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The many names of Michael Knott

MUSIC | Prolific but troubled artist performed with raw honesty

Michael Knott Handout

The many names of Michael Knott
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THE FIRST DEFINITION of protean at is “of or resembling Proteus in having a varied nature or ability to assume different forms.” The second is “displaying great diversity or variety.” The alternative-Christian-­music artist Michael Knott, who died in March at the age of 61, was as protean as they come.

Not only did he release an enormous body of work (over 30 official albums plus demo collections and stand-alone singles), but he also did so under a bewildering range of names. The best known (other than “Michael Knott,” that is) were L.S.U. (short for “Lifesavers Underground”) and Aunt Bettys (short for “Aunt Betty’s Ford,” the band that, signed to Elektra in 1995, was supposed to propel him into the big time).

He was protean stylistically as well. Grunge, post-grunge, rock opera, goth, techno, hard rock, solo acoustic, alternative worship (which was also the name of his one-off band with Gene Eugene and Terry Taylor)—Knott could, and did, do it all. And he did it exceptionally well. Shaded Pain (L.S.U., 1987), Poplife (Lifesavers, 1991), Screaming Brittle Siren (Michael Knott, 1992), Rocket and a Bomb (Michael Knott, 1994), and Velvet Knott Elvis (songs that he wrote for and sang atop music by the supergroup-to-be Velvet Revolver, 2002), to name just five, reveal a colossal and combustible talent. His Cornerstone performances are the stuff of legend.

And throughout everything he did ran a raw, provocative honesty—about his own sins, about those of the Church, about whatever happened to be on his mind—that endeared him to those on the CCM fringe.

He also started (Blonde Vinyl) and helped start (Tooth & Nail) record labels, and many of the postmortem tributes from fellow musicians testify to his generosity. “What I most remember about Mike,” wrote Ronnie Martin (aka Joy Electric) on Facebook, “was his kindness and encouragement.” Knott was no slouch as a painter either.

Or, alas, as an alcoholic.

Christian musicians with drinking problems are nothing new. Both Russ Taff and Chuck Girard have admitted to their battles with the bottle. Unlike their sagas, however, the acutely sensitive Knott’s did not end happily.

The short version: After the Aunt Bettys folded in ’97 and money became a problem, Knott spiraled into a vicious cycle, drying out only to start drinking again. According to Todd Zeller, who interviewed him recently for a documentary after not seeing him for a decade, Knott had undergone a “striking deterioration of health.”

Did he drink to numb himself against the pain of his failures—whether real or perceived—or to punish himself for them? Did he jump or was he pushed? Were he still around to ask, he’d probably say, “Yes.”

Arsenio Orteza

Arsenio is a music reviewer for WORLD Magazine and one of its original contributors from 1986. Arsenio resides in China.



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