Jesus I Was Evil – it came out of nowhere. The year was 1997 and the song, by Darcy Clay, was a staple of bFM’s playlist. Word started to catch on. And soon the CD single/EP, featuring six tracks in total, was released.
I was working in a music store (a part-timer when I was a university) and my manager decided to hi-jack the stereo to play Jesus I Was Evil instore. We loved the crude guitars and drums – there was a punk energy at play here; but the song was catchy. Lyrics stepped out at us. Clay, a nobody as far as anyone was aware, was singing about how he used to be evil, listing the ways: “I used to crash parties and Maseratis” (I always saw that as a nod to Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good – with its line “my Maserati does 185/I lost my license, now I don’t drive”; had he crashed his Maserati too?)
But there was a limit to the evil: he never shook babies nor beat ladies (admirable) then he would intone, “but Jesus I was evil”. The song was a classic. One listen and I was hooked.
Clay was born Daniel Bolton and he was a huge fan of Motley Crue. But, as much as Bolton loved metal, as Darcy Clay he favoured a stripped-down approach. Guitar, bass, drums, no pyrotechnics, no flash guitar solos. He covered Dolly Parton. He had a country-twang to some of his songs (All I Gotta Do, And It Was Easy). And he was a unique character in New Zealand music.
We hosted Clay for an instore signing and performance – I’ve still my copy of the Jesus I Was Evil ep with a personalised scrawl; I remember it well, 17.07.97 it says on the cover…
He set up at the back of the shop, wearing white overalls with badges sewn all over them – he referred to it as his spacesuit. Apparently he always wore it when he played music. He had an orange jersey over it since it was winter.
He played the songs on the ep, in order, just himself and an electric guitar. He couldn’t play barre chords so for most of the material he self-effacingly referenced how much better it would sound when he managed to get a band together to play his songs. Then he played the top two strings of his guitar, plucking out riffs and basic bass-lines, singing about how he used to be evil, begging Jolene not to take his man, saying that it was easy and announcing that all he had to do was be a better lover…
We chatted with him afterwards – he seemed like a hard case but was a bit nervy. We had a running joke in the shop that we were forming a store-band. A few of us played instruments and Bic Runga had humoured us, agreeing to join our group. We told Darcy that he could share guitar and vocals with Runga. He laughed and told us he was keen.
And then, a few months on, he had formed a band and he opened for Blur. The short, messy set proved that things weren’t necessarily any better now that he had formed a group; the band’s time wavered, Darcy brilliantly, painfully, sent up Elton John’s rewrite of Candle In The Wind for Diana’s funeral; announcing that he wrote this song recently called England’s Rose, going on to butcher Elton’s tune on a cheap Casiotone. Cheekily he started the second song with the riff from Blur’s Song 2. It was Deja Voodoo before that band existed.
The results were captured on another ep, Songs For Beethoven.
And then, very soon after that performance, Darcy Clay was dead. He had taken his own life. He had been scheduled to play an anti-suicide concert.
Mikey Havoc cried on TV, eulogising a friend. New Zealand Music felt like it had lost something special – a cult artist that had made a dent. He never got the chance to sell-out, to become too polished. He had released six songs – and then repeated most of them on a live ep and that was it.
In 2002 the two eps were released as an anthology – one 12 track CD.
And while New Zealand continues to produce cult acts there will never be another Darcy Clay. His Jesus I Was Evil even made it on to the Nature’s Best double-CD as one of the top 30 songs from the country. It’s right at the end of disc one; the track that is usually skipped by most of the people who bought the album.