Kent James, Utah native who became a defiantly gay punk-rock star, dies at 56

(Photo courtesy of David Perez) Kent James, a Utah native who became a defiantly gay punk rock star under the pseudonym Nick Name, died Friday, July 3, 2020, in Palm Springs, Calif.

Kent James, a Utah native who went from serving a Latter-day Saint mission in Argentina to performing country music in Nashville to becoming a mohawk-wearing gay punk rock star in Los Angeles, has died. He was 56.

James died Friday in Palm Springs, Calif., according to the Bay Area Reporter, an LGBTQ newspaper in the San Francisco area, and a paid obituary published Tuesday in the Herald Journal in Logan. Neither paper disclosed a cause of death.

James’ musical career hit its apex in the early 2000s, according to the Bay Area Reporter, when he took on a confrontational stage persona — using the pseudonym Nick Name — and performed punk-edged rock songs in which he sang about being gay.

James’ band hit its peak in 2004, when one of their songs was used in the gay slasher movie “HellBent,” and when the band was profiled in a documentary, “Nick Name and the Normals.”

“He had songs that were irreverent and satirical and funny,” Howard Skora, the documentary’s director, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday. “But the music sounded good. It was in-your-face, it was aggressive.”

Some of that aggression was a reaction to growing up in Utah, raised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the documentary (as reviewed by Michael D. Klemm in 2008 for his website CinemaQueer.com), James talked about being on his mission in Cordoba, Argentina, and how “the more I preached, the less I believed.”

Kent Bradley James was born April 30, 1964, in Ogden, to Vern and Bonnie James. He grew up in Logan. After serving his mission in Argentina, he left home to pursue a music career.

After an appearance on “Star Search” in 1993 — performing as a pop act with two women backup musicians, Kent & The Kommotion — James moved to Nashville and developed as a country performer. He appeared in music videos for such stars as Tanya Tucker and Trisha Yearwood, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

But staying in country music meant staying in the closet, according to the Reporter. So he moved to Los Angeles, and later adopted the Nick Name persona. The documentary showed Nick Name and the Normals as the band was imploding, with the singer’s rage directed at audiences and often reciprocated.

“Show business people told me, ‘You need to learn how to turn this off,’” James said in a 2007 interview with the Bay Area Reporter. “But the music wouldn’t have been the same. I lived that 24/7, and it almost killed me.”

James left Nick Name, and Los Angeles, behind in 2005, David Perez, a longtime friend, told The Tribune. James moved to San Francisco, where he met (and, for awhile, dated) Perez. James played in a few bands, performing more mainstream rock, and worked odd jobs.

In 2008, James performed at San Francisco’s Pride Festival — a warm-up act, Perez said, for a singer who wasn’t well known yet: Lady Gaga. “Six months later, maybe a year later, she hit it huge,” Perez said.

In 2013, Perez said, James moved to Palm Springs. “He was just sick of San Francisco,” Perez said. “He wanted to go somewhere a little more quiet and relaxed.”

Perez said James performed a few gigs around Palm Springs, mostly for his own enjoyment, and raised rescue dogs with his longtime partner, Brian Masalkoski. He also appeared in a 2017 independent movie, “Captivating Carla.”

“Underneath the persona, he was a really special, sweet person, a very kind soul,” Skora said.

James is survived by his partner, Brian Masalkoski; his mother, Bonnie James; his brother, Mark James; and his sister, Dionne James Wallace. His father, Vern James, died previously.

The family will have a graveside service at the North Logan cemetery, Saturday, Aug. 8, at 2 p.m. Friends in California are planning a memorial service in Palm Springs when the coronavirus pandemic slows down a bit, Perez said.