Friday, July 23, 2010

I Still Believe In Glenn Danzig (Or: Why I Hate Tall People)

Me? I'm a short, neurotic, bristly mess of angsty bad breath. I'm full of insecurities and contradictions and confusion, and I don't really have any problem admitting this. You're all just like me, you just hide it better. I try to be a good person, try to grit my teeth and hold back the puke of dysfunction (even when the old cheeks are bulging like Dizzy Gillespie's with it) and get in the ring and duke it out like everyone else on this planet does. Not that I want a medal or an ice cream pop or anything. Oh, and I am also short. Bear with me here, I'm making a point.

Perhaps I should be going out of my way to overcompensate for these things. I would, I really would. But I'm also incredibly lazy.

Not so lazy was a teenage New Jersey music fan named Glenn Anzalone. He was short, yes. He was full of insecurities and neuroses, and he read way too many comic books. But this was the mid 1970s, and people were re-inventing themselves all over the map. A pimply, gangly British youth with a mouth full of painfully inappropriate teeth and a bad home life could rename himself Sid Vicious and become sort of a cross between a lobotomized Lou Reed and a taller Johnny Thunders. Problems solved! This was the majesty of Punk Rock!

So Glenn, not being lazy, and looking to improve his lot in life, changed his name and formed a Punk Rock band. perhaps the greatest punk rock band of all time, the Misfits. They were no Jem and the Holograms, but they were pretty rockin'.

He began working out in his mothers' basement, to carve his scrawny body into a sinewy block of muscle like the characters in the Basil Gogos and Frank Franzetta artwork he admired. He opened his mouth to howl, and learned he could really sing. REALLY. His voice had the sensuous croon of Elvis, smushed together like peanut butter and chocolate with the dark mumble of Jim Morrison. There was no voice like it in Punk Rock. Never would be. He changed his last name to DANZIG, after, quite unfortunately, a Nazi death camp in Poland. Look it up.

He then realized that all those nights not getting laid would pay off handsomely. He spent alot of his spare time reading comics, watching horror movies, reading books, and listening to all kinds of rock and roll. From Sabbath to the Doors and Elvis to Punk Rock and forgotten rockabilly and blues. Because of this self education, young Glenn found he could WRITE. Gorgeous, hooky melodies balanced firmly on top of sledgehammer punk rock chording, with some of the best and funniest lyrics in Punk, if not Rock itself.

He wrote of brain eaters, he wrote of astro zombies, he wrote genius lines like; "This ain't no love -in, this ain't no happenin', this ain't no feeling in my arms" to illustrate the similarity of hippies to the walking dead. It was brilliant and hilarious, and often completely obscene ("Last Caress", anyone?).

The Misfits donned a "Famous Monsters" and Kiss inspired array of black studded battle gear, and grew their hair into crazy reverse Elvis constructions known as "devil locks". They had quite a schtick going, as you may be aware. They toured, they put out their own records, they got big in the hardcore scene, then they broke up.

They would become massive, but not until long after their break up, when a thrash band called Metallica got big by wearing their T shirts and covering their songs. By this time, Glenn had already moved on into darker realms, with a band called Samhain, who veered slightly into metal and Goth territory.

When Samhain ran it's course, Glenn formed (with the help of Def Jam records impressario Rick Rubin) another band, simply called Danzig. This band would take the cartoon ghoulishness of the Misfits and the dark occultism of Samhain, and marry it to the bluesy chords of classic rock and proto-metal via Led Zep, the Doors, and Sabbath. This was awesome, for awhile.

Glenn Danzig, the pimply, shy young man from Lodi NJ, had become something quite different while trying to overcompensate drastically for his insecurities and shortcomings. No pun. He was still short, but he had become a tiny brick of overdeveloped muscle. He was still insecure, but he had become and expert on occult practices. He was still shy, but he had thrown up a huge wall of anger and uncompromising, strutting attitude.

Danzig made four classic, pummeling albums full of twisted pinch harmonics, Sabbath like dirges, Morrison like odes to depression and darkness, Elvis and Orbison '50s style ballads,and dark, dark, deep in the woods Howlin' Wolf blues. Glenn's trademark sing along "Whoa-Ohs" have been present in all of his bands'songs, but in Danzig they were used to their greatest possible power. Those first four albums stand up as some of the best music of the 90s, if not the rock era.

