Seeing the original Misfits reunited at Riot Fest in 2016 was one of my favorite concert experiences of all time. Never in a million years would have I expected Glenn Danzig to get on stage with Jerry Only and Doyle Von Frankenstein ever again. It was shocking and surreal to say the least! Sharing the experience with thousands of others was sort of polarizing. It made me think about why I love this band so much. These days everyone recognizes the name and logo, but what is it about the Misfits that makes people care so much?
In order to investigate, I thought back to what made me a fan of the Misfits.
When I was a kid I loved old horror movies. Some of my favorite memories are being little and watching classic monster movies with my Dad. I watched and read about Dracula, The Mummy, and The Wolfman like other kids watched Power Rangers or Transformers. I took pride in knowing the chronical order of the Universal Frankenstein films, and how many times Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appeared together on screen. By the time I got a little older and into music, it was only a matter of time before I’d get into the Misfits.
Combining elements of horror and science fiction with the melodies of early 60s rock n’ roll created one of the most interesting sounds in rock history. And it seemed like it was tailor-made for kids like me. I remember hearing “Last Caress” on a homemade cassette when I was about 10 years old and thinking it was one of the coolest songs I ever heard. The lyrics were obnoxious but performed in such a way where I didn’t know if it was serious or a joke. Of course, murder and assault are never okay to joke about, but the Misfits defied standard conventions and turned the shocking into something fun. All without being overly vulgar or cringe-worthy.
Despite now being considered pioneers, the Misfits were never accepted by any particular genre.
One of my favorite aspects of the Misfits is their contradictions as artists. Danzig’s vocal style inspired by Italian tenors, had no business being in rock n’ roll, much less horror punk. But he makes it work. At times sounding like Jim Morrison’s evil twin, Danzig croons through songs about death, dying, and the undead and sounds so cool doing it. Even his influences such as Frankie Lymon and Roy Orbison are much like putting a square peg in a round hole when it comes to the Misfits’ genre.
Aesthetically speaking, the music of the Misfits didn’t really fit in with other acts in the punk genre. It was sloppy, lo-fi, and noisy like many other acts but a lot more sinister. They weren’t the first punk band to adopt a heavier sound but they were one of the few to keep pop hooks among gnarly riffs. Listen to “Astro Zombies” for example. A vintage rock n’ roll vibe being obliterated by a distorted bass as the lead instrument in 1981 no less? Their music was too hook driven for metal fans and thematically too dark for punk. They were legitimate misfits!
Attitude and egos may have torn the band apart, but the heart and soul of what they created lives on.
Danzig’s follow-up band Samhain and his eventual solo career upheld the values he proposed in the Misfits. After countless legal battles over the band name, Only revived the Misfits with a new singer and continued to release new music. Personally, I’ve always felt that particular incarnation of the band was terrible and the less said about it, the better. But I still give Only props for doing what he loved in spite of facing irrelevancy. In most cases, those post-Danzig albums turned young fans on to the old albums and even greater appreciation was achieved.
Those albums and EPs with Danzig remain special and timeless to fans. But sadly, the Misfits are rarely mentioned in the same breath with other legends despite their influence on punk and metal. This taps into one of the most important elements in my love for the Misfits. They represent something a lot of people (including myself) have experienced throughout their lives. Being an outcast.
Everyone has felt like an outsider at least one point in their lives.
Much like David Bowie, the Misfits celebrated what quite a few circles thought to be too weird. But as where Bowie had the luxury of winning over those people, the Misfits didn’t care. It was never about giving the popular kids a peek into the underworld or bringing them together. It was more about accepting who you are and not giving a second thought about what people thought of it.
They might not be the greatest musicians to ever pick up instruments, and their songs may never be golden standards, but the Misfits represent a part of us celebrated. The dark, the weird, and maybe even a little of the self-aware. Being a fan of the Misfits makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than just a few records. It’s a full on community of like-minded individuals who share the same love of B-movies and rock n’ roll. We’re ghouls, fiends, and the living dead. We are the Misfits.
2018 photo by Karen Ireton
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.