If you’ve ever been to our house in the past 20 years, you might have noticed this picture on the bookshelf in our computer room.
Who is that strange man in what looks like a “family portrait” with my wife Lisa and our kids, Chris and Catie?
That man is Brian Healy of Dead Artist Syndrome. As previously reported on ROP, he died Sunday afternoon due to a massive brain hemorrhage.
Brian was the driving force behind the Christian goth band Dead Artist Syndrome. He is considered the grandfather of Christian goth by many.
That’s all great, but none of that makes him “photo-worthy” for your bookshelf.
True. But there’s a story behind that picture.
Shortly after our first born, Chris, was born, we started trying for a second. Getting pregnant with Chris was easy, so we assumed the next pregnancy would be easy as well.
It was not.
We suffered through two miscarriages. I remember once Chris telling me “the baby is dying.” I came home immediately to find Lisa bawling her head off.
Lisa took the miscarriages very hard. In her mind, she had been the good little Christian wife, doing exactly what God wanted, faithfully serving Him, and God was responding by taking away her children before she even got to meet them face-to-face. The only conclusion was that God didn’t love her as much as He loved other mothers who got to keep their babies.
She felt abandoned by God.
The second miscarriage came in 1995. We had decided to forgo our annual trip to Cornerstone that year to ensure the pregnancy went well, plus my mother was in very bad health with a cancer recurrence, and it wasn’t looking good. But suddenly, we miscarried and my mother died. It was a very hard year all around. In the end, we were not very joyful, but we felt like we needed some time away and decided to go to Cornerstone anyway.
This was all much harder for Lisa than it was for me. She was angry at God. She truly felt like she deserved to have another baby, and it was just mean of God to not let her. Yet, she still knew that she needed God. She couldn’t just walk away from her faith, as much as she wanted to. Not feeling able to walk away was the most frustrating part for her. She really didn’t want to be at Cornerstone that year, she just didn’t want to be at home either.
Dead Artists Syndrome played the fest that year. I had seen them once before and really liked them. Lisa did not. Like many others, Lisa could not understand how a Christian could sing such dark, depressing lyrics. And the fact that he used minor keys didn’t help the cause any. But I liked them and went to their set. I even picked up their 1992 release Devils, Angels, & Saints.
One of my Cornerstone/AudioFeed traditions is that on the trip home, I listen to all the new music I invariably buy. So, at some point, Devils, Angels, & Saints comes up in the queue. I knew Lisa was not fond of D.A.S., so I turned it down a bit, but I could still hear it.
Then the following came out of the speakers:
I can’t rectify or redefine
The way that I need you
I don’t understand the reasons
For what put me through
But without you I’d go crazy
It rips me up inside
‘Cuz I can’t defeat this feelin’
No matter how hard I try.
“STOP – who is this, and play that part again,” came out of Lisa’s mouth.
I kind of snickered under my breath. “You’re not gonna like it.”
“Tell me. Who is it?”
“Dead Artist Syndrome – that band you hate.”
“I want to hear this song again, and turn it up.”
I’ll admit I was as shocked as I could be, but hey, I wasn’t going to argue with getting to play D.A.S. again and louder.
The song was called “Alone,” and it perfectly expressed exactly what Lisa was feeling. I think just knowing that someone else was having the exact same thoughts and feelings that she was having made a huge difference. She was no longer alone with her emotions. Someone else felt them also, and that someone had found a way to express them in a way Lisa could not. That someone was Brian Healy.
1995 was long before Facebook or even Google existed. E-mail existed, but finding an e-mail address for the lyricist of an ultra-obscure Christian goth band wasn’t just a matter of checking their social media.
But internet bulletin boards and news groups existed. One such news group was rec.music.christian, which I regularly visited. One day I saw a post by a guy whose username was BrianDAS. How many Brians were on the rec.music.christian news group who would have “DAS” in their name? It had to be him, so I e-mailed him and to my surprise it was. I told him our story and what “Alone” meant to Lisa and asked if I could give her his e-mail and let her spill her guts out.
She did, and Brian listened. He heard. He understood. He “got it.” He had compassion because he had had those exact same feelings himself. But more than that, he encouraged her. He loved on her as only someone who had previously shared that same pain could love on her. And he helped her practically as well. He made some book recommendations for her to read.
Brian had no obligation to help us. But he did. He did because he loved people, especially hurting people. His songs are meant to reach out to hurting people and do to them exactly what they did for Lisa. Lisa was proof that his mission was being accomplished.
Brian told her, “People come up to me and say ‘I don’t get your music,’ to which I respond ‘Praise Jesus, and I hope you never do.’ ” Brian never wanted anyone to go through what he and Lisa had gone through, but he knew that many do, and those are the people he was reaching out to.
Later, we found out that Lisa had a physical reason for the miscarriages. We dealt with that and in 1996, Catie was born. She was healthy and beautiful. To Lisa, Catie was the end of the tunnel of that dark period in her life.
At Cornerstone 2000, Brian was playing again with DAS. This time, Lisa went to his set and loved every minor chord and every dark, depressing lyric. Because she “got it.” She was now beyond her dark time, but now she understood the pain others were going through and how perfectly Brian could express that pain, and the hope that he offered.
After the set, we went backstage to meet him face-to-face for the first time ever, with Catie in tow. Lisa and Brian talked and hugged and Lisa showed off Catie to him and he loved on Catie. Finally, I took this picture of Brian, Lisa, and both kids. We printed it and put it on our bookshelves, and it’s been there ever since.
The last time we saw Brian was at AudioFeed ’17. He was not in very good health, but his spirits were high. We all loved on each other again–not knowing that it was to be our last time this side of heaven we’d see him.
– Till we can love on each other again, Brian. You are sorely missed.
Chad and Lisa Fenner