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Circus Magazine, 5/94

By Corey Levitan

   "There's a place for pop bands, but there's also a place for bands like 
Danzig." Little did Glenn Danzig know when he uttered these words last year 
that the two places would soon overlap.
   Glenn Danzig and the group that bears his surname are enjoying the 
surprisingly late success of their 1993 EP THRALL-DEMONSWEATLIVE, now 
ensconced on BILLBOARD's album chart. Credit the left-field hit "Mother '93," 
the live version of a song from Danzig's six-year-old eponymous debut album.
   Despite what Glenn may think, the music of Danzig--Glenn, guitarist John 
Christ, bassist Eerie Von and drummer Chuck Biscuits--was always commercially 
tenable. We're talking catchy, bluesy melodies from a group that sounds like 
Black Sabbath fronted by Jim Morrison.
   Danzig's image, however, was always strictly left field. The group slapped 
skulls on its album covers and even staged a chicken sacrifice in its original 
video for "Mother." While the P.M.R.C. spun Ozzy albums backward, hunting for 
satanic references, Danzig unabashedly titled songs "Soul on Fire," 
"Possession" and "Heart of the Devil," to list a happy few.
   "Glenn seriously doesn't give a damn what anybody else thinks about what he 
does," Chuck Biscuits says of his bandmate. "He's the only musician I know as 
commited to his ideas, and it scares people when they first encounter it."
   "Am I beast or am I human?" Glenn Danzig demands to know in 1988's "Am I 
Demon." "Am I just like you?" the lyric continues. Probably not, unless you 
live in a gothic 1905 Hollywood house painted black with black carpeting, 
that contains a stuffed black wolf and books on witchcraft.
   While the demonic imagery had young Beavis & Butt-head prototypes agog, it 
repelled radio stations, MTV, the print media and even casual record browsers. 
Only a loyal few thousand shared Glenn's darkest secret--that behind the 
devilish exterior hid an old-fashioned crooner whose proudest moments were 
collaborating with 60's balladeer Roy Orbison (on "Life Fades Away" for the 
LESS THAN ZERO soundtrack) and legendary bluesman Willie Dixon.
   Danzig, who's been called the "Evil Elvis," seems to enjoy being 
misunderstood, by everyone. He rebels not only against the mainstream, but 
against the ways in which his rocker contemporaries rebel. Instead of your 
standard drug-addled type, Danzig is at age 34 (sic) a muscle-bound workout 
freak with strict physical and dietary regimens. He's also a martial artist, 
trained by one of Bruce Lee's former students.
   This mysterious hulk of a man came of age in the industrial northestern 
New Jersey town of Lodi. As a child Glenn grooved to the music of Howlin' 
Wolf and Muddy Waters, which explains his future solo band's strong blues 
bent. His other fascination was the occult, which explains Danzig's lyrics. 
Glenn was enraptured by the horrific short stories of Edgar Allan Poe and 
the sinister stanzas of French poet Charles Baudelaire.
   "I was very intrigued with Baudelaire's vision of Satan as more of a 
rebel than this totally evil, dark guy," Glenn says. Underworldly obsessions 
are perenially popular as teenage phases go, but Glenn Danzig never believed 
in the need to outgrow one's passions. He applied his love and knowledge of 
the occult to a new form of rock music conquering the underground.
   Punk rock arrived at the ideal time for our young and twisted subject. 
Overnight it castrated the credibility of reigning rebels The Who and Rolling 
Stones. (Cutting-edge rock has always had the peculiar task of rebelling 
against its past rather than evolving from it.) Heeding the wakeup call, 
Glenn formed the Misfits in 1978. Indebted to Sex Pistols cacophony, Glenn's 
punk band also sported a Danzigian twist--its cartoonish horror motif. "I 
just killed my mother today!" Danzig would sing through a Hannibal Lechter 
   The Misfits ended in 1983 but Glenn's quest to become the Wes Craven of 
music continued. He formed the more experimental yet equally devilish 
Samhain, recording songs with titles like "All Murder, All Guts, All Fun."
   Rick Rubin caught Samhain in 1986 at a New Music Seminar gig in New York. 
The famed producer and record mogul showed at the urging of Cliff Burton, 
Metallica's late bassist. Rubin dug Glenn, but didn't see much in the band. 
Apparently Glenn agreed, as he was soon talking to Rubin about ditching his 
colleagues (all but bassist Eerie Von) to fly solo.
   Guitarist John Christ, reared on classical guitar at Baltimore's 
prestigious Peabody Prep, boarded Danzig's solo flight in January 1987. 
Persistence seems to have been his ticket. Christ auditioned well but it 
wasn't until leaving countless dazzling guitar solos on Danzig's answering 
machine that Christ was finally invited to join the band. Chuck Biscuits was 
a natural choice for the drum seat; the muscular Canuck sharpened his chops 
playing with the cream of punk's crop--D.O.A., Black Flag, the Circle Jerks 
and Fear.
   With word-of-mouth their primary promotional tool, Danzig's unchanged 
lineup enjoyed seven years of steady-but-stagnant record sales with DANZIG, 
DANZIG II--LUCIFUGE and HOW THE GODS KILL. Danzig concerts, however, were 
always top draws. This finally led Rubin's American (formerly Def American) 
Records to the idea of a live album. And when one executive at the label saw 
an S-R-O Danzig crowd frothing at the mouth to "Mother," he knew which track 
to push.
   American's promotion staff worked radio stations in Baltimore, Denver, 
Dallas, Seattle and L.A.--where "Mother '93" was a Top-Five request at 
KROQ-FM for months. At the same time, Beavis & Butt-head happened to channel 
surf onto the original "Mother" clip during one of their episodes. (Ask White 
Zombie how profitable one little "cool!" from these buggers can be.) Since 
that B&B episode first aired, nearly 100,000 copies of the 1988 album DANZIG 
have crossed record-store checkout counters.
   Glenn Danzig may never have expected a career bigger than his tatooed 
biceps, but the singer's going to have to get used to it. Judging from the 
exponential growth of his loyal legions, the big guy can look forward to many 
more productive years in which the public at large will misunderstand him.
   Danzig has just finished a new studio album, slated for release in June.