Nu metal, heavy music's most maligned subgenre, has been a consistent source of joy in my cold and bleak life. When there's nowhere else to turn, I can always look at pictures of Fred Durst with Australian fauna or feel weird about how attractive I actually find Wes Borland. But I’m not actually here to talk about Limp Bizkit today. Instead I’m here to share “the amazing true story of an out-of-control rock star, his devastating addiction to drugs, and his miraculous redemption to Jesus Christ.” The out-of-control rock star? None other than one of nu metal’s most famous guitarists: Brian “Head” Welch.
Save Me From Myself: How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs, and Lived To Tell My Story is Brian “Head” Welch’s story of drug addiction and eventual conversion to Christianity. If we really wanted to, we could sum the book up thus: Brian “Head” Welch leads a relatively average childhood and adolescence. In high school he meets the guys who eventually become Korn, apart from our man Jonathan Davis himself. He hangs out and parties with them as they go through a few bands/names before they hit on the moneymaker, although curiously enough, doesn’t actually play in any of these bands until right before they find JD and become Korn. They catch him providing vocals for some other lame local group in Bakersfield (Sexxxart or whatever the fuck their name is), and at this point, it would only be a matter of time before Korn becomes the nu metal institution we all know and love.
Although Brian “Head” Welch had done plenty of drugs before, he didn’t really get balls deep into speed until Korn started getting serious. He gets addicted to meth and forms an on-again, off-again, abusive relationship with a girl he meets named Rebekah, who is also an addict. (When recalling their first meeting, he describes his favorite part of it as her flashing him her G-string; this is the same woman he later reproduces with.) Jennea is the result of his procreation with Rebekah and the eventual reason Brian “Head” Welch gives for being able to finally quit drugs (and, oh yeah, the God thing too).
As the band starts to get really, really famous, creating a monster with their legitimizing of nu metal, Brian “Head” Welch starts falling down a deeper and darker well of constant drug use. Brian “Head” Welch inches closer to God but doesn’t really ever quite make the plunge into full-on Christianity until he finally does. He erupts the world of Korn (and really angers a few of the guys in the process) by quitting, goes to Jerusalem, looks like Jesus, gets baptized, opens an orphanage in India, and finally reaches some sort of point where he is clean, sober, and happy. He does experiment with more than one variant of Christianity, which is where the most interesting segments of this book exist for me. But otherwise, my summation is pretty damn near to what you’d get out of reading the book. But if all you read was my bullshit summary, you’d miss out on so many wonderful, wonderful things. Let’s take a look at some of them!
First of all, the book jacket not only describes the experience as his “shocking embrace of God,” but also promises “a candid look” at what one assumes would be his meth routine “at Ozzfest and the Family Values tour.” It’s pretty boring though. He can’t really reveal the juiciest things, as I imagine is because of the whole Christian thing, but then, of course, one is led to wonder if it isn’t utterly disingenuous to tout this as “shocking” and “compelling.” You can only read about someone, even the former former lead guitarist of Korn, trying and failing to stop using meth so many times without also getting to hear any of what the other freaks in Korn have been getting up to while Brian “Head” Welch is too busy doing meth. Here’s a snippet of a 1998 article, reprinted in Metal Hammer’s recent and incredible Nu Metal issue, that Jonathan Davis gleefully shares in place of the nothing that Brian “Head” Welch shares in this regard:
“I was on their [Marilyn Manson’s] bus, drunk out of my mind, with Ginger Fish, Twiggy Ramirez, and Zim Zum. They were fucking with me, ‘cos I was doing shots of tequila and I asked for a Coke to chase it and they were pouring Jack Daniels in it bit by bit. So I was doing a shot of tequila, a shot of Jack, and I was like totally pissed out of my mind. So I grab a banana and Ginger just bends over, pulled his pants down and showed his asshole to me. So I said, ‘Do you want some?’ grabbed the banana, jumped on Ginger and shoved this banana all the way up his ass!”
