If It's Misfits, You Must Acquit
Creedence Clearwater Revival's 1970 hit "Lodi" immortalized the New Jersey town as a hard-luck haven for touring musicians, as far removed from fame and fortune as Earth is from Uranus. But imagine John Fogerty turning punk, wearing a Toys "R" Us skeleton costume and employing sidemen bedecked with "devil locks" and quarterback-from-hell eye makeup. Now you're downwind of Lodi's other indelible contribution to rock: the loud, fast ghouls known as the Misfits.
Thanks to covers of the Misfits' "Last Caress" and "Green Hell" on Metallica's Garage Days Re-Revisited EP, a new legion of fans, or "fiends" as the group calls 'em, is investigating this highly influential horror-punk outfit. Between 1977 and 1984, the Misfits put out a classic assemblage of indie-released singles, EPs and albums that now commands gross prices from collectors.
Former Misfits brain trust Glenn Danzig, currently renowned as a steroid-addled, heavy-metal buffoon, pulled the plug on this Frankenstein monster in 1985, about the same time he lost his sense of humor. Since then, Danzig's disposition has alternated between acute embarrassment and paternal pride for his participation in the band.
This spring, he sold the Misfits' entire back catalogue to Caroline Records. The New York label wasted no time putting the music back into circulation with its recent four-CD boxed set The Misfits, posthumously packaging the discs in a glossy black coffin that would nicely accommodate a Ken doll if you lopped off its head. The music makes a strong case for giving the group its rightful place alongside the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Ramones in the punk-rock pantheon.
Danzig didn't want anything to do with the retrospective beyond furnishing Caroline with the correct lyrics, and he's reportedly miffed that the inlay booklet features some decidedly cherubic shots of his younger, scrawnier self.
Unlike his former partner, original Misfits bassist Jerry Only doesn't want to see the band roll over and stay dead. He's waged a ten-year legal battle with Danzig to wrest control of the group's name so he can finally squeeze some revenue from the sale of Misfits music and merchandise. Under a new settlement, Jerry and his brother P.C. Doyle, Misfits guitarist since 1981, are free to perform the Misfits' music live but not to reproduce any of it on recordings.
And so a re-formed, sans-Danzig Misfits is set to roll down "barren fields on the Arizona plains," just like the "Teenagers From Mars" Glenn used to sing about.
Filling in for Danzig's vocal skullduggery is Mike Graves, a 21-year-old Jerseyite who no doubt has been listening and loving the group's sonic splatter 'n' splendor since his playpenned youth.
"Nah," Graves counters. "I never listened to the Misfits. I was familiar with a couple of the songs. My brother listened to them when we skated together."
So maybe Graves isn't the foremost authority on the Misfits. But who is--Jerry Only? His role in the original band was almost purely cosmetic. Even Graves knows that. "Jerry's main contribution to the band was the image," he says.
Consider that when Danzig wasn't busy writing and singing all the material, he created the group's logos and artwork. Jerry and Doyle, meanwhile, worked off most of their creative impulses in their dad's machine shop making knives. So the idea of Jerry and Doyle carrying the Misfits torch without so much as penning a lousy B-side in the past is like Reggie and Jughead running around saying they're the Archies.
Asked what Jerry's contribution to the Misfits was besides simply being there, Graves the rookie ventures, "Sometimes, Glenn couldn't come up with a line for the songs and Jerry and Doyle would help him out. And Jerry did a lot of the arranging."
Danzig saw it differently in a 1986 issue of Thrasher.
"Jerry didn't care about playing fifths or octave notes or runs or anything," maintained Danzig. "Live, if he forgot where he was, he would just let everyone bang on the bass." In the same interview, Danzig says he formed his first post-Misfits band Samhain simply because he was writing material "Jerry could never play in his wildest imagination."
