If you’re a “bohab,” then you’re in on the joke. If you’re not, then GWAR — the sci-fi-themed metal band that will turn downtown Knoxville’s Mill and Mine into a smoldering pit on Friday night — is probably as profane, uncouth and blasphemous as anything you might run across.
Take, for instance, what guitarist Pustulus Maximus remembers most about playing East Tennessee in the past: “The accents, and the watered-down cocaine — but that’s OK. At my age, we don’t need to have severe heart palpitations anyway, so it won’t matter if the drugs are stepped on a few times.”
Or, the “storm Area 51” movement that swept social media a couple of months back, in which foolhardy individuals pledged to descend upon the secret government proving ground in the Nevada desert: “I was just hoping for a bloodbath. I would definitely have loved to see the mini-machine gun turrets pop out of the ground and mow people down mercilessly.”
Or the border wall dividing the United States and Mexico, a proposal by President Donald Trump that’s been a political hot potato since its inception: “We’re all about the wall, but we should open more tunnels. It’s really hot, and I feel bad for drug traffickers who have to take drugs across the border. With tunnels, they’ll be able to decrease manpower, lowering the labor costs associated with trafficking drugs, and the prices will go down. It’s a win-win all around.”
Needless to say, nothing is sacred in the world of GWAR, founded by the late Dave Brockie, whose band Death Piggy often used mini-plays and crude props to add theatrical flair to their brand of punk rock. Death Piggy adopted the vision of filmmakers Hunter Jackson and Chuck Varga, who had set up a production space for a B-movie they wanted to make titled “Scumdogs of the Universe,” and Brockie and his bandmates began wearing costumes that Jackson and Varga had created for their movie. GWAR was chosen as a moniker, not because it held any sort of hidden or cryptic meaning but because it was the phonetic spelling of a battle cry that fit into the GWAR mythos.
That mythos blended elements of sci-fi and horror to tell the story of a group of demigods created by the ruler of the universe to destroy his enemies.
When they rebelled against that creator, he exiled them — first to Earth, where they supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs, and then to Antarctica, where they were imprisoned until an ozone layer hole melted them free in the 1980s.
In reality, each of the members adapted an alter-ego as part of the GWAR legend, with Brockie the self-declared leader (as Oderus Urungus). Their costumes became more elaborate, and they upped the theatrical factor by incorporating special effects, such as spraying their audiences with imitation bodily fluids. For years, they were an underground phenomenon, inspiring legions of diehard fans to turn out wearing white T-shirts in hopes of capturing a spray of fluids for posterity. In the 1990s, they were launched into the public consciousness thanks to their videos appearing on MTV’s “Beavis and Butthead” (on which Beavis declared that “all music videos should be like a GWAR video”).
Even Brockie, who died in 2014, isn’t immune from the GWAR sacrilege. (Not that he would have minded, of course.)
“He’s probably smiling down above a toilet somewhere, throwing up from a fun overdose, because that’s what he loves to do,” Pustulus — aka Brent Purgason — told The Daily Times recently. “Oderus is a great partier. I don’t think he cares about anything else other than pleasing himself, which is what we all aim to do in the afterlife.”
Not that anything about GWAR screams classic literature, but the band’s shtick has distinct parallels to the Theatre of the Absurd, the literary movement that included writers like Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco and which uses “the abandonment of conventional dramatic form to portray the futility of human struggle in a senseless world,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. One need only look at the politics of the day, Pustulus points out, to see the pointlessness of attempting to make sense out of the nonsensical.
“If I had to pick one of the two parties, it would be really difficult, because they’re all pretty much insane when you go on either side of the spectrum,” he said. “There’s nobody left in the middle, but then again, the middle of the road is the worst place to drive, so they say. Of course, I don’t think highway laws and politics really need analogies to compare themselves.”
And while the band has mutilated mannequins of every U.S. president since Reagan, including the current occupant of the White House.
It’s all part of their rock ’n’ roll fantasy — and judging by the number of “bohabs,” as the group’s exuberant fans are called, still on the GWAR bandwagon, it’s lost none of its appeal over the past three decades.
“We’re still working toward our common goals: to eradicate mankind, be self-indulgent and amass ridiculous amounts of wealth,” he said.