City Paper is not for tourists
Dave Brockie sits on a worn, wet couch in a pungent dressing room in the 9:30 Club. His face, smeared with dark makeup, is framed by a gingham-brimmed Redskins hat and a mess of red-tinted hair.
“We played a show on Halloween in Chicago,” he smiles, teeth glowing behind ebony lips. “It was at the United Center, where the Bulls play. It was us, Anthrax, Ratt, and 800 strippers playing to a crowd of 11,000 people. It was insane.”
“At one point,” he continues, “I was hunched over the monitor, fist-fucking the dismembered body of Princess Di. Blood was squirting out of her neck into the audience; [there was] a spark plug sticking out of her head. I looked up and I saw myself on the 12-foot-high TV screens that hang from the center of the arena. I thought, ‘My God, this is a defining moment in my life.’ I knew then I was doomed.”
It’s noon on Thursday, Nov. 13, and inside the 9:30 there’s complete pandemonium. More than half the club is covered with sheets of plastic, painstakingly taped to every wall, column, monitor, and lighting rig within spewing distance of the stage. Video cameras propped on tripods are protected by yellow bags, holes cut for the lenses. Boxes, cables, and people in leather crowd the nightclub floor.
Onstage, lights flash on and off, blinking maniacally; it’s like a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In this movie, however, the aliens won’t be cute, green-skinned beings with warm, puppy-dog eyes. They will be a group of 30-year-olds dressed in rubber outfits, mutilating mutated penguins and decapitating the pope to the delight of over 1,200 onlookers.
Today, GWAR invades D.C., destroying, conquering, and filming it all before leaving on a tour bus for its hometown of Richmond.
“This isn’t going to be like filming football,” one member of Baltimore’s Sheffield Productions team says to a cameraman.
The cameraman nods, wide-eyed in agreement, staring at video director Huntar Jackson, who also portrays GWAR’s archenemy Techno Destructo and is standing onstage in a green sweat shirt and leather thong.
“Hey, Dave!” Jackson screams to Brockie, GWAR’s main monster, Oderous Urungus. “When you fuck JonBenet Ramsey, is it this way or this way?” he asks, first facing stage left, then right.
“Either,” Brockie says, seeming somewhat uninterested. His mask, a peeling mass of latex flesh, barely muffles his booming voice.
“OK, cool.” Jackson is blocking the scene for an awe-struck cameraman, who along with the rest of the production crew is seeing the spectacle for the first time. “It’s not that big of a handicap,” Jackson later explains. “They just have to operate the equipment. That’s the one thing we don’t know how to do.”
The unyielding shooting schedule, which needs to be observed so the club can open its doors at 7:30 p.m., reads like porno for pirates: “1:30 p.m. Wedding Scene: A. Techno gets fist in face; B. Techno gets webbed in face; C. Techno gets Golden Shower in face…2:30 p.m. Jacques Cousteau. A. Extreme close up with gurgling small amount of spew from stump.”
For GWAR, “spew” is technical jargon. During the band’s performance, spew, in various colors and textures, sprays onto an expectant mob from severed limbs and beheaded bodies. “Low volume spew” is required for the first run-through, which is filmed at 6 p.m. without an audience.
“The ‘low volume’ of spew is to protect the cameras. They will be where the crowd usually is,” producer Katherine Leatherwood explains.
But for the show tonight at 9, complete with screaming fans, the shooting schedule calls for specific colors of “high volume” spew: 1.) red [blood]; 2.) green [toxic waste]; 3.) white [semen]; 4.) yellow [pus]; 5.) blue [cyborg plasma].
“At first, we had the rudiments of a plot,” Brockie explains, his costume next to him in
a heap on the couch. “Yeah, we’re gonna
fight penguins, and we’re gonna kill
“That was before Cousteau died,” says Danielle Stampe, hyperfeminist bitch Slymenstra Hymen, wiping makeup from her eyes. “We came up with the plot, and a month later we heard he died.”
