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.

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