The Devil Inside Glenn Danzig
No trick or treaters came to my house for Halloween,” says Glenn Danzig with a dark laugh as he points to a bowl of stale candy on a coffee table in his living room. “For some reason, people around here are scared of me.”
It isn’t too hard to figure out why the kids in this recently earthquake-ravaged neighborhood in Hollywood might be wary of knocking on Danzig’s front door. To them, he must seem like some pumped-up Boo Radley in a post-punk update of To Kill a Mockingbird. Or To Dismember a Mockingbird, perhaps. First, there’s Danzig’s home, a wonderfully Gothic, vine-covered 1905 Craftsman house complete with spooky stained-glass windows. The place suggests that for the resident within, it’s Halloween all year round. Then there’s the intimidating, black-clad Danzig himself. Handsome and muscle-bound (although surprisingly short of stature), he looks like Conan the Rock Star. “Glenn’s got a certain animal magnetism to him,” says Danzig’s bassist, Eerie Von. “Especially the animal part.”
For more than 15 of his 34 years, Danzig has flexed plenty of musical muscle, mostly on the darker sides of rock – first in the late Seventies and early Eighties as the singer and leader of the Misfits, a now legendary but then – underappreciated New York City horror-punk outfit; later with the more experimental Samhain; and since 1988 with the band that bears his surname. Armed with hardcore zeal and serious chops, the musically ambitious group has covered a sonic terrain somewhere between Black Sabbath and Howlin’ Wolf while building a rabid cult following.
Now with “Mother,” Danzig – the man and the band – are enjoying a blast of pop success. “This band finally stayed together long enough for everyone to catch up with what we’re doing,” says Danzig. The group’s breakthrough song is actually a new live version of a track from Danzig’s 1988 debut album, and the video has propelled the group – singer/songwriter Danzig, bassist Von, drummer Chuck Biscuits and guitarist John Christ – into MTV’s Buzz Bin.
Now all hell’s breaking loose. The band’s first album recently went gold and the 1993 Thrall-demonsweatlive EP (featuring the live “Mother”) has crashed into the Top 100; it sold nearly 100,000 copies during one recent 10-day period. But this is no heavy-metal sellout. From the Misfits’ “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight” to Samhain’s “All Murder, All Guts, All Fun” to Danzig’s “How the Gods Kill,” Glenn Danzig has never made music for the faint of heart. For better or worse, Danzig means what he sings.
“Glenn’s vision is very dark, apocalyptic and beautiful in its own way,” says Rick Rubin, president of the band’s label, American Recordings, and a longtime Danzig producer and booster. “But that’s how he really sees the world. He’s a brutally honest guy.”
A few days after the Los Angeles earthquake, an amiable but intense Danzig welcomes a visitor into his home, where Danzig has been both cleaning up and packing up. Though structural damage to his house appears minor, the brick porch columns have crumbled, as has his chimney, and there are cracks everywhere. “I was moving, anyway,” says Danzig, who came west four and a half years ago. “This just makes it more important for me to actually do it. I’m thinking of Nevada or Virginia. Somewhere else.”
The shades are all drawn as the tattooed Danzig, who’s wearing a T-shirt that says UNDERTAKER, pulls up a chair to talk. One of his cats – black, of course – settles in nearby. The decor inside Chez Danzig is Addams Family meets Pop Culture 101: stuffed wolves, bookshelves full of titles like The Anthropology of Evil and Ceremonial Magic alongside Beauty and the Beast figurines and an unopened box of Count Chocula cereal. As he answers questions, he reaches for a pair of wooden sticks. Asked what these sticks are used for, Danzig – a martial artist who trains with one of Bruce Lee’s core students – matter-of-factly replies, “Killing people.”
This is a tough guy, after all, who, when he recently met Johnny Cash – for whom he has written a new song called “13” – told the original man in black, “Believe me, I don’t like many people, but I like you.”
Danzig confesses that he is amused to find himself embraced by MTV, getting serious play for “Mother” as well as repeated thumbs-up from Beavis and Butt-head. “It’s a sign of the times,” according to Danzig. “Supposedly we always had some fans there, but there were other people there who were scared shitless of us and what we represented.” For instance, MTV failed to jump on the video for the original 1988 Danzig version of “Mother,” in which a chicken appears to be sacrificed over a bikinied babe. “They had a total heart attack,” Danzig recalls with a laugh.
A cartoon and comic fan himself, Danzig has no problem with his new animated friends at MTV. “I know kids like Beavis and Butt-head,” says Danzig. “Sometimes I was like Beavis and Butt-head growing up. I know people who lit their friend’s house on fire accidentally.” So when Danzig looks out into his crowds, does he see real-life Beavis and Butt-heads out there? “Always,” says Danzig. “Since I’ve been playing music.”