The Spin Interview: Glenn Danzig
"The Misfits helped form what American punk is," Danzig says. "It was like holding an atom bomb in your hand."
Tight black T-shirt. Straight black hair. Talons for fingernails. Pale, corpselike skin. Skull tattoo on pumped left bicep. Glenn Danzig relishes his image as hard rock’s dark lord, even in the serene confines of Anarkali, his favorite Indian restaurant in Hollywood. Yet when the former Glenn Anzalone speaks, he sounds like the street-corner Jersey kid he once was. “This is a cool place, nice low lights,” he says. “Maybe I’m mellowing in my old age.”
Danzig has never courted the mainstream, despite a major hit with the live version of his oedipal projectile “Mother” in 1993. But his impact is undeniable: My Chemical Romance and AFI might not exist if it weren’t for his three ghoulish bands: punk pioneers the Misfits, the goth-metal Samhain, and the eponymous Danzig. And for a guy often considered prickly and combative, he seems anything but, as he generously offers up a bite of his chicken jalfrezi.
What bands influenced you growing up?
Some musicians don’t wanna tell you who their heroes are; they think it demeans who they are. I’m pretty up-front about all that: Black Sabbath, the Velvet Underground. If I went to a show and the band didn’t move around, I don’t care how good they were—I hated it. But then you had a band like the New York Dolls, who could barely play their instruments, but the songs were great, and they went up there and just went out of their minds and made you go crazy. And vocally, it’s all the guys who sing like I do—Elvis, Jim Morrison, the Righteous Brothers, the Walker Brothers. And I love Alice Cooper.
The Misfits helped form what American punk is. People just didn’t know what to do with what was happening. They knew it was exciting, but it was just too uncontrollable for them, like holding an atom bomb in your hand. “What do I do?” “Don’t let go of it.” It’s like how they used to talk about the blues—lightning in a jar. And now, so many years later, I can only think of one guy that’s still alive and doing it: Mike Ness of Social Distortion. The Ramones are all dead, except Marky, and he’s not really a Ramone.
[Editor’s note: Marky Ramone played drums with a recent Danzig-free lineup of the Misfits.]
How do you feel about bands like AFI and My Chemical Romance having huge commercial success with a sound and image you essentially invented?
It’s cool, because both of those bands have said in print, “We love Danzig.” We took AFI out on tour. And they’ve both covered Misfits songs. What irritates me are bands that pretend they’ve never heard of the Misfits or Danzig, but they’ve got the skeleton shirt. I’ve always said I’d rather kids be influenced by our stuff than, like, Journey or Foreigner. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. I hated that ’70s radio crap. It’s why punk happened in America and England—that crappy FM music shoved down your throat, year after year. Man, strip it down, make it exciting. The crazier you were, the more people liked you.
But a lot of people didn’t like the Misfits or Danzig. Why do you think you’ve cultivated a large contingent of haters?
I don’t know, jealousy? Maybe they just don’t like what I’m saying. There’s been a connotation, since loud music has made a big comeback, that this anti-p.c. attitude is always gonna be attractive to people who hate the status quo, but that’s one of the things I always hated about [fundamentalist punk zine] Maximum Rocknroll—”Wear this uniform. Say this. Hate Ronald Reagan.” Well, no. I’m not gonna look like you. And the Misfits didn’t look like any of those bands. And I wasn’t writing about their kind of shit. I don’t care about politics, I care about sociology. You’re retarded if you think you’re gonna be able to change shit.
Your Blackest of the Black tours have brought a lot of heavy bands along, just like Ozzfest.
I just noticed again this year that Ozzfest has a bunch of bands I’ve had. We had Lacuna Coil again last year, one of the best bands out there. It just irritated me so much when American producers tried to re-create them with Evanescence and made it all pop. And that whole nü-metal period was so annoying to me. It was like the Tiffany of metal.
Does it bother you that younger fans might know Danzig only from the inclusion of “Mother” on Guitar Hero II?
Actually, I didn’t approve of that. I’m supposed to, because I own the song. [Producer] Rick Rubin’s company approved it without sending it to us. We flipped out.
One of the songs on the new Lost Tracks of Danzig is “White Devil Rise,” one which you wonder what might happen if Louis Farrakhan incited a race war. Are your prepared for some harsh reaction to that?
Someone just wrote, “Glenn wrote a song about racism. Is he a racist?” Jeez, you can’t write about anything now—then you’re that person. I’m a storyteller! Retarded. It’s the whole p.c. thing, you know what I mean? Whatever. Go buy your Green Day T-shirt and go home.
You’ve said that much of the material on this collection was included because it didn’t fit the mood of other albums. What’s the story with the gospel-influenced “Cold, Cold Rain?”
Rick Rubin hated that. I think it was just too Elvis-y ballady for him. But I loved it. The fans heard demos of the song back around 1990, and they kept asking every year, “When is this gonna get released?”
Why did you split with Rubin after he produced the first four Danzig albums?
Basically, Rick and I always worked together really well. We just never really had a contract. I mean, we did, but it was a weird area, a very gray area. So finally, during the Danzig 4 sessions, I said, “Rick, we gotta talk about this. We’re selling a lot of records, and we’re not gettin’ paid.” We never got royalty statements for all those years. And there was an issue about publishing [rights], too. Rick told me he had nothing to do with it, and that I had to sue him—that I shouldn’t take it personally, that was the way business was. And I was like, “What?” Because I felt we were also friends. I have good memories of working with Rick. And crummy ones, too. But you remember the good more than the bad as you get older. You can’t carry it around.
