Monday, October 31, 2005

Stuck in Lodi

Story by Jon DeRosa
Reposted from

Long before I knew what nostalgia meant, I knew that not a whole lot had changed over the decades since my parents grew up in Lodi, New Jersey. Even now, there remain 1950s coffee counters like Cardi's Sugar Bowl, and you can still get a good piece of fresh mozzarella from Mike Vincentini's deli. A statue of Christopher Columbus overlooks Main Street, anchoring Lodi's proud Italian roots. Life there is still a lot like living in the old neighborhoods my grandparents grew up in: Not only do you know everyone, you're most likely related, too. If you're born in Lodi, you tend to live there all your life, remaining at home until you're married and then moving into the house down the block.

It's not a bad place to grow up. It's safe and clean, and you have your entire neighborhood keeping an eye on you. On the other hand, you have your entire neighborhood keeping an eye on you. Action-wise, it's no New York City, the metropolis that taunts Lodi from across the Hudson River.

Glenn Danzig grew up in Lodi, raised on Elvis and his dad's 1950s country music collection. As he got older, he'd turned to Black Sabbath, but by 1976, the Ramones had crashed onto the New York scene. Glenn took aspects of their sound, shed the "cool" vibe, and set the music firmly in the milieu of suburban alienation, speaking in a language every pissed-off kid in Middle America might understand. His obsessions with horror and sci-fi genre films permeated his lyrics and, just as importantly, his image, placing his music in an entirely unique context.

New York punk was just punk, simple and static. When Glenn started the Misfits, he mutated the punk sound and image into something darker and more sinister, a punk/metal hybrid that later found bloom in the quiet, boring suburbs of Oslo and the boggy backwaters surrounding Tampa. Punk belonged to the media/celebrity hubs of London and New York; ghoul rock was for the kids in the suburbs where nothing ever happens.

You Think You're a Zombie, You Think It's a Scene?

I was 12 and cleaning out my grandmother's Lodi garage when I found an original pressing of the Misfits' Walk Among Us. Whose copy it was I may never know, but it was as though fate had placed its alien nightmare art and title's grim invitation into my eager hands. Just a week earlier, I'd bought Danzig's second album, Lucifuge, inspired by an ad in Circus magazine featuring a shadowy and muscular Glenn Danzig wearing an upside-down cross around his neck: pure black menace.

Steve Zing is one of punk's great drummers and would later join Glenn in Samhain. "My bedroom was all black, I'd have black paper on the windows so light couldn't get in," recalls Steve, drumming the dashboard with one hand, steering with the other through narrow streets in the old neighborhood. We're seeing all the sights today. "Let's drive by Glenn's house, maybe his mom's home."

Steve was a few years younger than Glenn but got into the same music around the same time. He went to school with Doyle, Jerry Only's younger brother, who would eventually join Jerry and Glenn in the Misfits. Everyone lived within four blocks of each other. In the years before Doyle joined the band, he and Steve knew that a seat atop an adjoining roof was the best place to listen in on Misfits rehearsals. Jerry got a bass for Christmas a month or two before joining Glenn and was learning as he went. They couldn't play for shit, but musicianship was never the point. It was about seizing control, creating something evil, making people afraid.

Mike Morance, formerly of Lodi band Active Ingredients, remembers: "That was a strange time, because it wasn't only the change in music happening, it was a change in state of mind. To me, as far as the town itself, it was like I was here physically, not mentally, wrapped up in the change, the transition of the music-- and also, kinda stickin' together with the same friends. We weren't too much of acquaintance people."

At the time, pop radio was Boston, Fleetwood Mac, Air Supply, Meat Loaf; the Misfits were the willful antithesis of everything on the airwaves. They inhabited a violent world, walked among scenes of zombie apocalypse, murdered classmates who teased and made fun. The Misfits were ahead of their time, and they had to open doors themselves as well as build some. Their first records were only available in New York City at Bleecker Bob's and Soundz, and in Hackensack, N.J., at the Record King, an oldies record store where Steve Zing bought his first Misfits album.

"I remember Doyle coming into high school with cases of Night of the Living Dead records and just giving them away for free," Zing remembers.

Everyone hung out in New York City, on St. Marks or 7th & A, but they lived in Lodi. And in Lodi it was the pizza joint down the street, Sunday morning horror movies on TV, and hanging out in your friend's basement. Glenn was a ringleader of sorts for the local disenchanted teens. He was the first punk presence in Lodi, and everyone wanted to be around him.

Steve Zing: "Glenn was very charismatic, and [the Misfits] were very different than what was going on at the time. As a band they had a style and a sound that nobody else had."

