For all of comedy thrash metal band GWAR’s blinding awesomeness, I wouldn’t have considered it possible to write a piece about the passing of its frontman that’s both thoughtful and poignant. But writer Neil Morris has somehow managed it.
With Neil’s permission, I’m posting the following piece that previously ran in the September issue of “The Speculator,” the quarterly newsletter for Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers.
Neil’s Queue tip of the quarter:
The videography of GWAR
by Neil Morris
Last time around, I lamented the tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, done in by a heroin overdose on February 2, 2014. Less than two months later, on March 23, another performer passed away after injecting too much junk. His name was Dave Brockie.
On stage, he was Oderus Urungus, well-endowed interplanetary demi-god, warrior and lead singer of the theatrical thrash metal band GWAR.
GWAR formed in the late ‘80s, gaining national notoriety in the ‘90s thanks to their outsized, outlandish foam costumes and the transgressive excesses exhibited in their lyrics and live concerts. Simulated acts of molestation, ejaculation, sodomy, cannibalism, dismemberment and disembowelment, usually perpetrated against latex caricatures of political, religious and pop culture personalities, propelled the typical GWAR show, in the same way the fake blood and body fluids that accompanied these graphic displays sprayed on the audience from pressurized hoses. (GWAR fans knew a souvenir t-shirt wasn’t the one you shelled out fifteen bucks for at the merch table; it was the white undershirt you wore into the pit that came out covered in bogus blood, pretend piss, sham shit and counterfeit cum. Unfortunately, the dyes washed out after the first run through the Maytag.)
Led by Brockie and backed by an artists collective known as The Slave Pit, GWAR were more than musicians in makeup like KISS; they were actors inhabiting the roles of larger-than-life space invaders crash-landed on Earth, but only recently freed from their centuries-long imprisonment in Antarctic ice. Once loosed, Oderus, Balsac the Jaws of Death (lead guitar), Beefcake the Mighty (bass), Flattus Maximus (rhythm guitar) and Jizmak da Gusha (drums), proceeded to enslave mankind and publicly humiliate/mutilate the humans they found particularly disagreeable. Assisted by scantily-clad, torch-wielding Slymenstra Hymen, some-time rival and partially robotic Techno Destructo, The Sexecutioner and their manager Sleazy P. Martini (wearing a coif that would’ve made Dee-Lite’s Lady Miss Kier jealous), GWAR consistently conducted a carnival of world-wide chaos for twenty-five years, somehow managing to find the time to record thirteen albums.
Unlike some purveyors of death metal and black metal, who got so carried away by the subject matter that they committed real-life thrill killings or burned down churches in the name of Satan, GWAR’s brand of metal was strictly looney tunes, never meant to be interpreted as anything more than cartoonish, satirical, anarchic and infantile, an adult version of the kind of rebelliousness and destructiveness that any ten-year-old kid could understand. Behind the rotting-corpse mask festooned with strips of flesh, the shoulder armor fashioned from giant, spike-topped, World War II German Army helmets, the mutant genitalia with nuts bigger than any you’d see dangling from a truck bumper, one need only look into Brockie’s eyes and see his far-from-serious assessment of his character: Oderus is an idiot. Through all the fierce imagery, Brockie conveyed unmistakable stupidity with his eyes alone, and emphasized it with basso Brooklynese full of “dems” and “deez,” and a general ignorance of simple concepts, like arithmetic, uncharacteristic of one supposedly so omnipotent.
Like his bodybuilder’s physique (which I assume was not maintained through the use of performance enhancing drugs), Oderus presided over what was essentially a puppet show on steroids. And what a grand, grotesque and ingenious puppet show it was! Thanks to the multi-talented minds at the Slave Pit, we have an enduring record of the revolting creativity on display over the course of GWAR’s career. Concert videos like “Tour de Scum,” “Rendezvous with Ragnarok,” “Live from Antarctica” and “Dawn of the Day of the Night of the Penguins” capture the band in full (sword) swing, and feature some of their most undeniably clever eviscerations, including the chest dissection of Mike Tyson. Each show piles atrocity upon atrocity, and when you think they’ve gone too far, they top themselves, reaching a spectacular climax that threatens to burst the boundaries of the stage. You’ll scratch your head wondering how they pulled off the attack of Gor-Gor (a pre-“Jurassic Park” 10-foot T-Rex) at the end of “Tour de Scum” or his impressive rebirth that brings “Penguins” to a close.
Other videos are more “conceptual” in nature. “It’s Sleazy” casts manager Sleazy P. Martini as the host of a lower-than-Morton-Downey talk show that further degenerates into a bloodbath when the band squares off against a man-eating toilet and a booze-oozing behemoth reindeer dubbed Jagermonsta. “Ultimate Video Gwarchive” assembles GWAR’s music video output, and features the MTV-friendly “Saddam A Go-Go;” “Surf of Syn,” in which the group goes Power Ranger to defeat a kaiju-sized Christian Fundamentalist mecha; and Slymenstra Hymen’s jazzy, ultra-loungy anti-torch song “Don’t Need a Man.” Brockie’s band, disguised as one-note shock rockers, explored disparate musical styles, crossing more genres than a certain speculative fiction writers group I know.
But again, I ask the question: how does someone so adventurous, so smart, so self-aware, so embracing of his freedom to question authority and condemn hypocrisy, allow himself to be enslaved like the human maggots who easily fall victim to Oderus Urungus?
The irony is absurd.
Dave Brockie played an imaginary demon on stage, one that was harmless and self-deprecating when you peeled away the viscera, but he lost his life to a real and unforgiving one.