The Sly, Shocking Soul of GWAR

Dave Brockie, a.k.a. Oderus Urungus, dead at 50, defied the self-seriousness of heavy metal and of the mainstream alike.

When I met Dave Brockie, a.k.a. Oderus Urungus, the now-deceased lead singer and visionary behind the musical entity known as GWAR, it was during the third annual GWAR-B-Q at a decrepit water park outside of Richmond, Virginia, where a strange brew of crusty punks, metal heads, and curious onlookers had gathered to revel together in filth. He was sitting under a gazebo, in full GWAR regalia, sipping a beer and greeting a cavalcade of music writers eager to get some of those classic Oderus Urungus one-liners for their treatise on the true meaning of fake blood and rubber dongs. It was about 95 degrees outside but there he was, melting away under an inch of foam rubber. He didn't look healthy.

The interview did not go well. Brockie, GWAR's sole consistent member since the band started as a punk outfit called Death Piggy in 1984, seemed impatient, antagonistic, and annoyed by my questions. He showed much more enthusiasm for dealing with fans than with bandwagon-jumping journalists looking to get at the root of GWAR's message decades after the band made its name as the most bizarre live act on the planet. That reticence wasn't from him thinking that his art was so deep it was unclassifiable; it was from the fact that caring enough to try and classify it was to miss the point of his art entirely. Without taking anything away from GWAR's music, it's safe to say that it's probably the least interesting thing about the band. GWAR is—or probably, unfortunately, was—a monolith of immaturity whose main purpose was to make no sense at all.

"It's not really a message," the band members told Jerry Springer on his daytime talk show. "It's more like a massage."

On stage, GWAR have always been something to behold: less a band than a mutating, oozing, phallus-laden Cronenberg blob of Fuck You. Offstage, though, was where GWAR, and spokesmonster Brockie in particular, made its mark as a bastion of trolling. Throughout GWAR's 30-plus years of existence, the Ottawa-born Brockie made more headlines as a talking head (or talking melted alien skull thing) than his songs ever did, whether by baiting the hosts on Fox News or accusing fellow shock acts Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson of "hanging out with their director buddies as they throw gala award ceremonies to circle jerk each other into a frenzy." Regular guests on daytime talk shows, they were the poster boys for the deranged society scorned by Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center. GWAR provoked people for entertainment, like some kind of live-action Youtube commenters wearing rubber masks.

This philosophy defied heavy-metal culture, known for taking itself way too seriously. In recent years, it also defied mainstream culture's attempts to intellectualize and pacify metal in the popular consciousness. (Hello, Sasha Frere-Jones!) While there's nothing wrong with bringing extreme music into the tent, many of its diehards will always love this music precisely because it’s for freaks and outsiders—a fact that GWAR made literal. What was so amazing about Dave Brockie was that he never lost the ability to shock, and he did it not by burning churches or carving a cross into his forehead, but by telling a joke so good it lasted three decades. It’s unbelievably sad that he has died at age 50; who knows what other madness he had in store for the world?

For a brief, glorious period a few months ago, it seemed like there might be a distant chance that GWAR would be the half-time show at the Super Bowl. The pairing of GWAR with one of America's smarmiest, most self-serious institutions may go down as one of the greatest missed opportunities in our cultural history. Mutant football players tackling each other's heads off onstage in a spray of fake blood? It would have been magical.