By now, everyone has heard the news that Dave Brockie, better known under the alias Oderus Urungus of GWAR, has passed away, too young, at age 50. While the entire metal community feels this loss in a profound way, it seems doubly like a gut punch on the heels of Cory Smoot’s sudden passing in 2011. For years, GWAR has been such a mainstay that their continuance seemed a given. Now for the first time, the future of the band is in doubt.
It took me a few days to organize my thoughts and memories on the passing of Brockie, and how I could best express my condolences to all involved. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that the best way would be a celebration of what made GWAR, and by extension Dave Brockie, great.
I have been privileged enough to see GWAR eleven times in my life, all contained in a thirteen year span. The first exposure I had to the band’s overwhelming live show came as a result of a sort of pact between some friends. The agreement was that if GWAR, this band that Beavis and Butthead seemed to love, came to our little town, we would, nay, must, go. Not too much later, the Scumdogs came to play at a place called Saratoga Winners, which was the perfect venue for this costumed, gore-soaked spectacle – ramshackle, probably unstable and possessed of ownership that clearly had no regard for the condition of their club, or probably their patrons. Winners has since been burned down in an alleged insurance fraud case (see below,) but I ended up seeing GWAR there several times, and thus my relationship with the music and presentation of Brockie began.
A couple of magical things happened that first time at Winners – just after an opening band had finished, some local radio hack came to the stage and asked if the crowd was ready for GWAR. It was all very stock-in-trade, and after his spiel was over introducing the headline band, he left…and another opening band, clearly not GWAR, came out. I don’t remember much about Not-GWAR, mostly that they were perfectly average and I think had a song about pork rinds. Nevertheless it became a running gag among friends and I that there was always a Not-GWAR – a young opener that just plain wasn’t who you were there to see. The roster of Not-GWAR is in retrospect fairly notable: DevilDriver, Kingdom of Sorrow, Municipal Waste, Red Chord, Bad Avid Trip, Whitechapel and plenty of others – some were good, others not so much, but all of them were Not-GWAR.
The other magic of that first show was one of the reasons I ended up seeing GWAR eleven times, which is that I discovered the joy of seeing GWAR with someone who never had. It became a ritual of sorts; find the uninitiated, spark their curiosity, take them to GWAR. It was a spectacle unlike any others, a gleeful shock to the system of those unprepared and an unabashed display of the pinnacle of metal excess.
All that brings me to this – Dave Brockie’s legacy. More informed and important people than me, closer to the scene, will make this point, but I feel compelled to add my voice – Brockie can’t merely be measured by his impact on the metal music industry, though he did that too – standing up for his band, battling creative restrictions, performance bans and labels who didn’t get his message. The man was a stage innovator and master entertainer like few others in his chosen genre, and he always seemed ready to give a young band a chance to come along and grab some exposure. All those fond memories, all those memorable personal experiences, I owe to Dave Brockie in one way, shape or form. In a way, it feels like there’s a connection between him and me, even though we never met – seeing a GWAR show became fulfilling in that same way as seeing an old, familiar friend. Since that first show, I have finished college, started a career, moved to another state, loved, lost, loved again, gotten married, and heard more music than I care to think about. In all that, there was always time to fit in one more trip to GWAR.
Rock on and conquer whatever dimension you find yourself in, Scumdog. You are already missed.