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At the Rainbow, L.A. metal fans remember singer Jill Janus of Huntress

At the Rainbow, L.A. metal fans remember singer Jill Janus of Huntress
Alex Simone, left, and Courtney Kerzner hold each other during a moment of silence Friday for acclaimed Huntress vocalist Jill Janus who took her own life Aug. 14. (Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times). (Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)

In a tiny, curtained-off room Friday at the Rainbow Bar & Grill on the Sunset Strip, the best friends and former bandmates of the heavy-metal singer Jill Janus passed around a silver chalice.

“You have to have a glass. This was her wine,” said Corey Parks, the bassist of the band Chelsea Girls, a supergroup of women metal luminaries in L.A., which Janus fronted. They poured slugs from the bottle into the goblet and passed it around beneath a tableau of Janus’ old rock and roll T-shirts and journals laced with drawings and poems in immaculate penmanship.

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This was a funeral, so everyone wore black, but they would have anyway.

This was the last chance to say goodbye to one of contemporary metal’s most commanding vocalists. Janus, the singer for the metal band Huntress, took her own life Aug. 14 at age 43, leaving the L.A. metal scene reeling from the loss of one of its singular talents.

The hundred or so fans and friends that packed the top room at the Rainbow were grieving. But everyone did their best to remember the accomplishments of one of the scene’s most mercurial, virtuosic singers.

Outside, the Roxy, Whisky and Viper Room all changed their marquees in tribute to Janus. As friends and family wound their way up to the bar, the room was filled with black balloons and tiny altars made from Janus’ possessions: a makeup bag where every tint was black; a Gorgoroth shirt pinned to the ceiling. Ozzy Osbourne, who brought Huntress out for his Ozzfest tour in 2016, had sent an enormous bouquet of white flowers, surrounding a giddy picture of the two of them together.

It laid just beneath a painting of the metal titan Lemmy Kilmister, the Motörhead singer (a Rainbow lifer himself) whom Janus collaborated with on a Huntress single with a fantastically unprintable title.

“Lemmy always wanted to be to under Jill, so now’s his time,” said Samantha Maloney, the former Hole and Mötley Crüe drummer who played in Chelsea Girls with Janus. The crowd broke up with laughter — Janus probably would have loved the irony there.

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Ozzy Osbourne sent the white flowers decor with Jill Janus' name for her memorial service.
Ozzy Osbourne sent the white flowers decor with Jill Janus' name for her memorial service. (Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)

In the wooden grotto upstairs at the Rainbow, dozens of L.A. metal fans fought back tears as they flipped through her journals and photographs. A copy of Annie Leibovitz and Susan Sontag’s photo book “Women” was opened to show Leibovitz’s intimate, unflinching shot of Janus in black and white. Janus had a piercing look you couldn’t turn away from, onstage or off. Candid backstage photos from her shows covered every inch of the Rainbow’s bar, as did the framed $10,000 check she got from appearing in Playboy.

Maloney and Parks corralled everyone to turn off their phones and place their hands over their hearts. They pulled on black hooded cloaks and turned to face an altar with a deer skull and little objects from Janus’ home. They had a ritual to perform — not from any tradition in particular but one that tried to match Janus’ love for the occult.

Parks gave her recital to the crowd: “We offer her protection from the known and the unknown,” she said, A singer belted deep, incantatory tones, and L.A.’s metalheads clung to one another for solace

“And so it is. So let’s [expletive] rock,” Maloney yelled as the service ended.

Janus’ friends joked about her beloved dog Party Time (Janus was a passionate animal lover, and would tote her pup around at every opportunity). Blake Meahl, Janus’ boyfriend and Huntress bandmate, took condolences from friends and tried to remember her as an unstoppable force of music: so much so that she turned to magic to get it.

“She cast a spell to get the band that she wanted,” Meahl said. While going through her things, he and Janus’ friends had turned up a little box where she’d written out her dream for Huntress. Janus was wild onstage and off, but when it came to music, she knew exactly what she wanted.

“She was incredible singer, she was so outspoken and aware of everything. She had this brutal honesty that nobody could change, and that’s so hard to find,” said Jay Ruston, a producer who was working with Janus just before she died. “Yesterday I tried to pull up her music but I couldn’t listen to it yet.”

Everyone who worked with her knew that Janus’ range was one of a kind, both as a vocalist and as a person. Dave Navarro, the Jane’s Addiction guitarist, and Monte Pittman, Madonna’s longtime guitarist and founding member of the metal band Prong, each came to pay homage to her talent.

”She had this insane, operatic voice that would take up the whole room,” Parks said. “As soon as she showed up, the party convened. She just so much fun and wanted everyone to love her.”

“She was the best vocalist I ever had the pleasure to work with,” Maloney said. “It was the pleasure of my life to be friends with her and have that experience.”

As the night wound down, Maloney passed around her bottle of wine and a box of earrings and necklaces from Janus’ vast collection. All of Janus’ closest friends would get a little piece to remember her. But one small coin would be going with her.

“I’m going to Israel this week and I’m going to leave this in the Wailing Wall,” Maloney said, holding a tiny medallion from Janus’ jewelry box. “I have to bring her with me. It’s the holiest place in the world.”

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