Glenn's understanding of fear and intimidation put him at the forefront of the movement. Though he was of slight stature, his band was a giant, muscled, black squadron. Both Jerry and Doyle were varsity football players. Their black devillocks and gruesome ghoul paint didn't exactly scare the townsfolk shitless. They knew Glenn and company as good kids from the neighborhood. They knew their parents. When they saw Jerry carving up his guitars on the front lawn with a power saw to make them look more gothic, the reaction was more amusement than terror. They didn't even mind that they could hear the Misfits rehearsing from blocks away.

Glenn was doing things that were pretty much unheard of at the time. He ran Blank Records out of his home in Lodi in 1977, releasing the first Misfits seven-inch, "Cough/Cool". Mercury Records created a sub-label called Blank Records the following year, but Glenn had been smart enough to trademark the name. In the end, he let Mercury have the name in return for 30 hours of studio time, which Glenn used to record the Misfits' Static Age album. Glenn (and legendarily bad B-horror auteur Ed Wood) gave the label a new name: Plan 9.

Aside from a few random shows at Al's Bar and Hittsville, the Misfits rarely performed around Lodi. This was before basement and American Legion shows, and most venues hadn't yet figured out what to do with bands like the band, who opened shows by busting out of onstage coffins. It wouldn't be until around 1982 that the hardcore scene really hit the Northeast and more local show opportunities started to open up. But touring and a slew of 45s had earned them the hardcore community's respect-- even fear. Steve Zing: "Not a lot of people talked shit about them."

In underground Lodi, the Misfits' influence was rampant. Prior to joining Samhain in 1984 (and later Danzig in 1988), Steve Zing classmate Eerie Von had a death-rock band called Rosemary's Babies; Eerie was also known for documenting the Misfits as their photographer. Mike Morance and original Misfits guitarist Franche Coma had Active Ingredients, one of the scene's more avant-garde acts. There was Bobby Steele's Undead. There were the Victims, the only other band to have an album on Plan 9. And of course there was Steve Zing's own Mourning Noise.

I Singled Out the Kids Who Are Mean to Me

As Steve and I drive past his old middle school, I'm reminded of another Plan 9, the Misfits cover band I started in 8th grade. We played two gigs, one at a school assembly (where "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?" got us into considerable trouble) and one in Washington, D.C. during an 8th grade class trip. Our principal wasn't real bright and allowed us to take our gear on the bus and perform for our class in the hotel banquet hall. The front desk was instantly overwhelmed by complaints. A preppie-girl classmate asked me why I sang "I want your skull." My reply: "Because I do."

In present day Lodi, a stop at a local watering hole affords a chance meeting with Steve and Doyle's middle school science teacher. Mr. P, who just happened to be there, is only too happy to recall their legendary 8th grade graduation ceremony.

"I was informed by the vice principal of the middle school that [Doyle] would not be allowed to participate because of how he was dressed. [Doyle] and his brothers came in dressed in black suits, narrow ties, peg pants, pointy shoes-- very strange looking. One had blue hair, rumor was that he was with Sid Vicious-- the night Sid killed himself, or killed a girl."

Doyle followed the procession of students onto the stage. His hair was pink, and he wore a lime green suit with a narrow tie and black boots. The principal ordered the teachers to get him off the stage, but his massive entourage, clad in leather and spikes and looking to make a scene, intimidated them.

"Now the brothers are getting up out of their chairs and lining the sides of the auditorium. There's maybe two or three of them. So I figure 'Fuck this shit,' you know? So as they name the students, they skip his name. [Doyle] sits on the edge of the stage and starts giving the principal of schools, the superintendent of schools, and some other dignitaries up there the finger and tells them to go fuck themselves."

At this point the brothers start running around the joint inciting the crowd, and mayhem ensues. Doyle was popular with the student body, who began rioting in his favor. As things reached their inevitable boiling point, the Vice Principal rose and walked over to hand Doyle his diploma. Doyle tore it up, flipped off the VP, and again asked everyone to go fuck themselves before walking offstage.

Broken Bodies in a Death Rock Dance Hall

"I wouldn't say the Misfits were visionaries, but I would say Glenn was a visionary," explains Bob Allecca, owner of Reel Platinum Studio in Lodi. "There were really no bands at that level that were playing and putting records out on a regular basis: He marketed [his music] well. Who would've thought back in the early-80's to hook up with a skateboard magazine and put the Misfits logo on skateboard decks? Plus he was always on the road with the band playing every place he could think of. He was selling his records through magazine ads..."

