Horror Business: The Misfits, Danzig, and Politics

The Misfits ripped through 26 classic punk tunes September 19 in the Windy City, playing fan favorites like “I Turned Into a Martian,” “Where Eagles Dare”, “We Are 138,” and “Die, Die My Darling.” Most fans in the crowd either weren’t old enough to be fans of the “original” Misfits when they were active, finding out about the band through word of mouth in their formative years, while others weren’t even born in 1983 when the fathers of horror punk disbanded.

Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein (left) and Glenn Danzig (right)
Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein (left) and Glenn Danzig (right)

Riot Fest was an ideal setting for a Misfits reunion. The three-day festival that began in Chicago in 2005 features punk rock and hardcore acts who have heavily influenced their respective genres. Bands like 7 Seconds, Bad Brains, and Rancid have each graced the stages at Riot Fest. In 2011, Riot Fest came close to a Misfits reunion when Glenn Danzig, the band’s baritone frontman, and Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, the Misfits’ last guitar player, graced the stage and played Misfits’ hellish anthems that made the outfit punk legends.

The 2016 iteration of the festival featured several well-known punk and hardcore acts, including Bad Religion, Descendents, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Glassjaw, Gwar, and NOFX, as well as more mainstream bands like the Deftones, The Flaming Lips, Morrissey, and Rob Zombie, whose band of fill-ins played White Zombie songs. But the Misfits were the main attraction for both fans and the media.

Danzig and von Frankenstein’s 2011 Riot Fest appearance wasn’t without precedent. In 2005, Danzig brought von Frankenstein, whose brother is Misfits bassist Jerry Only, on tour with his eponymous band, Danzig, for a 30-minute set each night, in which the two would play classic Misfits songs. As the “Evil Elvis” said at the time, “This is the first time we will be performing on stage together in 20 years. It’s the closest thing to a Misfits reunion anyone is ever going to see!”

Right to Left: Jerry Only, Arthur Googy, Glenn Danzig, and Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein in 1981
Right to Left: Jerry Only, Arthur Googy, Glenn Danzig, and Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein in 1981

Formed in Lodi, New Jersey in 1977, the Misfits were unlike most of their contemporaries in punk. Danzig, who wrote the vast majority of the songs the band produced, often used themes from science fiction (“Astro Zombies”) and horror movies (“Night of the Living Dead”) in his lyrics. Other songs, such as “Last Caress” and “Halloween,” have macabre lyrics, while others like “London Dungeon” are based on personal experiences. A couple songs, like “Who Killed Marilyn?” and “Bullet,” are directed at John F. Kennedy and his family. Regardless of the lyrical content, the Misfits’ songs were aggressive and dark, which set them apart from the angsty and angry bands of the late-70s and early 80s.

But the Danzig-fronted Misfits had an expiration date. Danzig was frustrated with the band and wanted to grow as a musician. He actually quit the band in June 1983, he told Forced Exposure in its fall 1984 issue. “I told those guys, ‘That’s it,'” Danzig recalled. “As a matter of fact, I told Henry Rollins [of Black Flag] that night too.” Four months later, at the Misfits’ annual Halloween show in 1983, Danzig announced that it would be their final performance.

Over the next several years, while Danzig went on to form Samhain and his eponymous band, Danzig and Jerry Only were involved in legal battles over performance rights and royalties. Eventually, Danzig settled to let Only and von Frankenstein perform as the Misfits. The band would emerge again in 1995, with Michale Graves on vocals and Dr. Chud behind the drum kit.

In 1997, the band released a new record, American Psycho, which featured “Dig Up Her Bones.” Two years later, the reformed Misfits released Famous Monsters. Both records were received with mixed reviews. A year later, Graves and Chud left the Misfits, and von Frankenstein bolted in 2001, leaving the future in the hands of Only, who has fronted the band ever since, with a rotation of guitarists and drummers. Most fans of the band, as well as Danzig, don’t recognize the legitimacy of the last 20 years of the Misfits. “The Misfits broke up,” Danzig recently told The New York Times.

The band came close to a reunion in 2002, according to von Frankenstein, who blames it falling through on his brother. “Jerry put a fuckin’ monkey wrench in it,” he said in a 2008 interview. “We were going to do a record, do a tour, and everything.”

Suddenly, everything changed. In May, Riot Fest announced that the “original” Misfits would headline the three-day festival in Denver and Chicago, marking the first time Danzig, Only, and von Frankenstein appeared on stage together in 33 years.

