The things that stay with you are strange. Memories thought forgotten that are just lying dormant but there, waiting for a trigger. Such is the case with me today as I learned of the passing of DAVE BROCKIE, the singer of gore-rock band GWAR. For many GWAR was just a gross metal band that lived to offend, and there was definitely that aspect of them. You can’t argue that point. The thing is though that beneath that there was more going on. GWAR was a very political and opinionated band that just happened to use shock and awe to get their messages across.
And you know what?
They knew what they were doing.
Sure, the messages the band was conveying would be controversial to say the least but if you want to get the disaffected and angry kids to listen you go to their level, ergo punk music and bands like GWAR, which brought theatricality to their performances and personas and truly WERE, for all intents and purposes, a band of outer space miscreants.
There’s a sort of defense mechanism the disaffected have where you hate everything and fight everything because many times you care about everything. It’s easier though to put up the front, the wall, so you are better defended. GWAR’s music was like that. To listen to the lyrics they hated everyone and everything. Nothing was sacred. Literally. The thing is though that when someone does that it forces you to start looking at what YOU care about and gets you more invested in those things. They were truly a throwback to the classic Punch and Judy form of theater mixed with the grand guignol – the band perverted reality, mocked it to prove a point. One of those big points was we really need to get over ourselves. We need to stop treating everything and everyone as if they are untouchable. We need to hold leaders accountable. We need to question things.
And we need to have a darn sense of humor.
That was the thing, they were SO funny.
So funny. So ridiculous.
I discovered GWAR as a teenager when my friend bought their second release SCUMDOGS OF THE UNIVERSE. They were so weird, so over the top, so GORY that you couldn’t ignore them. The record was fantastic and I remember singing along with it in the car as I finally began to drive at 18 . It was a perfect summer record. They had taken this schlocky sci-fi horror and mixed it with Lovecraftian lore and did it all with a punk DIY attitude. So much was missed about what they were doing. Such as – THEY MADE THEIR COSTUMES and everything they did. These were artists and art punks who had taken their creativity and used it to make this larger than life rock band. A band that GOT BIG, even just for a second. They were so outrageous that the popular culture couldn’t resist them. They were at once a firebrand for the religious conservatives to rally against and a lightning rod for young people to rally around because they were everything that adults hated about rock music but turned up to eleven.
And the music was fun. It was loud, silly, offensive, but it was solid and they used it to create this mythology about the band and the world, a mythology that the fans ate up. Again, these were terrible, freaky, horrible people…who were terribly creative, talented, and were doing what they loved. OH, and they loved their devoted fans right back. Be honest, how many famous people give a damn about their fans? How many rock musicians honestly care? These folks did. I recall running into Brockie after a show and he was the most laid back, down to earth guy you could meet. Heck, he was pretty funny as he hit on a friend of mine. And that was the thing, as brash as he and the band was they cared about the people that invested their time and money into them. They may hate the establishment but they loved the people that made up the machinery.
So many memories flood back about this band. I remember countless shows and standing far enough back as to not get gory but kind of regretting that I was built that way, built to stay in the background. I recall their doing a number of shows in Flint at the Capitol Theater and how beloved they were in this area. Even if you didn’t dig the music you LOVED the band because they put on an incredible show. And it was always about the show. It was always about the outrage. But you know what…love the modern pop stars as much you want but this was a band that made their stuff, wore huge outfits, played an aggressive show, and put ON a show all as they played live. To think that more and more performers can’t or won’t sing live is shameful when you see what some smaller performers did. And why? Because they loved their fans and they loved performing.
They were a phenomenon in the ‘90s. The music, the videos, and so many appearances on anything that would have them. And here’s the thing. Even if you hated everything about them you had to respect how they stood up to the establishment. How they kept doing what they did as they were denounced and derided and decried. They would appear on talk shows as themselves and talk about censorship as they also were utterly ridiculous and silly. They mocked the system that hated them as they took it on. They never once backed down and even ramped up their attack using their music, shows, and their home videos to show how ridiculous the people behind the censorship issues were.
Nothing was sacred.
And we needed to hear that.
I am still in shock over hearing about the passing of Brockie. In shock that such a firebrand is gone, his last Tweet as outrageous as any that came before them. I hope this isn’t the end of the legacy of GWAR. The band will probably disappear but I truly hope that their music, their act, their influence and legacy live on. They deserve it. They were such a weird, fun band that the industry never quite figured out and which the mainstream grew bored with but they never stopped doing what they had always done – entertaining the hell out of their fans. There is a sort of legend that is befitting people who work hard on projects and ideas even knowing that though their work won’t reach everyone, won’t affect everyone, do it just the same because it matters to SOMEONE.
GWAR is a part of me and my past, a part of time that was happier than I thought back then and part of that happiness came from this ridiculous band from outer space. I never knew Mr. Brockie personally but I admire his being true to himself and to his band and doing what he did for almost thirty years. That’s a heck of an accomplishment. That’s a heck of a legacy, and one which is blissfully covered in fake blood.
Thanks for so many good times and so many good memories.
Rest In Peace