gwar_promoIt was 1989. I was nineteen, and meeting my boyfriend at the Hung Jury Pub in DC, which is how I accidentally ended up at a show where GWAR and the Mentors were playing. The Mentors opened with a little ditty called “My Bitch is on the Rag.” My boyfriend was late in arriving and I suddenly became acutely aware of being the only female in the entire crowd. Enter GWAR, whose costumes made them look like frightening cartoon characters personified. Fake blood dripped from their mouths, half-naked painted women danced in chains on the side of the musicians, a creamy white substance spewed from the penis of a giant rubber sheep, and I quickly learned to always stand in the back at a GWAR show.

Two years later my friend Pam and I found ourselves riding in a tour bus from DC to Richmond with Cali band Social Distortion, whom I was much more enamored of at the time. We were always game for a roadtrip, and tagging along to Richmond sounded good. Once there, the band sound-checked while we wandered the streets. We noticed a tiny GWAR sticker on the locked glass door of a two-story brick loft. “Wouldn’t it be funny if GWAR lived here?” we asked each other. We rang the doorbell. A normal-looking long-haired guy stuck his head out of an open window above.

“Whaddya want?” he growled.

“Um, hi. We do a ‘zine in DC and we’d like to interview GWAR,” I squeaked.

“Sure, c’mon up,” says the dude, throwing down a set of keys. Pam and I stared at each other, stunned. We let ourselves in, walked up the stairs, and entered GWARdom: an expansive renovated warehouse loft filled with giant Viking helmets, masks, rubber-intestine-covered guitars, fake axes, shields, machetes, and other Highlander-type accoutrements. The longhaired dude introduced himself as Dave, gave us a tour around the studio, and asked us if we’d like to sit down with him to a TV dinner. We passed on the frozen entrée, but had such a good time exploring the amazing GWAR-space, we missed Social D’s show entirely. (Mike Ness never even noticed.)

The next time I saw GWAR was in the mid-90s, when their stage show involved slitting the throat of a life-sized OJ Simpson. I also witnessed them once as RAWG, their unmasked alter ego. But GWAR without the elaborate costumes is a little like Kiss without the make-up.

I later interviewed GWAR  for the Wilmington, North Carolina Star News as they plundered through the states on their “Mock the Vote” tour in support of their “War Party” CD. As much as I admired their ridicule of the 2004 presidential election, I was in no mood for GWAR humor before this conversation started. Doctors had recently discovered a benign brain tumor (a meningioma) in my friend Harriette’s forehead. I went to Baltimore to see my best-friend-since-9th-grade through the surgery, but still on-deadline for the North Carolina paper I was writing for, had to interview the band via phone, then email the final write-up the following day. I spoke with Oderus Urungus (AKA: Dave Brockie, founding member and self-proclaimed ‘golden-throated crooner’) from the Johns Hopkins University Hospital cafeteria on December 8, 2004. Before we began I blathered my friend’s entire story to him—how she had a three-month-old son at home, how her dog had recently died and she’d just endured ear surgery, how I was waiting for a call-back from the hospital social worker about obtaining a breast-pump for her to use post-surgery, how my husband and I were named as guardians in her living will should anything go awry, and how her last groggy words before going in were “please take care of my boy.” Not what Oderus had expected when his publicist gave him a list of reporters to call that day, I’m sure. But Dave listened, commiserated, and even offered to call back later from the road. He was human, and I was no longer an anonymous journalist on the other end of the phone. The artist/audience barrier was broken, just how punk is supposed to be.

We went ahead with the interview anyway. The results are below. And Harriette’s tumor was removed successfully.

Rest in piece, Dave.

DO YOU ALL STILL LIVE IN RICHMOND?

Everyone knows that the legend of GWAR began millions of years ago when the aliens rampaged across the galaxy with a gang of space pirates called the Scumdogs of the Universe, and that after killing off the dinosaurs, GWAR was entombed in the four corners of Antarctica to prevent them from screwing up the Earth any further. We are scattered to the winds these days, but yes, for the most part we’re in Richmond.

 

ARE YOU ALL GRADUATES OF VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY?

A lot of us are. GWAR was birthed at VCU, and even though I didn’t really go to school to “make GWAR,” I learned a lot about art history there. Many people don’t realize that you don’t make art in a vacuum, and have no clue where they come from or where they’re going. I got my BFA in Painting.

 

DON’T YOU SELL CUSTOM ARTWORK ON YOUR OWN?

Yes, I do tattoo design and a lot of commissioned stuff. People have paid me to make GWAR-like Oderus Urungus replicas out of latex rubber. We still have our Slave Pit/art studio in Richmond.

 

WHAT LIVE ANTICS CAN WE EXPECT ON THIS TOUR?

We act out society’s most deserved deaths and freaks. This tour has a pseudo-political bent, so we invite all the divisive elements of the world (Al Quaeda, George Bush, etc.) to join us on-stage, and give them “nuclear weapons” and let them blow themselves up.

 

DO YOU THINK WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY WILL MAKE REBEL MUSIC GOOD AGAIN, LIKE IT WAS IN THE 80s?

I’ve got to give it to George Bush. He’s reminded us how messed up things really are. We see this as an opportunity as artists to comment on these things in a very GWAResque way. Mock the Vote is a response to his right-wing agenda. I don’t feel he represents what this country stands for AT ALL, and it makes me angry. For whatever reason, GWAR has more interest than ever right now—we haven’t seen this kind of support since the Scumdogs era, when we toured with “The Reaganator.” We have played consistently for eighteen years. Sound-wise, GWAR was toothless for a while. We were stuck in punk rock comedyland. This record is a concerted effort to be heavier and more metal. I used to think art could make a change—so maybe it’s all GWAR’s fault?

 

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT PLAYING MYRTLE BEACH?

I love the Alligator Adventure next to House of Blues! They’ve got this thirty-foot alligator named Eunuch or something like that, so I look forward to seeing him again.

 

HAS GWAR EVER BEEN ARRESTED FOR A PERFORMANCE?

Yeah, in North Carolina,  as a matter of fact. Fifteen years ago I was arrested right after a show. A cop took a picture of me on-stage and put me in handcuffs right after. They charged me with “obscene performance” or something like that. At first it was a felony. They were really trying to scare us. But we just paid a fine and it was dropped.

 

DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT YOU WERE DOING?

Humping a rubber Pope.

 

ARE THERE MORE RESTRICTIONS ON YOUR STAGE ACT SINCE THE INCIDENT WITH THE BAND GREAT WHITE IN Rhode Island?

Well, Slymenstra isn’t on tour with us right now—she’s in Hollywood doing her thing—but she has had a hard time with her fire-dancing, yes. Ever since the Great White thing, club owners have been crazy about the rules, because it is dangerous. We couldn’t even use a smoke machine in New Orleans.