“We thought, ‘Well, what’s the point?’” Brockie continues. “Huntar said that we can have a dorky save-the-earth kind of theme: Toxic waste is poisoning the planet, it’s making the penguins mutate, and Techno Destructo discovers them. Then he gets addicted to toxic crack and ahhh, ahhh, ahhh…” He waves his arms wildly.
“Hell, it was enough of a thread for us to latch onto,” he shrugs. “Personally, I felt the less complicated the plot, the better.”
Tonight’s production has been perfected over the past six months, while the company, four musicians and six performers, toured the States and Europe.
“Live, people just wanna see people get beat up, they wanna get blood all over them, and they wanna hear rock ‘n’ roll music, wanna have a good time. The subtle nuances of the Shakespearean epic that we’re executing onstage are kind of lost on everybody,” Brockie laughs.
“People generally want us to be in their movies,” Brockie remarks, “But in cameo roles, supporting parts. They’re not hip to giving us a budget and letting us go off with it yet.”
GWAR, which has appeared in films, including the Ethan Hawke vehicle Mystery Date, has self-produced three long-form videos (full disclosure: My “film career” consists, in its entirety, of an appearance in Skulhed Face). Its second, Phallus in Wonderland, was nominated for a Grammy.
“When we got nominated, we went to the Grammys,” Brockie explains. “It was fun, but at the same time it was pretty grotesque. They told us not to come in costume. ‘We nominated you guys, but we don’t want you coming in costume.’ So we came to the ceremony in a minivan, in tuxedos from the waist up. We got to security and said, ‘Hey, we’re GWAR,” and they waved us in. As soon as we got past security, we put the costumes on, made a beeline for the building. We were about to go into the auditorium when security came running over, screaming, ‘Noooooo!’” and kicked us out. There was nothing but photographers out front, and I met Capt. Picard.”
“Then we went to the Warner Bros. party. There were 50 lobsters, bottles of champagneall the Babylonian trappings. And then we come inin costume! I think we did more to alienate ourselves from the industry in that one night than from years of working.”
Soliciting directors and producers with treatments for films has yet to pan out for the troupe. “We demand total control of our image,” Brockie says. “And to a Hollywood director, working with GWAR is a daunting task. Especially to studio bigwigs who really have heard a lot of shit about us, a lot of negative things.”
Brockie leans back and folds his arms. “We’re like the bad kid on the block, not sure if you should play with them or not,” he says. “You know you’re going to have a good time, but you’re afraid you’re going to get hurt.”
“What a bunch of crazies, huh?” Pete Lee remarks from the balcony opposite the stage. Below, in front of a green special-effects screen, one of the “slaves” (GWAR’s nonmusical performers) stands behind a plywood ship, on his head a latex bust of the decaying Jacques Cousteau. As the soundtrack booms overhead, Cousteau’s reanimated corpse mimes to a Franco-GWARian soliloquy, “I must warn GWAR about ze pen-gueeens…”
“Can you believe we do this shit for a living?” asks Lee. GWAR’s guitarist, Flattus Maximus, Lee lives in Dallas and commutes to Richmond for band practice, recording, and video shoots.
“I won’t live in this area,” he states. “After I got shot, I knew I didn’t want to be up here.” In 1992, when GWAR was returning on Interstate 295 from a show in D.C., a bullet from a passing vehicle tore through his car and punctured his lung.
“I’m moving to L.A.,” Stampe growls, stretching before her rehearsal. “I mean, this whole Courtney Love thing is really blowing my mind. She’s fucking on the cover of everything. I think I can compete.” Stampe, who appears in character outside GWAR, has also worked with Vivienne Westwood and Jean Paul Gaultier, both of whom specifically requested her for their Paris runway shows.
“What the hell am I doing in Richmond when I can be out in L.A.? I need more glamour in my life,” she laughs.
“Danielle has always been really good about promoting herself, as well as GWAR,” Brockie says. “Our management company is out there. Our label, Metal Blade, is out there. Now she’s going to be out there as well. We’ll fly her in and out as we need her. But so much of our business comes through L.A., it’ll be good for us to have her there.”
