Many artists put on emotional masks, and there are a multiplicity of reasons they do so. Some simply wish to distance the “real them” from the audience, in order to allow some semblance of their “true” nature to remain private. Others enjoy putting on an act, and feel that the creation of multiple personalities, fully controlled by them, is either an extension of their work, or perhaps just a way to mess with other people, or “give them what they want.” Others don’t start out with masks but grow to wear them, as the boundaries between what is internal and external blur, finally leaving an individual whose psyche is little different from what the gossip columnist or their own press agent claims them to be.
In most cases, the greatest danger that these masks, these falsehoods pose is to the artist him or herself. People who end up losing themselves in their character often end up emotionally distressed, spending their later years trying to get back to the time they lost, or they over-compensate, becoming a caricature of their public persona, as if to try harder to show that their problems are really just normalcy. We pity Michael Jackson, perhaps we hate him, but he isn’t changing our philosophies with his plastic surgeries. A few of us may on occasion ponder what will become of children raised by a parent like him; but we don’t think the mask he wears is really dangerous, even if he wants us to believe it is.
But then there are those who we really can’t tell are serious or not, and on top of that, whoÁ‚ may, with their behavior, promulgate some of the worst tendencies among people. If they’re serious about that, that’s bad. If it’s just a put on, well, that’s possibly even worse. Take the example of Glenn Danzig, who has gained a reputation as diverse as his musical career. He’s been a godfather on the American punk and metal scenes. He’s been underground, and he’s been a sellout. He’s been seenÁ‚ as dead serious, andÁ‚ as either a master of irony or a put on. What he is — what he really is — is debatable, even after 25-plus years in the music business. But the fact that he has never sought to clarify some of the most hideous of his supposed tendencies makes him a classic candidate for this column.
– The biggest accusation leveled against Danzig is that he is a straight-up asshole: a mini-man with a Napoleon complex, who tries to intimidate to make up for the fact that he looks (and sounds) like a smaller version of what Fat Elvis and Jim Morrison wouldÁ‚ appear asÁ‚ if their DNA were combined. The reason he gave for breaking up his first band, The Misfits, was that he was dissatisfied with the “group’s musical abilities” — but you think he would have figured that out in less than six yearsÁ‚ if that were the case. The more likely reason is connected to that sweeping phrase “inter-band tensions,” or more to the point, he broke up The Misfits because he could.
-He has also used intimidation tactics to get his way over other bands. The most infamous example (thanks to YouTube) being a 2004 fight heÁ‚ had with the lead singer of the North Side Kings, after Danzig bogarted other bands’ slots after a concert delay, then had the site crew pack up the gear so that no other bandsÁ‚ could go on after him. When Danzig was confronted by the lead singer as to why that happened, Danzig explained that due to local weather alerts he was told to get their gear packed up….just kidding: As the video shows, he decided to go apeshit on the other guy, suddenly yelling “Motherfucker!” and shoving him. Unfortunately for him, heÁ‚ wasn’t dealing this time with someoneÁ‚ too in awe of Glenn DanzigÁ‚ to not fight back.
-Much more seriously, though, especially as it regards the relationship between Danzig and his audience, are the accusations of homophobia and racism that have beenÁ‚ put towards him — and never really denied or addressed. For instance,Á‚ online white-power sites have members who claim Danzig as one of their own, saying that he’s actually a racist who is liked by (or putting one over on) anti-racists. It doesn’t help matters that Danzig himself says or does some things that might back up these accusations: In an interview last October with the L.A. Times, Danzig says thatÁ‚ the rumors that he was first offered the Wolverine part in the X-Men series of filmsÁ‚ were true, but….
“……the shoot was like eight months up in Canada and my band was touring. So, even if IÁ¢€™d gotten the role, I couldnÁ¢€™t do it. IÁ¢€™m kinda glad because the movie was pretty gay. It wasnÁ¢€™t the Wolverine I knew; it was some kind of weird Christopher StreetÁ‚ ‘X-Men.’”
Christopher Street being, of course, the recognized center of New York City’s gay community. Then there’s the filmed interviewÁ‚ with Danzig where he goes through his book collection, pulling out various selections, including a 1985 tome entitledÁ‚ The Occult Roots of Nazism. But while Danzig summarizes or reads excepts from the other books in this interview, for the Nazi text he merely smirks and states “every schoolchild should have this book.” What does he mean by this? While a lot of meanings could be infused into those few seconds, Danzig keeps his true meaning to himself, leaving it up for the viewer to determine if he’s into white power, an ironic poseur, or a little from both columns. And again last year, the release of the 2-CD set The Lost Tracks of Danzig gave the world the track “White Devil Rise,” which was supposedly a response to (uncited) comments by Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, but lyrically “expresses” (in Danzig’s own words) “the white race rising up and answering his call for a race war.”
One of the reasons I think Danzig has been able to wear his mask for so long is that it’s one that can never be taken 100% seriously. While he has been associated-and associates himself-with the occult and darkness and evil and all that, there’s something about the way that he looks and sounds that seems less than serious. Additionally there’s the fact that, for the most part, the music that goes with the lyrics doesn’t always match up. Much of his late 1980s-mid 1990s work has more in common with Led Zeppelin or AC/DC (or even Stevie Ray Vaughan) than any sort of death or black metal. Not that that’s a bad thing,Á‚ especially since theÁ‚ original lineup of Danzig was so cracking good.
Perhaps nowhere is this fact more on displayÁ‚ thanÁ‚ 1990’s Danzig II: Electric Lucifuge, which musically is heavily influenced by both electric Northern and acoustic Southern blues.Á‚ Then there are the chord changes — or rather, the fact that there are chord changes (as opposed to, say, speed changes). For instance, aÁ‚ track like “HerÁ‚ Black Wings” (download) was much moreÁ‚ hook-drivenÁ‚ than most anything coming out of the music scene(s) with which DanzigÁ‚ has beenÁ‚ associated. “Devil’s Plaything” (download)Á‚ continued in the tradition of “Mother” from the band’s first album — a “soft” opening verse crashing into a thunderous chorus. To a degree, this arrangement has more in common with college or alternative rock at the time (think The Pixies) than punk or metal. The tune “777” (download)Á‚ follows a similar arrangement pattern, but increases the disparity between the two parts by using a little more than a doubled electric and dobro steel guitar in the verses, then pouncing into an electrified chorus heavily influenced by Zeppelin’s arrangement of “Traveling Riverside Blues.”
OneÁ‚ of the other reasonsÁ‚ I chose this album in particular, instead of the first or third Danzig albums, which have been argued as being as good if not better than Lucifuge by various constituencies, is itÁ‚ allows meÁ‚ to show you perhaps the best Danzig cover to date. Here’s former Hole and Smashing Pumpkins bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur and Karen Elson, model andÁ‚ singer (and Mrs. Jack White), doingÁ‚ a live version of “Devil’s Plaything” in a room of the famed Chelsea Hotel:
[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/_-LIMHf5J84" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Special thanks to Aaron Fichtelberg for his suggestion of this week’s Bad Person.