Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Gwar frontman leaves more than controversy behind

Yesterday I woke up to the sad, shocking news that Gwar frontman Dave Brockie aka Oderus Urungus died Sunday in his home in Richmond at age 50. I didn't go see Gwar last Halloween. Instead I took my boys trick or treating and went home early. Now, like any other local Gwar fans that missed the band's return to Tremont Music Hall last fall, I wish I'd gone back out. There's a tendency with bands that tour annually to think, if you miss them you can see them next year. That's not the case this time.

Brockie had history in Charlotte having been arrested at the 4808 Club in 1990 for disseminating obscenity. The arrest drew national headlines.

In 2011 a week or two after playing a show at Amos' Southend, Gwar's guitarist Cory Smooth aka Flattus Maximus was found dead on the band's bus as it was getting ready to cross into Canada. Smoot died of coronary artery thrombosis. The character he'd played since 2002 was retired a day later. The group, who has long had shifting lineups, soldiered on as always with Brockie at the helm. I can't imagine a Gwar without him.
I remember the first time I heard Gwar. It was the June after 7th grade. I was at a 13-year-old's birthday party sitting alone by a green, slime-filled pool that hadn't seen swimming in years while the boys took turns riding four-wheelers and skateboarding in the driveway. Music was blasting from a boom box: "We share a cheeseball. We just do it all."

"Did they just say cheeseball?" I yelled to whoever was in the vicinity. Little did I know the aforementioned "cheeseball" was the least strange thing about Pookie - Gwar's ode to beastiality and necrophilia, "I'm in Love (With a Dead Dog)." That's not the kind of thing you forget.

As a 13-year-old girl, even one who liked metal, I wasn't completely sold. But Gwar became a favorite of my skater boyfriends and their crowd and I eventually grew to love "Hell-o," Gwar's debut album. We saw them numerous times. So many of those shows were memorable. My first was New Year's Eve 1994 at The Masquerade in Atlanta. That show raged on until nearly 4 a.m. In Morgantown, WV, the summer of 1997 I believe, Gwar encored without their costumes or anything else for that matter. They may have worn strategically placed socks, but I, luckily, was too short to see and lodged behind a big guy who I could duck behind every time someone was decapitated or de-limbed. I was not so lucky at a December show with the Meatmen in Winston-Salem where I trudged to my car freezing (it may have even begun to snow) after getting showered with fake blood and other fake bodily fluids. Eventually I started standing in the back.

But as much as Gwar will be remembered for outrageous live shows where Popes were beheaded and dinosaurs prowled the stage, I will remember them most for great songs.

I tried to bring that up to Brockie (pictured above in full Oderus gear) during a 2012 interview, but he sort of brushed off the compliment. He was doing the interview in character.

Gwar's music is often overshadowed by the theatrics, the shock rock, and the satirical criticisms of politics and pop culture. Beneath all of that are some really fantastic, catchy, punk and metal-tinged songs. "Sadaam A Go-Go" (despite being dated) and the unsung "Mary Ann" and "If I Could Be That" have been making their way on to mix tapes (and now iPod mixes) of favorite songs for years. Of course "Sick Of You," "The Road Behind," and most of their first two albums "Hell-O" and "Scumdogs of the Universe" are classics.

Brockie will no doubt be remembered more in the mainstream for his band's antics and from appearances on Fox News and "The Jerry Springer Show" than for leading a band as big on songwriting, arranging, and tight musicianship as theater and satire. But he also filled a hole, calling out pretty much anything and anyone and shining a light on ridiculousness, greed, and injustice.

During our October 2012 interview he explained the otherworldly band's earthly mission best: "Gwar is an adult comedy metal show. It's like an x-rated version of 'The Simpsons' except playing rock n' roll. Getting upset at Oderus Urungus is like getting mad at Homer Simpson. As artists it's our right and duty to take the ugliest parts of our society and put them in the spotlight and defang them by laughing at them or beating the hell at them or both at once."

Look for Michael Plumides, who owned the 4808 Club and was arrested along with Brockie following that show in 1990 and who chronicles the story in his book "Kill the Music," to eulogize his friend Brockie in "The Observer" later this week.