I never owned one of their albums. I never went to one of their shows. I probably couldn’t name you one of their songs outside of the one that appeared in Empire Records. I’m not exactly what you would call a “GWAR fan.”
Yet Dave Brockie, aka Oderus Urungus – the lead singer of the theatrical metal band GWAR, passed away on Sunday and I’m incredibly sad. This is my tribute to him.
When I was 12, I went to my friend Carson’s house to celebrate his birthday with our other friend Mack. We at pizza, drank Dr. Pepper, called a few girls to do that weird phone flirting thing that never goes anywhere but feels really subversive and scandalous, and then descended into an all-out NERF WAR.
Mack and I had both gotten Carson Nerf guns for his birthday, and I had brought my stash of weapons as well. We devised a game based on the layout of Carson’s house where we rotated roles. The one on upper level was the villain, while the hero was on the lower level trying to take down him down. The hero had a helper who had the shittiest gun. We went balls out on this game for HOURS, and it was fucking chaos and so much fun.
What did we call it (which was also the signal that the game was to commence)?
From a Cru Jones Society article I participated in from November 2009 where readers and staff shared their first concert experiences. I wrote about attending a Bush concert at Red Rocks when I was 14. Here’s the pertinent part:
“Unfortunately I went like a complete square. Armed with only the second hand knowledge I had of GWAR concerts and their resultant calamitous mess, I prepped for this concert like I was prepping to cross the goddamned Andes Mountains. I packed two water bottles, a towel, a change of shirt, two granola bars, my camera, my parents’ giant Zack Morris cell phone, and none of my dignity. I didn’t need any of that baggage besides my camera, but when you don’t know any better and have no parents to guide in how to be cool at a concert, you do your best.”
See, I had heard about GWAR concerts as a kid and just assumed every band doused their fans in fake blood and piss and god knows what else. I mean, why wouldn’t they? How would the fans know if they had a good time or not otherwise?
The standard way for my friend Stephen and I to greet each other on the phone for years was for one of us to say, “Hey Mark, you play a mean guitar, man!” The other would respond by exclaiming, “Too bad you have to die!”
This, as we all know, is from Empire Records when Mark eats the pot brownies and imagines himself playing guitar onstage with GWAR and ultimately getting eaten by one of their weird alien things. Even though we misquoted the line slightly, this still ranks among my favorite greetings ever to hear on a telephone, in part because it was so weird, but mostly because it meant I was talking to one of my best friends, something I don’t do nearly often enough.
Also, Empire Records rules.
So, even though I was never really a GWAR fan, they always sort of existed in my consciousness. I thought about GWAR way more than an otherwise normal person should. Sure, sometimes they’d pop up in front of me like when they stopped by terrorize poor Ape and Phil on “Viva La Bam” or when they showed up at the AV Club to do a totally decent cover of Kansas’ “Carry On, Wayward Son.”
But mostly I just felt comfortable knowing GWAR existed. That something this strange, this unwieldy, this offensive, this goddamn life-affirming, was out there fucking with people’s minds and making us all a little bit uncomfortable with how boring and conformist and we all secretly are.
The thing I liked most was that Dave Brockie, as Oderus Urungus… got it.
He was operating on a higher plane than us and dicked with us purely because he could. And really, all he was slinging was pure, unrestrained, bug-eyed, free-wheeling joy. He was described thusly, “Dave was one of the funniest, smartest, most creative and energetic persons I’ve known,” [former bassist Mike Bishop] said. “He was brash sometimes, always crass, irreverent, he was hilarious in every way. But he was also deeply intelligent and interested in life, history, politics and art.”
Therefore it’s not surprising that someone that deeply intelligent was able to create something so exquisitely abnormal that brought so much positive energy into the world. Look at those freaks covered in fake blood banging their heads to the crazy thrash metal onstage. Those are people deeply in touch with their most untethered selves.
I knew GWAR was out there in the universe injecting some much needed pandemonium into our dull little lives. And any time I thought about GWAR – whether that was firing Nerf guns at my friends, picturing their bugfuck crazy concerts, or thinking about that goofy scene from a movie I love – it made me happy.
According to GWAR lore, “Oderus Urungus is 43 billion years old, and was assembled on a planet called Scumdogia in ‘Syntho Womb 5’ after pieces of his moldy war frame were found scattered throughout the galaxy.”
To Oderus Urungus: May your energy, your legacy, the anarchy you brought all of us live on for 43 billion years more.
To Dave Brockie: Rest in peace.