The tagline for the upcoming reunion shows by horror-punk pioneers the Misfits reads “They Said It Would Never Happen.” It’s a phrase that makes Glenn Danzig snicker. “I don’t think people should question it too much,” he tells Rolling Stone. “It may have never happened, but it is going to happen for at least two shows. We’ll see how it goes. It may lead to some other work, but who knows how it’s going to turn out?” He pauses. “I mean, I don’t think it’s going to be a disaster; I think it’s going to be incredible.”
Danzig will be playing alongside founding Misfits bassist Jerry Only and his brother, guitarist Doyle, for the first time since 1983 at two Riot Fest appearances this fall. The reunion, billed as “The Original Misfits,” signals a long-in-the-works truce between the singer and bassist, who have quarreled in courtrooms over the rights to the band’s name, songs and merchandising since the late Eighties. Only and Doyle won the right to perform and record using the name in 1995, and a little more than a decade later, Doyle reunited with Danzig for tours. Now, a year ahead of the punks’ 40th anniversary, all three have put aside their differences, at least for the time being.
“You know when something’s going to work,” Only says. “That’s the feeling I got when we agreed to this. I wouldn’t have done it unless I thought Glenn was really about it.”
Danzig and Only formed the Misfits, whose name references Marilyn Monroe’s final film, in Lodi, New Jersey, in 1977, before the bassist had graduated high school. They dressed like zombies, sang songs about B-movie horror flicks and operated a revolving door of drummers and guitarists; Doyle joined in 1980. Although they recorded frequently, they released only a bevy of singles and EPs and one album (1982’s Walk Among Us) before they broke up over musical differences in the fall 1983. Another LP, Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood, came out posthumously that year, and more EPs, singles and compilations soon followed. Meanwhile, Danzig, who went on to form Samhain and his eponymous band, and Only – who, with Doyle, formed a group called Kryst the Conqueror – took brutal swipes at each other in the press, as they fought for various rights related to the Misfits legacy. They reached a rare détente in 2001 when they united to block the release of a compilation, the still-unreleased 12 Hits From Hell, but could not agree on a reunion.
For Danzig, the decision to move forward with a reunion now is as morbid as one of the band’s “hits from hell.” “It’s been a shock to see so many musicians dying this year,” he says. “A lot of them weren’t really that old. David Bowie’s death came out of the blue, as did Prince’s. And I’ve said it before with Peter Steele and Dio: If you’re a music fan, you think these artists will be here forever, but you should enjoy them while they’re here, because you never know what will happen. You’ve got to enjoy it and let it happen before everybody dies.” Danzig laughs heartily, and he and Only add that they are in good health, as is Doyle. “My brother could be on the cover of every muscle magazine lately,” the bassist says.
As Only told Rolling Stone last week, the reunion was an odd, positive side effect of a legal meeting between Danzig and him earlier this year to discuss rights issues. “We went in there wanting to cut each other’s throats,” he said. “It was turning into another court battle and it turned into a reunion.”
The singer says conversations about a reunion were drawn out, even before January. “Without saying stuff I’m not allowed to say, it became a mediation and evolved from there,” he offers. “We put a lot of stuff behind us and resolved certain longstanding issues. It wasn’t an overnight thing.”
“Through everything over the years we’ve been paying lawyers as we try to survive,” Only says. “That’s not what music is supposed to be about.”
When Rolling Stone asks Danzig if he and Only had always been friends, despite the legal battles, he laughs. “No, we haven’t been friends,” he quickly says. “In the beginning we were friends but,” he pauses to find the right words, “certain things happened that made it not a friendship. We’re putting that in the past.” He says they’re taking the time to get used to one another and that they share the common goal of making the reunion shows special.
Neither Danzig nor Only will take credit for being first to extend an olive branch, but the bassist made a courteous offer to the singer. He told Rolling Stone last week that since he knows the band’s catalogue, he asked Danzig to pick the set list, which he now estimates contains about 30 songs.
“There are gonna be songs people know we’re gonna do, but there’s some stuff we’ve been talking about that people would never guess,” Danzig says of the song selections. “I just want you to be surprised. I think it’s better that way, especially in this whole Internet age. I hate that shit.”
