"I've got to tell you something. I've always said I would give my left nut for heavy metal, and now I really am."
Patrick Flannery says this barely above a whisper, but follows the statement with a hearty laugh. Today, the 43-year-old singer, who's been a veteran of the Valley's metal scene since 1983, sits poolside at his home in McCormick Ranch, surrounded by his family, friends, bandmates and fans, all of whom have come to watch Flannery get his head shaved in his backyard.
This is a scary transition for Flannery. For the past 12 years, he's been "Prophet," the intimidating singer of local "carnimetal" band St. Madness, covered in demonic makeup and stage blood, screaming about vampires, zombies and murder. He hasn't cut his long black locks since 1985. He's never appeared in a press photo without makeup on before. He never imagined he'd be doing both in the same day, but he probably didn't imagine he'd get cancer, either.
Flannery was diagnosed with testicular cancer the second week of October, shortly after St. Madness headlined a show at the Marquee Theatre in Tempe. A few days after the show, Flannery felt a shooting pain in his side and went to the hospital, where doctors told him he had cancer in one of his testicles, as well as in the lymph nodes in his back and a spot on his spine. By the time this goes to press, Flannery will have undergone surgery to remove his left testicle and commenced chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Flannery's cancer is treatable, but he says doctors are concerned because he was born with Bruton's agammaglobulinemia, a rare, genetic blood disorder that prevents his body from producing sufficient levels of immunoglobulins, leaving him vulnerable to repeated infections. No one's sure how the chemotherapy will affect his already weakened immune system, but Flannery says he's trying to stay positive.
"It's a crapshoot right now. I don't know what's going to happen," he says. "But if I die tomorrow, I had a great life. I got to make a bunch of records on our own label [Nasty Prick Records], I got to play a lot of cool shows, and I've met so many great musicians over the years."
Today, Flannery's thumbing through his musical past: two dictionary-thick books full of press clippings that chronicle his career. There's a full-page story about his old band Avatron from a 1983 issue of Valley Life. There are some reviews of the CD he released with a band called the Human Condition, which also featured Wiley Arnett from Sacred Reich. And there are stacks of St. Madness clips from publications all over the world, including Metal Edge, Pit, and Brazil's Rock Brigade, which has featured the band more than a dozen times.
But the biggest testament to the success of St. Madness is etched on the flesh of many of the people who've come to Flannery's house to watch him shave his head for Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs for children with cancer. About 25 of the band's fans are here, proudly showing off their St. Madness tattoos for each other's cameras.
This day could have been a big bummer. Instead, it's almost turned into a party, as people guzzle energy drinks and chow down on trays of California rolls, fresh fruit, and home-baked cookies. Flannery asks his 17-year-old son, Joshua, to grab him another O'Doul's, and pops in St. Madness' next CD, Vampires in the Church. He cranks up the crushing riff of the band's cover of The Divinyls' "I Touch Myself" (bastardized into "I Cut Myself"), and cracks missing-nut jokes.
"If I get in a fight now, and somebody kicks me in the crotch, will I say, 'He kicked me in the ball'?" asks Flannery. "And I guess they give you a fake one, so my friend said I should ask for a golden one. So the ball jokes have already started, and I'm perfectly good with it. I think you have to find the comedy of life in all things, even tragedy."
And he says there's no way he's giving up metal. "For me, for this guy right here, heavy metal has saved my life, given me a life, and sustained my life. Being onstage is sacred to me."
In fact, Flannery's got a gig later this month with St. Madness. "We're gonna play a show at the Salt River Indian reservation [with Rez-O-War] on Saturday, November 26," Flannery says. "I refuse to cancel it. If they have to wheel me out on a gurney, I'm going, and I'm singing that show. I've got to have something to work for. And we're releasing Vampires in the Church in January. I want to make more records. I want to keep St. Madness going like a circus."
When it's time for Flannery to get his head shaved, Joshua goes inside the house. St. Madness' manager, Marge Johnson, sends Flannery inside to comfort his son. "This is hard on Josh," she says, "because there's no denying it now."
Flannery says he and Joshua -- who sports a shaved head and a goatee -- can "match" now. Even as Flannery's friend, barber Scot Blakemore, shaves away his treasured tresses, Flannery makes light of the situation.
"Your hair's gonna look weird when it starts to grow back," says Johnson.
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"Yeah, when it grows back spiked and purple?" Flannery replies.
After Blakemore drops the last lock of Flannery's hair to the floor, a few people have tears in their eyes. Everyone comments on how much younger he looks. Flannery says he feels a breeze on his new bald head.
"I'm going to totally reinvent a brand-new Prophet now that I'm bald," he says enthusiastically. "I'm going to totally revamp. And I'm excited about that. I can paint my whole head now. Who knows what I could do with spirit gum now?"
And while Flannery admits he's "scared to death" as he starts to undergo treatment, he's got plans for the future. "I want to keep rocking as long as I can, and never say die."