Call me obsessed, but the second thing I do every morning (after cursing my alarm to Hell) is lunge for my phone to check my text messages. In the sincerest act of vanity, I nearly set fire to my screen as my thumb races to and fro, checking with the utmost diligence to make sure I didn’t miss any action. But on Monday morning, I stumbled upon a message from my best friend, sent at 3:25 a.m., that stopped me dead in my tracks: “The singer of GWAR died :(”
By Bryan Rolli
Dave Brockie, lead singer of satirical metal band GWAR, founded in 1984, was found dead at the age of 50 in his Richmond, Virginia apartment at approximately 6:50 p.m. on Sunday. The group refers to itself on its website as “an elite group of chaos warriors who ravaged the galaxy with a boundless hatred of all things alive” and who had been “banished to the most insignificant planet in the entire universe… the seething mudball known as Earth.” Brockie, AKA Oderus Urungus, was the leader of the nefarious gang of space creatures, whose shockingly vulgar lyrics and unprecedentedly gory stage show have forever solidified their place in the annals of heavy metal.
Upon hearing the news, I felt an overwhelming sorrow for Brockie’s family, friends, band mates and millions of fans, myself included. My devastation may have seemed unreasonable, especially considering I never spoke a word to Brockie, but his death was more than just a personal tragedy. It represented a huge blow to the metal community and possibly heralded the end of one of the genre’s most notorious and groundbreaking bands, with whom we could identify and whose music served us equally well when we needed a laugh or had to unleash our pent-up aggression in a safe, legal way.
Later, after checking Dave’s personal Facebook page only to find hundreds of other shattered fans sending their condolences and sharing stories about their own debauched antics with the front man, I was hit with the astonishing and immensely satisfying realization that I was far from alone.
It’s funny how the death of a complete stranger can help you recognize your spiritual connection to the rest of humanity.
I saw my first GWAR show back in 2012, in a way-too-small and way-past-capacity club in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Rotund, bald men dripping with sweat suffocated me from every angle as 1,000 savagely ecstatic fans shifted back and forth with such ferocity that we nearly crashed to the floor like dominos. The band delivered one pulverizing tune after another, going straight for the gut and only letting up to make another dick joke or tell us measly earthling scum how much we sucked.
And finally, Snooki appeared.
Yes, a seven-foot, inflatable version of the Jersey Shore starlet in all of her spray-tanned, pregnant-bellied glory waddled to the center of the stage, earning viciously scornful remarks from the audience before Oderus & Co. put her out of her misery via his hefty broadsword. They methodically amputated each limb before finally ripping her unborn child from the womb and tossing it like a ragdoll into the masses of rapturous human filth, who roared with approval as they were showered with fake Guido blood (the likes of which took days to wash off in the shower). By the end of the night, faces blended into one indecipherable red mass, white t-shirts had transformed into sopping wet tie-dye garb and everybody had experienced some form of spiritual healing.
I had found my people.
Gruesome? Maybe to some, but they miss the point. Detractors have hurled plenty of insults at GWAR over the decades — tasteless, kitschy, grotesque, perverted, evil, corruptive, violence for the sake of violence — but they’re probably the same Neanderthals who believe playing “Stairway to Heaven” backward summons the devil. Truth be told, Brockie spearheaded the ultimate exercise in satire and self-deprecation, knowing full well that his onstage antics were purely for entertainment purposes. The insatiable bloodlust and ghastly remarks were just part of the most elaborate onstage act in history, and the group’s steadfast refusal to break character just shows their dedication to their “art" (skeptics need only watch their appearance on The Joan Rivers Show to see a group of well-spoken, funny, and yes, even polite human beings inside the costumes). In a genre founded on the ideals of excess and bombast, we metal heads just love to deal in extremes. GWAR, in all its decibel-raising, bloodstained glory, provided the antidote to cookie-cutter music and lackluster performances that had long saturated the field — alien tongues firmly rooted in cheek the whole time.
For 90 minutes, Dave and his crew allowed me – along with millions of other GWAR devotees worldwide – to check our inhibitions at the door and be our unabashed selves. He taught us that there is no such thing — No. Such. Thing. — as too weird, and we were all on the same plane, despite our different backgrounds and walks of life. I never met Dave, nor do I profess to know a thing about the man behind the mask; but as the crude, swaggering, egomaniacal leader of the Scumdogs, Oderus embodied all of the unadulterated pleasures to be gained from heavy metal.
GWAR doesn’t just put on concerts; it gives experiences. I only got to see the mighty extraterrestrials one other time, last October at Emo’s, but both shows left me with some of my fondest memories. Hell, I even asked my girl out at one of them (she’s my ex girl now, so take it for what it is)! I didn’t know a soul at either show, but as soon as Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” rumbled over the PA system to welcome the band to the stage (as was tradition at every gig), my fellow concertgoers and I instantly bonded in head-banging, chest-beating anticipation of the grisly showcase that awaited us. For the next hour-and a half, we were family. I never saw my show mates again, but I knew we were intrinsically bound through the cosmos in our love for the Scumdogs.
With all founding members now gone, the future of GWAR seems uncertain. I say this with a heavy heart, not only because I would’ve liked to see them two, three, four, five more times (you’re not really a GWAR veteran until you break double digits), but because younger generations will never get to witness firsthand the most revolutionary band in shock rock. Sure, KISS has cool theatrics and Slipknot wears ugly masks onstage, but what other band can add decapitating Obama to its resume? For three decades now, GWAR has been taking its macabre stage show to all-new gruesome heights, always handily trumping any band daring to follow in their footsteps. Then again, how could we puny humans even hope to compare?
Dave Brockie may have left us this week, but in his wake he also left a fruitful legacy: 13 albums, more than 20 video releases and lifetimes worth of memories for his fans. As Oderus Urungus, he was brash, hilarious and completely unfiltered, taking shots at any public figure he pleased while fearlessly leading his mangy group of interstellar warriors in pummeling, scatological metal onslaughts night in and night out. Still, underneath the hideous façade was a man who genuinely seemed to appreciate every fan, never forgot his roots and always loved what he did, and did what he loved. So long, Dave, and thanks for truly being one of a ... Wait, that farewell is not nearly articulate enough for a man of his caliber. Good f—king riddance, Oderus, enjoy ravaging and pillaging your home planet with the best of ‘em.