Emily Nokes is a musician, writer, graphic designer, illustrator, Libra, candy enthusiast and the singer/tambourinist in glittery feminist punk-pop band Tacocat. Her hobbies include giving pretty good home bang trims, puffy painting, stoned shopping and taking photos of her luxuriously large grey cat, Doctor O. As a writer and illustrator, her work has appeared in Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger, where she previously worked as music editor before deciding to tour basically all the time.
(Photo credit: Michael Lavine)
I’ll admit it: I haven’t read any of the previous books written by Brian “Head” Welch, guitarist (and, I’ll say what we’re all thinking, most handsome member) of ’90s nu-metal pioneers KoRn. But with titles such as Save Me from Myself: How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs and Lived to Tell My Story (2008), Washed By Blood: Lessons from My Time with KoRn and My Journey to Christ (2008) (the cleaned-up version of the aforementioned title) and Stronger: Forty Days of Metal and Spirituality (2010), it’s safe to say you can guess what Brian Welch likes to talk about. A lot.
In 2005, Welch left KoRn to pursue Jesus full-time, and given his past as a meth addict and deadbeat parent, I’m not here to roll my eyes too hard at anyone who’s found a way to get their life back together. But that’s the thing…“together” is not how I would describe the life of Brian Welch.
Welch’s newest, With My Eyes Wide Open: Miracles & Mistakes on My Way Back to KoRN (May 2016), is very, very heavy on the “mistakes,” with barely any of what I would describe as “miracles.” Like, I’m not even sure why he wrote this book, other than to confess, for 198 pages, how many idiotic decisions he’s made since the previous book he wrote. They’re not even juicy mistakes, mostly just blunders involving parenting, money and eyelid tattoos.
A good quarter of this book focuses on a Christian grifter, Edgar, who talks Welch into moving to Arizona to be a part of a Christian music cult community (a reasonable enough venture, since Welch wants to have a solo career making “music that sounded similar to KoRn” but was also “more spiritual and uplifting”), which spirals into Welch pouring millions of dollars into recording sessions that end in tantrums (he discovers he can’t sing and trashes a studio), half-baked music videos and photo shoots, trips to Croatia and Dubai for business deals that never pan out and a meat-delivery business (yep) that eventually gets busted for cheating migrant workers out of pay.
Welch supports Edgar during accusations of embezzlement, fraud, hiding funds and cover-ups because Edgar’s pep talks about Jesus somehow cloud the common sense of everyone around him. At one point Welch shrugs off Edgar’s sketchiness with this airtight logic: “I had once gone to Israel dressed up like Jesus with a beard and a flowing white robe. And another time I went to hang out with a bunch of cannibalistic headhunters in India, so who was I to judge?” WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT?? Eventually Edgar disappears (no way), leaving Welch very much holding the bag.
It’s not all Edgar, though — Welch is just unbelievably bad at money and timing. While his bank account dwindles, he takes out a second mortgage to build a six-foot wall within a three-foot electric gate around his home (read that part again), and then buys a BMW on a whim (“in my defense, that was one sick car”). After losing the house, cars, meat vans and businesses, he decides to buy his daughter Jennea a puppy, which they quickly realize they can’t take care of and end up giving to a veterinarian.
There are many moments where you want to swing Welch around by his dreads, but none more so than the time that — after narrowly escaping a prison sentence because a judge can see that he is clearly not a mastermind — he agrees to this deal: if his brand-new Christian metal label can’t pay back a loan (a loan from “some doctors” that his business partner knew) for $200,000, he will sign over his KoRn royalties to them. AHHH. AHHHHHHHH. But don’t worry! I might have nodded off during another thrilling tale of financial shambles, but I believe he gets out of the contract by eventually filing for bankruptcy and suing his business partners, formerly known as his friends.
Underneath his near-constant bumbling, though, there is a single father who really loves his daughter and genuinely wants to do what’s best for her.
But, no worries, no matter how spectacularly he fails, there’s always Jesus, standing there like a pushover mom, ready to forgive and forget and repeat. There are a lot of sentences like this in Eyes Wide Open: “Right around the time the van got repossessed, I had the most mind-blowing encounter with Jesus I’ve ever had.” (An encounter with Jesus while listening to Christian synth music.)
Underneath his near-constant bumbling, though, there is a single father who really loves his daughter and genuinely wants to do what’s best for her, even though his “best” turns out to be an awkward combination of strict Christian dad (his rants about “Facebook addiction” are mortifying) meets struggling, touring-musician dad. One of the most memorable parts of this book is the seven breathless pages Welch devotes to the time he scored tickets to the High School Musical 2 premiere at Disneyland, which made him feel like “the coolest dad who ever breathed.”
Once Jennea hits her teen years, though — made all the more rough, no doubt, by witnessing her father’s general buffoonery and fickle decisions to yank her out of school, have her homeschooled, bring her on tour, move her to Arizona — their relationship starts to crumble. She struggles with cutting and rebellion (oh, she’s also addicted, according to Welch, to “dyeing her hair crazy colors”). Sad and worried and about to go out on more tours, Welch ends up sending Jennea to an all-girl Christian boarding school, where she apparently thrives after they dye her hair brown.
Oh, right, and then we get to the “way back to KoRn” part. Via a convoluted series of events/squabbles/meet-ups/rumors that were too boring to remember — he quotes conversations A LOT, as if he is typing them out verbatim, which is unsettling (“‘Hi Tiffany, it’s Brian,’ I said, ‘How are you guys? ’ ‘Hi Brian. We’re good,’ she answered’”) — Welch is reunited with KoRn. Although past grievances are vaguely referenced, the band seems overjoyed to be whole again.
They jam out, they eat dinner at Welch’s parents’ house, Fieldy gets Welch’s autograph on his ankle to complete his set of his own band’s autographs. Other than the High School Musical 2 portion, Welch talking about how much fun it is to play guitar, especially with Munky, is the best part of Eyes Wide Open — he LOVES talking about how well their guitar styles meld (together they were ranked #26 on Guitar World’s 100 “Best Metal Guitarists Who are Literally All Men of All Time” list in the March 2004 issue), and for the first time in the whole book you can feel something genuine in his passion for his instrument.
But that’s as genuine as it gets. Back on the road with KoRn, Welch teams up with Fieldy, the only other born-again member of KoRn (whom he refers to as “my bro in Christ”) to proselytize, organize prayer huddles with fans, and walk through the crowds at shows to “see if God shows up” so that they can capture it for a Christian inspiration film. And THEN there are the super uncomfortable claims of faith healing (example: they pray for an atheist with back problems and his leg miraculously grows “out at least an inch” in front of their very eyes) that go on and on and become increasingly difficult to read.
Even though I knew what Welch’s born-again deal was before reading Eyes Wide Open, I expected more KoRn gossip or even more of Welch’s backstory, but the vacuous sheen of Christian testimony mixed with autobiographical pratfalls is a tough sell. I’d guess the Venn overlap here would be nu-metal fans who are also Jesus freaks?
At the end of Eyes Wide Open, you can check out the epilogue, the note from Jennea, the note from Brian, and the acknowledgements pages — all of which ramble extensively about the importance of being saved — and if you don’t zone out too hard, you might catch the point at which Welch casually throws out that he’d recently started drinking wine at communion, which led to fireball shots, which lead him back into alcoholism (a detail not mentioned anywhere else in the book). But once again he spoke with Jesus, who gave him a pass, and he wriggled out of it and everything is cool now.
Apologies for saying this in vain, dude, but Jesus fucking Christ.