Misfits - Biography
By Oliver Hall
The Misfits were a punk, and later hardcore, band from Lodi, New Jersey, fronted by crooner, songwriter and art student Glenn Danzig. The now-beloved songs Danzig wrote for the Misfits teem with references to Hollywood “B” movies of the horror and science-fiction genres. The smiling, hooded skull that is the Misfits’ now-ubiquitous logo comes from the 1946 Republic serial Crimson Ghost. Many Misfits songs take their title or subject from reference points in Danzig’s filmic universe: the Misfits’ catalog includes “Return of the Fly,” “Night of the Living Dead,” “Green Hell,” “Astro Zombies,” “Who Killed Marilyn?” and “Hollywood Babylon;” “Bullet” and “She” concern televised crimes involving, respectively, President Kennedy and Patty Hearst. The band took its name from The Misfits (1961), the John Huston film starring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift that would be both Gable’s and Monroe’s last.
The Misfits’ first record was the single “Cough/Cool” b/w “She,” self-released on the band’s Blank Records in 1977. “Cough/Cool,” with pulsing, distorted keyboard and assured singing by Danzig, and minimal accompaniment from bassist Jerry Caiafa (soon to be known as Jerry Only) and drummer Manny, resembles Suicide more than anything. The single thanks “Marilyn Clark & Monty.” Mercury Records later used the Blank Records name to release two classic 1978 Midwestern punk albums, Pere Ubu’s The Modern Dance and the Suicide Commandos’ Make A Record. The Misfits shrewdly turned over the rights to the Blank name — which Mercury turned out not to use further — in exchange for thirty hours of recording time in January and February 1978 at New York’s C.I. Recordings.
The band, now including fellow Lodi citizens, guitarist Franché Coma and drummer Mr. Jim, set out to record its first album. According to Tom Bejgrowicz’s Static Age (Caroline 1997) liner notes, the band was given C.I. Recordings’ graveyard shift and spent half of the first two sessions getting sound levels right, “which left very little time for actual tracking.” Dave Achelis, who produced the sessions, writes in the Static Age booklet that Danzig brought Sid Vicious’s mother to the studio the day after her son’s death because “Glenn didn’t think she should be left alone at a time like that.” Fourteen of the songs the Misfits recorded at these sessions were mixed for the planned Static Age album, which would have been the band’s debut LP and featured now-classic songs such as “Last Caress,” “We Are 138,” “Attitude,” and “Teenagers from Mars;” but Danzig was unable to interest a label in the tapes.
Four Static Age songs turned up on the earth-shaking 1978 “Bullet” 7-inch, self-released on the band’s label, now renamed Plan 9 after the classic B-movie Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). The single also included “We Are 138,” which refers to George Lucas’s THX 1138 (1971), “Attitude” and “Hollywood Babylon.” The two-color cover of the “Bullet” single adds an explosion of blood to the head of President John F. Kennedy, depicted in black and white, smiling as he sits in his last presidential motorcade. Danzig’s lyrics for “Bullet,” which seem to describe a man masturbating as he watches the Zapruder film of Kennedy’s assassination and fantasizes about the First Lady, are still outrageous, and must have been even more so in 1978.
Franché Coma left the band in October 1978. Rick Riley, the lead singer for the Victims, the NYC punk band that released a 1978 EP on Plan 9, replaced Coma on guitar for two October shows, after which Mr. Jim departed. Guitarist Bobby Steele, who took his name from the steel brace his spina bifida forced him to wear, and drummer Joey Image joined the Misfits in November. This lineup of the Misfits made its live debut shortly after the Jonestown Massacre, which the group parodied by showering that show’s audience with Kool Aid. Plan 9 issued two Misfits singles in 1979, “Horror Business” b/w “Teenagers from Mars” and “Children in Heat,” and “Night of the Living Dead” b/w “Where Eagles Dare” and “Rat Fink.” This last single included an insert for the Misfits’ Fiend Club, the mailorder service Danzig ran through a New York P.O. Box. Jerry Only explains how the band operated in Steven Blush’s book American Hardcore (Feral House 2001): “I’d finance the band by working at the machine shop” — i.e. Pro Edge, the Caiafa family tools business — “every day, then we’d team up at night and work on material. Glenn [would] silkscreen shirts, answer fan mail, book gigs. He’d be the business manager during the day while I earned the money to finance the project.”
