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Half Man Half Yeesh

Danzig in the landscape
Half Man Half Yeesh

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It’s tempting to come in fast with something like “Glenn Danzig is America and vice versa.” It’s a grabber, has a sideburn of truth to it, and one man’s “reductive and cheap” is another man’s serviceable lede. America is too diverse, of course, to be reasonably compared to any one person, even Lodi, New Jersey’s poet of vampire tits and Satanic pulp. But, what with the blues appropriation slathered in the whitest of white corpse paint, the pleasure/pain one experiences witnessing Danzig/America getting punched in the nose, and the transcendentally dumb fun sexiness of Danzig/America’s song, the comparison is, like I said, tempting. Within that 5’3” frame (that’s 63/80ths of a Pete Steele in Vaguely Racist Metal Frontmen btw) of beef and horsehair, there burns a million suns of shit hot American bravura and corn. Also, like America, Glenn Danzig’s muscle to fat ratio is largely indeterminate.

Like America, a complete overview of the work’s of Glenn Danzig would require an entire library and a strong stomach. (If we wanted to we could retreat to the standard defenses of democracy and capitalism as “the worst… except for everything else” but a discussion of Danzig calls for bravery not retreat.) In the interest of space and sanity, and setting aside the horror-punk Federalists Papers of the Misfits discography, I’ll stick to the relevant-if-arbitrary tentpoles of: (the band) Danzig’s out-of-print 1990 VHS video collection, Glenn’s 2019 feature film sex comedy, Verotika, and the Danzig solo album that was just released, Danzig Sings Elvis.

Let’s start by making something clear. While I may make jokes about the man, I do not consider Danzig’s art a punchline. The songs of his first band, The Misfits, took the Ramones template (girl-group pop welded to pulp culture trash and sped up past the speed of both good taste and musical ability) and gave it a swagger no other punks could even approach (until they themselves discovered rockabilly in the hollows of Orange County.) To be honest, when I first heard Walk Among Us, it didn’t even occur to me that it was punk rock music. It just sounded like the way the music of early Rock ‘n’ Roll was supposed to sound like, the way it was described in rapturous Rolling Stone write-ups, rather than the mid-tempo twanging of my mom’s record collection. (I was a kid. I like Chuck Berry now. Don’t @ me.) Danzig’s post Misfits outfit, Samhain, continued the existing both within and outside of punk’s limited purview, without ever veering into the arch academy of post-punk. Samhain’s iconic horned skull logo (taken from the Michael Golden drawn cover of a Marvel Comics/Remco Toy tie-in called “The Saga of Crystar.”) was, like the logos of Motorhead (Joe Petagno’s war-pig with horns) and Corrosion of Conformity (Errol Engelbracht’s radiation skull warrior w/horns), the rare insignia that united punks, skateboarders, and heshers alike. And not just because every teenage booger with a grudge against the world loves beasties with horns.

Anybody with the richness of Danzig’s catalog (even Danzig’s work on the soundtrack to 1987’s cokesploitation drama Less Than Zero is singular in its loveliness and oddball grandeur) has to make at least a hundred more mediocre techno albums and be punched out by three times the North Side Kings Glenn Danzig has before I write off the work completely. I do think Danzig is a complete jerkoff, but I still take the art seriously enough to give it its due consideration.

Of all his catalog, it is the early Danzig (the band of Glenn, John Christ, Chuck Biscuits, and Eerie Von) albums that I most give a shit about. It helps that the second record, Lucifuge, was released the month of my 15th birthday. Lucifuge took every connective dot between souls-on-fire blues and witch-lust heavy metal and accentuated the shared mythos to make a ridiculous/awesome album of rage pity power ballads and Satanic sex-boogie. Fifteen years old is a good age to get into Danzig. Oh to return to the Massachusetts winter days I spent shoveling the driveway, virginal and sweaty beyond the layers of my snow gear, deeply relating to “Long Way Back From Hell” and “Her Black Wings.” I didn’t think ”Killer Wolf” was silly. I thought it was the blues. Which I totally had. I wanted to sing like Glenn Danzig before I wanted to sing like Mark Lanegan and well before I wanted to sing like Andrew Eldritch; a series of baritone lateral moves and life choices that presaged either nothing or a lot.

Danzig (Home Video), the forty-minute VHS collection of music videos, band interviews, and “candid” backstage banter, is as glorious an artifact of Danzig (the band) one could ask for. The full tape is out of print and doesn’t even have an IDMB page, which just shows how little artists can be trusted to know their own work’s value. Because, baby, Danzig (Home Movie) has value to burn. See! John Christ explaining that his guitar’s name is “bitch” and all his numerous girlfriends are jealous of it! Ponder! Eerie Von standing behind an inexplicably placed chain link gate while he expounds upon his love of drinking and hatred of humanity and practicing! Marvel! At the blood sacrificed butts and high teased hairdos of the unnamed (I’m not being dismissive… I did try to find their names) video vixens that, prior the invention of Suicide Girls Burning Angel et al, seem to have wandered off a ZZ Top video set! In fact, only Glenn himself has more than a few tattoos! 1990! The last year on earth that some people didn’t have tattoos!

