As I’ve previously written on this very site, your pal The Ouija Board Kid is a huge fan of punk rock legends the Misfits. It just so happens that I recently found out about a tome that details the turbulent history of these tombstone troubadours entitled This Music Leaves Stains! I had the opportunity to ask the book’s author, James Greene Jr. some questions regarding not only the early years of the band (1977 – 1983), but his own nostalgic Misfits memories!
I discovered the Misfits through those bastions of culture and taste “the older kids” that went to my school in the 80’s, as they were always talking about the band between drags of American Spirits. How and when did you come to discover the Misfits?
James: Congratulations for attending a school liberal enough to have a student smoking section. My old high school in Connecticut had one of those. The entire class has lung cancer now. But I kid you and the RHS class of ’97 (go Tigers!). So, uh, yeah, I was aware of Danzig, Glenn Danzig the heavy metal guy, from my adolescence on, much in the same way I was aware of Janet Jackson or 3rd Bass. Y’know, he was just a part of that popular music landscape I basically knew nothing about. I was more into comic books and comic art as a kid—I really thought I’d grow up to pencil Quasar comics for Stan Lee. That seemed like the best career path when I was twelve. It was an older kid who first mentioned the Misfits to me, this guy Ed from my sophomore year photography class, and he also told me I should really try to get into them, but I was too much of an arrogant snot rag at that age to follow through on other people’s recommendations. A few years later when I was in college a younger kid, Rob, the little brother of a friend who lived in the neighborhood, forced me to hear the Misfits simply because I was hanging out at his house and he was playing one of the Collection discs at uncomfortable levels alone in his room. I was like, “I recognize that voice…that’s Danzig, but this music isn’t heavy metal…” I was intrigued, so I knocked on his door and fell into this death rock void from which I’ve never escaped.
The Misfits always seemed to me when I was young to be more of a gang then a band…like a crew of ghouls that hung out in a cemetery all the time and also happened to record music. Did you share this impression, or were you less insane than me?
James: Well, I think everyone wants to take the lyrics or image of their favorite band as fact. You want to believe the guy from Jackyl is constantly naked and waving a chainsaw around. He probably isn’t, but that reality doesn’t inspire people. It doesn’t sell records, either. Since the Misfits ran their own label and did most everything else pretty d.i.y. it certainly seemed plausible that they lived this intense, unusual ghoul-based lifestyle. There was no middleman pumping up the rhetoric, no massive conglomerate unfurling Misfits banners at the mall…it was just all sitting around in some corner waiting for us to digest it. I don’t think it makes anyone insane to soak that up. The authenticity or perceived authenticity of the Misfits is a big part of their lasting power. Me personally, I don’t know that I ever completely bought into the idea Danzig lived in a graveyard or Doyle sustained himself on a diet of skull dust and virgin’s blood, mostly because the Misfits came into my life at a time when cynicism was already firmly in place. Everything I held dear at that time—”The Simpsons,” “Larry Sanders,” the movie “Quiz Show,” “Duckman”—that stuff all revolved, to varying degrees, around the reality of what’s behind the curtain, how what’s being projected is often totally false, how what you see isn’t always what you get. And also, by that time Danzig was part of “the system.” He was making albums with Rick Rubin and going on MTV, so how could he be this “for real” Satanist? Would a true Satanist go on “Headbanger’s Ball?” I appreciate the pedigree of every Misfit; there is certainly an untouchable aura to those guys due to the fact they made all that outstanding original music and they made it on their own terms, they crafted this amazing thing and didn’t water it down for anyone’s acceptance, but do I believe Jerry Only is stirring a cauldron as we speak? No, nor do I care. Maybe in light of his musical image it’s weird that he likes football so much, but that doesn’t have anything to do with his accomplishments or his failures. I mean, Varg and all his friends, that small Norwegian sect of black metal guys proved real necromancers and grave-robbers are a legitimate threat to people’s safety. I’d rather you make some great albums and sit around eating chocolate cake in your New York Giants sweatpants than be a virulent racist who literally murders perceived sinners in the name of Odin.
Here comes the inevitable question. What is your favorite era of the band, and why? While we are at it, what would you say is the band’s most iconic song to you?
James: Oh, you huckleberry! This is one of those no win questions. An endless jaw-aching debate about who hit the hi-hat better. “I don’t know, Robo’s tom work always sounded sloppy to me…” I’m just teasing. My knee-jerk reaction to “favorite Misfits era” is Static Age, primarily because I think that’s their strongest album but also maybe because those guys aren’t quite as lionized as later members? I feel like maybe they aren’t…but that’s also because, and this is another reason I think they’re my favorite, there’s this compartmentalized quality to the Static Age Misfits where they were still just this thing out in Jersey. They created an incredible album together—I mean, Static Age is just so affecting, musically, it hits you in so many ways, drags you through this strange dark world that’s not quite akin to the later stuff—but no one really cared because they were just this thing out in Bergen County with no totally defined image yet. The look, and maybe the overall message as well, still had some clouding around it. The album gets shelved, Franché Coma and Mr. Jim fade into history, and it’s the next phase of the band that seeps their way into the NYC punk scene. For a long time Static Age is just this malarky no one is sure actually happened. It did, though, and those songs, that album, there’s just this massive feel to all that stuff. It’s fascinating that anything as savory as Static Age could sit in a vault for so long. Just because…why? Because the Misfits didn’t have devilocks yet? Because Mr. Jim had the Mark Hamill haircut? Of course, there’s something about every Misfits era that speaks to me in some way. I can’t look at any stretch and say, “Oh, I tap out here for good.” It’s not like “The Simpsons.” Like, forget everything after season ten, waters I won’t tread. I just can’t turn my back completely.
