Paul Juser: The Strange Tale of the Misfits

Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only have been suing each other back and forth for years over the commercial legacy of the Misfits. Everyone knows someone with a Crimson Ghost shirt, and I always wonder how much those people really listen to the Misfits. Authenticity is a subject punk culture jumps on viciously, but I’m positive few of the kids sporting the Fiend on any of their shirts, jackets, socks, skateboards, underwear, and Uggs will know the words to Spook City U.S.A. Glenn was somewhere between the second and third incarnation of Danzig when Jerry reformed the band in 1995 to capitalize on the popularity Metallica gave them. The Misfits were the first band I ever traveled to see.

We left around 5am for the three hour trip to Buffalo that took closer to five hours and still got us in town before noon. Buffalo was what every other city in Upstate NY would look like in 20 years. It’s filthy, and ugly, and broken. I was nineteen when I saw it, and I’ve not been able to go further west than Rochester in more than a decade. Cell phones were still ten pounds and cost a months salary, so we used a phone book to find the address of a record store, and spent hours pawing through the selection, and a few hours after that drinking coffee in a Denny’s. From there, we decided it was late enough in the afternoon to line up at the venue.

We weren’t first. The Misfits were an enigma. Punk Rock fragmented after Green Day went platinum, and no one could get along. The Crustys hated the Pop Punks, who sometimes hung out with the Hardcore kids as long as no one was Straight Edge. The Straight Edge Kids all wanted to be eco-terrorists like the Crustys, but wouldn’t hang out with anyone who drank or did drugs, and the Crustys were not about to give up beer and heroin. This was pre-9/11, before all of those things carried a mandatory Federal sentence. The Misfits were a band everyone liked. With their spikes and Devilock haircuts, they were punk enough for the Crustys, and their music was violent enough for all of the Hardcore kids. Even better, Glenn Danzig is Straight Edge now, which makes up for the band drinking when they wrote the songs. The sun was still up when we arrived at the venue, and we were far back in line.

The opening band was whatever band Marky Ramone had at the moment. The other Ramones were still alive, and I think they still played together with occasional reunions, but the Ramones were done by then. Some other local punk band or bands played before him. No one gave a shit about anything but the Misfits. I hadn’t been a fan long, maybe a year. I knew the Metallica songs, and could sing along with most of Collection II. I bought the reunion album only after buying tickets to the show. There were only two original brothers, one of which was not in the band very long, so I didn’t understand how this was much of a reunion.

The performance was galvanizing. The new singer, Michale Graves, was 23, only a few years older than myself. He exploded on stage in a straight jacket, led on a chain by the Misfits Fiend himself. Graves broke free in the first song and never stopped moving the rest of the show. The set was relentless, going on longer than I’d ever seen a band perform before. The only longer performances I’ve seen since couldn’t do it without going Prog like Tool. They played every song I knew, and  every song I didn’t know. I was an Uber-fan before I walked out the door.

For the next ten years, my life was little else but the Misfits.  I wore black T-shirts, and most of them were Misfits designs. I wore black pants and black biker boots like Glenn D. himself was known to wear. Several times I sported the Devilock hair style, one thick lock of hair down the center of your face. My boss at work described it as “having poop on your face.” Glued stiff, the hairstyle made eating an annoyance. I still have my biker jacket with a rib cage on the back. The collar was always popped.  Fiends made popped collars look cooler than any Jersey douchebag can imagine on his pastel polo. Popped collars made you A) look like Dracula, and B) show off the Misfits logo you painted there. My Fiend skull was positioned at the top of the spine to appear like a tiny backwards head atop the spinal column. I wish I could say I did this for comedic purposes, but it did get a lot of laughs.

Everywhere the Misfits played in a five-hour radius, I drove to see them. Like all addicting substances, the show was never as good as that first night, but I couldn’t get enough. My second show was with Bloodshed, and then several shows with GWAR. When the opening band was Cannibal Corpse, I got punched by the girl who drove us there for knowing all the words to “Fucked With A Knife.” I see now why she might have been bothered. Marky Ramone was usually around. When I was not going to see the Misfits, I was reading my new issue of Bleeder’s Die-Jest, perusing Misfits.com, and always had the Misfits playing at as full a volume as my roommates wouldn’t complain about.