Even beyond all the unmarked pasty flesh, Danzig (Home Video) is a REAL HOOT. And the king owl is Glenn Danzig. I’ve grown so accustomed to interviews where the man is either an embittered ass, a pompous ass, or, worst of all, the kind of ass who makes gore and nudity seem like a chore for insecure manchildren, I’d forgotten how lovable a weirdo Danzig could be. Interspersed between genuinely great live clips of Glenn’s voice and sideburns doing the work of werewolf angels, the viewer is treated to Danzig, always at the most flattering angles, showing off his Wolverine and Animal Man comic books (“this one has B’Wana Beast”), taking pictures with fans whilst guarded by magically brought to life M.U.S.C.L.E Men, and talking theology (Satan misunderstood. He was God’s “right hand man.” *hair flip*). There are clips of all this on the internet and people love to clown them. And, yes, I can see why some might laugh at Danzig’s backstage futzing with his leather gloves or his spookily lit crouching tour of his library of Nazi Occult and “werewolves are real actually” books. The scenes are funny! But a young-ish Glenn Danzig’s smile is so ingratiating, almost bashful, that I feel like I’m laughing… well, not with him exactly. But not at him either. Danzig isn’t in on the joke because he’s not existing within the joke. The joke doesn’t exist for Glenn Danzig because men like Glenn Danzig don’t watch Cabin In The Woods or The Office and they don’t wink at the camera like moral wimps. Men like Glenn Danzig flex at the camera like bats that are justifiably proud of their bodies. Self-deprecation is for those with much to deprecate who laugh out of fear because of it. But the joke is over there and Danzig is over here, cosplaying Conan The Barbarian.

The video was an official release by Rick Rubin’s record label of one of the biggest acts in heavy metal, so of course all that amiability has to be taken with a grain of salt. I saw the Katie Perry documentary so, you know, this ain’t my first rodeo. And Glenn has never had a reputation as a particularly nice guy. But (temporarily) setting aside his entirely awful politics, I don’t have an issue with his refusal to see his art as kitsch. He may be living up his own ass when he says in interviews “I think maybe back in the early Misfits days, there was maybe a kitschy element to it. But eventually it became a little more real. There’s nothing kitschy about seeing someone get their head cut off. There’s nothing kitschy about seeing serial killers offing people, or wars which have been going on for centuries or millennia. I think people try to trivialize true horror because they’re scared of it.” And he may so sound like a complete moron when he claims that WW2 was really started because “Basically, Eisenhower and Hitler were trying to create this sonic boom cannon created from the Atlantean Vril power.” But different mentalities serve different kinds of art best. Anyway the world has an embarrassment of self-aware and “smart” singers. I’ll take an irony-free rendition of “Am I Demon” to my desert island doom over a thousand Hold Steady songs, even if they each came with a boat.

(The above defense applies ONLY to Danzig’s lack of self-awareness in his use of horror and Satanism. Dude’s politics are garbage that could only be improved with even an iota of capacity for self-reflection. With his periodic railing against “political correctness” like a tedious old man and defenses of Trump’s immigration policy like a straight up racist, the supposedly speculative fiction song “White Devil Rise,” etc., he’s a whole lot of idiot with a smattering of recorded savant. Basically, Danzig is a conservative of the Slayer/Pantera/Myrkur/MGLA etc “Islam isn’t a race so I’m not a racist/why can they use the n-word but not me/antifa are the real fascists” school of horseshit. Hard to pin down but… not that hard. Like the aforementioned artists, he’s not, strictly speaking, fash but he sure is fucking dumb.)

(Btw, in the theoretical desert island case cited above, I’m not advocating spending money on a Danzig album over a Hold Steady one. I’d actually bring a Heavens To Betsy tape. Don’t worry.)

Setting out to write this essay, despite being fully aware of Danzig’s deficiencies of character and the general lackluster enthusiasm for his last five or six (or seven) albums, I was still hoping to write something other than a Danzig takedown. Not that Danzig is going to read this and have his were-feelings hurt or that I’d care if he did, but it’s not the kind of piece I enjoy writing. Especially when it means I have to agree with the majority of my peers.