(To be fair, Brian “Head” Welch actually gives this particular instance a nod at one point, when he mentions that a member of Korn who he declines to name did “kind of join in” with some of the “twisted craziness” going on. )
Anyway, since this is one of nu metal’s biggest stars, former former lead guitarist of Korn, any self-respecting nu metal historian can totally read this shit over and over again. I’ve scanned several reader reviews of this in the process of writing and there are quite a few camps that readers of this book fall into, some overlapping. There are Korn fans who read this and loved his brutal honesty and others who read it and hated the religious conversion. There are Christians who read this and found his conversion deeply moving. There are Christians who read this and disagreed or disapproved of his foray into speaking in tongues. There are people who read this and thought it just sucked, regardless of who wrote it or what it was about.
There’s probably something to be said for all of these views, although one thing that goes without saying in any interpretation is that the writing itself is pretty awful. He may or may not have had help, but I don’t think he had a ghostwriter. One of the ways this is really evident is in the way that what is supposed to be candid actually comes out sounding like inadvertent satire. Even though Brian “Head” Welch went through all the motions of conversion, and went even further than most people would by actually going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (yeah… probably because he could actually afford it), there’s a certain glibness to his speech that makes it hard to believe something deep or profound is really going on. It definitely feels more like Brian “Head” Welch wanted to stop being a speed freak, so he had to become something else. What’s the opposite of a drug addict? Must be a Christian! This awesome clumsiness and flippancy is especially apparent in:
- His awkwardly racist comments about the Loadi tribe of India (supposedly a group of murderous cannibals). Absolutely nothing comes up when you search for them online, which I guess isn’t that weird because they’re ostensibly some tiny obscure tribe in the middle of the Indian jungle. Some things do come up when you search for head hunting Indian tribes, but still, let me get to the point, which is that he’s going to India in the first place to open an orphanage, hilariously dubbed Head Home. As he’s on his way to meet the Loadi people themselves, he writes, “It didn’t help that one of the guys with us started talking in this worried voice saying, ‘These people are ferocious headhunters!’ This was not exactly good news for someone whose name is Head.” Yes, Brian “Head” Welch! That’s exactly what that is!
- The way he renders his messages from God in all capitals as though on a computer screen. “Direct orders,” as they say.
- His description of his desire to “go and chill for a bit” post-baptism instead of facing everyone who’s super interested in the former metal star’s new godly life. Yeah, I get the sentiment of what he’s saying. It still sounds fucking silly.
- “God is so cool.” (I know this is also a thing that people say, particularly to younger people. I don’t care. What it sounds like to me, besides just outright silly, is an appropriation of “cool” language to sell God to a different generation. It’s not like saying God is awesome, because God actually is supposed to be awesome, or whatever. And it’s not without telling here that another version of this book exists, sanitized even FURTHER in order to be sold to kids! Wonder if any of Jennea’s friends hooked up on it? Maybe got signed copies? [Speaking of, there’s a sick signed copy of this one for sale on Ebay for only $80. That’s a steal!] The child-safe tome is called Washed by Blood: Lessons from My Time with Korn and My Journey to Christ and has Brian “Head” Welch looking like some kind of free jazz beatnik, with a black turtleneck and braided hair. [As opposed to the tattooed and beatific rock star adorning the cover of Save Me From Myself.])
- A great conversational statement made by Steve, the India companion: “Bro, isn’t it cool that we’re washed by blood?” Brian “Head” Welch helpfully (parenthetically) explains that they’re referring to the symbolic washing away of their sin through Christ’s bloody sacrifice. ISN’T IT COOL, BRO?
- But here, perhaps my most favorite quote in the entire book. He ends up meeting and becoming close with a few people who he says have “prophetic gifts,” (another, even more exploitable, aspect [not as controversial as speaking in tongues but in a similar realm] that I don’t have nearly the space to get into) one being this guy named Benjamin. Brian “Head” Welch writes, “I used to joke with him and say, ‘When is the Lord gonna start giving me more visions, Ben? When am I gonna be able to see angels, dog?'”