He wrote songs for Orbison and Cash, he formed his own comics company, he even made a couple of albums of dark classical music that are impossible to sing along or dance to, even if you try hard.

When hard rock sort of died out in the mid 90s, punk was firmly mainstream (for the most part) and the Misfits were mostly remembered for their T Shirts, Danzig started to falter. He developed an obsession with Trent Reznor style industrial music, which led to the creation of several albums that say Danzig on the cover but don't sound much like Danzig. There were good songs on all of these records, but the squealing guitars of John Christ, the barely audible but thudding bass of Eerie Von and the powerful slap of Chuck Biscuits' drums were long gone, as were those people themselves. Glenn's mournful wail was often buried under alot of electronic buzzing and beeping, sounding more like a tinny Danzig cell phone ring tone than one of the greatest rock bands ever. The songs could still creep you out, but they weren't going to rock you, not in the same way.

This is where alot of people gave up on Glenn Danzig. Sadly, I have to say I was one of them. The Misfits were back by this point, but with another singer who wasn't but a shadow of Glenn Danzig. He sort of seemed like something Glenn might have accidentally vomited, then left in a rest stop toilet. Their new songs were Ok, but largely silly, and they went about trashing the Misfits legacy for cash while Danzig watched, unamused, from the sidelines.

We've all seen the video of Glenn getting knocked cold by one punch backstage at some show somewhere. Alot of people laughed at that, because Glenn's image had always been toughest of the tough, blackest of the black. His "huge ego" was discussed often, and seeing the mighty GD felled by such a cheap shot seemed, to some, like justice. Alot of Youtube videos and comic books have made fun of Glenn Danzig, and some of it is pretty funny. But me, I just wanted the guy to make another great record.

What Glenn needed to do was silence the naysayers with a rock record so dark and heavy that one could only marvel and scratch ones' privates. He needed to return to that witchy, dark, alluring, bluesy style of old. He needed to return to the "Whoa-Oh's" and other such brutal sing alongs. He needed to get Eerie and John and Chuck back. He needed some pinch harmonics.

Well, it's 2010, and he's done it. OK, not all of that, but SOME. "Blood Red Sabaoth"
is Glenn Danzig's '68 Comeback Special. This is where the master returns to the stage and effortlessly proves he can still rock like the very devil himself, when his hearts' in it. Where he brushes aside pretenders to the throne like flies from his countenance. AFI and Tiger Army are slinking back to their condos in shame, as we speak.

While there is no John Christ here, there is a guitarist who knows how to do JCs schtick and add a little triple rectified muscle to it. Glenn played bass himself, like he probably did on alot of the Samhain records as well. The drums do not have the immediately identifiable Chuck Biscuits style, but serve the songs unobtrusively.

And what songs, bitches! It's like someone forced Glenn to listen to "Danzig 1 through 4" on repeat at gunpoint, then shoved a black Les Paul into his hand and told him to get on with the Lord's work.

"On A Wicked Night" is Led Zep meets Anton LaVey on steroids and muscle milk. "Hammer Of The Gods" is a slamming, pummeling chug along riff demon, squirming into your beating heart with razor sharp tentacles of, you know, like pain. "JuJu Bone" revisits the old backwoods, crossroads, devil blues with a fresh dollop of crunchy guitar smackdown added for flavor. There are no Elvis meets Hammer Horror, "Blood And Tears"/ "Sistinas" style ballads, but I'm hoping he'll bust one of those out on the next record. Fans of classics like "Twist Of Cain", "When The Dying Calls", "Am I Demon?" "Devil's Plaything" and "Killer Wolf" will no doubt be thrilled to the stitches on their black leather undergarments by these new tunes.

I still believe in Glenn Danzig. Because I don't care about Youtube videos, I don't care about comics depicting Glenn gettin' intimate with Henry Rollins, I don't care about people getting fat and going bald and having big egos. I care about music. Deeply. It's basically all I have, good peoples. And Danzig is back to making good music. You best believe it.