A Prayer for Scum: Helping hands for Knoxville’s underground punk-rock icon

The night of October 24 featured a roster of ghoulish good-time rock ‘n’ roll at Scruffy City Hall, with local punk icon Rus Harper and Teenage Love13, former Pegasi 51 singer Rusty Yarnell’s new Red as Blood project, and theatrical, genre-spanning Sarasota act Didges Christ SuperDrum.

But the occasion itself was a solemn one, as the show served as a fundraiser for yet another local punk-rock icon, singer/songwriter/scenester/star of his own independent biopic Christopher Scum.

Christopher, nee Christopher Andrews, survived a terrible car crash outside Spartanburg, South Carolina back on June 27, when a diesel tanker truck jackknifed, collided with the rear of Scum’s SUV, and exploded, melting a hole in the very asphalt of Highway 26.

His longtime girlfriend, Maryville resident Donna Bailey, did not survive the crash, nor did their dog Mackey. Scum himself came through, but not before he had undergone multiple skin grafts, and an extended hospital stay.

Cutting a wraith-like figure, his pale features hidden by a veil of shaggy hair, Scum has always lived in a world not of his making. Dwelling on the spectral fringes of Knoxville’s misbegotten punk-rock scene, he formed the four-piece outfit The Dirty Works, with fellow misfits Shaggy, B. Riot, and Steven Crime, in 2003.

The music of The Dirty Works, and, indeed, the music of Scum’s own subsequent solo projects, served as a barometer of sorts for one’s own social and cultural leanings. To some, it was simply noise, brutal and graceless, a nihilistic din that was beneath — or maybe beyond — the consideration of decent people.

To others, Scum’s songs were grim and terrible poetry, distillations of the beauty that lives in chaos, the cold comfort that comes of finding one’s place in the Abyss.

Scum and his outfit were featured in a 2006 independent film entitled Rebel Scum The Movie. Produced by the Atlanta-based Worldstorm Arts, it stands as a harrowing document of Scum’s life, and his art.

Scum has never been one to shy away from the hard truths of his existence, and the movie catalogs the band members’ struggles with addiction, and depression. It also captures the raw, ragged power of The Dirty Works on stage, where Scum incited audiences with some regularity by beating himself bloody with a pair of brass knuckles.

Atlanta’s Creative Loafing reviewed the film — and, by extension, its weird protagonist, taking note of “the mountainous frontman whose unbridled passions, addictions, and mental damage culminate in such songs as ‘Knoxville Hates Us,’ ‘Bible Belt’ and ‘Christ Pod.'”

Loafing lauds the film, and the band, but with a caveat: “Be warned, it ain’t pretty.”

What the film perhaps doesn’t reveal in full, though, is that Scum is a survivor. And now he has survived the awful truth of his girlfriend’s death, and his own disfigurement.

He recently told News Sentinel music writer Wayne Bledsoe that he hopes to perform again soon, despite muscle damage in his arm from the explosion.

He also spoke to Bledsoe of his “survivor’s guilt,” saying, “I’m… just wondering why couldn’t I have saved her? I’ll probably be dealing with that for a long time.”

You can make donations to help Christopher Scum pay for his mounting medical bills at www.gofundme.com/y6m6e2c. Look for his music at www.christopherscum.bandcamp.com/album/free-shit-the-album

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