February 28, 2021

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Misfit Macabre; What Horror Did For Punk Rock

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We’re all blue from projection tubes. This is the static age we live in.

Glenn Danzig, Manny Martinez, and Jerry Only, should be household names in any dwelling that bleeds the macabre and then wears it on its sleeve. Founded in 1977’s Lodi, New Jersey by the first two aforementioned names with Only joining shortly thereafter. Danzig had experience performing with small local bands in and out of dingy, smoke-filled, teen-spirited New York venues. When he decided with drummer Manny Martinez to start a new band and that this band would be named after Marilyn Monroe’s last film, “The Misfits”, is when the true genre of horror punk was formed. Bassist Jerry Caiafa had received a bass guitar for Christmas that year and despite accepting the role in The Misfits, he had only started to hone in on his skills two months earlier. With no traditional guitarist, the three musicians would have to rely on Danzig’s electric piano to provide the rhythm in which they would play and create music alongside. This would lead them to record their first single called “cough/cool”, which would then be released on their own indie label by the name of Blank Records in the summer of ’77. On the sleeve of this vinyl record, Caiafa’s name was spelled incorrectly and this minor error is what led him to use the surname “Jerry Only” because, after the mishap, he had insisted that his name on the future records be “Jerry…only Jerry”.

Shortly after the release of “cough/cool”, they had found a guitarist to help phase out Danzig’s electric piano and to allow him to focus on lead vocals and to help push their sound into the punk rock realm. The guitarist went by the pseudonym Franchè Coma who would also be known by his real name, Frank Licata. Not too long after the arrival of Coma, the band would lose much of their equipment in a house fire caused by a damaged boiler at Mannys house, drums, amps and cabinets all completely damaged. Band members would change on a somewhat consistent basis in the following years, and possibly the most formative years, as Danzig and Only would deem Martinez unreliable and had to be replaced, and Coma would then quit due to the lack of intrigue in touring while in Canada during the halloween month of 1978.

After replacing Martinez with Jim Catania, Mr. Jim as others would recognize him, the Misfits had found a great recording opportunity when Mercury records had confronted Danzig about using the misfits indie record label name “Blank Records” as a subdivision of their own label. In exchange, they offered The Misfits thirty hours of studio time in exchange for rights to the name. This would be the catalyst for them to record seventeen songs. They were unsuccessful in finding a label to release them on an album, so they would once again have to do it themselves by changing the name of their brand and releasing the “Bullet” EP under “Plan 9 Records”, which is obviously dubbed after the classic 1959 Ed Wood Sci-Fi Horror film “Plan 9 From Outer Space”.

The touring would happen way more frequently at this point, the gigs seemed to be flowing and the “Misfits” name was well on the rise. People were noticing. The style was changing from punk rock to a genre they would then claim their own as “horror punk” legends. How could you not notice the B horror movie-inspired lyrics and song titles, skeleton painted clothes, dark and deathly looking makeup, one of the most iconic hairstyles of all time known as “The Devilock”? They were totally cool and deftly original.

They would have to eventually replace Coma, who had grown tired of touring with the band, with guitarist Bobby Kaufhold (Bobby Steele), and later on during a tour, they would also have to replace drummer Mr. Jim with Joey Poole (Joey Image) due to increasing distaste for the horror shift the band was taking. This half-new reincarnation would continue the massive horror shift they were taking and evolve it in a way that changed the scene forever. This is when we would see the classic skeletal figure that mascot the band for the remainder of its run, front and center on the “Horror Business” single, inspired by the 1946 serial film “The Crimson Ghost”. There he was. The Fiend Skull.

The term Fiend Skull had come along just before the launch of their very own fan club, which they would follow the same theme and call it the “Fiend Club”. Danzig manned this club from the comfort of his mother’s basement in Lodi, New Jersey, promoting a DIY movement among the punks by silkscreening his own t-shirts, constructing records, mailing out merchandise catalogs to “fiends”, promoting and booking shows for the band and also answering any fan mail that would arrive.

The massive shift in the band’s persona happened somewhere between the release of “Horror Business” and the start of the Fiend Club in June of 1979. This allowed for an opening gig with one of the greatest UK punk bands, and the first UK punk rock band to commercially release a single, and to tour the United States, “The Damned”. Following that gig, in November of 1979, the Misfits enjoyed the release of their new single, “Night of the Living Dead” and then flew to England to tour with The Damned. This tour would prove to be somewhat of a farce, with misleading stories, as there are always two sides to them. They had found out that Dave Vanian of The Damned had not taken talks of touring together seriously and was thrown for a loop when Danzig and crew showed up for duty. The Misfits would once again have to replace their drummer, this time it was Joey Image who seemed to get quite angry when the Misfits found out about the shotty tour that was set up. Danzig and Bobby Steele would end up being arrested and thrown in jail for two nights in Brixton for getting into a brawl with local skinhead punks that would later influence the song “London Dungeon”.

