The above video was created by Adam D. Miller, and was screened at an event at the Hammer Museum Los Angeles.
He battled dinosaurs. He conquered hell. He raped aliens. He cannibalized social icons. He enslaved the human race, and we loved him for it. Yet, the Grim Reaper proved to be one foe that the mighty Oderus Urungus could not defeat. This was a week to remember as Dave Brockie, the lead singer of metal band Gwar, died unexpectedly.
His passing almost seems like the plot of a movie. Gwar had made a healthy comeback and gained a new following of teenage fans with their ever improving last five albums (in my opinion by far the best music they ever made). In 1999 I saw Gwar playing at a relatively small club in northern California after having nearly faded into obscurity, but in 2012 they were playing to a sold out crowd of screaming maniacs at the House of Blues in Hollywood. Only a few months ago they released what ended up being their final album, Battle Maximus (a tribute to another departed scumdog Flattus Maximus, also known as Cory Smoot who died in 2012). They finished a tour in support of the album and then Dave Brockie died. I never thought the singer for a band like Gwar would live to be ninety in a retirement community, but I didn’t expect him to die so suddenly in the midst of being so active.
I’m thankful that I had Gwar while growing up. I sold my guitar to buy two tickets to see Gwar when I was a junior in high school. I wasn’t even a metal head, or even a fan of metal music back then. I was into punk rock and East Bay pop punk bands which sounded almost nothing like Gwar, and that was part of the band’s brilliance. Their theatrics, humor, showmanship, and creativity allowed their music to transcend a genre.
My mind was completely blown after seeing Gwar for the first time. I was lucky enough to see them on one of their final tours with female band mate Slymenstra Hymen who danced nearly naked and blew giant balls of fire over my teenage head. They had talking toilets, they fought and killed dozens of oversized mutant penguins, they skinned Marilyn Manson, raped Courtney Love, smoked giant crack rocks from a eight foot foam pipe, masturbated and ejaculated gallons of radioactive cum on the audience, and even battled the infamous Gor Gor (a giant T-Rex operated by their crew). It was amazing! My seventeen year old self would never be quite the same after that first Gwar concert. My friend and I had to change our clothes at a nearby gas station because we were soaking wet from the massive amounts of fake blood and cum that the band doused us in. After the show I had to shave my head because my normally bleached hair was dyed pink from the theatrics. Shortly after seeing Gwar I started spewing fake blood and lighting my equipment on fire when my band The Stupid Jerks performed.
Now I’m 32 and I still love Gwar (which means I was only twelve months old when Oderus and the scumdogs first started playing!). After high school I got a bachelors and masters degree in fine art. The more I learned about art and art history the more I appreciated what Gwar was doing. Los Angeles has a history of “abject art” with art royalty like Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley mining very similar ideas and creating visions of sexuality, and violence, while exploring their underpinning in the human psyche. Yet Gwar isn’t recognized as the amazing performance art and video artists that they were, and that’s one of the great things about Gwar; they never seemed to care about recognition. They were too busy making monsters and staging epic alien battles to slow down. They were driven artists. They went to art school and learned how to make their props. As the band grew in popularity their suits and sets got more professional but they never lost the “home made” aesthetic that they always had. They managed to look menacing and funny at the same time. Almost all of the props were oversized and made of foam and I loved that about them. Oderus never held a real sword, it was always a gigantic foam one. They were a band that appreciated a labor of love and embraced the awkward aspects of being performers. I think that’s why I’ve always hated bands like Slipknot (aside from their music). They tried to replicate what we already expected murderers and psychopaths to look like by wearing masks and costumes that were slick and straight out of a slasher movie. Gwar had a unique aesthetic that was all their own. They created something that the world had never seen before. Isn’t that what makes great art? Gwar exposed people to something that they had never even imagined, something that challenged what they thought about art and how they looked at social norms.
I’m inspired by Dave Brockie and his career. He and his fellow band members had a vision they wanted to share with the world, and they paved their own way. In the 80’s when heavy bands were playing power ballads and bathing in Aquanet, Gwar were making foam dinosaurs and latex body suits of barbarian aliens with giant cocks. I’m sure they were told over and over again that they weren’t marketable; that they should change their music, or make the images less graphic. But Gwar pushed it further and developed some of the most over the top music and performances that audiences have ever seen. That’s the kind of artist that I strive to be, one that never strays from his personal vision, an artist that stays true to himself and doesn’t care about what’s happening in the market. Like many famous odd balls, Gwar showed us something challenging, unique and weird. They never backed down, and in turn have influenced thousands of people all over the world.
Today on Gwar.net they posted a photo of Dave Brockie gently kissing a birthday cake shaped to look like Oderus’ head. It was touching and sad. It reminded me of a dad kissing his baby, but really it was a photo of an artist kissing his masterpiece. I will miss Gwar dearly and am so glad that they were inspiring and corrupting teenagers for over 30 years.
Thanks for the golden showers Oderus! It was great! –Adam Miller