You think you’re a Zombie, you think it’s a ‘scene’
From some Monster Magazine
Opened your eyes too late
This ain’t no fantasy, boy …
From the MISFITS’ song “NIGHT OF THE IVING DEAD”, lyrics by Glen Danzig
I LOVE HORROR.
Wait, no –
Before I just climb on the roof and start shouting it like I want to, let me try to explain myself a little better. I love Horror. And not in the way that people love westerns - and not in the way that people love comedies or film noirs, either. Horror – perhaps beyond any literary or cinematic “genre” - has a lifestyle attached to it. Although there’s a wildly varied fanbase for Horror, there’s still a more cohesive structure to its serious fans than that of any other genre.
Ok, wait, let me back this up - WAY up … OK, I’m in high school, like 10th grade. I worship the vinyl and counter culture gods weekly by visiting one of the finest shops America has ever seen, TRASH AMERICAN STYLE in Danbury, CT, just 30 minutes from where I lived at the time. Malcolm Tent, one of the store’s proprietors, was often the man behind the counter and is also somewhat of a legend. For me, he was an obvious moral role model, and perhaps even more importantly, he was extremely kind at the same time as being head-over-heels excited about things he loved. Malcolm is one of those folks that’s far beyond most humans when it comes to taste, he doesn’t even remotely care that most people want their entertainment pre-packaged with what their reaction should be written on the front. It’s not an easy way to be, and in retrospect, I thank him for his patience talking to yours-truly, one hell of a basket case in those teen years.
So, as is usual for most teenagers, I had a streak of gross intellectualism born out of fear. I was genuinely unsure of how to feel about certain things because I was sure I couldn’t understand them. I often pre-supposed what bands I had only heard of would actually sound like, which at times was unfair to my first impression. But worst of all, it was as if I thought there was a physical line to be crossed with enjoying music and film, as if when one crossed this line through exposure to the “correct” records and movies he or she would technically be an “expert”, or at least an “adult fan” or something. Of course, that’s not reality – that’s not how things work - it’s just easier for the human mind to concoct this kind of absurdity in order to avoid embracing the universe’s distinct penchant for chaos.
At this time, my friends and I had started really making fun of Danzig a lot. I mean, A LOT. We loved the Misfits, Samhain, and Danzig (probably in that order) just like any decent American, but we still wanted to lampoon it/him too. Among other things, we would read the lyric sheets and just howl at what our young minds thought were totally ridiculous words and ideas. WELL, one day, while I was shopping at TRASH by myself, and in conversation with Malcolm ended up uttering a disparaging remark about Mr. Danzig. Malcolm turned to me quietly and inquired what I meant by it, and not in a disagreeable way either. I built up my cynicism quickly and said something like:
“Well, yeah, but you know Danzig’s a crazy egomaniac!”
Malcolm, who was likely upset by my onset of teenaged negativity, retained full composure, looked me in the eye, then spoke a sentence - calmly and plainly – that still echoes in my head to this day:
“Well, I think he’s really one of the great songwriters of our time.”
WOW. That shut me right up. What an amazing notion! What an honest and naked thing to say … I knew I had been totally schooled, and it felt good. But it was kinda tough too – I mean, the artists that I really, in-my-heart thought were geniuses weren’t often the “popular” choice (Napoleon the XIV or Andy Milligan would be good examples), and therefore all of those unpopular faves would have to suffer a rebranding-with-humor; to “justify” their enjoyment … you know, like GUILTY PLEASURES (EEECHHH!).
The point is not that you HAVE TO like Danzig – but, that if you do, it’s OK to just LIKE IT. You can find true beauty in ANYTHING, something doesn’t have to be in a museum in order for you to be moved by it. Hell, it could be the way your trashcan looks when it’s full, it could be a cartoon you watched as a kid, ANYTHING. The only rule is that there are no rules, AT ALL. So, of course it’s easy to laugh at Danzig. Because he wasn’t holding back, he was wearing his heart on his sleeve. There are words and stories of extreme natures in his lyrics, and I definitely think they’re successful the way they are. Some are perfect. How great would the Misfits really be without the absolutely kitschy Horror obsession? Not nearly as great. It often takes doing something potentially embarrassing or unpopular to have a lasting impact. It takes a fearless person to laugh in the face of what’s “normal” or accepted and create truly original, dark art that’s readily disposable as junk to most people. For the world of Horror, Danzig should be considered a Saint.