Shortly after the Cannibal show, Graves left the band. Whether he quit or was fired was unclear, but hockey was somehow involved. Even though bassist and bandleader Jerry Only said he wrote “I Wanna Be A New York Ranger,” as a tribute to his favorite team, it was clear at the time he was making fun of Michale Graves. Regardless of which side was being less dishonest, Graves was not gone long. The magick was.

The last time I saw the band, Graves spent half the show backstage talking into his mic about the General Tso’s chicken he was eating. I briefly spoke with Jerry after the show when he came out to meet the fans. He spoke candidly about kicking Graves out to get Danzig back for the 25th anniversary tour. In 2000, Graves quit for good and walked off stage mid-show. Danzig put out a press release saying he would never rejoin the Misfits.

After the Misfits, Graves’s story is tragic. He released a string of under-promoted albums under several variations of his name before crashing his career with a drinking problem. He stuck to a horror theme with all, and still painted himself as the Misfits Fiend when he performed live. He also wore this makeup in his interview with the Daily Show in 2004, where he espoused his extreme Conservative leanings. Graves never got over the Misfits, but the Misfits should have never gotten over Graves. As bad as he did, Jerry Only always did worse. The Misfits were unlistenable without Graves, and the Misfits rip-offs he was producing were better than anything the band committed to the Internet.

What Jerry Only did with the band next was miserable. He saw a money-making machine, and he was not afraid to admit this publicly. This was the first wave of Misfits-Name-On-Everything merchandise, but years passed before any new music was released. That was a split 7″ with a Japanese Misfits ripoff Jerry discovered. After a longer wait, the first full-length release was the even more disappointing “Project 1950.” It contained no original material, only punk covers of Golden Oldies. Jerry toured non-stop with a revolving door of punk once-beens under the increasingly ridiculous Misfits brand.

Jerry’s brother, Doyle Wolfgang VonFrankenstein, joined the established Misfits in 1982 for the most famous–and the late career albums–shortly before the original breakup. He stayed through the Graves years, but quit to play with Danzig in 2004. Doyle’s character never spoke or gave interviews, making him easily the most likable Misfit. He continues to work on various solo projects I never listened to, and still gives the occasional performance with Danzig that I watch on YouTube in its entirety.

Danzig’s post-Misfits career came out as a similar series of farts. His best and worst songs were written during the Samhain era, but he put out several solid albums as Danzig, and Danzig II: Lucifuge is unquestionably the best album in his entire discography. Quality trailed off until it was so bad he couldn’t get his band to play it. He fired them and hired a new band. The resulting Danzig V was so bad he couldn’t even keep the new band together long enough to tour for it. At this point, he may have given up recording new music, but he does still show up at festivals to insult his fans and punch them and throw temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.

I saw Danzig live only once, in 2000. He only played one Misfits song. He punched an audience-member in the middle of the set. There wasn’t a member of the crowd without the Fiend somewhere on their clothing. Danzig didn’t invent the iconic Misfits symbol as he claims, he drew it from an existing source. The Crimson Ghost is a villain from a 1940’s serial. Similarly, the band name had nothing to do with standing out in society, but with Danzig’s crush on Marilyn Monroe. With Samhain, Glenn tried to abandon that icon for a skull of his own design. Despite his prominent use of belt-bucklage and occasional T-shirt, the Danzig skull never caught on after the Misfits.

As much as Jerry Only has trashed the memory of the Misfits, you have to agree that Glenn Danzig deserves it. He’s never done an interview where he doesn’t come off as a complete prick. He’s so obnoxious that his own fans cheered on across the Internet when his face was punched in by a nobody. Glenn was doing his Axl Rose act backstage, holding up the show and cutting the sets of his opening acts, when a big, round Hardcore front man got fed up. The band received death threats at first, but are now regarded as underground heroes. Their final show was opening for the Misfits. Unfortunately, no one got punched.

I once read an interview where Danzig was asked what he thought was the best quality in a roadie. Glenn said he had no respect for roadies, because anyone that would get on a bus with a stranger and have sex with him because he was a rock star doesn’t deserve respect. The article was torn from a Seattle paper around the turn of the century. I kept it in my wallet for years and read it when I needed a giggle. Either Glenn Danzig spent his career in music without knowing the difference between roadies and groupies, or his tours got very weird.

*****
Dr. Filth is a superhero with the power to convince himself anything. His alter ego is a cryptozoologist of the same name. Read “The Alarm Clock at the End of the World,” by Paul Juser this December at www.printisbetter.com

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