This would not be Steele’s only run-in with the police, during a 1978 show at Max’s Kansas City there was a glass bottle thrown on stage, particularly and obviously thrown in the direction of the band. Steele took that bottle and smashed it over the audience member at fault’s head, and was later detained for the incident. The Misfits never returned to this venue. Ever.

The horror references and the homage to genre imagery are starting to pile on thick now, and we are well on our way to revealing the horror street cred this band possesses.

Upon return to the U.S, the band released the Beware EP in January of 1980, almost exactly a year after the passing of punk legend Sid Vicious, whom Jerry Only was with the day of his passing. They talked about music over a plate of Spaghetti Bolognese all while Sid was shooting heroin the entire time. 

He just sat there and shot dope. He’d got clean in jail for a month, came out, and started shooting almost pure heroin…he couldn’t handle it. I said, “I ain’t gonna drag me and my brother into this shit. If you’re gonna just [end] yourself, fuck this shit.”

Jerry Only

After the release of Beware EP, the band decided to take a four-month-long hiatus that led the band to once again replace their drummer, who at the time was Joey Image, with Arthur McGuckin who would later go by the pseudonym Arthur Googy. After this recent addition, the band was ready to get back to work, the start of a new decade, the future is now and the Misfits were staring down the barrel. While Danzig and Jerry Only were giving private guitar lessons to Only’s younger brother Paul, who eventually went by the name Doyle, while the band was in the studio recording 12 songs to release on their next album through Plan 9. As the skills of guitar playing became heavier and heavier for Doyle, he was recording his own guitar tracks for those 12 songs while Only persuaded Danzig to have his younger brother replace Steele as the band’s lead guitarist. About two months later the Misfits had disbanded Steele from their army for the sixteen-year-old Doyle.

Walk Among Us was released in March of 1982, being the first full-length Misfits album to be widely distributed and not as a DIY attempt. Immediately following the release of the album, the Misfits were ready to hit the road for a national tour in support of their album. During this tour, the shows became increasingly violent, band members were butting heads, band members kicked out once again, Danzig reiterating exactly how hard he must have been to work with. The Misfits were pointed toward Black Flag drummer Robo by Henry Rollins himself to be the replacement for Arthur Googy acter a heated argument inside a McDonalds caused Danzig to kick Googy out of the band.

The next national tour the band would embark on was in September of 1982, this tour proved to be a real eye-opener as the entire band was arrested on charges of grave robbing in New Orleans where they were attempting to locate the grave of famous voodoo practitioner, Marie Laveau. They bailed themselves out, no problem at all, skipped their court dates, and drove to their next show in Florida. Grave robbing? That’s just in the Fiend Clubs’ makeup.

“We had just played Tipitina’s and we were with our friend Sky, who is about six-foot, eight-inches tall, and weighs 350 pounds. He used to [slay] people in Afghanistan for money. He used to have us do stuff like unload [pieces] to see who was the fastest with a revolver and sh*t.
After the show, he was like, “Hey, there’s a cemetery around the corner, let’s go.” It was all these old mausoleums above the ground. These little stone buildings where the bodies rot in a year. We pulled in around 3 or 4 in the morning in this bad section of town where there’s a [slaying] every night. Before you know it, the cemetery is surrounded by cop cars, and all I hear is “Hey, Dracula, get your fucking hands up on the wall!” We tried to run, but they flushed us out.”

This is how Jerry Only described the events of that notorious night.

Point me to the sky above, I can’t get there on my own. Walk me to the graveyard, dig up her bones.

All of this craziness that included Danzig at the helm would eventually come to a halt as he was completely disconnected from the band that he had created. In July of 1983, the band hit the studio to record another EP but Danzig decided to record a couple of extra songs to turn the EP into a full-length album. These songs were a complete switch from what the band had sounded like previously, it was more heavy metal, hardcore sounding than anything before it. The band would eventually break up just two short months after its release. More arguments, hateful conversations, and disconnections forced Robo to leave and Danzig to hold auditions for his new project.

