The voice on the other end of the phone doesn't sound anything like evil personified. You expect Glenn Danzig, heavy rock's darkest angel and possessor of one of the genre's most powerful voices, to shatter the earpiece with his patented baritone roar. The truth is, the 47-year-old howler sounds downright weary as he sighs a half-hearted "How ya doin'" into the telephone --he's calling from an El Paso hotel room. It's two days into the U.S. leg of a tour supporting his just-released album 7:77 I, Luciferi, and he could be exhausted from the previous night's show in Albuquerque, but in all likelihood Danzig is just plain tired of trying to explain himself to a world that doesn't understand his brand of musical mayhem.
Glenn Danzig (née Anzalone) first made a name for himself in 1977 by forming the Lodi, N.J.-based band The Misfits, a horror movie/comic book-inspired punk rock group that went on to influence an entire generation of young musical upstarts. To set his band apart from its early punk contemporaries, vocalist-songwriter Danzig concocted an unlikely hybrid of schlock horror lyrics and instantly catchy pop melodies. The Misfits released several memorable singles and EPs on Danzig's Plan 9 imprint but really caught their groove with 1982's Walk Among Us, an album chock full of raging pop tunes with titles like "Astro Zombies," "Nike A Go-Go" and "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?" Unfortunately, The Misfits had devolved into a mile-a-minute thrash band before Danzig pulled the plug in 1983. His next project, the adventurous and heavily Goth-influenced Samhain, took the blood and guts theme even further.
A chance meeting with Def American founder/producer Rick Rubin resulted in a Danzig getting signed to the label in 1987, with Samhain morphing into "Danzig," an ever-changing conglomeration of musicians that would back Glenn's musical endeavors. "The reason we went with the Danzig name was that I'd never have to change the name if people came and left," he says without a trace of humor. "The lineup was supposed to change on a regular basis."
Throughout the '90s, Glenn Danzig came into his own as a creative force, touching on bluesy hard rock (1988's self-titled debut); metal (1993's Danzig III: How The Gods Kill); electronica (1996's Blackacidevil); and, most surprisingly, classical music (his solo 1992 conceptual album Black Aria). Danzig would go on to sell millions of records, due in part to scoring a left-field hit in 1995 when a live version of "Mother" (off the band's debut disc) was embraced by MTV tastemakers Beavis and Butthead.
"It's pretty important," says Danzig, when asked about his ever-broadening musical horizons. "It's the basis of the whole punk thing--to keep it exciting. When it gets boring, change it. It doesn't mean put out some artsy-fartsy record; it means put out something crazy and just keep doing it."
Danzig throws the word "crazy" around quite a bit. He describes his fans as "crazy, rebellious, spit in the face of authority ... out of their minds" and his new album as "loud, crazy and hard." It's this pursuit of craziness that's inspired Danzig's latest assault on the American public: the "Blackest of The Black Tour."
"It's going to be crazy--anti-MTV, anti-Ozzy, anti all that stuff," he says, his voice rising considerably. The tour, which is being planned for this fall, will feature many acts deemed too extreme for Ozzy Osbourne's traveling Ozzfest. Danzig, himself a veteran of Ozzfest 1996, has nothing but disdain for his onetime hero's "metal" fest. "It's fucking corporate crap rap-metal shoved down your throat whether you like it or not," he says, adding, "Fuck Ozzy. Fuck him."
So what does Danzig think of The Osbournes, the massively popular hit MTV program that's introduced the former Black Sabbath frontman to Middle America? "I think it's bullshit," he says. "It makes Ozzy, who used to be in one of the greatest bands in the world, look like a bumbling imbecile. It's just so Sharon (Osbourne's wife/manager and The Osbournes' executive producer) can get rich, so fuck both of them."
Danzig is obviously not one to mince words, even when it comes to a sensitive topic like the events of Sept. 11. "My take is very crazy," he says. "I think we should have just gone in there and destroyed everybody. But that's me--if it's cancer, go in and cut it out before it gets worse. That's how I am, and if people don't like it they can go fuck off."
And how does Danzig, who grew up with some of the Sept. 11 victims, answer the concerns of those who say that scads of innocent people would be killed in just such a retaliatory strike? "Y'know what? Go fuck yourself--tell that face to face to some of the people who just died," he says. "If they got the balls to do that, go right ahead."
It's this kind of uninhibited outspokenness that makes Glenn Danzig so perversely appealing. He doesn't care what anybody thinks and he makes no bones about letting you know it. For his critics--"those who think they know but don't"--Danzig has this to say: "They can all go fucking die."
But there has to be more to Glenn Danzig than the hate-fueled werewolf he portrays publicly. What really are we to make of a man who once stated that seeing someone get their face crushed is funny, who titled his last album 6:66 Satan's Child and who's rumored to have had a clause in his tour rider that stated that nobody backstage could look him in the eye? More to the point, why does such a gifted songwriter--his tunes have been covered by such diverse artists as Johnny Cash, Metallica, Guns N' Roses, Evan Dando and Roy Orbison--devote his considerable talent to penning bleak, often violent musings on the dark side?
"Who ... me?" he asks, genuinely taken aback. "I don't see it as a dark side. I don't buy into everybody's idea of what the world is about. I buy into what I want to know about and read about and what I see around me," he says. "That's the way I am, and if people want to say, 'Oh, it's the dark side,' go fuck yourself.'"
Danzig's view on the nature of good and evil is that both are a part of the same larger picture. "There are the two sides of the polarity--without the one you don't have the other. It's existence; it's so basic that people can't grasp it." In fact, he's confounded by people's inability to understand this viewpoint. "I won't say everybody is dumb, but I will have to say the majority of people are dumb," he says, laughing.
A brief glimpse of Danzig's softer side emerges when he talks about his fans--people who connect with his lyrics and music. "When people tell you that you've changed their life in a song, that's the best you can get," he says, "and that's enough for me.
"I don't need the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame or any of that. I tell people all the time: 'I don't play rock and roll.' Chuck Berry plays rock and roll. I don't fuckin' play rock and roll. I play some bastard, crazy, loud, rebellious insane music."
Twenty-five years after embarking on his macabre musical journey, Glenn Danzig is at peace with his legacy of musical brutality. But just where does he see himself in that all-encompassing larger picture? Where is the real Glenn Danzig?
"I'm in myself," he says. "That's it."
Danzig with Prong and Damnaged canceled their Thursday, June 20, date at Raleigh's Lincoln Theatre.