The singer is keenly aware of the way the Misfits legend has grown. In the late Eighties, Metallica recorded covers of “Last Caress” and “Green Hell” for their Garage Days Re-Revisited EP, and began playing Misfits songs live. Guns N’ Roses followed suit in the early Nineties, performing “Attitude” and sticking a cover of it on their “Spaghetti Incident?” album. Green Day, the Lemonheads, Refused and Bonnie “Prince” Billy have all performed the band’s songs at one point or another. But it all happened after the band’s first run.
“It’s pretty crazy the amount of people that have covered my songs,” Danzig says. “It was truly an underground thing that became bigger and bigger as it went on. And that’s kind of cool because one of my favorite bands was the Velvet Underground. That’s how it happened with them, and they went on to influence David Bowie and other people. So for me, it’s cool. It’s funny I’m talking to Rolling Stone right now, because back then it was like ‘Punk rock? Put it back. It’s just a flash in the pan.’ Punk changed the course of modern music, and it never gets the recognition that it should.”
“For me a concert should be some kind of crazy, tribal, exhausting experience.” –Glenn Danzig
“From the day we started this band, I think we were so far ahead of the game that people couldn’t comprehend what we were doing,” Only says. “It’s like the artist who died and a hundred years later everybody says how wonderful it is. We’re having a second life now.”
That said, Danzig says the group won’t be presenting the reunion show as a nostalgia trip. They are working out a stage set at the moment that will blow away the sorts of spectacles they had in the past. “Back in the days we had to work with a shoestring budget,” he says. “We had a movie screen and we’d show movie trailers on them and then we’d rip through it and started playing. Now we have a little money to play with to do a cool stage set.” Danzig laughs.
“For me, it shouldn’t just be a live show, it should be an experience,” he says. “It should be some kind of crazy, tribal, exhausting experience.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone last year, the singer recalled a late Seventies Halloween gig in New York City where he wore clothes with a skeleton print on them (“I was a full punk skeleton man,” he said) and another where the band “hung dead animal heads and limbs and carcasses all over the place” so it smelled like a slaughterhouse. Asked if the new high-tech stage set would rule out skeleton costumes and dead animals, Danzig quickly rejoins, “No, I didn’t say that.” He laughs. “We’ll see where it all ends up. It’s gonna be pretty cool.”
By all accounts, the shows will not resemble the group’s shambolic, sweaty final gig with Danzig at the mic, which took place in a small Detroit social hall the Saturday before Halloween in 1983. “We played a thrash show,” Only recalls. “We were playing at the speed of light.” Video of the gig shows the singer wearing a black, horned bondage mask with a red, inverted pentagram painted on his chest, while Only and Doyle tilted their heads so their “devilock” hairdos swayed with their barrage of ripping, morbid anthems – “Halloween,” “Horror Business,” “Die Die My Darling” – each punctuated by pregnant pauses of feedback. “Our drummer got really drunk and couldn’t play so we got Todd from the Necros to fill in,” he says, laughing. “It was a crazy night. It almost turned into a disaster.”
Drums won’t be a problem at Riot Fest, Danzig says, but he won’t hint at who will be sitting behind the kit. “It will blow your mind when I tell you,” he says with a laugh. “It’s pretty crazy. He’s one of my favorite drummers, and I’ve known him for a while.” (Only said last week that the drummer is someone who is a “family guy” who had to sacrifice some gigs to stay home.)
Rehearsals will begin in earnest in June, when the drummer meets up with Only at his practice studio. “Doyle’s welcome anytime,” the bassist says. “I’m just waiting for Glenn to give me the set. I’m going to get the drummer to learn 30 songs. I want him to learn 40, so we have more than an hour.” He stops and thinks about the coming gigs. “If we make it to the second show, I’ll be happy,” he says. “If we make it past the second show, I’ll be ecstatic.”
“Everybody’s going to sacrifice for this project.” –Jerry Only
“Obviously, this reunion is special,” Danzig says. “We haven’t played together in 33 years, so we know it will be special.”
“Everybody’s going to sacrifice for this project,” Only says. “Everybody’s going to come to the table strong. I think we’re going to set a precedent for bands to come.”
“I’m just going to do what I normally do,” Danzig says, “which is to go out there and try and have a great time myself and make sure everybody has a fantastic fucking time. I want them to be so blown away they don’t know what the fuck just hit them.”