Now I can be content if I never do anything in the limelight again, or if I go out and get famous in music again like I was.”
And with his kohl-lined eyes fixed, deliberate, he says this commitment is as permanent as that little cross tattoo.
“It’s for life, it’s forever,” he said. “This body is (God’s) now, it’s not mine.”
DSB END RINDELS
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