When I think of when and where music “movements” started, I think of Liverpool in the early 60′s, the Sunset Strip in L.A. in the early 80′s, I even think of Seattle in the early 90′s. There’s something alluring and mysterious about those cities at those times… especially for a guy like me who was around but wasn’t in the thick of it. I just had to rely on what I read in guitar magazines, Spin or Rolling Stone to attempt to catch a little bit of the magic of the time and interpret what that feeling was for me. However, the one city that I never heard of growing up as being some kind of Mecca of a music movement is Lodi New Jersey. Maybe it’s because Lodi doesn’t have the shine that the Sunset Strip has, it doesn’t have the mystique and mystery that Seattle had, and it definitely did not have the mania that Liverpool had.
The Misfits… the progenitors of a genre of music that took the sound and attitude of straight-up punk rock and blended it with horror-laced imagery, lyrics, and sensibilities, formed in Lodi New Jersey circa 1977. Glen Danzig, who at the time was an alum of many other similarly styled bands, came up with the idea to name a band after Marilyn Monroe’s final film, and explore the dark side of life through music. The band struggled in the beginning, going through trials such as lineup changes, instrument mastery, and finding a voice. However, it wasn’t long before they were rocking the Devillock and singing about all sorts of B horror movies, violent situations, and other awful things that appealed to those attuned to the dark.
Now, this article isn’t going to focus on the life and times of the Misfits. I’m sure that many of you reading this know the ins and outs of The Misfit’s saga over the years that would make one helluva “Behind the Music” or “Some Kind of Monster” type of documentary (but hopefully with less awkward tears). The focus of this article is about the genre of music that Glen Danzig and The Misfits spawned. Maybe there wasn’t a cultural explosion coming out of Lodi in the late seventies or early eighties, but Lodi was the home town of a cultural phenomenon, nonetheless.
If you look up the term “Horror Punk” you’ll find that there are hundreds of bands that some would classify as being in that genre. However, if you take a closer
look, you’ll notice that, like with many other genres, the actual musical styles vary. Some of the bands that find themselves classified as Horror Punk have a straight-up dark, dirty, greasy punk rock vibe with aggression and riffs that will make you grit your teeth while others in the same classification tend to have more of a 50′s doo-wop style crooner at the helm and play the 50′s inspired blues progressions. Many of the bands that you’ll find on this list can be linked, six degrees of Kevin Bacon style, back to The Misfits. Many of the former members of The Misfits have their own bands who have had members come and go and form their own bands etc. There are also many bands whose style is directly influenced and modeled after The Misfits… in some cases, these bands began their lives as Misfits cover bands. However, though these bands all have some part of Horror Punk in them, they are as different as dark and horrific snowflakes.
Secondary only to the music with Horror Punk is the look of Horror Punk. Rarely will you see a Horror Punk band walk out with only jeans and t-shirts. Most of them have a very distinctive look and feel to their stage shows that often-times make the cost of dive bar cover and two drink minimum transform into an all-out shock rock extravaganza. Anyone on the front few rows of any Horror Punk show should prepared to be doused in karo syrup and dye along with the sweat of the band as they give us everything they’ve got.
There is not enough room in this article to talk about every Horror Punk band, or even to talk about the luminaries of the genre in depth. However, if you’re unfamiliar with many of these bands, here’s a short list of, what I consider, notable examples of Horror Punk:
The original lineup of The Misfits:
The Crimson Ghosts:
Michael Graves incarnation of The Misfits:
Zombina and the Skeletones
I realize that some folks will disagree with me on whether or not all these bands are straight up Horror Punk. If you took a listen to these bands you can see the variety of looks, sounds, and presentation that these bands have. However, the one thing they have in common is their punk rock attitude and the horror vibe within their music. I also realize that this is in no way a comprehensive list of bands.
So, why was it that I never really hopped on the Horror Punk train until I was a bit older. It definitely wasn’t because this was not the type of music that I would have listened to when I was a young lad. In fact, being a horror kid ever since I can remember, I would have relished in filling my eardrums with music that was singing about my favorite horror films, and about other taboo subjects that my adolescent mind craved. I think that the obvious answer for that is that Horror Punk wasn’t, and to this day, still isn’t for everyone. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that Horror Punk is maligned in a way. It’s seen by the “normals” as being by and for people who can’t get it through their thick skulls that Halloween happens only once a year. I’ll never forget the day I was at a work lunch with my brother (who I worked with) and some other work friends where someone, just trying to spark conversation, asked me what kind of music I enjoyed listening to. Before I could even open my mouth, my brother interjected saying something to the effect that if a band’s lead singer didn’t sound like Count Dracula and 10 babies weren’t sacrificed to the dark lord in the making of the song, that I wouldn’t be interested in it. I remember just smiling at that comment while in my head I was thinking to myself that his assertion may not have been far off. In fact, just the other day, I showed a video of a SHOCK ROCK band (don’t call them Horror Punk) from right here in Salt Lake City named DieMonsterDie to a friend, and after about 30 seconds of the song, he turned to me and with a straight face said “these guys know that Halloween isn’t for another 6 months, right?” I’m sure that every band in the Horror Punk genre gets that reaction quite often.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Horror Punk might just be the crazy uncle of rock and roll. The genre that you don’t tell about family gatherings in hopes of avoiding those awkward moments at the family barbecue. I wondered why one would choose to start a Horror Punk group knowing that they will never be accepted by the mainstream… even that pseudo mainstream that isn’t the type of mainstream that teenage girls and hippin-hoppin kids listen to these days. They get into this knowing that they may just be doomed to only play dive bars whose bar only serves cans of PBR, doomed to lug their own equipment around, moving it in and out of their beat van… knowing that they’ll be putting on their own costumes and makeup before the show only to have to hose down the stage and themselves afterwards. It’s no secret that the reason they do it is for pure love of the genre. The love of both horror movies and culture, as well as a love for aggressive music with an attitude. There will be no fame and fortune for these folks… at least not on the scale that some hip-hop or pop-punk artist may reach. Without a full-on miracle, they’re never going to receive accolades from the music industry or make millions of dollars assuring their Gene Simmons-esque lifestyles and existences.
I understand this love. This is a love that I have for horror in general. This is a love that I have for the Horror Punk genre. For me, it’s about that excited feeling that I get when I’m sitting at my desk at work making it through just another day, when all of the sudden a bit of excitement boils up in me because of that song that comes on and reminds me of what life is all about… horror and rock and roll! I can’t remember where I heard this, but recently someone said something that struck me as very poignant. This person was a horror film director and was defending why he chose to make horror films. He said
something to the effect that there comes a point in your life when choosing what kind of movies to make, that you can choose to do you do what you love, or you make what you think other people will love. He asked the question, would you rather make a movie that everyone thinks is pretty cool but will forget about after a while, or would you rather make that movie that caters to yourself and a much smaller group of people… but it will garner love and passion from the few who see it and they’ll remember it for years? I liken that sentiment to Horror Punk, and really other horror related or “outsider” music genre. This is the music for the few who are passionate about it. This may sound cheesy or even a bit out of place… but I truly believe that Horror Punk is all about true love. Love isn’t always perfect… love may not always be easy… but when things are going well… there’s nothing like it.