The two-show reunion was, apparently, the result of another legal dispute between Danzig and Only that was settled in January. “We went in there wanting to cut each other’s throats,” Only explained to Rolling Stone. “It was turning into another court battle and it turned into a reunion. We walked out the door knowing we were going to play together. It’s a very cool thing.” The Misfits hired Dave Lombardo to play drums for the two shows. Lombardo was the drummer for Slayer, playing on several of the metal band’s records, including the 1986 record, Reign in Blood.

While Only was initially hopeful after the Denver show that the Misfits would continue forward with Danzig and von Frankenstein back in the fold, Danzig appeared to pour water on the idea. “If there’s going to be another Misfits record, I’d probably have to write the stuff,” Danzig said in the interview with the Times. “And I’ve got a full plate, so I don’t know.”

The Misfits’ history and great horror-themed catalog aren’t the only things that attract this author to the band. While Danzig’s solo music is different from the punk tunes the Misfits released, his attitude toward government and politics is unique in the music industry. In the same Times‘ interview, Danzig offered his two cents on the state of music, saying, “In the ’70s, I was fighting censorship. I was fighting corrupt, apathetic government. There were no opportunities for kids. It’s not that way now. Our apathetic government is pretty much the same, but people were angry and pissed off. I wish people would get angry and pissed off nowadays, too.”

“[Revolt is] what’s missing I think from most music — the rebellious part. That rebelliousness is part of great rock music or great literature or any great creative stuff. The most rebelliousness I see now is coming out of WikiLeaks and DC Leaks and BlackListed News. All that pop that you see on the radio? It’s just the worst crud I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s designed to make money, and that’s about it. Pop music doesn’t challenge anything,” he added.

In 2013, Danzig was more straightforward in his thoughts on politics. During an interview with City Pages, he blasted the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), which was spearheaded by Tipper Gore, then-wife of Al Gore. He directed some of his frustration with censorship of music at Al Gore, a former United States congressman and senator who would later serve as vice president to Bill Clinton.

“Yeah, you know, Al Gore wanted to tell people what they could listen to and what they couldn’t, what they could record. It was basically coming down to the idea that he wouldn’t let anybody record any music that he didn’t think you should be doing. There was going to be an organization that would tell you what you could and couldn’t record. And certainly if you couldn’t record it, you couldn’t put it out,” Danzig said. “It was really fascist.”

But Danzig’s criticism of politicians didn’t stop there. He went on to blast Democrats and President Obama’s drones policy. “My view on Democrats is that they’re fascists disguised as liberals, or liberal moderates. You’re not allowed to say anything that they don’t agree with. You’re not allowed to do anything. Also, the whole Obama, ‘I can kill anybody with a drone with no trial,’ is kind of disturbing. I’m surprised that more people who are supposedly liberal aren’t more disturbed by it,” he added. “I think whatever Obama does is OK with them, because he’s Obama. It’s bullshit.”

screen-shot-2016-09-25-at-5-32-14-pmBut this wasn’t the first time Danzig express ire at Obama. During a hit on Fox News’ Red Eye, host Greg Gutfield jokingly asked Danzig if he “would ever do an album signing about, like, puppies and rainbows.” Danzig replied while trying to hold back a smile, “Maybe I’ll do a real horror record and talk about the Obama Administration.”

Sorry, Republicans, but Danzig isn’t a big fan of the GOP, either, though he still criticized Democrats more. Sometime around 2004, Danzig blasted both parties, calling them “retarded” and urged for more choice at the ballot box. “The Democratic Party has gone so far to the left that people just can’t relate to it anymore and the Republican Party is trying to go totally to the right. And I think that both parties are retarded. And it irritates me that there are only two parties vying for the presidency in this country.”

“The bottom line is that both parties are in agreement about one thing: They don’t want a third, a fourth, or a fifth party in there. They want it Democratic and Republican. Both sides are corrupt, both sides are pieces of shit,” he added. While Danzig has never actually said what his political beliefs truly are, he said in the same interview that he “wish[es] the Libertarian Party would get more play in the media, but they don’t.”

Whether Danzig is a libertarian, a conservative, or an independent generally frustrated by politicians, after nearly 40 years in the music business, he still personifies what punk rock was supposed to be: skeptical of authority and challenging the status quo. Far too many punk bands and punk fans have abandoned the spirit of what made the genre unique.