A show that went completely astray would prove to be the final nail in the coffin. The Misfits were geared up to tear the house down at their annual Halloween event on October 29th, 1983 at Greystone Hall in Detroit with the band, Necros. Danzig hand-picked Brian Keats, a.k.a Brain Damage as the Misfits new drummer but unfortunately he had gotten totally inebriated before the show and was unable to hold his own for the band’s set. This was it. Danzig told the audience that this would be the last show, no more Misfits. The band returned home and decided to go their separate ways.

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Insert “Samhain” here. Formed by ex-Misfits lead singer Glenn Danzig in 1983. Much heavier, much more death metal influenced. Initially, this was just a side gig for Danzig but immediately after the harsh breakup of the Misfits, this became his full-time job. Samhain is the name for the ancient Celtic New Year, pronounced as “sah-win”, was the origin for what we now call Halloween. This was the lesser-known and lesser respected musical outlet for Danzig, but marking a crystal clear switch from punk rock to a darker form of blues metal that would encapsulate the Danzig we know to this day. With darker lyrics, themes reflecting paganism and the occult, real-life tragedy, and horror, in comparison to those of the Misfits, which were much more schlock and B-movie oriented. Danzig reworked and rerecorded Misfits songs for his new Samhain record, bringing him to sign a major record deal in 1987, replacing most of his backup band to then renaming the entire project after himself, Danzig.

After all, the Misfits were not widely recognized outside of the underground punk scene, but compilation albums and unreleased EP’s were starting to come out to the public. Within these albums were overdubbed instrumental tracks that Danzig would perform himself to negate any royalty payments towards former band members. But, a legal battle would ensue between Danzig, Only, and Doyle that would last many years. In 1995 the culmination of what seemed to be an 8-year dispute would finally come to fruition when Danzig and the party of Jerry Only and Doyle came to an out-of-court agreement that the latter two could record and perform as the Misfits but had to share merchandising rights with Danzig. Jerry Only had to follow this path as fighting for royalties was a losing battle when Danzig had persuaded everyone involved that he had been the sole creator of all the songs in their entirety and that the rest of the band members’ input was negligible.

If you’re gonna scream, scream with me. Moments like this never last.

1995, a new year, a new band of Misfits. They came back. Back to a venue near you, a new crew, the two significant pieces staying were Only and Doyle as they immediately set about to find themselves some new bandmates. They brought in David Calabrese with the pseudonym Dr. Chud, and nineteen-year-old Michael Emmanuel when Glenn Danzig refuses to rejoin and Dave Vanian of The Damned declined as well, thus ushering in the era of Michale Graves. One thing left to do before releasing their first album together, Doyle needed a new name, so he went with what we can now only think of him as, Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein.

The band was ready to release their Psycho on America, with their debut album in 1997, American Psycho. Along with the album were music videos for the title song “American Psycho” and “Dig Up Her Bones” and massive North American and European tours in support of the album. The band launched into the mass pop culture after signing with Roadrunner Records and releasing 1999’s “Famous Monsters”, but all of these accolades would not stop the unfortunate fighting within what seemed like a cursed band, tensions remained high with the new bandmates, it’s almost like the original band members couldn’t escape it. Graves and Chud walked off stage at a show in Orlando, Florida in October of 2000. The two joined for two albums under the name “Graves”, but eventually split up for Michael to go over to a band called Gotham Road to only then be forced to start his own solo career. Meanwhile, Chud started his own band called Dr. Chuds X-Ward.

Jerry Only was the only one trying to keep the dream alive, as Doyle was forced to take an indefinite hiatus after he was divorced, remarried, had four children, and was battling tendonitis in his elbow. Only would play with a carousel of musicians, the likes of Dez Cadena and Marky Ramone included, performing songs of Misfits past, gearing up for a 25th-anniversary tour that would end up lasting on and off for three years. Only would release varying compilation albums throughout the years to fulfill their contractual obligations with Roadrunner Records.

In 2002, the Roadrunner contract was up and paved the way for a perfect opportunity for Only, so he teamed up with longtime collaborator, director, and producer of several Misfits music videos, John Cafiero, and they launched the successful “Misfits Records”. Splitting a single with newly signed Japanese horror punk band, Balzac. Where the Misfits covered one of their songs but then gave the opportunity for the new band to cover a few of the Misfits songs in support of their freshly-inked contract. The mishmash Misfits lineup of Jerry Only, Dez Cadena, and Marky Ramone released the Project 1950 album in 2003, which was a cover album of rock classics from the 1950s and ’60s. The band toured in support of this album intermittently until 2005, the year Marky Ramone left the band. 