Stampe, in a plush red bathrobe, hangs over the balcony, staring down at the nightclub floor, her blond hair flipped forward. “I left all my hair-care products in Richmond. My hair is so fine, so limp,” she announces, lifting herself up off the railing.
Brockie claims GWAR’s exaggerated theatricality in fact keeps everything from going to his head. “There is something about being in GWAR that keeps you really humble and in touch with people,” he declares. “And with your fans. You are up there portraying a character; you’ve got 50 pounds of latex all over you. It keeps you realyou don’t have to project that rock ‘n’ roll persona all the time.”
Brockie says his anonymity has its advantages. “We aren’t publicly recognizable. It’s a trip to walk around in the audience before a show and nobody knows who the fuck you are. But I love to go out after we play, listen to people: ‘Man, I saw them last year. I thought that show was better.’ You really get objective criticism.”
After hours of anticipation on both sides of the 9:30’s doors, it’s show time. At first, a few boys trickle in, one with his mohawk limp from the cold rain, another holding a sign that reads, “I WANT TO DRINK YOUR CUM.” Then a rush of people, most of them hormone-addled young men, pours into the club. They run to crush themselves against the barrier in front of the stage. “Gwwwaaaarr,” a guy screams, holding his note for over 20 seconds.
Tonight, the crowd is as entertaining as the band. Someone dressed as a cow awaits slaughter. Five guys stand in a circle, slapping each other in the head. A teenage girl, at least seven months pregnant, wanders around looking for a safe place to stand. Many are dressed in virgin white: A red-stained shirt is treasured proof of having attended a GWAR show.
When Jackson hops onstage, this time topless but wearing pants, he’s greeted with a deafening roar and a slew of one-finger salutes.
“Hey,” he bends into the microphone, his voice almost inaudible over the audience, “we need to tell you that we’re doing a video tonight, so it’s not going to be like a regular show. We’re going to stop in between songs, and we might even play the same song twice.”
The approving crowd bellows.
“And afterwards we have a few special scenes that involve y’all.”
This is hailed with more applause, screams, and a few high fives.
After flogging GWAR’s 32-page color comic, available only at the T-shirt booth, Jackson forfeits the platform to the costumed musicians. They turn to Cousteau, teetering onstage behind his plywood ship. He launches into his pre-recorded oration, and the fans impatiently anticipate his demise.
“Fuck you!” someone screams, baited by the histrionic dawdling.
Once Oderous decapitates Cousteau, the rockand the moshingbegins. Throughout the show, the band is pelted with sundries from the club floor: plastic cups, bottles, lit cigarettes, and the occasional tampon. But the filming stops when a stage-diving hopeful makes his way onstage. He receives an unmerciful flailing from a slave, a painful example to other disciples longing to get on camera.
“Stupid fuck,” Brockie complains.
The pinnacle of the evening isn’t GWAR’s performance but the promised audience participation. Stampe, in a skintight green snake outfit, still crowned by limp hair, stands alone, microphone in hand, ready to sing her cabaret number to prerecorded music. In rehearsals, her voice is surprisingly robust, giving credibility to her dream of performing on Broadway.
“OK, now it’s time for you all to help,” Jackson announces. He chooses five raving boys from the front row, in a kaleidoscope of soaked garments, and drapes them over the monitors, victims of Slymenstra Hymen’s dastardly wiles.
“Now,” Jackson continues, “We’re are going to ask all of you out there to lay down on the floor, like you’re dead.”
Looks of surprise shoot from one fan to the other.
“You want to be in this video, don’t you?” he tempts them. “Now’s your chance.”
Hundreds of bodies, saturated and pummeled, fall to the floor, carpeting the now-defiled club. Some giggle, some wince, but a few quietly shut their eyes, releasing their souls to the higher power of GWAR.
Brockie, now out of costume, walks out onto the balcony above the stage. His eyes light up at the spectacle before him.
“Mind control,” he gloats.CP