Based on their show at The National in Richmond, VA on March 16, 2012, and an email interview, which arrived in my inbox on August 7, 2012
The hook of my glasses just barely caught between my middle and ring fingers as I fell sideways into a mass of sweaty flesh that gave and fell with me for a second before it caught itself and slung me back the other way. My body bounced off a fat guy and I regained some semblance of balance in an unsteady, yet mostly upright position. I started to put my glasses back on just before some meaty shoulder hit me square in the back and I toppled forward into a stream of fake blood that was being fired off stage out of a gigantic water pistol by a goblin wearing assless chaps.
“A Gwar concert is the antithesis of a U2 concert,” so said my friend and driver for the night, Jimmy, as we listened to mid-aughts indie rock cd’s on our way from Charlottesville to Richmond. We had the volume turned down so that we could talk easily with our friend in the back seat about the imminent basketball tournament, new music and the misbehavior of University of Virginia students in the nineteenth century (Erik, in the second row, had written his undergrad thesis on the University of Virginia’s early history) as his dad’s red Acura SUV ate up I-64 eastbound.
We parked a few blocks away from the site of the “Upcoming Slaughter,” as their website refers to future shows, and changed into undershirts and pants we didn’t care about. At that point, I discovered that I had not packed contacts as I had meant to, and, consequently, I would attend my first metal concert in nerdy, black plastic rectangle glasses. Jimmy said, “Oh, well, I think you should probably be fine.”
Gwar is “Earth’s only openly extra-terrestrial rock band, and the destined destroyers of not only the human race but also reality itself,” again according to their website (which encourages you not to “share” their page, but to “Socialize, you human filth!”). More typically though, they’re considered a satirical metal band comprised of four fictional characters, and their history bears talking about if for no other reason than to repeat the wonderfully adolescent names they have for everything. Gwar came into existence as Gwaaarrrgghhlllgh in 1984 as a comical spinoff of the Richmond hardcore band, Death Piggy. After four years of refinement and name-shortening, their first album, Hell-O, appeared in 1988, and their virus-like spread across North America began.
Like any persistent pathogen, Gwar owe their longevity to their capacity to ceaselessly mutate and adapt to a wide variety of hosts. At least twenty-five real humans have played the parts of the fictional band members, though the guitarist, drummer and front man Oderus have been played by the same people since 1990 (with Dave Brockie playing Oderus since the band’s founding). Despite this, the intergalactic group was able to maintain enough stability to thrive through the mid-nineties. They released five albums before 1998 and garnered themselves two Grammy nominations (“Phallus in Wonderland” was up for Best Long-Form Music Video in 1993, and “So Fucking What” for Best Metal Performance in 1996) on top of national notoriety after being banned from the state of North Carolina and making appearances in costume on both The Jerry Springer Show and The Joan Rivers Show.
Standing in a clearing in the middle of the general admission floor, an area I later labeled, “[danger!]” in a notebook sketch of the venue, I took in all the different varieties of body odor swirling on the air conditioned currents as large men leered at me and my fragile glasses. The National’s sloping general admission area and upper, bar-oriented areas were already fairly crowded, and the last opener, Municipal Waste, had just gone off. A little to my right, a particularly tall guy with dreadlocks reared back his head and roared, “GWAAAAAAARRRRRR,” to the surprise of no one, except us. Erik and I exchanged nervous laughs, and he wondered half-sarcastically, “people don’t normally die at these things, right?” as we waited for Gwar to take the stage.
As the music started, I felt the same terror I experienced as a small boy going on my fist roller coaster, except this fear of bodily harm seemed far more imminent. The band members ran on stage, and things seemed to go over the edge. Smelly “scumdogs,” as Gwar call their fans, rushed into my clearing and, quite suddenly, a mosh pit convulsed around Jimmy, Erik and me. Like a fly trying to escape through a closed window, I pathetically and spastically attempted to move out of the pit, but kept getting knocked back into the fray by a membrane of short, strong dudes who saw no reason for me to leave. Jimmy and Erik threw their bodies into fray that convulsed with the music, and I somehow managed to scramble past them after almost losing my glasses again several times, and ran towards the bathroom for respite. “Dead girls can’t say no,” read the back of a ponytailed man’s shirt in the bathroom. I choose the urinal furthest from him, and stared intently at the graffiti on the wall in front of me.