Meanwhile, in 2004, Doyle Wolfgang reconvened with Danzig to grace fans with his wonderful guitar skills for 30-minute sets of Misfits songs from the Glenn Danzig era, serving as an intermission during the band Danzig’s concerts. This would be the first time the two had performed together in over twenty years and referred to as the closest thing to a Misfits reunion anyone is ever going to see. This lasted a few tours spanning over almost three years.

More music has been released since then, on October 27th, 2009, the Misfits had released a brand new single called “Land of the Dead” marking the first new studio release since Project 1950 in 2003. In Misfits fashion, another band member leaves the group, this time being replaced by Eric “Chupacabra” Arce, the catalyst to another full-length studio album, named after the 1975 William Shatner flick, “The Devils Rain”. This all happening in Misfit land while Danzig and Doyle remain performing old Misfits songs as part of Danzig’s “Legacy” Tour, in which the first of the four shows had a sold-out crowd. Assuming these sold-out crowds and the longing of fans to see a true reunion would be more than enough to kick everyone into high gear and get back together.

In 2016, it came true, the wishes of millions of fans worldwide had ascended from the depths and there it was, the announcement 33 years in the making. Danzig, Only and Doyle would reunite under the name The Original Misfits, and cater to those fans in dire need of nothing more than a pulse from the band that changed their lives. The announcement couldn’t come untainted because Misfits do as Misfits do and the reunion was brought to the public as part of an agreement stemming from a legal battle between Only and Danzig. The agreement had outlined specific terms in which both sides agreed to play no less than 10 reunion shows in conjunction with their 40th anniversary. All parties involved have been asked on record in many different instances whether or not the band would hit the studio again for yet another album, turning The Original Misfits back into simply, the Misfits. As all sides have said they want it to continue, their passion and love for the craft remain as high as ever but the truth is we just don’t know if this will remain a constant. Despite what has been said, the band seems to perform at least a couple of times a year in varying venues around the U.S. So, if you are lucky enough to have the Crimson Skull on your side, you may just be able to see them for yourself.

Whether I’m team Danzig or team Graves, we mustn’t take sides as both eras should be embraced for the classics they’ve churned out. One team a little more blues/punk-inspired and the other a little more heavy metal influenced but one thing is certain. No band can make me smile more while dancing with my wife in the middle of the living room to the lyrics “There’s 52 ways to murder anyone, one or two are the same and they both work as well.” Or ” Oh, baby, when you cry, your face is momentary, you hide your looks behind these scars.” yet a feeling comes over the both of us, comforting, soothing, blissful. It’s a hybrid moment, and it all happened because of the way they can blend the gritty nature of punk rock, horror influenced lyrics, and beautifully melodic, catchy, blues-inspired tunes. Jack of all genres, masters of one. 

The Misfits remain one of, if not THE most influential band in the Horror Punk genre, the genre they helped create and indefinitely popularized. It can’t be understated what this band has done for me personally and for the punk scene in general, they have turned us, Fiends, into Friends, they have accepted us as we truly are just like we have them, they have told us time and time again that it’s okay to be weird, and misunderstood, to be forgotten by some but will always be remembered by others, we all have a purpose, we are all one and the faster we become at recognizing this than the easier we can be, not just who we WANT to be but who we ARE. Because at heart we are all just Teenagers from Mars, and we don’t care.

My top 10 misfits songs is a pretty simple list because Static Age is one of my all-time favorite albums, but I’ll try to change it up a bit here.
10.Descending Angel
9.Scream!
8.Blacklight
7.We Are 138
6.Skulls
5.Saturday Night
4.Angelfuck
3.Hybrid Moments
2.Last Caress
1.Some Kinda Hate

I have one honorable mention here because I can’t in good conscience leave “Attitude” out of the mix.

And to think that the Misfits only influenced the Punk scene, they also had cameos in a few films, such as:
Animal Room
Big Money Hustlas
Bruiser (Dir. George A. Romero)
Campfire Stories

Danzig directed an anthology film called Verotika, featured on Shudder. Three stories of erotic terror pulled from his adult comic book publishing company, Verotik. The film consists of absolute horrendous editing, long cuts, bad acting, and stories that defy even an ounce of logic. Verotika is a total mess, and not like a Misfits song, where you are totally brought in by its charm, this is a slog, a chore if you will. There isn’t too much to say here, the first of three stories is something you must witness with your own nipple eyes…yep. No matter how much I love the Misfits and Danzig, this simply will not do. 

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