In 1983, the monster known as "artistic differences" began lurking about the Misfits camp. Besides Danzig's irritation with Jerry's bass playing, there was also the group's reluctance to tackle any subject matter beyond the scope of Fangoria magazine. When Danzig's baby-boomer political conscience surfaced on "Who Killed Marilyn?", the other Misfits passed on the tune. ("Well, Glenn, maybe if we had Mothra in cahoots with the Kennedys and the LAPD, it could work. But, like this, I dunno.")
Danzig recorded the song solo and put it out on the anniversary of the starlet's overdose, signaling an imminent end for the Misfits.
"I think Glenn grew out of [the band]," says his replacement. "He wanted to go in a different direction, which is cool. I think Danzig is more a mature music."
A few days spent alternating between playing Misfits records, then Danzig records, back and forth, begins to reveal where it all went so horribly wrong. Put the blame on the night-and-day difference between punk and metal. Where heavy metal depends on hero worship, punk is all about inclusion. The Misfits' earliest hard-core experiment "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?" let every pogoing punk within earshot put himself on the receiving end of maternal permission. We're all psycho, Mommy! No one has to feel left out.
Vive la difference from Danzig's most popular number, "Mother," on which he broods, "Mother, tell your children not to walk my way--tell your children not to hear my words." On every subsequent Danzig album, he's been trying harder than hell to solidify his position as Bad Role Model No. 1. Word to the wise: If you have to keep reminding people you're evil, you're probably not.
While Danzig was busy finding loopholes in the Bible to exploit in his music, Only was trying to start his own new outfit, Kryst the Conqueror. In 1987, around the time the group's only album was released, the bassist explained his new band's raison d'etre. "Kryst is Jerry Only on his home planet. He controls the 'Soldiers of Light.' He has evolved from the destructive tendencies of man and has grown into the ultimate warrior," said Jerry, sounding like he'd gotten a little too excited by his new Dungeons and Dragons game set.
"It was all right, not my style," Graves says of his new boss's old direction. "It was like Iron Maiden, almost Vikingish, weird wars and songs like 'Thunderthruster,' which was about a big nuclear gun. Weird shit. The total opposite of Misfits."
This fall will see the release of a new "Misfits" seven-inch on Only's Cyclopean Music label that is very much in the classic Misfits style. Both sides, "Mars Attack" and "The Hunger," draw their lifeblood from cornball science-fiction films.
Graves says Jerry and Doyle watch old horror movies on the tour bus all the time, but he doesn't get it. "I'll sit there for like ten minutes and they're all saying, 'Wow, it's a great movie,' and I'll say, 'This sucks.'"
The singer's patience for arcane gore must be similarly tested by the current Misfits configuration's live set lists. On headlining dates, the group starts out with "Halloween" and plows straight through 46 more songs. "Swear to God," assures Graves. "We're onstage for two and a half hours."
The re-formed Misfits live show also lets Jerry and Doyle show off their machine-shop prowess. "Jerry's a brilliant machinist," says Graves. "He and Doyle make their own guitars, and they built this gigantic black drum set with spikes all over it. That's about it for props. We don't mess with smoke or explosions and shit like that. We'll leave that to KISS."
If there's any dark cloud on the band's return to active duty, it's being lumped into that reunion category. "It kinda sucks that the Pistols are back and KISS is back and now the Misfits are back," grumbles Graves. "It's a coincidence."
Misfits '96 may be one body short of a full-blown reunion, but it isn't for lack of trying. Even with all the legal bickering, Jerry and Doyle had hoped to convince Danzig to return to the Misfits for a one-off tour.
"They went to a hotel where he was staying in Red Bank, New Jersey, 'cause he was playing at the Count Basie Theater last spring," Graves reveals. "Doyle went up to his hotel room and was knocking on the door and stuff, and Glenn called security and had everyone thrown out. That was the last contact everyone had with Glenn."
But what if Danzig days were here again? Would it cause Graves concern?
"I personally think that would be really cool, if everything was, you know, cool."
The Misfits are scheduled to perform on Tuesday, August 13, at Club Rio in Tempe, with Anthrax, Life of Agony, and Cannibal Corpse. Showtime is 8 p.m. (all ages).
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