Culture-jamming avant-garde music collective Negativland has announced that one of its founding members, Richard Lyons, died Tuesday of complications due to a nodular melanoma. A Facebook post says he died “peacefully and pain free.”
Lyons, who was also known under the pseudonym Pastor Dick, had been battling cancer for over 12 years. It recently returned, and doctors discovered inoperable tumors on his spine, liver and brain.
Negativland reported that since Lyons’ death coincided with his birthday, he was able to have a “lively” birthday party earlier in the day at the nursing facility where he was receiving care. A number of members of the group showed up for the celebration, and others participated remotely.
“With photos being taken of people taking photos of phones, phone speakers going right and left (with a dog barking on one of them), and some New Age harp being played, the afternoon felt like an Actual Negativland Performance for the ages,” the band’s Facebook reported. “David ‘The Weatherman’ Wills led the group in singing the now-public-domain ‘Happy Birthday.’ … Richard’s mother Evelyn called in a bit later, and her voice was the last he heard before dying. An on-duty nurse commented that ‘I hope when I go that my last day is as good as his was.'”
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Lyons was born on April 19th, 1959 in Castro Valley, California. He grew up in Concord and Martinez, California, where the group came together in 1979. He is the third member of Negativland to die in the past year, following the deaths of Ian Allen and Don Joyce.
Lyons played an important role in the group’s history when he brought the 1968 album If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? by Baptist minister Estus W. Pirkle to his bandmates. They in turn sampled and deconstructed it to create their own recording, 1987’s “Christianity Is Stupid.” He subsequently released a fake press release saying that the real-life axe murder of a Rochester, Minnesota family at the hands of 16-year-old family member Davd Brom was inspired by the song. After media outlets took it seriously, the group fashioned its next album – Helter Stupid – as a response, using a photo of an anchorman discussing the tune on the air with the caption “Killer Song.”
He was intermittently active in the group into the late 2000s. The band credited his “darkly funny and contrarian alter egos” as being a major part of the group. These included “has-been radio personality Dick Vaughn, righteous religious preacher Pastor Dick, ace used car salesmen Dick Goodbody, master debater Dick Bush, good Christian lady Marsha Turnblatt and crazed DJ Jack Diekobisc (pronounced Dickobitch).”
Lyons also took photos of a wrecking yard that inspired the 2002 album Deathsentences of the Polished and Structurally Weak and participated in the Over the Edge radio show, led by Joyce, where he led a “format change” in 1982 to focus on 1970s nostalgia (captured on the comp Dick Vaughn’s Moribund Music of the ’70s). In 2001, the musician led a live broadcast from a bowling alley, a recording that will later come out on CD as Ultimate Pinsmack.
“His last weeks at the skilled nursing facility were spent with many visits and calls from friends, lots of Boston Cream Pies, watching Seventies car commercials and old episodes of Match Game, being interviewed for a documentary film currently being made about the group (everyone there that day gathered ’round his bed to sing his ‘Nesbitt’s Lime Soda Song’ to him), and working on new handmade covers for an upcoming reissue of Negativland’s first LP from 1980,” the band reported. “He kept an online station tuned to an all-Seventies-hits-all-the-time station, and when he finally was unable to speak, he was still tapping his fingers to the music.”
Lyons is survived by his mother and sister.