[Editor’s note: Rubin declined to comment.]
Why is it that musicians always have to fight for their money?
Labels are the only place I know where you pay to record—they give you an advance or whatever, and you pay them back—but they still own the album. That’s like after getting a lease for a car, you finally pay it off, but the dealership still owns the car. And the lawyers and courts don’t want to hear that you should own this stuff. It’s crazy.
Are you getting a piece of the Misfits merch that’s everywhere?
Some is mine. [Misfits bassist] Jerry [Only] is allowed to do some of his stuff, too. He can’t use my designs; I can’t use his.
And you prefer to keep your business separate, because you don’t get along that well these days?
Yeah. Even though I love [Jerry’s brothers, former Misfits guitarist] Doyle. I’m producing him. We finally found a singer.
Is it safe to say that punk and metal have made you rich?
I don’t think that anyone can ever be financially sound in this day and age, unless you’re a multibillionaire. Any one thing could happen, and you’re wiped out. I’m not starving, but I’m constantly working, too. I run my own label [Evilive]. It’s a lot of work, and I don’t think a lot of people want that weight on their shoulders. They just want that rock-star life. I just watched from the beginning—if I didn’t take care of my business, I’d get screwed, and that would make me angry. I’m still angry, but I’m getting screwed less than I would have otherwise.
You’ve acted in The Prophecy II and did a voice on Aqua Teen Hunger Force. What’s going on with your own comics-derived New Orleans vampire flick, Gerouge?
We’re getting new producers. The last producers came to me—and they picked that project out of all our other projects—and they said, “We’ve been showing it around to a bunch of our distributors, and we have a question. Could we have more whites?” I was like, “No!” It’s an all-black cast, the only white people in it are the KKK!
You’ve always been drawn to Satanic imagery—would you rather have a Satanist or a Christian as your accountant.
Neither. There’s all kind of schisms in Satanism, but the thing I like about it is the quest of knowledge. Other religions are more like, “No, you’re not allowed to learn any of this. Only the select few are allowed.” A lot of people don’t want you to have power, because then you become a different kind of enemy. Religion is a great thing. But as soon as it becomes an organized religion, and you’ve got a leader and you’ve got people telling you what to do, that’s when it’s all bullshit. I don’t see any holy wars being fought in the name of Satan.
You’ve never been married. Have you ever considered it?
No. Sometimes I want to be by myself. And I have so much to do. And I usually migrate to women that are independent, a little crazy. I think it’s because I had real strong women role models when I was growing up. My dad didn’t really raise me. He was at work; he wouldn’t even deal with it, being an ex-Marine. And my mom, my grandma, my aunts pretty much raised us. My grandma wouldn’t stop smokin’—they took out one of her lungs, she still wouldn’t stop smokin’ or drinkin’. She had, like, three husbands. If she was unhappy, she would just leave. Leave the kids or whatever. She rode a motorcycle and was a bartender. I think in the ’20s or ’30s, she was a flapper.
One of the lines in “Mother” goes, “Father, do you want to bang heads with me?” Did your parents support your career?
When I was a kid, no. I had to pay for all my own shit; they didn’t want me to be in bands or anything. Later on, different story. My dad was still alive when I wrote a song for Johnny Cash. I got him an autographed picture. Easy said, “Oh, the Marines? Good man.”
You’ve said you don’t want to tour anymore. Why not?
I’m still trying to work it out. When I’m on the road, stuck in a hotel room or bouncing around on a bus, I can’t do any work. It’s almost like I’m wasting time, and I don’t feel like I have a lot of time.
Isn’t it that sort of anxiety that drives a lot of musicians to drugs?
I’ve never been a drug user. I might’ve played with them when I was a little kid. In New York during the Misfits period, I had a crazy life. I have a really bad temper. I tried to kill a cop—I don’t know how it even happened, I was so fucked up. Just retarded shit. I’d been in and out of the Tombs [the infamous Manhattan jail] that whole year. And I sat down with myself and just said, “You skipped this time, but this is gonna be your career pretty soon.” I changed my life. Stopped drinking, everything.
Did you go to rehab or just go cold turkey?
No rehab. Now I try to be nice. I’m usually not mean to people unless they’re assholes to me. I try to avoid them.
In a widely circulated video clip from 2004, a guy confronted you backstage because his band didn’t get to play at one of your gigs. Then you shoved him and he punched you out. What happened?
No one asks, “Why did you push him instead of nailing him right in the face?” ‘Cause there’s a camera rolling! I have so many friends who’ve lost tons of money from that setup, punching people and getting sued. One of my guys a long time ago worked for Guns N’ Roses, and he told me, “You’re lucky you’ve never been sued.” He said Duff [McKagan] would go into these clubs, and a guy would have a friend there with a camera: “Hey, Guns N’ Roses pussy!” [Strikes fist against palm, mimicking a punch] And they’d walk out. Next day, million-dollar lawsuit.
You’re 52 now. Can you picture yourself at 70?
No. In my head, I’ll look exactly like I do right now. Unless I don’t get a lot of sleep or I get migraines. My dad had ‘em, too. i look in the mirror and I still see the same guy, unless I go weeks without working out. Then I’m seeing a different guy.
Have you bought a cemetery plot yet?
No. I’m gonna be cremated. I just don’t want to be buried in the ground. What if you do not really die, and the worms are crawling around? ‘Cause no one knows, really. People are still waiting for Houdini to come back.