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RIP: Negativland founding member Richard Lyons has died at the age of 57

 

Richard Duaine Lyons, a founding member of Bay Area experimental group Negativland, has died “from complications due to nodular melanoma”, the band reports. He was 57, and passed away on his birthday, April 19.

“He successfully fought off this cancer over 12 years ago,” the band posted online Thursday morning, “but it had recently returned, with inoperable tumors on his spine, liver and brain, and nothing succeeded in stopping it.” They labeled their message “CANCER IS STUPID”.

 

Negativeland are perhaps best known for a 1991 publicity stunt involving U2. The group released an EP titled U2 with an image of a Lockheed U-2 spy plane on the cover. “U2” was printed in massive font on the cover, while Negativland was at the bottom, and the music featured a kazoo parody of 1987 hit “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, complete with a vulgar on-air meltdown from American Top 40 radio jock Casey Kasem. U2’s lawyers were not pleased.

Here’s more from Negativland with the news of Lyons’ passing, and an account of his final days:

Earlier in the day, Richard had a lively birthday party at his skilled nursing facility, where he was receiving palliative care. Present were current and founding members of Negativland, satellite Negativland members and friends, as well as other current and former members of the group appearing simultaneously on various speaker phones and digital devices. 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. David “The Weatherman” Wills led the group in singing the now-public-domain “Happy Birthday” (see below for link). 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.”

 
 

Known for his role in finding the Estus W. Pirkle LP sampled in Negativland’s 1987 “Christianity Is Stupid” track (and, in turn, originating the idea of Negativland’s ax murder hoax), and for taking the wrecking yard photos that inspired the 2002 Negativland project “Deathsentences of the Polished and Structurally Weak,” he was also known for such darkly funny and contrarian alter egos as his 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). His “actions” on our Over the Edge radio show became the stuff of legend, crafting such memorable events as the 1982 “format change” to an all-1970s-nostalgia station (documented on our “Dick Vaughn’s Moribund Music of the ‘70s” release) and a disastrous “live broadcast” from a Walnut Creek bowling alley on Thanksgiving, 2001 (soon to be released 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 70s 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 hand made covers for an upcoming re-issue of Negativland’s first LP from 1980. He kept an online station tuned to an all-70s-hits-all-the-time station, and when he finally was unable to speak, he was still tapping his fingers to the music.

Richard joins Don Joyce, and former member Ian Allen, as the third Negativlander to shuffle off and over the edge since 2015. Negativland continues, as they all had wished, with upcoming live performances in May and a trio of forthcoming album projects. Richard was born April 19, 1959 in Castro Valley, CA, grew up in Concord and Martinez, CA (the birthplaces of Negativland) and is survived by his mother and sister.

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