Last week it was announced that GWAR guitarist Cory Smoot, also known as Flattus Maximus, was discovered dead on the band’s tour bus. Details of Smoot’s death have not been determined yet; pending autopsy results, but it marked an altogether strange reality in the highly unrealistic world of the theatrical metal band.
GWAR as a group can be offensive and bizarre. They dress in outrageous masks and costumes, perform satirical songs that extolled the virtues of the substance “jizzmoglobin” among other less-than-Sunday-School-ready fare, and they were not afraid of looking silly sometimes, ugly most of the time, and off-putting all of the time. They are a loud fireball in the face disguised as a performance art collective and you either got it or you didn’t.
I’ll admit that I didn’t get it. Call me crazy, but I like to enjoy my music even when it is nasty and aggressive, loud and offensive, without feeling uncomfortable. GWAR makes me uncomfortable even though I know it is based in part on a joke. The band itself is not a joke even when the material is at its most unhinged, and therein sits the reason for this piece.
Smoot had portrayed Flattus Maximus since 2002 when Zach Blair left the group. The characters mostly remained even when members portraying them shifted out; kind of how Kiss will always have a “Space Ace” even if Ace Frehley is not in the band anymore only, because of GWAR’s excessive accoutrements, who could ever tell? Smoot was not the second Flattus in the band either. The character had been played by Dewey Rowell, Pete Lee, Tim Harriss, Blair and Brian Fechino, but up to this point these were all the standard shifting of tectonic plates underground. Some just leave, others clash, and still others produce disconcerting waves across the surface and create instability that cannot be tolerated.
Yet Smoot would seem to be a different story, and there seems to have been a friendship between him and frontman Dave Brockie (Oderus Urungus) that made him more of a Scumdog-In-Arms than his predecessors. This is evident in two actions after Smoot’s demise. The first was the announcement that, while Flattus Maximus existed before Smoot in so many ways, the character would not afterward. GWAR is retiring the character in his honor.
Perhaps more touching was the news that the band performed live without their headgear as a tribute. Even as a non-fan of what GWAR does, I was oddly moved by this. The band is seen with that costuming being the whole purpose, the reason for existing, and to remove it for this instance said a lot about the situation. It indicated: we are human. We are mortal, and we are hurting. The show must go on. Let’s do this as we are, not as what we pretend to be.
As coarse and uncomfortable as GWAR can be, at that moment, they were the most sensitive metal band on the face of the earth. That might not be seen as a compliment by some, but in an age where humanity keeps getting blunted in so many ways, GWAR should wear it proudly.