That fall, the Misfits went to the UK to tour with English horror-punks the Damned, but the tour was cut short after Joey Image abruptly departed. (The Beware 12-inch EP (Plan 9 1980), originally planned to coincide with the band’s UK tour but not released until the following year, combines the contents of the “Bullet” single with two songs from the “Horror Business” single and the great “Last Caress.”) Danzig and Steele were subsequently arrested in London for reasons that remain unclear — the trademark “devilock” hairdos the band had adopted by this point can’t have helped them — and jailed for two nights. Danzig remembers the experience in the song “London Dungeon,” issued on the Misfits’ 3 Hits from Hell EP (Plan 9 1981), b/w “Horror Hotel” and “Ghouls Night Out.”
Drummer Arthur Googy joined the Misfits in 1980 and would enjoy the longest tenure of any of the original band’s drummers. Steele was kicked out of the band in October 1980 in favor of Jerry Only’s gigantic, teenaged brother, Doyle, who would be the Misfits’ guitarist for the rest of the band’s existence; Steele went on to form NYC band the Undead. After 3 Hits from Hell, the next Misfits-related release was a single credited to Glenn Danzig: “Who Killed Marilyn?” b/w “Spook City U.S.A.” (Plan 9 1981). In the American Hardcore book, Danzig indicates that he was frustrated with the other Misfits at the time he issued the solo single. The Misfits’ “Halloween” b/w “Halloween II” followed on Plan 9 in October 1981. The Latin incantations of “Halloween II” would, in the following years, convince junior high school students everywhere that Danzig was on a first-name basis with Satan. A November San Francisco show and December New York show make up Evilive (Plan 9 1982). Black Flag singer Henry Rollins, a fan and comrade of the band with a tattoo of the “Crimson Ghost” logo that is hard to miss, joins the Misfits for “We Are 138.”
The Danzig / Only / Doyle / Googy lineup of the Misfits recorded Walk Among Us (Ruby/Slash 1982), the first album the band released and probably its single greatest record. The Misfits play faster, backing Ramones-like punk songs with hardcore rhythms. On this album, Danzig’s cult obsessions include “Violent World,” which refers to the late-70s’ gory “ALL TRUE PHOTO NEWS MAGAZINE” of the same name. Googy left the Misfits after the Walk Among Us tour of the United States. Black Flag’s old drummer, Robo, had been detained in the United Kingdom after Flag’s 1981 tour because of an expired visa and was then deported to Colombia. In 1983, Robo moved to New Jersey to join the Misfits. Earth A.D. / Wolfs Blood (Plan 9 1983), produced by SST Records’ house producer, Spot, was another leap forward in tempo, closer to thrash metal than hardcore. In the American Hardcore book, Only says the album was recorded the same night the Misfits played with Black Flag at the Santa Monica Civic, “from midnight to nine the next morning,” though it is hard to understand why a flier for that show, reproduced on the facing page, features the Earth A.D. cover art and advertises the album as “OUT NOW.”
Robo left the band in August 1983, and the Misfits sought yet another drummer for their upcoming Halloween show and scheduled tour of Germany. Brian Damage was kicked out of the band after the first song of the Misfits’ last show, on October 29, 1983; the Necros’ Todd Swalla sat in on drums for the rest of the set, as he had once previously, in June of 1982, after Arthur Googy quit. Danzig broke up the band following the show.
The posthumous, or in the Misfits’ undead case postposthumous, Legacy of Brutality (Caroline/Plan 9 1985) collects songs from the Static Age sessions and a few from Plan 9 singles. Misfits (Caroline/Plan 9 1986), sometimes referred to as Collection I, spans the Misfits’ career and includes alternate recordings of well-known songs. Collection II (Caroline 1995) similarly features songs from across the Misfits’ seven-year span, including tracks from singles that were long out-of-print by 1995. 12 Hits from Hell: The MSP Sessions, August 7 1980 was planned for an October 2001 release on Caroline but has been indefinitely postponed. Promo copies of this CD are scarce and collectible.
Danzig’s new band Samhain played its first show in the spring of 1984. In the late 1980s, Samhain evolved into the classic metal band Danzig (“Mother,” “Twist of Cain,” “Dirty Black Summer”). The Caiafa brothers, Jerry Only and Doyle, formed the (Christian?) metal act Kryst the Conqueror, which recorded an unreleased 1989 album, Deliver Us from Evil, with future Journey singer Jeff Scott Soto. Some of this material did surface on an EP, also titled Deliver Us from Evil (Cyclopean Music 1990). The Misfits had achieved international fame by the mid-nineties, when Only and Doyle resurrected the Misfits name with singer Michale (sic) Graves and drummer Dr. Chud. This band, which has now been through several lineup changes, is the Misfits in name only. Doyle left in 2002 and has since appeared onstage at a handful of Danzig shows for quick sets of original Misfits songs.