Bob Allecca still runs the studio, which, in 1980, was one of the few 24-track recording facilities in New Jersey. Reel Platinum was far more affordable than its Manhattan competitors, so nearly every Lodi punk band (including the Misfits and Samhain) recorded there. Even some of Glenn's later work, like his Wagnerian epic Black Aria, saw time at Reel Platinum with Allecca, who was also working with a then-unknown Christina Aguilera.

"Glenn always had something going on and was always moving along. He was always moving up a little notch, a little notch, a little notch. And he never let anything get him down, he was always positive. He was a professional. He had a head for business," Allecca recalls.

Glenn's professionalism might also have contributed to the Misfits' split. They were never able to tour as much as Glenn wanted, as Jerry and Doyle worked for their dad. They couldn't keep drummers. Their live shows were visually stunning but sucked musically. They were never in tune. They'd smash their instruments eight measures into a set. Jerry played basses that he'd demolished and glued back together the night before. Their energy and brutality was inspiring, but Glenn knew the songs themselves were being ruined on stage. As the band was beginning to gain national attention, they were falling apart.

By 1983, Glenn had discovered the more gothic sounds of Bauhaus, Birthday Party, and Alien Sex Fiend (while Jerry was digging Iron Maiden), and his interest in the occult had peaked. The dawn of Samhain made space for new sounds and ideas, as well as a level of musicianship the Misfits would never attain.

Glenn stayed in Lodi throughout Samhain's lifespan, all the way through 1992 and the release of Danzig's Lucifuge. In fact, most Misfits/Samhain/Danzig alumni remain in and around Lodi. The punk venues they played began serving breakfast long ago or simply disappeared altogether.

If You're Gonna Scream, Scream with Me, Moments Like This Never Last

When I was about 14 I befriended Glenn Danzig's dad. He had me over the house and showed me the hearse Glenn bought at age 17, now relegated to cinder blocks in the backyard. He even offered it to me. He gave me a stack of Misfits skateboard decks, which had been sitting under his deck in unopened boxes.

At 15, Steve and I saw a Danzig show in Red Bank, N.J. It was one of their last performances before John Christ and Eerie left the band. We hung out with Glenn, and it was probably the best night of my life. Later that same night, Jerry and Doyle showed up at Glenn's hotel, asking him to rejoin the Misfits. They were escorted out by security. I would see the Misfits reunion the following year at the Stone Pony on the eve of my SATs. It was a blast, but without Glenn, it just wasn't the Misfits.

So what about Lodi made it a petri dish for ghoulish punk rock? Why do kids still make pilgrimages to Lodi just to pore over the Misfits' old tax records and yearbooks in the public library? What was in the water in Lodi in the late-70s that caused kids to take up instruments and frighten people? Some credit Glenn with creating a movement. Some deny there was ever a movement at all. Some, like Bob Allecca, chalk it all up to coincidence.

Steve Zing offers a more nostalgic perspective. "It was more the fact that, at the age we were, we were stuck in Lodi. Glenn lived at home. I lived at home...the Misfits [were] what I looked up to."

Franche Coma considers it simply a natural progression of adolescent routine. "We'd hang out, if you had a job you'd go work. Then you'd practice. You'd go to clubs, you'd go to concerts."

Mike Morance: "I think probably a lot of the nostalgia is in our minds. You can see it a lot of different ways. You can see it as a kid brought up in Lodi that had a twisted view of things."

It's truly impossible to tell if it was a coincidence or if timing was everything. It's something Steve claims can't be described; it can only be felt and understood by the folks that were there. Not only the fans from Lodi, but those that got to see them perform throughout the country.

"It's almost a shame that the Misfits never really got bigger than what they were [when they were together]," says Steve. "It wasn't as big a scene as people think there was. But for the maybe few thousand that felt it, you had to be there...And to this day, any time I see a kid with hair in his face, that's Glenn."

He said it himself: "Moments like this never last," only the stories live on. Like former Misfits guitarist Bobby Steele throwing up on John Lennon's shoes during a show at N.Y.'s Mudd Club. Or Glenn getting locked up in a London prison cell after a fight with skinheads during the botched UK tour with the Damned. Or the Misfits getting banned from Max's Kansas City after a glass thrown from stage injured an audience member. Every tale carries the personal trademark of the person telling it, and each ensures the Misfits' transcendence of their own death rock icon status. The Misfits were nothing less than an undead urban legend.

I spent Super Bowl Sunday at the Lodi Moose Lodge. My dad was tending bar, and I got to talk to my godfather about what I've been up to in New York. We drank scotch and I had homemade peppers and eggs for the first time since I was a little kid. At around my third scotch, this guy I vaguely recognize approaches me and says:

"Your dad tells me you're doing an article about the Misfits. Man, I got a story about them you wouldn't believe..."

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