Say whatever else you will about Glenn Danzig, but the guy has principles. Of a twisted, silly sort, but nonetheless. He won’t dilute his art or alter his aesthetic to please anyone. Even if that art is built entirely around oversexed schlock-horror tropes that most of us wouldn’t defend quite so vigorously. Even if it might make for better music, earn him critical respect, or just keep people from snickering behind his back.
His best music is a direct result of this intractability. Unfortunately, so’s his worst stuff. And those of us who spent our acne-and-homework years scribbling Misfits’ death-heads and Samhain skeletons on our spiral notebooks have suffered through a lot of Danzig-related dreck lately.
But even if the music’s been sketchy, anyone who was once a pubescent outcast with an addiction to Z-grade horror flicks has still got to be both charmed and disarmed by a middle-aged guy who gets to live 24/7 in a world of adolescent gothic excess. Well into his fifth decade, Danzig’s vision as both artist and private citizen still revolves around the kind of obsessions you’d expect someone to tone down once rent, taxes, and jobs that involve dress slacks come into the picture. His whole existence is a hymn to the joys of (as one friend put it) “skulls, bats, boobs, and the living dead.”
Like a lot of pre-’90s frontmen, Danzig seems to believe that coming off as an everyman is a rock singer’s greatest sin. But unlike most metal heroes, he doesn’t revert to Regular Joe status once the microphone’s switched off. He’s Danzig even when washing his undies or running errands, completely unconcerned with the fact that Grand Guignol plays differently onstage than it does at Whole Foods. His persona as metal’s squat, surly, supernaturally obsessed sex god has never publicly wavered. Alice Cooper occasionally takes a break to shoot a round of golf in his civvies, but Danzig’s out there being ridiculous for all of us who can’t or won’t wear chain mail and mesh to the DMV.
I find this sort of batshit life-as-extension-of-your-art both baffling and thrilling in a lot of people, especially when they stick to it in the face of extreme derision. And Danzig indeed claims to not give a fuck about being mocked. Which doesn’t stop him from throwing entertaining hissy fits, of course, or looking like a chump. An instant-classic Decibel cover story from 2010 paints him as a guy whose love of the apocalyptic leads to a belief in the kind of political conspiracy theories you usually only find spouted by paranoiacs in Pynchon novels. And who will give you an unholy stink eye if you politely point out that this is sort of embarrassing.
So, yeah, the guy’s fuck-you-if-you-disagree attitude still makes for great living theater. Sadly, it’s also made for a long decade of middling-to-terrible records. His career as a recording artist has deteriorated to the point where the cult hardens and the casual fans get suspicious about faint praise, where any half-decent record is hailed as a return to form by those who pray the guy one day escapes the purgatory of unintentional self-parody, and everyone else stopped paying attention long ago.
Which made it all the more surprising that last year’s Deth Red Sabaoth was indeed a great Danzig record. Sure it’s not quite up to the first couple of albums he released under his own surname, but it’s also the most pleasingly grotty and blunt-force Danzig document since the Misfits days. While never quite reaching the glorious tinny squall of Static Age, the recording is purposefully ragged in a way that fits the back-to-basics attack of the music. As anyone who suffered through the slick and shriek-y synth slop of 1996’s Blackacidevil and 1999’s 6:66 Satan’s Child knows, Danzig never should have gotten away from those basics. It’s a nice, unexpected thrill to hear him once again merging the skuzzier anti-flower-power side of the ’60s with the burnt-to-a-crisp blues of early metal and even a few fist-to-nose jolts of ’77 punk.
And, also, the guy’s still got one of the greatest sets of rock pipes, the croon-into-bellow bravura that made him a sui generis frontman in the anti-virtuosic days of punk and one of the last-men-standing when it comes to metal singers who can actually sing. If there’s one key reason to see him live, it’s that voice. The chance to see him operate in the one arena where his demonic devotion feels not only natural but essential is a bonus.
Danzig plays Wednesday, May 18 at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury