The horror! The horror!

  • The List
  • 18 September 2006

Marilyn Manson and Dave Grohl love ‘em but they remain an enigma to many. Andrew Borthwick unearths the lurid legacy of original shock punks The Misfits.

Although Glenn Danzig couldn’t have imagined it when he formed the band 19 years ago, The Misfits have become the monster to his Dr Frankenstein: an awkward, lumbering being intent on survival, lurching slowly forward, irrespective of the fact its creator has long since abandoned it.

Formed in New Jersey in 1977 by singer/songwriter Danzig and bassist Jerry Only, the group toyed with various styles and sounds before finding the horror-punk approach that would become their trademark. An interest in retro sci-fi and 50s horror manifested itself in the group’s image and lyrics, while in Danzig they had a vocalist blessed with a powerful tenor that led to him being dubbed the Evil Elvis.

But after a series of albums and numerous line-up changes Danzig disbanded the group in 1983. While the singer focused on new project Samhain, everyone else was forced to get real jobs. After all, with Danzig as sole songwriter, nobody else was entitled to royalties.

That was until the late 80s. Massive public support from the world’s largest metal band, Metallica (Misfits covers were a frequent occurrence at their live shows) and the subsequent success of Samhain brought the Misfits to a new audience. With their back catalogue reissued - and selling nicely - Jerry Only was spurred into legal action demanding a cut of Danzig’s fortunes. Unsurprisingly, the singer disagreed.

The legal battle that followed lasted until the mid-90s, during which time Samhain became Danzig (effectively Glenn’s solo act) who were now a massive mainstream success. So Only ceased his pursuit of songwriting credits and broached the idea of a settlement that would allow him the use of the Misfits’ name and image. Danzig allowed the bassist the right to record and perform under the Misfits’ name but demanded that merchandising rights would be shared. Mind you, this hasn’t stopped the former frontman from laying into the exhumed corpse of The Misfits, the vocalist decrying its lack of creative value and the fact that Jerry’s the, ahem, only original member left.

So if, as many believe, the Misfits circa 2006 are merely Jerry Only’s cash cow, what then is there to take from the group’s continued existence? Well, their influence on contemporary rock is unquestionable. Aside from their influence on metal acts, Metallica, Slipknot and Slayer, their combination of melody with punk aggression arguably had an impact on radio-friendly pop-punk like Green Day, albeit in a more MTV-friendly form.

And then there’s that image, which has spawned imitators of varying quality, along with more successful acts like AFI, My Chemical Romance and Aiden, who have utilised the goth-horror look to achieve a connection with thousands of teen rock fans. And with Jerry now handling bass and vocal duties, backed by Dez Cadena and Robo of LA punk legends Black Flag on guitar and drums, it’s entirely plausible the group will run for years yet, finding another generation to join their legion of fans. And so the monster that Danzig created continues to haunt him. Which, given the group’s ghoulish origins, is kind of ironic.

Liquid Room, Edinburgh, Sun 24 Sep.

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