As I entered the bar, I had this overwhelming sense that everybody was staring at me. This was different than my usual, neurotic self. I wasn’t drunk, but I was on one of the biggest adrenaline highs I’ve ever been on in my life. I wasn’t in the mood to be thinking how other people viewed me. Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that even though I just sat at a random empty table and sipped by beer, people were eyeballing me. Getting a bit nervous, I went to use the grease trap of a restroom just to get away from everyone. I walked in, caught a quick glimpse of myself in the mirror and stopped dead in my tracks. I saw my face. I saw what everyone was staring at. Blood. Guts. Mud. Dried booze. I looked like a zombie. I smiled. Then I took a piss and continued to have one of the best nights of my life.
When I was a kid, I took to horror imagery quite quickly. Some of my furthest memories are that of watching Bela Lugosi’s Dracula for the first time and watching Tales of the Crypt with my parents. I was fascinated by the dark. There was a sense of power in it. To be up in the middle of the night when everyone was sleeping. They were vulnerable. The monsters were not. In grade school, I found my sister’s collection of Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax CDs. By the time I reached puberty, my interests where that of heavy metal and horror movies, and very little else. I empathized with the Wolfman and Frankenstein, not with the demons that circulated my middle school playground. Then I saw them. The band the took all my interests, smashed them together, and threw them up all into one bloody pit of horror.
That band, of course is GWAR. Yesterday, GWAR’s ring leader – singer Dave Brockie, AKA Oderus Urungus – died. In the wake of this news, I’ve seen and heard a lot of people expressing how much it’s bummed them out, but even more so of people mocking and dismissing the band, as they’ve done since their creation in the mid-1980s. Even my boss, who knows of my affection for them, made a remark about how it’s probably drugs and it doesn’t matter because the band is all costumes anyway. In a way, he was right: GWAR was never about Dave, it was about Oderus. Without Oderus, however, there is no GWAR. But his comments told me what I should’ve already known, that with the death of their front man, not only will GWAR be gone, but they will be forgotten.
The music is often the last thing people talk about when they discuss the band, if ever. Early on in my fandom, I learned something that blew my mind: GWAR can actually play. Songs like “Sick of You” remind you of Faith No More in it’s ability to make simple, bass-driven rock with an almost danceable melody. “Jack The World” and “Eat Steel” are hardcore punk with better musicianship. I can go on and on of the different styles GWAR has incorporated in their music over the years, especially in the early days, but none of that matters to anybody. Why? The lyrics. GWAR songs are about death and maggots and blood and rape and torture. Not only that, but where bands like Black Sabbath and Slayer could sing about dark themes with the cloud of morality over it, GWAR sang about these things with the glee of – well – psychotic aliens coming to destroy the human race. Since none of the listeners are those aliens, parents and preachers and talking heads feared that the human children listening would pick up on the thirst for blood. This, of course, is asinine, but in an era when the reflectiveness of grunge and in the wake of failed debauchery of glam metal was hanging overhead, music as pure entertainment with the chops to get kids moshing was not something deemed worthy by anyone outside the scene. GWAR got dismissed, a band of extreme creativity lost in an era where music was slowly becoming more fashion than art, culminating with the death of the grunge icon and passing into the late 1990s where posing was more commercially viable than sincere goofing.
If this were the whole story, I might not feel as bad about it as I do today, but there is more to GWAR’s story. In post-9/11 America, where the internet crushed old models of art consuming and suddenly you had to be different in any way to be found interesting, the Scumdogs of the Universe resurrected. In an era where Gen-Xers now ruled the online media market, nostalgia quickly set in. A culture that saw the return of Beavis & Butthead also ushered in the comeback of one of the favorite bands of 90s metal kids who loved nachos: GWAR. Oderus found new fame on Fox News’ “Red Eye”, becoming a regular guest on “The Dan Patrick Show”, going viral by way of a petition to get GWAR to play the Super Bowl and dominating the AV Club’s cover wars. The band was back, hosting “GWAR-B-Qs”, being introduced to a new legion of young fans who were still into hard rock music. The faux-stripped down chart toppings of Jack White and the Black Keys left a whole subsection of music listeners wanting, and with GWAR came a reminder of late 80s / early 90s creativeness where rock bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus would use any means necessary to get kids back to enjoying themselves again. GWAR represented fun in the face of cynicism, humility in an age of exposure. As the droves of kids that still come out to sell out their shows will tell you, GWAR is one of those bands that didn’t need to be influential or important – they just needed to fill that void that every Beavis-looking kid had growing up.
I was lucky enough to interview Oderus on the podcast I co-host. I remember when Ty, the host and my brother, told me that he booked one of my musical heroes. I shook. I still kind of hate that interview, because it was one of the first I had ever done and I was star-struck for the first time in my life. Oderus carried it, obviously, and I’m sure it’s entertaining to people who aren’t me. It’s still one of the best moments in my life, something I’ll always look back on and think, at one point in time, I got to interview a bonafide rock star.
When I walked into that bar looking like a zombie, I had just come from my first GWAR concert. I didn’t realize that all the shit they spewed out onto the audience had covered me from head to toe. No wonder people were looking at me. For someone like me, who has spent his entire life as a self-conscious kid wanting to fit in, there was a moment there where I stood out like the sorest thumb ever. All eyes fixated on me. But in that moment, for the first time in my life, I was proud of being stared at. I was proud to be different, to be dark, to be weird. I had just come back from seeing the greatest band in the universe. No human could get to me then.