His involvement with speaking in tongues, that famous quirk of the Pentecostals and Charismatics, is probably the most interesting aspect of his conversion. Speaking in tongues, which is also known as glossolalia and is what Wikipedia defines as the “fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables that lack any readily comprehended meaning,” is just a part of religion that I find really interesting due to the beauty of the absurdity of babbling nonsense, as well as how divisive it is among Christians. Sure, part of the point of religion is to give yourself away to feelings that can’t be explained or understood, especially in a rational light, and I don’t really doubt that a lot of the babbling that people engage in when they’re speaking in tongues really means something to them, takes them to a higher place somewhere inside themselves, and other profoundly personal things like that. That wouldn’t be too different from getting deeply and spiritually lost inside any kind of creative hobby. That kind of thing, however, is totally different from believing you’re speaking a sacred language that’s a spiritual gift to you from God and signifies the filling of your body with the Holy Spirit, or whatever. I can’t help but think of Marjoe Gortner, the amazing child Pentecostal evangelical preacher who stunned and wowed audiences with unbelievable sermons and healings and other miraculous things. Then he grew up and revealed his parents had totally arranged everything and raked the people who believed in it all for millions of dollars. He was absolutely trained (abused) and acting the entire time. He does it all over again as an adult, with a camera crew documenting it all.
He goes around to revival tents and gives rousing, moving, sweaty sermons (he compares the whole process to a rock show), which sometimes end in speaking in tongues. He definitely fooled a lot of people. Healing goes hand in hand with this. Here’s a hilarious video of a pastor (Benny Hinn, perhaps you’ve heard of him) who claims to heal people (and you better believe he profits like hell off of it).
Let me just say, I HAD ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA THAT THIS EXISTED UNTIL I WROTE THIS. But it’s way better than the video I was originally looking to post (debunking him)… and a different kind of hilarious than the one I was intending.
But back to Brian “Head” Welch and his own interaction with speaking in tongues. After his baptism, he’s especially “hungry for God” and wants to get filled with more of the spirit, so when a new friend of his invites him to a different type of church, he gladly dives right in. When the friend explains what kind of church it is, Brian “Head” Welch’s only reaction is, “Penny who?” But thanks to Penny (Penny-costal, that’s who), he’s introduced to the exotic and tumultuous world of speaking in tongues. It freaks him out, yet he also feels God in it, so with the encouragement of the pastor, he tries it out. He gets deeper into it and starts developing his own prayer language and when he’s excited to share his newfound gift with the pastor at his other church, he gets a harsh awakening to the different denominations of Christianity, as this pastor wasn’t particularly excited about it and questioned how Brian “Head” Welch knew the language he was using really came from God. He can’t study under both pastors, so he ultimately chooses the non-speaking in tongues one, but can’t quite shake speaking in tongues itself. And that’s when we get this curious line, which highlights the aforementioned glibness pretty well: “I figured that, if no one knew I was doing it, then it wouldn’t cause a fuss.” Taken at face value, would you have any idea this statement was made regarding speaking in tongues rather than speed?
(Here’s what I want to know: did Brian “Head” Welch ever connect the dots between Jonathan Davis’ “non-lexical vocables” [aka scat singing] and his own speaking in tongues?)
He eventually stops going to church altogether and takes God into his own hands. Whatever power of the spirit speaking in tongues enables within him, he ends up harnessing it to express himself through song. As a result, we have some pretty subtle lyrics to muse over and/or enjoy. Some choice ones are:
- “Your parents have failed you and I’m here to tell you/Rebel!” (Needless to say, he shares with us that needless to say, he named the song “Rebel.”)
- “I testify/It’s time to see religion die/The truth can’t lie/It’s time to see religion die/Who cares who’s right?/It’s time to see religion die/I’ll crush the fight/It’s time to see religion die” (He describes this one as “a ‘throw your fist in the air’ chant.”)
- “Chop it, snort it/The kid? Ignore it/Life sucks, I’m over it” (Here’s one I can relate to, minus the first two lines! Right on, Brian “Head” Welch! I’m over this shit too!)
One last thing, both to bring this post topically full circle as well as cap off this trip down nu metal memory lane, is to take advantage of the insight this modern age of oversharing gives into the lives of everyone, not just nu metal rock stars. Although in this case it is actually just the insight into the lives of nu metal rock stars that is valuable. Anyway, Brian “Head” Welch, as we all know, rejoined Korn last summer, although he never stopped writing and making music, as his lovely post-conversion lyrics attested to already. His own project, originally just going by his own name, has been “rebranded” (per Wikipedia’s phrasing), as Love and Death. Korn has been an active band the whole time. The point is that since all of these people are active and popular, social media participation is a must, and so thanks to Brian “Head” Welch’s Instagram, I can know how fucking hilarious he actually is. How much can that really be, do you wonder? Here, I’ll show you: