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May 3, 2001
When a hodgepodge group of art students and dancers came together at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1986 to work on a marketing project, one could scarcely imagine what the end result would be. Fusing theatrics with outlandish satire and a penchant for writing catchy heavy metal riffs, GWAR have become a true phenomenon in music and media over the past fifteen years, blazing a trail that is literally littered with slimy, mangled, gooey body parts. The body parts are of course fake - constructed originally of paper maché and now of molded plastic - but the impact is nothing if not devastating and addicting, cultivating denizens of rabidly loyal fans. As Chemlab front man Jared Hendrickson put it after his band toured as a supporting act for GWAR, the band's fans are, at best "tolerating... [we had] the best response an opening band has gotten... Some would just come off stage covered in spit."

According to their self-scripted legend, GWAR came to Earth millions of years ago, exiled from an intergalactic band of space trash known as the Scumdogs of the Universe. After pillaging the planet, killing off the dinosaurs and inadvertently fathering the human race, the gaggle of mutants wound up in Antarctica where they were to remain sequestered until the late 1980s, when they were "discovered" by a pimp from New York. The core members of the group - Oderus Urungus (born David Brockie), Balsac the Jaws of Death (Michael Derks), Flattus Maximus (Peter Lee), Beefcake the Mighty (Michael Bishop), and Jizmak the Gusher (Brad Roberts) - outfitted with guitars and amplifiers, released their debut Hello in 1988, followed up by the one-two punch of Scumdogs of the Universe and America Must Be Destroyed in 1990 and 1991, respectively. Released on the Metal Blade label, both albums were well received critically and served to both supercharge the band's burgeoning fan base and increase their visibility nationally. The fact that GWAR's albums are well orchestrated and well played sometimes goes unnoticed in the shadows of their outré and affected stage show which, based on the sordid comic-book style GWAR mythos, is more like an Off Broadway (way off) production of Conan the Barbarian meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Chris Rock's sense of humor filtered through a suburban Detroit trailer park. Along with their mirthful costumes, GWAR fill their shows with fake pagan rituals, mutilated corpses, fountains of fake body fluids (which are of course washable and completely harmless) and an array of extraneous cast members both human and mechanical, including a giant automated maggot. The end result is a complete production, so involved that there are always at least 15 people involved behind the scenes.


Whereas cheap slasher films and lewd standup littered with the F-word have become standard fare in a desensitized America, GWAR's repertoire continually comes under fire as being foul and tasteless, despite a sarcastic tone that is obvious to all but the thickest of right-wingers. As vocalist Oderus Urungus explained in issue two of Killjoy Circus, "if you see GWAR and you think we're actually advocating murder, rape, and crack use, then you're out of your fucking mind. I mean it's obviously a parody about these attitudes, and to blame the artists for the ills of society is just a way of displacing blame."

The common sense which most adults take for granted is often eschewed, however, and the band has found themselves on the short end of the legal stick a number of times, including a vague "obscenity" charge handed down to Oderus Urungus by the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, which was supplemented by a year long ban on GWAR performances in the city. There was also the highly publicized incident in which police in Athens, Georgia shut down a concert, only to turn around and settle out of court with an ACLU-backed GWAR for a respectable sum, which GWAR then donated to charity.

Along with their extensive and controversial theatrical tours, members of GWAR have also appeared on the silver screen as well, including the syndicated white trash phenomenon Jerry Spring show, twice. After appearing with the rest of the band on an initial airing, Slymenstra Hymen, a longtime female auxiliary member of the performance group who also performs on GWAR albums, was invited back on the program under the guise of a " Women in Rock" episode. When she arrived, however, Slymenstra was confronted by a high-strung group of angry prostitutes and strippers, which, in trademark Springer fashion, ultimately deteriorated into a brawl. Although it has been documented that Slymenstra was defending herself against another guest, she was given the traditional vilification treatment by creative cutting in the editing room, making her out to be the aggressor. "Fuck him, I hate his show anyway," Slymenstra remarked when recounting the Springer incident for an interview in the UK magazine Stormbringer. "It's rotting the minds of America, it's just gross TV. It's an insult to this Country's intelligence."

Regardless of what you may think of the band's recorded music (which is essentially the score to their sordid performances), GWAR are the true embodiment of an artistic troupe forging their own path and defying conventions. In truth, if it weren't for the graphic subject matter the group would likely be even larger than they already are, along the lines of a modern post-metal musical review for the alienated rap-rock generation, a Spinal Tap-ian spin on the Ice Capades. As things are GWAR is a formidable art form by any standards, even receiving a Grammy nomination for the long-form video Phallus in Wonderland in 1993, the same year they were shut down in Athens.

Now, nearly ten years later, GWAR is still at it, currently barreling through a national tour dubbed BLOOD DRIVE 2002. When I caught up with them here in my hometown, Jizmak the Gusher wasn't with them. Although I was initially bummed at seeing the scaled down on a small stage, my depression evaporated when they began playing. The band rolled out thunderous tune after another, heavy metal with actual appeal (much in the same way as the Melvins). Each song seemed to start out blistering and then become sordid background music to the disembowelment of George W. Bush, the Pope, and a whore named Bloody Mary. You can imagine the carnage. While it is certainly graphic (Oderus Urungus blowing his green, jet-like wad before the final song), the GWAR theater is, at worst, a Jerry Spring production of the last 20 years. At best it's the cutting edge of abrasive humor, and a damn good rock show to boot.
---

VIDEO: GWAR on the Jerry Springer show.
VIDEO: GWAR on the Joan Rivers show.

SEE ALSO: www.gwar.net

--
Eric J Herboth
Eric J. Herboth is the founder, publisher and Managing Editor of LAS magazine. He is a magazine editor, freelance writer, bike mechanic, commercial pilot, graphic designer, International Scout enthusiast and giver of the benefit of the doubt. He currently lives in rural central Germany with his two best friends, dog Awahni and cat Scout.

See other articles by Eric J Herboth.

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