The twenty-first century saw a marked decline in national notoriety for Gwar. Although they continued to tour and put out albums, they perhaps garnered the most notice for their 2006 cover of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” and its accompanying, typically strange music video, and then again sadly when lead guitarist Cory Smoot passed away suddenly on tour in November 2011 due to a previously unknown, genetic heart defect (their most recent tour was in tribute to him). They closed the set that we saw by shining a spotlight on Smoot’s guitar and simply walking off stage as a recording of Sinatra’s “My Way” played over the PA. It was an oddly quiet end to an hour’s worth of heavy metal punctuated by mock executions involving copious amounts of Jägermeister and fake blood.
After my accidental mosh pit experience at the show’s outset, I enjoyed the rest of the set from the relative safety of the bar, peacefully adjusting my frames back to some sort of straightness, ordering a fresh PBR every twenty minutes or so as I occasionally looked the fray to make sure my friends were still alive. Warmth came in around the edges as I contentedly stared at the scene.
I really still have no idea what to make of Gwar. I hate listening to metal, despite trying many times since April to get into Scumdogs of the Universe, their career-launching 1990 album. I would have had a great time at their show had not I wore glasses, and I respect their anti-mainstream-America satirical bent. Gwar are more than an interesting spectacle, you would just have to ask someone who was into metal and metal culture to really understand what that is. If nothing else though, they are excellent showmen, especially their founding front man, Dave Brockie (Oderus). Seeking some sort of closure both to this piece and my wonderings about Gwar, I sent his press agent an email on June 8 asking for an interview. Then I sent him another, and another until I finally learned on July 18 that Brockie had consented to an email interview. After quickly coming up with a laundry list of questions, I sent them out, not entirely sure if Brockie would answer them in or out of character. Judge for yourself below.
Sent: Tuesday, August 07, 2012 4:44 PM
To: Jon Freeman
Subject: Re: FW: Email Interview
What does the next year or so hold in store for GWAR? You guys have been through a lot in the past one.
WE ARE BACK TO WORK AT OUR EVIL PLAN. GWAR-B-Q, HOLLISTON SEASON-TWO, BUT ESPECIALLY OUR NEW ALBUM. YOU ARE ONLY GONNA GET ABOUT A SENTENCE APIECE WITH THESE THINGS, I HATE TYPING THESE.
Gwar always seems to be mad about /interested in satirizing one current event or another? Is there anything/anyone in the news right now that you guys might go after once you get back on tour this fall?
AREN’T YOU GUYS HAVING AN ELECTION OR SOMETHING? IT’S PRETTY SAFE TO SAY WE ARE GONNA FUCK WITH THAT PRETTY HARD!
What are Gwar’s religious beliefs? Do extraterrestrials have any regard for human religions, and why or why not?
NO, NO REGARD OR RESPECT. WE CREATED YOU, WE CAN’T PRAISE YOU TOO MUCH OR YOU WOULD GET AN EVEN MORE INFLATED OPINION OF YOURSELF.
Why does the beverage Jagermeister hold such appeal to Gwar?
BECAUSE IT GETS YOU WASTED, YOU COMPLETE IDIOT.
Do human “recreational drugs” hold any appeal to Gwar?
OF COURSE, THERE ARE TONS OF COOL DRUGS OUT THERE. IN FACT I WOULDN’T RECOMMEND THEM FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION, THEY ARE FAR TOO POTENT FOR YOUR FRAGILE MIND AND BODIES. GO AHEAD AND SEND THEM ALL TO ME. YOU CAN BILL SLEAZY P.!
Does Gwar have a goal with its music, other than to destroy the human race and reality itsef?
WELL, IT HAS TO ROCK!
What does it mean to destroy reality itself?
I DON’T KNOW, I HAVEN’T DONE IT YET. AND WHEN I DO I THINK WE WILL BOTH BE DEAD SO IT WILL BE PRETTY HARD TO TELL YOU. I AM PRETTY SURE IT WILL SMELL BAD!
Why must America be destroyed?
THE SAME REASON ANYWHERE MUST BE DESTROYED, BECAUSE IT LOOKS, SOUNDS, AND SMELLS COOL WHEN IT HAPPENS!
If you had to pick your favorite way to execute human filth on stage, what would it be? Why?
MAKE THEM TYPE ANSWERS TO STUPID EMAIL QUESTIONS UNTIL THEY DIE OF BOREDOM.
What is the most absurd thing to happen at a Gwar show?
MY GOOD SIR, THE MOST ABSURD THING AT A GWAR SHOW IS THE GWAR SHOW ITSELF!
How do you hope people feel when they leave a Gwar show?
NOTHING AT ALL! GET IT?
I’ve never been so honored to be called a complete idiot.