We at Shock Totem love our music. We (singularly and collectively) love most genres. The metal world was shocked last week by the passing of a legend, Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus of GWAR, and we felt it needed to be noted. We reached out to one of our extended family, Chris Seibert, a fantastic artist and a feral GWAR fanboy, to see if he could put it into perspective. —John
The crowd was anxious and outwardly violent, booing the opening bands with heckles and glass bottles, some of which still contained beer. I insisted on being at the front of the stage so I had the perfect view of the opening chaos. If what I had read on the Geo-Cities sites, and if what I could make out on grainy, bootleg VHS tapes was even remotely close to the truth—I knew I had to be in the thick of it. When the lights finally went low, the entire crowd rushed the stage. There’s a special feeling one gets when smashed between a metal bar and 700-some people; I came to know it as “bruised ribs.” The band took the stage and immediately dismembered some poor soul, his sacred fluids spraying me in the face. I cleared my eyes of blood and screamed for more. The sound they made was deafening bliss, with the guitarist in front of me having a bear trap for a head and a scrotum that hung 18 inches between his legs. The front man had, himself, an 18 inch penis (complete with eyes and lips) and a very real scrotum poorly hidden underneath, sheathed in panty hose. The rest of the night is a blur of ejaculate, dismemberment, rape (usually in that order,) culminating in a multi-song-spanning battle between the band and a giant Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The band I saw was, obviously, GWAR and while I was no stranger to the metal band prior to this first experience, no one can truly say they understand what GWAR is until you see them live. For the uninitiated, GWAR is a metal band (transcending many sub-genres, though mostly associated with thrash) which acts more of a collective than a band. This is because GWAR (under the umbrella known as the Slave Pit) is actually comprised of artists, writers, and filmmakers, as well as musicians…all working within the mythos that is GWAR to create the experience that is GWAR. While many members have come and gone (and come back again) throughout the years, the proverbial keystone of the whole affair, as well as founding member, was Dave Brockie, aka Orderus Urungus; lead singer, artist, Scumdog of the Universe. Sunday March 23 saw his passing at age 50 and for many of us bohabs (a term used to describe the core fans of the group,) this was our JFK event.
Most of my idols were dead before I was even born, so to loose one of the four living people that I admired and looked to for inspiration was exceptionally hard. Dave was an amazing artist who had found a way to live the “American Dream” by doing what he loved, middle-finger up the whole way. Some may look at his fine art, or listen to his lyrics, or even look at his alter-ego’s costume and refer to what they see as “tasteless” or “offensive” and it’s those people who Dave would contest are the problem with the world today. It’s his desire to teach us that inspires me the most.
When I cut my teeth on the larger world outside of my own, I noticed that much of society is censored; locked in the attic like some shameful accident child or disease-ridden family member, left to rot alone while everyone else continues the rest of their days in an ignorant bliss. The darker aspects of what it means to live among other human beings is rarely discussed, save for the nightly news which only presents us with marginalized tragedy so that the collective “we” can have villains to hate. It’s a convenient method for feeling better about one’s own demons, the discovery of people worse than ourselves and our own thoughts. That is, admittedly, a depressing way to look at the world, as well as exaggerated. I don’t truly believe that everyone does terrible things or that everyone is in some way responsible for the demons we willingly fail to see in our societies, but in a way, we are responsible and just as guilty. What Dave showed me was that it is okay to embrace the taboo concepts we hold as humans and re-purpose as something new. I like to think of it as “desensitizing to promote logical thought.” Once you take the emotion out of the equation, it’s possible to look at a topic and intelligently debate and discuss it.
Now, do I honestly believe that Dave Brockie intended for his various works to stand as modern transports for social engineering, promoting philosophical discussion to implement upgrades to the human condition? No, I do not. Certainly some of his body of work represents social commentary, but I don’t believe that was his intention for his various projects. Instead, I believe that’s what he inspires, at least what he inspired in me, and that is what a true artist does. Anyone can paint a picture or write a song or put on a show, but a true artist inspires others, both to interpret what they are feeling based on what the artist makes them experience and to go out and create something of their own. If humanity is a cancer on this Earth, then art is gonorrhea, splashing out of the creative holes of the infected and spreading to all who are open to such experiences. In this sense, Dave is the “King of Gonorrhea” for many of his fans.
