Former Korn guitarist Brian Welch finds Jesus

Brian "Head" Welch, former lead guitarist and founding member of the band Korn, was standing in the murky waters of the Jordan River, waiting to be baptized.

As his tears dropped into the same river where Christ once stood, Welch looked, on that March day in 2005, like the Jesus who's been baptized in paintings and on Sunday school flannel boards across the world:

White robe, check.

Long hair, check.

Beard, check.

Even Welch's age at the time, 34, was close to Jesus' historic baptism age.

Perhaps the only element that seemed out of place was the TV cameras. Lots of them, from MTV, CNN, and a number of independent stations. They'd followed Welch to Israel from California, where he announced the end of his 10-year crystal meth addiction, his regrets for Korn's immoral songs, and his brand-new faith in Jesus to a church of 10,000.

Now, Brian Welch hadn't lived as the quiet son of a Galilean carpenter. His band made a fortune with "Parental Advisory, Explicit Content" labels, thanks to songs about suicide and hits like A.D.I.D.A.S., which stands for "all day I dream about sex." The lead singer's purchase of such artifacts as serial killer Ted Bundy's Volkswagen upped Korn's controversial ante even further.

As the waters of the Jordan swirled past Welch, Korn's music video "Word Up" was still getting airtime on MTV. In the video, Welch and his bandmates' faces are digitally superimposed on Chihuahua-like dogs. The dogs pee on the street and make their way into a strip club, where they wander, with tongues hanging out, past topless pole dancers.

"I don't want to pollute the world anymore. I want to spread a message of love and understanding, and that's what I'm going to do," Welch told MTV at the baptism.

When CNN asked if his life could really change after a dip in the Jordan, Welch replied vigorously.

"Yep. It's going to be changed. It's going to be changed. Watch. Interview me afterwards. You'll see. You'll see peace. I believe that."

Korn's powerful rhythms and haunting lyrics have wooed teens and riled parents for years. According to Billboard charts, the band has sold more than 30 million albums.

"Korn's music makes the psychodrama hit home," Rolling Stone wrote in 2000. "Their favorite device — a high guitar line [Welch] circling above a grinding bass — leaves [singer Jonathan] Davis' voice sounding stranded and desperate until the power chords arrive. And the lyrics, detailing sexual abuse and other grim scenarios, promise wrenching honesty to justify their self-absorption."

Conservative parenting groups weren't as excited. In 2004, Focus on the Family wrote that Korn's album Take a Look in the Mirror "screams the f-word, romanticizes self-mutilation [with lyrics like] 'I want to slash and beat you.' And 'Mercy I cannot allow/Through your face my fist will plow/Watching as your blood pours down.' . . . Nods to cutting and porn. One band member told Billboard, 'I think everybody's parents will hate it, so we did a good job.' . . . Don't let Korn stir up morbid hysterics in your teen."

It's difficult to say where Welch's journey from controversial metal star to the Jesus freak began.

Perhaps it was the day Welch heard God tell him to sell everything and move to Phoenix?

How about the day — three months before a $23 million deal — when Welch quit the wildly successful band he'd started 12 years earlier?

Perhaps it was watching himself in South Park's Korn episode, in which townspeople grab torches and call the band devil worshipers.

No. Welch's journey started six years before his baptism, the night he punched his wife in the face.

It started with blood spraying from her nose, almost in slow motion, her passing out on the master bedroom floor, and a rock star looking down at his wife's blood on his knuckles.

Twenty-four hours before he punched his wife, Welch was slicing guitar riffs for a surging, screaming crowd of 200,000 fans. It was Woodstock 1999, and the mass of bodies, swaying and singing in unison, was the most supernatural thing he had ever known.

Welch doesn't remember much else about that Woodstock show. He was too high. He and wife Rebekah dined on Ecstasy, cocaine, and meth the entire week, including on the private jet flights there and back with Limp Bizkit and Ice Cube.

When they returned to their house in Huntington Beach, California, they walked right past Welch's parents, past their 2-year-old daughter, Jennea, and dove into the pool — completely clothed.

Welch's parents put Jennea to bed and left. Then, still dripping with pool water, Welch and his wife started fighting the way only addicts can fight when they're coming down from a one-week high.

And that's when he realized that being a multimillionaire and rock star just wasn't doing it for him.

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John Dickerson
Contact: John Dickerson