The Ghost of Gwar Present

An unsure week. That’s the best I could come up with. Monday arrived, and with it, work. And news. And rumors. This friend was quitting this. This business was merging with this new one. This other friend was about to have his first kid. And still another friend wasn’t sure what life meant or how to apply it to the current job role he had taken.

It all felt unsure. At face value, I perceived it as not so good, that I wasn’t moving forward enough, and that life all around me was changing. So why in the world was I allowing myself to be pleasantly content in something that might not be there next week?

I didn’t have an answer, so I put it on the back burner and went outside instead. It was 60 degrees (in December) and I wasn’t about to let the immediate future, haphazard plans or money get in the way of what could’ve been the last warm day of the year. Still unsettled, but enjoying the weather regardless.

As the week progressed, so did the news. And rumors. The quitting friend found a new job. The business merge wasn’t as bad as it sounded. Twins arrived. And Brad decided that construction was a means to an end and not the culmination of his life’s work thus far. Still, I felt unsettled. Funds were low, bills were high, rain was falling and Christmas was approaching. I could swing it, I knew that, but I was worried about money, the future, the “career” (if I could call it that) and still, more money.

So when Dave came home on Wednesday afternoon and said, “Hey, wanna go see Gwar in Atlantic City tonight,” I put on an old t-shirt and asked, “When do we leave?”

To describe Gwar, at this point in my life, would be an injustice to all that they stand for. So in lieu of injustice, I present the Wikipedia summarization of the band: “Gwar is a shock rock band formed in 1985 by a collective of artists in Richmond, Virginia. The band is best known for their elaborate sci-fi/horror film inspired costumes; raunchy, obscene, politically incorrect lyrics; and graphic stage performances, which consist of humorous re-enactments of scatology, sadomasochism, necrophilia, pedophilia, bestiality, fire dancing, pagan rituals, executions, and other controversial violent and political themes. GWAR has been on the leading edge of shock rock since their formation. Their costumes are generally made of foam latex, styrofoam, and hardened rubber. It should be noted that the costumes cover very little, with the rest of their bodies accentuated with makeup. They further their production in concert by spraying their audiences with imitation blood, semen, urine, pus and other bodily fluids. Another trademark of GWAR’s live show is their lampooning of celebrities and figures in current events. Victims of GWAR’s antics have included O.J. Simpson, John Kerry, George W. Bush, Jerry Garcia, Osama Bin Laden, Paris Hilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and many others. The band also makes frequent references to political and historical figures, fantasy literature, and mythology.”

Chickenhead showed up at our house around 7:30 last night, Mini Cooper parked out front, utility bucket full of premium beer in the trunk. His first time in our house, he traipsed up and down the three flights of stairs, remarking at the shoddy construction and sunken kitchen. A 45 year old contractor by trade with boundless energy and a penchant for Bad Brains, telling Dave all that was wrong with the insulation of within our house. Then Derek arrived, and we were soon off.

Atlantic City is 50 miles away. We wedged the bucket between ourselves in the back seat of the Mini, tore off through the streets of Port Richmond for I-95 and made it to Jersey in 10 minutes. As we entered onto the Atlantic City Expressway, Chickenhead said, “OK, I’ll have one of those beers now,” and we all joined in. Two beers, 15 strip club stories and one piss stop later, we were in Atlantic City. Chickenhead had spent $4,400 on one night alone in a strip club. I had that much money in the bank once, but only once.

We tailgated the rest of the beers in the parking deck of the House of Blues and went inside, past the gamblers, the elderly and the odd assortment of people that call AC home and work the casinos to get by. Once inside, we went for more beer, bumped into some 17 year-old BMXers from Ocean City, bought them beer and waited for the band to come on.

Chickenhead is friends with one of Gwar’s “scumdogs.” He doesn’t play music in the band, but he does appear onstage throughout the set wearing a Juggernaut style helmet, clutching an oversized sledgehammer and antagonizing the band members. He’s about 5 feet tall out of costume and very cordial. I think his name is Bob. He said hi prior to the show and then readied himself.

About 30 minutes later, the band appears. I had seen the pictures, read the interviews, watched the videos, but nothing prepared me for the live set, and the costumes. The closest I can come with a comparison are the “Orcs” from the Lord of the Rings movies, only more satanic, more beastly and more transvestite-prone (the band’s lower halves are generally thongs and thigh high fishnet stockings; I think it’s an attempt to fuck with the would-be jock/homophobe fans that generally show up to see Gwar, but I’m not sure.)

The music is a hybrid brand of nu-metal, even though Gwar’s been playing that brand of music even before it was labeled and made marketable by a few bands in the late 90s and early 00s. But the music is only a small part of the act. Gwar is living theater for the unknowing, a dark battle of bad vs. worse in a cliched Mad Max meets Tolkien nightmare, juxtaposed against shallow accusatory based politics and pop culture references. Basically, everything polarizing in the world, from Jesus to Hitler to George W. Bush to the Pope to Osama bin Laden, Gwar beheads on stage, or skins alive, or cuts the penis off of. And then spews fake blood, urine, semen or any other bodily fluid you can think of onto the audience through an intricate array of costumes, hoses and food coloring. It’s a an hour long sacrifice, with common sense as the offering.

At first glimpse, it’s hysterical. And when you’re worried about your future, making enough money to be comfortable and paying bills, then whisked away to a gambling town at the beach by a guy named Chickenhead to watch a guy from Richmond jerk off the Pope’s fake 3-foot penis, it’s a good escape. Great in fact. But by the encore, when a Tyrannosaurus Rex is brought onstage for the lead singer, Oderus Urungus, to battle for control of Hell, and the entire audience is covered in a fake mixture of Pope semen and Hitler’s blood, a glass of wine and a Seinfeld rerun doesn’t sound so bad.

I love evil, and I love that people thriving on the comedic embodiment of evil can actually make a decent living off of it, but Gwar is all just a little too French Revolution for me. We don’t understand you, we don’t care to, so f-it, off with your head (or penis, or arms…) I know it’s an act, and I thoroughly appreciated it, and I laughed my ass off for an hour, but I’m being a snob and I’m the first to admit that. So we caught Bob backstage after the show. He was dressed in a Jonah’s Onelinedrawing t-shirt and jeans, just like any other Richmond punk you’d find swimming at the James River rope swing in the summer. He was calm, his hands were pink (from the fake blood) and he was glad that the tour only lasted for four more days.

As with any metal band, backstage was full of drunk women flashing themselves, security guards and cheap beer. And then Dave Witte walked by. Dave went to my elementary school in Hazlet, NJ. A mutual friend/old band mate of Dave’s just mentioned his name to me last Friday night, and so he was fresh on my mind. And then he walked by.

After exchanging pleasantries, he told my friends, “Yeah, his mom used to be my lunch lady.” We talked for a few minutes, caught up on everyone and said our goodbyes. He had moved to Richmond, found a girl he loved and was still playing drums for a living. Over 20 years after the fact, I still knew someone from my childhood that wasn’t direct family.

Soon after, we left. We stopped at a Wawa, jumped on the Expressway and dozed off while Chickenhead blasted Helmet and kept himself awake. The concert ride home, despite the company, the soundtrack or the hours that had passed earlier in the night, has remained a constant, reflective time for me, from age 15 to the present. I glanced out the window, wondered about Helmet’s production values and text messaged a bunch. I also reflected. A day before, I was questioning my future, irrefutably. A night later, I reconnected with a distant part of my past, irregularly. And in between, I was doing ridiculous shit, unequivocally.

40 minutes later, we were home, and Chickenhead’s bucket was empty.

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