NJC vs. GWAR: Shock Rock’s Cold War
***This blog article was first published shortly before Dave Brockie – frontman, founder and last remaining original GWAR member – passed away on March 23, 2014 in his own home. He was only 50. Take care of yourselves, everyone.***
I keep hearing two media “tips” for artists dealing with the media – “there’s no such thing as bad press,” and “speak no evil.” I learned not so long ago the bizarre reality of those statements, and what they actually mean.
First off – I’d like start by introducing you to GWAR. Yes of course you know who they are. But not everyone knows that they began as a theatrical group (The Slave Pit) in the early-mid 1980’s who joined up with a punk band (Death Piggy) with the ultimate goal of assembling a concept live show/short film called “Scumdogs of the Universe”. For the show, they created a fictitious band (first GWAAAARRRHHHGHG, later shortened to GWAR) to host the outrageously gory theatrics on stage. GWAR eventually became an entity unto itself, Death Piggy disappeared and in 1988 a small indie label put out “Hell-O,” the band’s first album.
I bought that album about a year after it came out, and finding it in a Canadian record store was akin to finding a nugget of gold lodged up your nose. I’d heard about this group, I longed to see them, at the time I was sure I would never find that hard-as-hell to get cassette. But I did, and I loved every rammy lo-fi moment of it. It was totally free from any constraints of stylistic expectations (punk? metal? rock? musical comedy? soundtrack to a b-movie?) and it got gears turning in my head that have to this day never stopped. Anyone who is close with my band could point out a lot of interesting and coincidental similarities between GWAR and the NJC.
I hope I’m driving this point home, folks – I am a huge GWAR fan, and I have been since damn near the start.
Getting back to the point now – media. The press exists for one purpose, like all businesses. To make money. They make money by selling advertising. Advertisers buy spots because the publication/website etc has a LARGE readership that the advertisers want to reach. The publication in turn wants to print stories that will make people talk and attract the attention of even MORE readers. Following me?
Getting back to the New Jacobin Club now – what sort of story is more interesting – what a nice bunch of guys and girls we are? Or how much trouble we get in with our show? What about how often we make a quick trip to emergency for stitches? Better yet – are we responsible for things like kids experimenting with homosexuality? Psychedelic drugs? How about the Columbine shootings?
Are you ready for this?….at some point EVERY ONE OF THOSE THINGS HAS BEEN DISCUSSED IN PRINT ABOUT US.
Ridiculous? Absolutely. And do I care? I do not give one single fuck. Because that is how modern media works, and if we didn’t want to expose ourselves to the public and make ourselves a target, then we wouldn’t be doing what we do, and we certainly wouldn’t be doing interviews with the press.
Ridiculous is the word of the moment here, because those 4 syllables are what started it all.
A couple years back I did an interview for an arts & entertainment weekly while on tour. Don’t remember what city. As was to be expected, the interviewer compared the NJC to GWAR. We have a standard answer for journalists when they compare us to the almighty GWAR – what they do is not real, most of what we do is. We do not wear plastic and foam costumes, we are wearing actual metal. Our swords, machetes, sledgehammers etc, are all REAL. This cannot possibly sound like I’m dissing one of my favourite bands, I’m just being very careful to separate what they do from what we do. In fact, I try to always preface that statement by saying we are big GWAR fans.
Anyways – it just so happened, probably because I was sipping a good ol’ Canadian rye and soda at the time – that this one time I blurted out “we aren’t as ridiculous as GWAR.”
For the record, GWAR and the New Jacobin Club are BOTH ridiculous. They disembowel huge rubber effigies of public figures on stage and spray their audience with died water from a giant phallic device, we smash cinderblocks with sledgehammers over the stomachs of our sideshow performers while they lie bare back on a bed of machetes. Definitely different shows. But both are over the top.
The journalist printed my statement largely out of context without a lot of explanation. I can see how for some it might have sounded like I was dissing one of my favourite bands – which was not the case. Now GWAR must have one hell of a publicity department, because I have no idea how they wound up reading that interview. They posted it publicly online – without much comment other than a brief jab at how we looked. We didn’t think a whole lot of it until we saw what that simple post had spawned. Dozens of comments piled up almost hourly for a few days – many from GWAR fans taking it as a cue to trash talk us (and let me tell you –some of the posts shocked me with the severity of homophobia and sexism), while some NJC supporters actually took them on – largely to point out that the statement was harmless, it was taken out of context, that we were indeed just as ridiculous. The biggest problem that the GWAR fans had (besides our somewhat gender-bendy cabaret look in the photo which OBVIOUSLY made these dudes – and they WERE all dudes – uncomfortable) was that they thought we were claiming to somehow be like GWAR but better. Anyone arguing this obviously only skimmed the article or took cues from the other angry fans. I never wanted to be like GWAR, we do not sound a whole lot like them, and beyond having weapons on stage and the odd member who wears armour once in a while, we don’t resemble them either.
“Speak no evil” – guess I blew that one. Turns out ANY comment about anything or anyone other than yourself can be made to look bad.
“There’s no such thing as bad press” – hope that’s true, but it’s funny that being attacked by the fans of one of my favourite bands was a bigger personal blow than being accused of influencing trench-coat clad kids to take guns to school.
To my knowledge no member of GWAR or the NJC participated publicly in the nasty and petulant pissing match, and a week later it was over. Some of the more inflamatory comments dissapeared making the public arguement sound like inexplicable nonsense, and sometime later (as far as I know), the entire post and comment thread was removed. GWAR and the NJC are loosely connected through a few channels by way of our publicists, and I’ve even met and talked with a couple of the fellows at the World Music Tradeshow (NAAM) in California sometime before this incident. In light of this I can’t help but feel the original intent of their post was to joke about us and perhaps even give us some face time, not create the war between fans that ensued. I bear no ill will towards the mighty GWAR and their entourage. We were being considered as openers for them on a couple Canadian Prairie dates several years back, but to be honest today I might turn it down as I would much rather enjoy their show as a fan without the toil of performing first as well.
Although we’ve never covered a GWAR song, a few years back we did record our own versions of a few songs by some of our other major influences. You can download one of them for free – our take on Killing Joke’s “Love Like Blood” – enjoy!
…and if you’d like to see for yourself what sort of show the New Jacobin Club throws at it’s audience, a complete concert filmed in multi camera angles with pro audio (the whole 9 yards) along with a ton of interviews and documentary stuff can be seen on INSIDE THE CANNIBAL CIRCUS – a DVD bonus disc packaged with THIS TREASON (2010 full length CD) . None of it this DVD content is online, but you can get it here.
RoTT ‘N RoLL