While much of the music-loving world is mourning Prince, he’s not the only musical innovator to have died in the past 24 hours. Rolling Stone reports that Richard Lyons, co-founder of San Francisco culture-jamming art-rockers Negativland, died last night after a 12-year battle with cancer. Specifically, Lyons died of complications due to a nodular melanoma after doctors discovered inoperable tumors on his spine, liver, and brain. The band says in a Facebook post that Lyons died at the end of a “lively” birthday party with friends, family, and current and former Negativland members, both in person and “on various speaker phones and digital devices.” He had just turned 57.
Born in California in 1959, Lyons co-founded Negativland with Mark Hosler in the late ‘70s. Dozens of members have drifted in and out of the ever-changing collective in the decades since. But Lyons was personally involved in some of the group’s most infamous stunts, including transforming an LP of a Baptist sermon into the song “Christianity Is Stupid,” then drawing up a fake press release claiming that a Minnesota 16-year-old who had murdered his family was inspired by the song. When media outlets picked up Lyons’ fabricated story as news, he then turned around and sampled those reports in a followup album, Helter Stupid.
Some of the other Negativland albums Lyons worked on are A Big 10-8 Place (1983), Escape From Noise (1987), U2 (1991)—a title that prompted a lawsuit from Bono and his record label—and the soft-drink-based concept album Dispepsi (1997). He was also known for masterminding the band’s “Over the Edge” radio program—which has been compiled on the Negativland website—and for what the band calls his “darkly funny and contrarian alter egos” like “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).”
Consistent with the spirit of the band, Negativland has released a recording of Lyons’ friends singing “Happy Birthday” to him at his birthday party yesterday.