But, in either the spirit of journalism or just committing to the bit, I watched Glenn Danzig’s full length directorial debut and I have to tell you, boys and ghouls, I did not enjoy it one bit. Coming back to the question of kitsch, not seeing even the potential for humor in blood-soaked boner bait- and holding onto one’s stereotypical teen obsessions well into one’s sixties- apparently has its limitations. I sat through the hour-and-a-half-going-on-eternity snooze ‘n’ boob fest, Verotika, and it was neither very nor erotic. Bewildering bad French accents (I think… I don’t know accents). Tears from eyeball nipples. A blue man group spider monster. Stilted acting straight out of a witless Hal Hartley movie. Unforgivably bad wigs. Counter-intuitively incompetent music cues. Strippers in platform thick raver soles. Pauses between dialogue like a first year improv class… despite all that going for it, Verotika sucked. Shit made a Nick Zedd film look like Die Hard and late-nite cable porn look like sex with someone you love. I’m a notoriously squeamish horror flick consumer but the gore was so incompetently half-assed that I only looked away out of boredom and to google “Danzig musician Nazi” on my phone. Despite all his claims to grindhouse aficionado-ness, I’m now convinced that Glenn Danzig had, prior to directing Verotika, never actually seen a movie. Even casual readers of mine know that my contrarian streak runs deep, but there is no angle or subversion of expectation that can be summoned to make “Verotika is good actually” pass my lips. There are not even “so bad it’s good” pleasures to be found here. If the filmmaker’s intention was to avoid kitsch, he succeeded through a powerful, almost spiritual, monotony.

I had higher hopes for Danzig Sings Elvis. Danzig’s life-long reverence for Elvis Presley, while as easy to mock as so much about our Glenn, has never been a hindrance to the work or image. While the drawl was affected (Lodi, New Jersey is not noted for its backwoods accents) and the pouty sneer outsized, it was exactly the outsized nature of Danzig’s devotion that pushed the act past schtick. Danzig always seemed less an impersonator than a manga version of the king, with a chest too broad and hairy to be contained within a white jumpsuit and tassels. If anything, Danzig’s Elvis costume was less affected than that of his baritone brother in goth girls’ affections, Nick Cave. Both men love Tupelo’s luckier son but Nick Cave, while the superior artist of the two, will always be someone who can only fetishize Elvis and the tangled history that spawned him. Danzig, on the other hand, has never come at the king from a distance. Elvis never needed a Flannery O’Connor short story to inhabit himself or, by the by, the American death urge. And by golly neither does Danzig. Glenn Danzig, by a manifest destiny of his own making, is as pig-shit-thick hip-swingingly American as they come.

Like America, Danzig Sings Elvis is pretty bad. But, also like America (I can do this all night), it’s more disappointing than anything else. Which, leaving the analogy and considering the record’s potential, is the real bummer. Glen Danzig singing the songs of Elvis, on the beloved by gothic-bargain-shoppers Cleopatra label of all places, should have been either great or embarrassing (also great). Instead it’s just… there, sitting inert on Bandcamp like a pompadour left in the rain. I honestly can’t figure out why, after a lifetime of being Punk/Heavy Metal’s Elvis, the prodigal son would settle for this. The production is thin as hell. The guitars which should, as the rockabillies say, “scorch,” opt to slouch. The vocals, the reason any of us are here, are largely disinterested. Danzig’s vocal timber has always been closer to ‘70s era Elvis, when the king’s delivery was more about the persona than the song, and all the reverb in the world won’t make Glenn sound like he’s in Sun Studios but the listener can only wish that Danzig would at least try to, you know, get real, real gone for a change. Instead his voice sounds like it’d rather be off reciting Satanic haikus or Kitty Pryde slash-fiction or whatever it is Glenn Danzig’s voice box gets into on its time off. There’s an amiable novelty to the thing just existing and I’ll probably put a song or two off the album on my mom’s holiday mix CD but Robert Johnson didn’t get into that whole crossroads hullabaloo for holiday mixes. I’d actually prefer if Danzig had opted to ruin the songs by revisiting his industrial-dance days. Hell, that would have ruled. The whole affair, like Verotika and in such a betrayal of Danzig’s idiot charm, fails to offend. In a scathing review, The Needle Drop fella accuses Danzig Sings Elvis of being “disrespectful to the king.” But I think, worse, it’s disrespectful to Danzig himself.

I don’t believe that anyone is irredeemable or that talent just leaves the body, never to return. Nor do I think that Glenn Danzig is looking for advice. Danzig is the master of his own dumb fate and I am just a 200 pound weakling with strong views on goth-adjacent bohunks. I can wish he’d be abducted by Rick Rubin and forced to make art worth caring about (or at least art with decent guitar tone) and I can wish that someone would lend him a couple books not written for alt-right dungeon masters, but “you can wish in one hand…” Anyway. It’s a moot point. I still have Lucifuge so I got what I needed from the Glenn Danzig. And I imagine the man makes enough money selling Misfits Funko Pop dolls on the dark web to fund a film festival’s worth of low stakes zombie porn. And good for him. Fuck it, you know? These are aggressively mediocre times; the Age Of American Empire Dying Alone Eating A Sandwich On The Toilet. So why should the Elvis we deserve have to try any harder than anyone else.

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