December 1, 2023

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Walk Among Us – Misfits History and a Riot Fest Performance

From inspiring bands like Metallica, Green Day, and My Chemical Romance, to terrifying suburban moms everywhere, the Misfits were and still are foundational for alternative music today. It is indisputable how influential the Misfits were on the U.S. punk scene, but the story associated with the band is maybe even more interesting. The history of the band credited with creating horror punk is convoluted, confusing, and involved more drummers than the band had studio albums. With their recent “original lineup” performance at Chicago’s Riot Fest, the history of the Misfits is worth parsing through, and attempting to understand why the Misfits would bother revisiting an album that debuted over 40 years ago requires much more of a history lesson than expected.

First created by Glenn Danzig in 1977 along with bassist Jerry Caiafa, known now as Jerry Only, and their first drummer Manny Martinez, the early Misfits had a fascination with slasher horror and repetitious raw melodies. This remained true as the band explored both genuinely graphic and comedically gruesome subject matter in their early EPs. After their first few steps into the underground world of music, the band began leaning into horror imagery when performing. They adopted the title character from the 1946 movie The Crimson Ghost as their identifier; began incorporating leather, spikes, and bones into their looks; played scenes from horror movies before their sets, and, famously, began sporting the devilock hairstyle. After some minor recognition in the underground punk scene and gaining some attention from labels, the Misfits seemed to be carving out their place in punk-rock, and found themselves opening for The Damned— once in the US and once in the U.K. before they decided to quit the U.K. tour.

After returning from the disastrous U.K. tour that landed Danzig and then guitarist Bobby Steele in jail for a night, and cost the Misfits another drummer, the band continued to break apart. In 1980 Steele was kicked from the band in favor of Jerry Only’s kid brother known now as Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein. Since Doyle’s entry into the Misfits he’s become just as recognizable as Danzig and Only, and continues to be a vital part of the original line-up— regardless that he joined at 16 years old and three years after the band was initially created.

Walk Among Us
It took five years and three different drummers (“Mr. Jim” Catania, Joey Image, and Arthur Googy) for the Misfits to finally release their debut album Walk Among Us in 1982. This is seen as the quintessential Misfits album, and it’s no surprise this coarse-sounding collection came to represent most original fans’ favorite aspects of the band. Danzig’s romping vocals provide enough mirth to keep the lyrics light instead of too aggressive or horrifying, and the durable fast-paced melodies situate the album firmly in the early U.S. punk scene.

After drummer Googy left the band over an argument about finances and cheeseburgers, the band cycled through another two drummers (Black Flag’s ex-drummer Robo, and the incredibly short-lived Brian Damage moment) as well as produced another album, Earth A.D., before officially disbanding in 1983 over a plethora of member conflicts, touring mix-ups, and just overall frustration.

For most of their early career, the Misfits were an underground horror-punk band enjoyed by skater-punks and metal-heads with a sense of humor. They had a niche, nearly secret following that fell in love with their rawness and amalgamated subject matter, focusing on fictional horror and real gruesome topics. Regardless of the loyalty and enthusiasm of their early following, the Misfits did not experience their golden age until well after their break-up and owe nearly all of that to other bands who appreciated their original sound. Most notable was Metallica’s bassist Cliff Burton. Burton’s obsession with the band, had him wearing Misfits’ T-shirts during shows, and he proudly sported a tattoo of the crimson skull on his bicep. That tattoo alone was responsible for many people discovering the Misfits including fellow New Jersey alt-musician Gerard Way.

The Misfits were never even close to reaching their current level of notoriety before Danzig chose to disband them, and consequently, fans that missed out on the first run wanted more of their unique music. The band reformed without Danzig in 1996 leading to a new era of the Misfits and dividing fans. The fans now consist of Danzig loyalists who view the resurrection era as a weak attempt at a cash grab as punk regains popularity, and newer fans who see the Michale Graves vocal era as wanting to continue a legacy that never got to be fully recognized. The revived band also went on to make another two albums: American Psycho and Famous Monsters. Both are known for leaning into that b-grade horror movie aspect that Danzig flirted with, but seemed never to want to define the band.

This division of the band led many fans to believe that there was no chance of Danzig ever rejoining the Misfits, especially with the resentment the singer seemed to have for the new era of the Misfits, along with his 2014 lawsuit against Only for trademark violations. Fans of the original sound resigned themselves to the direction the Misfits were heading and accepted Graves as the new voice of the Misfits until the October of 2000 when he left and Jerry Only took over as lead vocals for three subsequent albums— DeA.D. Alive!, The Devil’s Rain, and the cover compilation Project 1950.

In 2016 the Misfits surprised original fans when Danzig rejoined Doyle and Only to perform at Denver and Chicago’s Riot Fest. Their reunion continued into 2022 when they performed Walk Among Us for its 40th anniversary this September at Chicago’s Riot Fest. The famous trio was joined by Dave Lombardo on drums and Acey Slade on backing guitar. Their performance embraced that early horror imagery fans had grown to appreciate, and the older members’ performance matched the enthusiasm of their crowd. The energy of the performance was incredible. Doyle stalked around the stage like an angry predator, Only was wearing half a skeleton on his jacket and still managed to headbang harder than some of the crowd, and two separate guitars were broken in under 30 minutes. Though Danzig’s vocals were at times overpowered by the unrelenting guitars, he still sounded as much like an evil incarnation of Elvis as he did 40 years ago.

The Misfits’ music has remained a timeless encapsulation of adolescent anger and rebellion, but it is obvious in the personal behavior of Danzig in particular, that these are punks from the ’70s. Their performance was intermittently interrupted by Danzig’s ostentatious audience interaction and small tangents about how much more hardcore punk was back in his day, along with some telling remarks about cancel culture.

After finishing Walk Among Us the band went on to perform other early Misfits songs, predictably nothing from the Graves era, but they also didn’t bother to play anything from Only’s time as the lead vocalist. Likely because they wanted to play the 40th anniversary of Walk Among Us and other songs that they produced around the same time chronologically, but still the absence of their more recent material felt telling of a more complicated interpersonal relationship. With Danzig’s return, it feels as if he in particular is trying to reinstate that the Misfits without him were never really the Misfits— especially the Graves Era. Danzig is reclaiming his position in the Misfits and assuring everyone that he’s here to stay. The band’s decision to completely ignore their discography past 1982 seems telling of Danzig’s possible possession and authority over the band, and how he’s discredited anything the Misfits ever did without him.

Ultimately, alternative music is perpetuated by adolescence and the intoxicating culture of youth. What the Misfits added to that culture can’t be denied, and for many fans, the opportunity to see any incarnation of the band is an exhilarating trip. Being able to finally see the original members, after believing a reunion was impossible, is even more so. Whatever direction they take in the future, or how many drummers come and go, the Misfits will remain an important part of punk’s history and invaluable to fans from any generation.

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