Alice Cooper said you can’t shock an audience anymore, and he’s right: There’s not much that hasn’t already been done. Likewise, espousing a Satanic life-philosophy is just another of those things that some metal artists do with (forked) tongue in cheek and others do with greater seriousness. Danish singer King Diamond (née Kim Bendix Petersen) is of the latter variety. His fascination with the occult bleeds from his personal life into his lyrics, yet the most peculiar thing about him is how normal he is. Relatively.
“You could say I don’t have a religious belief, but I’m very spiritual,” he explained via phone between shows on the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival tour, which docks at Jones Beach on July 26. “I have a strong relationship to the other side….It’s not a gimmick thing. It never was. It was always a real thing.”
That might be enough to give a superstitious person the willies, if the guy weren’t so amiable. Residing in a suburban home outside of Dallas (not on a ranch, contrary to popular rumor), he’s not the local Boo Radley one might expect. “I have never had any issues with anybody there,” he says of his Southern surroundings. “Even in the neighborhood, they know who I am and know what I do. They respect, like I think people should, that people are different, and it depends on the actions of a person if they’re a good person or not.” He relates a story about his former neighbors, a priest and his family. According to King (upon whom, he says, the late Anton LaVey personally bestowed “eternal membership” in the Church of Satan), the priest invited him to church only once. “I said, ‘All right, thanks, man,’ ” recalls King. “The day when they left, he said, ‘Man, I never had any problems with you. I just want to tell you that you’ve been the best neighbor that we’ve ever had.’ ”
That’s quite a contrast to the Eighties-era, right-wing perception of King’s band Mercyful Fate, which made the Parents Music Resource Center’s “Filthy Fifteen” list of songs recommended for banishment due to subject matter. (Madonna and Cyndi Lauper were also on the list. Their offense? Singing about sex and masturbation.) Suffice it to say, King has never been renowned for family values. But the way he describes his home life suggests he’s much more tender-hearted than his macabre stage persona. He talks at length about his wife of twelve years, Livia Zita, and praises her savvy in managing King Diamond’s social media so her 59-year-old husband doesn’t have to. Zita is about 30 years his junior, which is unusual, to say the least, but King insists they are soul mates. “These things are numbers, you know?” he says about the age difference. “You can find a 40-year-old that looks and moves and behaves like a 60-year-old. And the opposite. I did a deal with the devil, you know, and that’s taught me a lot with that stuff.” He pauses for effect. “I’m joking.”
His connection to his cats runs just as deep. He wrote the song “So Sad” about the loss of his white cat, Ghost, and wears a necklace in memory of a black one, Magic. “I never pass any of our cats in the house without getting down and saying hi,” he says, “and there’s a level of communication with cats that is mind-blowing. Treat them completely like humans, and they’ll give so much back.”
The Magic necklace was a comfort to him prior to the triple-bypass heart surgery he endured in 2010, a procedure that has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for his unmistakably high-register singing voice. “From that bad experience, a lot of good things have come, actually,” he says. “It’s also a matter of wanting it, because during rehab, I could certainly see people that were not willing to give up old ways.” Quitting smoking has had a significant impact on his live performances. “Now, when we play shows, after we’re done, I’m not out of breath whatsoever. Doesn’t matter how hot it is. I’m up and down stairs to the second floor — we have a two-story production — no problem.” And his voice, he says, is “much stronger. It’s much easier to sing the notes. It’s clearer. It’s better than it ever was.”
Near the end of our conversation, he asks when sunset is in New York. He wants very much to perform his “very intense show” at the outdoor Nikon Theater under a dark night sky. He says it’s because his production involves a lot of extra lights. Like almost everything else he’s discussed, this seems natural enough. Then, in his Danish accent, he hints, “Whether you like it or not, it’s going to be different. You have seen nothing like that, ever. Not like that on a stage.” Maybe there are a few tricks left in the shock-rock grimoire.
King Diamond plays the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater as a part of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival on July 26.