Friday, May 16, 2014

Farewell To Arms . . . Goodbye Oderus

I know dear readers, it has been quite a while.  Nearly two months have passed since my last update.  Ah, if I close my eyes, and stop drinking for a moment, I can just about picture us back then:  tanned, fit, the stars in our eyes, the wind in our hair, and the fire in our loins.  Truly the halcyon days.  So much has changed in the interim, dear friends.  I have had some good to great times, some successes, some failures, and some random adventures.  I finally got to live my dream of seeing Latvia and literally being enveloped in beer (more on that next time), and have managed to scratch my karaoke itch rather successfully in the past while.

So, why has it been so long, and what the hell do I have to say for myself?  Well, I lost my usual excuse rolodex, so will just have to lay it out there: I have had some depressing news, and wanted to write about it, but it took me a while to work up the courage/energy/egomania to do so.

In brief, in the course of three weeks I lost two very important, integral, life defining parts of my childhood.  In less than a month, the world said goodbye to The Ultimate Warrior (who I will talk about in a later post) and also one of the few men I would list as a personal hero of mine:  Dave Brockie.  

Dave Brockie?  Who’s that, you ask, you inquisitive bastards?   

Well, you might know him better as Oderus Urungus, lead singer and creative dynamo behind GWAR, one of the greatest stage acts of the modern era.

 Oh, THAT Dave Brockie.

Now, most people, when they think of GWAR, just dredge up images of blood and various other bodily fluids spraying on an audience whilst random acts of simulated debauchery take place on stage.  Fear not, conservative ones amongst us,  I am not going to suck up your precious, sexy time, World Maggot style, in trying to get you to see the wonderful musical talents, intense levels of creativity and dedication, and fantastic, scarily relevant social commentary hidden under the surface (although it’s all there, for sure).  I won’t point out how the band, in its nearly 30 years of existence, has paved the way for Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, Lordi, Dick Cheney, or countless other depraved aspects of modern culture.  I mean, I could (adjusts monocle), but that’s neither here nor there.  There have been hundreds of tributes to Dave and his legacy posted over the past month, all of them better than mine, so I won’t get into all of that.

What I want to talk about is what Oderus Urungus and by extension, GWAR, meant to me.  So, this is will be a bit of story time.  Of course, it won't be as good as when Oderus does story time:

I first found out about these guys when I was 12.  This was in the pre internet era, before Facebook, when Youtube was just a really awkward name for those porno booths in video stores, and I had just gotten into heavy music.  I was riding high on Metallica, Pantera, and the recently discovered Obituary.  I was a young lad, hoping for two things: chest hair, and music that would push my newly blown wide boundaries even further.  Down at Jack’s music store I was flipping through the CDs, not knowing who the bands were, looking for that distinctive heavy metal logo or album cover, when I found this:

I mean, Goddamn.  I had to have it.  Scumdogs of the Universe!  What a cool title.  Look at that sword!  My intrigue grew when I went to buy it and they wouldn’t sell it to me because I was under 16. I was blown away.  This was the first and only time this ever happened to me.  I mean, these guys had to be the heaviest thing ever, right?

Then when I managed to get a friend’s mom to buy it for me, at first I was thrown off.  While the imagery was super gory, and the lyrics were probably the most vile I had ever heard (this was also before I had discovered Cannibal Corpse), the music was . . . different.  Mostly punk/popish.  It was catchy.  One might even say . . . hooky.   And, bottom line, I thought the lyrics were hilarious.  In a world where every band seemed to be named after acts of brutality and sang completely seriously about brutal stuff and played brutal riffs, to have people so obviously having fun, and making jokes at the world’s expense, was such a breath of fresh air to me.

C'mon, who can't get into that song?

Needless to say, I was immediately drawn to them and Oderus, as the ringleader, became someone I looked up to very quickly.  He was a guy who used over the top violence and sexuality as a mirror to catch our own reflections, almost to the point of absurdity.  I remember that famous time in Georgia where he was arrested on stage for wearing a prosthetic penis, in a venue where ACTUAL nudity was allowed.   

I mean, I was a 12 year old heavy metal outcast who thought the whole world sucked, and their third album was called America Must Be Destroyed.  What's not to love? Ironically, this song below was my favorite song on that album and it just gets more meaningful to me as the years go on and the goodbyes pile up- but the video is still one of my faves:

I guess the reason they appealed to me so much is, growing up with the childhood I had, I have a rather finely tuned sense for bullshit, as my grandpa would have said.  We are a society where people for a while were more offended at GWAR’s simulated butchering of a fake Jon Benet Ramsey then at what actually happened to Jon Benet Ramsey both before, during, and after her death.  Preteen beauty pageants are perfectly legal but breasts on TV are the worse thing ever.  We live in a twisted world, my friends, where a school shooting is immediately followed by frothing television pundits weighing in on why it should be harder to buy video games or music then it is to buy guns.

GWAR was the perfect way to point out that absurdity and to me, as a teenager, I loved it.  I have been to almost 15 shows over the years, and at each one I felt like I tapped into something special, something that went behind the “ooh, blood and sex and stuff” that was their window dressing.  As I got older, and was able to appreciate the nuances of both their music and their political stances more, I felt even more in tune with the band.  I felt that as they evolved, as their stage shows got more elaborate, their concert numbers got bigger, that I was growing up with them.

I didn’t know much about Oderus Urungus as a person. I found out his name was Brockie when I was 25, but didn’t know what he looked like behind the mask until two years ago.   To me he was always The Monster.  He would tear apart our society on the albums and revel in our hypocrisy, hedonism, and blatant support of ignorance.   As a kid I never thought about the human beings behind those costumes, content to chant their stage names, buy their merch, and get fed to the world maggot at their shows.  I spent more time listening to GWAR, talking about GWAR, and going to their shows then I did with my own family growing up, I think. 

I still have fond memories of Slymenstra P. Hymen spitting in my face and calling me and my buddy useless dogs before breathing fire at us during The Stone Pony show.  I think she was my first crush.

 And who could blame me?

While their music isn’t for everyone, their message, as I see more and more of the world around me, becomes even more important: Don’t let the world judge you, because the world is usually tragically wrong about everything.  Don’t allow people to tell you what to think or how to feel.  I know, not the most deep screed, but it seems every few years we forget what cynics and pessimists have been saying for millennia and it takes some huge crisis to make us use our brain parts again.

When I was 12, and saw that cover for the first time, I thought that I had finally found something that was MINE.  Something that I wanted to hear and experience, more than anything.  And from that first listen I have taken them with me on my life nearly every day since then.  I listen to GWAR at least once a week, even now.  They have been a huge, huge part of my life, and have probably defined my thoughts on religion, society, and politics more than any other single institution.  In a way, they raised me.   Could be a scary thought, I guess, unless you knew GWAR like I do.  I hope that, if I am ever lucky enough to have a little kiddo or whatever they're called these days, they will have a chance to get a glimpse of life out from under the societal yoke just like I did. 

Now, I am 36.  Older, for sure, wiser, maybe, but for the first time in 24 years I am facing a life without GWAR.  When I heard that Mr. Brockie had passed away last month at 50, it gutted me.  It was like losing a father, especially the kind of father you’ve seen on stage half naked fighting a gigantic mechanized tyrannosaurus surrounded by topless penguins. 

 Maybe you had to be there.

Goodbye, Oderus Orungus.  Goodbye, Dave.  Thank you for all you've done for me.  I’ll miss you.