The most iconic song of the Misfits…this could go a couple ways. To me, personally, the song that is most iconic to my life and my mind and my soul is probably “I Turned Into a Martian.” The urgency of the music coupled with Danzig’s lyrics about coming to grips with alien status…I can just relate. The most iconic Misfits song in terms of the song that best represents who they are and what they do? That’s probably “Horror Business.” A perfect collision of melody and violence. It’s fun, it’s sort of funny in the way Danzig delivers some of those lines, but it doesn’t concede the level of threat. Like, this guy probably will stab you if you go in his bathroom. So just don’t do that and you’ll be cool. He’ll slap your back and buy you a Dr Pepper. “Die, Die My Darling” is second runner up there.
Have you uncovered any more information about the famous cheeseburger incident that may have been the cause of long time drummer Googy being dismissed from the band in the early 80’s?
James: The only truly important thing I uncovered about the cheeseburger incident is that there’s no “may have” about it—Arthur Googy quit the Misfits after he literally had to fight Danzig in a Los Angeles McDonalds during the Walk Among Us tour to try and get more food for lunch. Tensions between them had been rising in the months or weeks prior, but this was absolutely the camel back-breaking moment. Googy wanted that second cheeseburger, Danzig said no, fisticuffs broke out. Forty cents (this is what a McDonalds cheeseburger retailed for in 1982, approximately) cost the Misfits their longest-serving and arguably most dedicated drummer. A real crossroads moment… Unfortunately, neither direct participant agreed to be interviewed for This Music Leaves Stains, so the retelling isn’t quite as vivid or lively as the Axl Rose/Vince Neil feud of ’91 or ’92 or whenever that was. Y’know, the one MTV built all those TV specials around. Still, the very thought of Danzig whomping on his drummer near a McDonalds Playplace over a processed substance that barely qualifies as food…that’s the stuff dreams are made of. I guess Glenn figured if he bought Googy a second burger he’d have to buy Doyle and Jerry seconds as well. That’s over a dollar right there!
You mention being a comic book fan. Have you ever seen any of the material produced from the unreleased Misfits comic from the mid 90′s, and do you have any information about it?
James: I don’t think I’ve ever seen any artwork from the comic in question but I’m ninety-five percent certain I know why it never came out. The artist, Doug Evil, fell out with Jerry Only over some Misfits-related animation he posted online without the permission of Only/Misfits management. They sued Evil over it, successfully, and he had to scrub said video from the Internet and write a formal apology. That all killed the comic collaboration, I imagine. Or maybe the comic morphed into the animation? I don’t know. Maybe you’re talking about some other Misfits comic I don’t know about, one Rob Liefeld drew where the Misfits’ breasts are the size and shape of Studebakers? At any rate, this is one of those things I only touch on in passing in the book because it’s pretty convoluted in and of itself and ultimately extraneous in terms of the overall narrative.
One of the side projects associated with your book is an amazing Tumblr featuring vintage images of the band including many I have never seen. Can you tell our readers a little about why you created this Tumblr, and how hard was it to acquire these retro images?
James: Originally I envisioned This Music Leaves Stains as more a more visually stimulating product. Obviously the Misfits were a fascinating band to look at, in terms of what they wore and how their faces looked and how they designed their total package. I wanted to put together something like On The Road With The Ramones, where every other page is rich with photos or flyers or whatever. Unfortunately, that dream had to go out the window pretty quickly for a couple reasons. First of all, the publisher only had so much money allotted for this book. The Misfits are popular, sure, but this is the first book devoted to them entirely. There’s no guarantee sales are going to be boffo, like Fifty Shades boffo or whatever. So, understandably, the publisher didn’t want to see this turn into some kind of Waterworld situation. Hey, have I made enough references to the mid-nineties yet? Anyway, yeah, the book easily could have become this money-chomping nightmare based on what most photographers were quoting me for reprint prices. I want to be clear here I am not complaining or saying photographers shouldn’t be charging as much as they can for great photos. A picture is worth a thousand words, and often a thousand dollars as well. I have nothing but respect for photographers, especially in the digital age. It’s just that I couldn’t pull the money together, and I had to make a decision, like, do I want to break my back getting these images or do I want to focus on writing an excellent account of this band? So I went with the latter and just had the images from the cover reprinted in full in a mid-section so people could really see how great Kevin Salk’s shots were originally.
Still, right before the hardcover came out, I felt kinda lousy about the picture situation, and then I realized a great thing to do, a thing I could do for free that might help promote the book and provide something of a solution to the lack of images, would be to put together a tumblr. Just a simple thing where I could throw up all these great Misfits photos that bounce around online, giving them proper captions and crediting the original photographers and all that. I’m happy that the tumblr’s been received so well by folks like you and other fans. The majority of the images are found just digging around the Internet, but occasionally someone will mail me and say, “Hey, I’ve got this great picture, you can put it up if you like.” Which is great, obviously. Unfortunately, there are still one or two photographers who’ve taken real lynchpin images of the Misfits who don’t want them appearing anywhere but their own websites or galleries. So as deep into the band’s history as my tumblr can go there are still gaps here and there. That’s okay, though. Nothing’s perfect.
Please tell the creeps and fiends reading this interview how they can get their gnarled hands on a copy of your book!
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