So, now that we’ve cleared up the nakedity of mind that it requires to be a fully operational member of my twisted tribe, let’s get to the meat of this blather - I find myself in parallel with Danzig, because:
I really do! I need it. I depend on it, and if it weren’t for Saints like Poe, Romero, Coye, and of course Danzig, I can pretty safely say that I probably would have committed an act of actual horror on the world. Instead of just having a lot of fun with all that darkness, I likely would have let it consume me.
Horror is my escape, my relief; it’s my fucking religion. I pray to Dracula, Frankenstein and ghouls, I giggle with grave-robbers and I’m married to the Macabre. It’s not a joke for me. I’m brought to tears by Tod Browning’s DRACULA, I weep at the beauty of KING KONG and Lovecraft’s written word can literally exhilarate me to the point of physical tingling. With Horror, I’ve managed to find a place where I actually FIT. A place where I not only belong, but a place where I’m welcome. Wanted. Cared for. In the deeper pits of my thought I hypothosize that that’s what Lon Chaney was doing. He was caring for generations beyond his own life. Chaney was painfully conscious of that dark sliver of humanity, the needy, the meek – the “ugly”. Chaney gave of himself – the cost of which was often massive amounts of pain and discomfort – and he did it for them, for US. For the hurt, for the desperate, for the lonely ones - he did it for ALL of us watching who in herself or himself saw the Phantom, the Hunchback, Alonzo the Armless, and 997 other beautiful faces. And, as grand a statement as it may be, this is an aspect I try to bring to things I create, either through performing music or writing.
I just can’t help it – I just see SO CLEARLY the need to travel to dark places, to unknown worlds of nite that remove me from the sickening and mundane nature of modern existence. The obligations and compromises of “reality” leave me DESPERATE, SALIVATING for removal from my surroundings … I’m not ashamed to say it either. The world has a lot of remarkable beauty to it, but it’s simply not enough for me. I need more, I can’t be grounded to this world at all times and not lose my mind. I need to go further out, to Fantasy and to Horror.
One of my favorite quotations is from musician Patti Smith:
“After MAD, drugs were nothing.”
In order to save space, I won’t blab about the sheer brilliance of that summation for too long, let me just say it’s probably one of the most acute observations ever realized by a human and we’ll move on. The point is this: it wouldn’t even make sense to argue that drugs (as well as any other thing that isn’t art) hold a fraction of the power that art does when it comes to expanding one’s mind. Music, poetry, paintings, films, literature - they’re all psychoactive substances of potentially endless impact. They can be so powerful on the mind that the sensation of departure from reality will always be unmatched.
The forced distances of imaginative possibility that one receives from works like Lovecraft’s “The Color Out Of Space”, Clark Ashton Smith’s “Abominations of Yondo”, and Arthur Machen’s “The White People” will never be comparable to anything besides other works of art. Works like these, the paintings of Goya, the truly great Horror films, EC Comics, and an infinite list of other significant works, have the power to take you away – in a way that only the darker elements, only Horror, can. I’ll leave you with a particularly touching poem, featured in Weird Tales in the 40’s. It was written by the then 17 year old Robert Nelson, who very sadly took his own life not long after writing this. It’s a poem that in three short verses touches the very heart of Horror, and longingly embraces it in the dark.
See you under the Tomb,
UNDER THE TOMB
Dread beings grope and sport in gory lakes,
A foul mist creeps and feeds on swollen slugs:
From beds of perfumed plants squirm fetid snakes,
And like a flower grown from sable drugs,
A moon of steel drips blood upon a sky
Darkened by what mad phantoms prophesy.
By this hath ceased and passed, and now in that
Mephitic, crumbling woodland 'neath the tomb
The dead sup with the dead o'er flowing vat,
And searing candles cleanse the rotting gloom;
And they who stood in sorrow's joy and pain,
Tread now through hell's ecstatical refrain.
Far still beneath, where bloated babes are kept
In glacial rooms, and skulls are lit as lamps
To guide through life beyond, and where are swept
Green veils of oozing slime and deadly damps,
There is an everlasting resonance
Pealed by the tomb in glad deliverance.