PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- I never got to meet or have a conversation with Dave Brockie, but I've spoken with his alter ego Oderus Urungus at length. He's nothing if not committed.
Five years ago, while writing for the Boston Herald, I managed to sneak a pitch for an interview with the GWAR lead singer into a pile of other ideas that were mostly onion layers. The plan was to have my editor peel back all the other wilted, rotting refuse and leave the GWAR interview. By comparison, a chat with Virginia Commonwealth University art school graduates in grotesque rubber alien costumes who spray their audiences with gallons of fake bodily fluid beat out yet another unsigned folk rock act playing near Faneuil Hall... because of course it did.
When it was announced earlier this week that Brockie had died unexpectedly at age 50, it made me grateful to have spoken to him in any capacity, but especially with him in character as Oderus for the better part of an hour. That interview is locked behind the Herald's online paywall, but represented perhaps the most tame five minutes of a talk that ranged from ziggurats of severed police heads to shooting heroin into his giant phallus to his defiling of Joan Rivers. There was no letup or break in his facade, just a expletive-laden lesson about the collision of art and commerce: The art has to hit first, otherwise it's going to be a blood-soaked mess.
During a period in music that features Kanye West reinventing himself as hip-hop's Lou Reed and Lada Gaga evoking Karen Finley at South By Southwest (and trying to make the her substance match the hype), would-be art rockers are treating the art as a secondary ingredient. As David Byrne, Anne "St. Vincent" Clark, Wire, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel and even Tool discovered, the artistic side of "art rock," "art pop" or whatever name you feel comfortable slapping on it has to be right at the top of the recipe.
In GWAR's case, the theatrics of their rubber-suited metal band of lecherous, debaucherous interplanetary invaders began 30 years ago as a skit. GWAR's founding members initially played together as Death Piggy in an old Richmond bottling-plant-turned-performance-space. Their shows were punctuated by brief little set pieces featuring a band of space barbarians from Antarctica called "Gwaaarrrgghhlllgh." That fake band was supposed to star in a student film called "Scumdogs of the Universe" and had an entire prop shop called "The Slave Pit" dedicated to its costumes and set pieces. When crowds started going nuts for the aliens and walking out on Death Piggy, GWAR was formed.
The GWAR live show became stuff of legend. Audience members were fed to monsters onstage. The crowd was doused in fake blood, puss and other less savory fake fluids. On Memorial Day weekend in 1995 -- large portions of which were spent watching GWAR's skit-and-music-video-filled VHS video compilations Skulhedface and Phallus In Wonderland and listening to their albums This Toilet Earth and Ragnarok -- a group of friends and I piled into a buddy's used Chevy Cavalier and drove from our vacation house in Wildwood, N.J., to The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J., just to see them perform.