While writing this I had a Dave Brockie playlist blasting and a song from his first band, Death Piggy, came on. I’ve heard these tunes a thousand times before but suddenly the words to “Whippin’ Round the Bay”struck me with new meaning. Many of his early songs were novelties at best, but in mourning a new depth presented it’s self as a lyrical irony:
“One thing/ one thing for sure/ gonna end up/ end up in the ground/ and one day, my flesh will rot away/and I’ll be found/ a thousand years from now/ and all the things/ I said and brought/ they’ll be bought/ they’ll be bought/ and all the things/ and all the wings I never wore”
I came to realize this song as a rare look into Dave Brockie the man, as opposed to Oderus Urungus who, for a majority of his life, dictated his song writing. Even my personal favorite project, The Dave Brockie Experience, focused more on funny ideas and inside jokes rather than individual inflection. It would be safe to say that the Brockie we are presented with is, in fact, the real Brockie. From my limited first hand experience with the man (at a GWAR-B-Q), as well as the various accounts I have heard throughout the years, Dave is just as funny and crazy as anyone familiar with GWAR could possibly imagine.
What hit me was that this song may be the only truly serious song he wrote. Where as in other songs that he wrote to subvert some aspect of society, this particular one actually addressed his own mortality. Sure, it’s a song (ultimately) about consumerism, but doesn’t that go hand in hand with who we are when we are alive and our legacy that we leave behind when we die? Now that he is gone, all we have is his legacy in the form of the art he created and helped create. There is comfort in this, but that comfort is cut with sadness, only because I know he had so much more to say.
A few years ago Dave started a blog. It is a very personal look into his life as much as it is an oral history of GWAR. For those who feel Dave was a shock-rock icon and low-brow hack, hiding behind the guise of art as an excuse to be offensive, I highly suggest you read this blog. In a way, it’s almost perverse that we yearn for that type of understanding of people we don’t (and will never) know. Does understanding the gears behind the clock face make you understand the time it reads any better? No, but for those willing to learn, new appreciations can be found. These types of projects bring out the humanity in gods, and in this case, the Brockie in Oderus. It is a shame that he never finished his story. Chronologically speaking, it ends around 1990, with a cliffhanger to boot.
After reading countless memories of Dave throughout the years in the days following his death, I decided to binge-read this blog, which I had all but forgotten about. It was this action that halted the process of mourning and introduced the aspect of celebration. Reading his own life, in his own words, was very surreal but revitalizing at the same time. My frame of mind during mourning reflected the attitude of “he checked out too early, he still had so much more to give,” while my mindset after reading GWAR, ME, AND THE ONRUSHING GRIP OF DEATH was “damn, if only I can achieve and give so much during my stay on this mudball…”. Grieving is very selfish, especially when your only relation with the deceased is indirect. Why should our sentiments be “he had so much more to give” when we were already given way more than we collectively deserve? Dave Brockie may have been a boob but he certainly was no tit whose only purpose in life was to feed us until we are full.
So what is left in Dave’s wake? Well, some amazing music. It is important to remember that GWAR isn’t just Dave Brockie. GWAR is a collaborative effort among many talented people. In 2011, GWAR lost another talented Scumdog, Corey Smoot. His proficiency with the guitar, and the song writing process as a whole, was second to none. GWAR overcame the loss and muscled on with one of their strongest albums to date, Battle Maxiumus. GWAR’s drummer Brad Roberts and rhythm guitarist Mike Dirks have been in the band longer than should be considered healthy for any normal human being, and I have no doubt that they will make sure the band continues. It would be unfair to say that Dave Brockie is what made GWAR what GWAR is. GWAR is a collective effort, first and foremost. Dave has even stated in interviews that since the band is costumed, GWAR could technically continue long after it’s members quit or pass as long as someone were still interested in the characters and their story. Some could argue that the Misfits without Danzig or the Dead Kennedy’s without Jello simply aren’t the bands that they once were and this is true. But when it comes to GWAR, this is an idea as much as it is a band. At it’s heart, the power of GWAR lies in the stories they tell. Will there ever be another Oderus Urungus, let alone Dave Brockie? Absolutely not, nor should there be, but I hope the idea doesn’t die with Dave.
Dave Brockie’s passing is certainly a loss to the metal world, whether you loved or hated him, but his bravery and creativity will stand the test of time long after all of us join him in whatever may come after this mortal candle burns the last of it’s wick. Dave, I raise my bottle of Jagermeister in your memory and thank you for all you have taught me about what it truly means to be an artist, and how to have a sense of humor.
Oh, and if you see The Master, kick him in the balls for me.