Phoning Glenn Danzig
The metal icon loves comic books and Fox News. But he remains otherwise mysterious.
As demonstrated on Deth Red Sabaoth, his first album in six years, Glenn Danzig is one of rock’s best songwriters of the last 35 years, having penned autumnal comebacks for Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. It’s this legacy that jangles my nerves as I call the metal icon at his home in L.A. Warnings from separate publicists aren’t helping: Do not be funny with Danzig. Do not ask questions about the Misfits, Danzig’s legendary New Jersey horror-punk band and the first thing that comes to mind when anyone thinks “Danzig.”
But when the artist’s familiar baritone comes on the line, he’s friendly, thoughtful and answers anything I ask. This includes queries as to whether he has a sense of humor (“There’s a serious side to anything I do, but there’s always also the playful side”), what his childhood musical influences were (“My dad and mom listened to different weird stuff: country music, German beer-drinking songs, even American-Indian folk”) and his attitude toward his critics. I bring up the recent Internet meme, where people mock a paparazzi photo of a domesticated Danzig strolling in a grocery-store parking lot with a large box of kitty litter. The erosion of his mystique is often the subject of ridicule. “Look, everyone wants you to be what they want you to be,” he spits. “And they can all go fuck off.”
But what engages Danzig most is discussing his do-it-yourself philosophy—his talents, essentially. The 55-year-old boasts of writing every piece of his music, doing much of the graphic design (skulls and breasts abound) and playing a Prince-like array of instruments. “If you hear a recorder on the record, that’s me,” he says. “I don’t need to collaborate with people. I wrote all the Misfits songs, all the Samhain songs, produced most of those records, too.” He applies the same egotistical certainty to choosing which Fox News pundits to trust. “You have an inner sense. You just need to always go with that original gut instinct.”
There’s an obvious boyishness to Danzig: The evil-Elvis-like crooner lights up when the conversation veers into comic books. Danzig cherished his friendship with Jack Kirby, cocreator of the Fantastic Four, in part because Kirby stocked a massive library of science, philosophy and mythology books. A voracious reader, Danzig speaks of libraries with great reverence. (Another infamous video sees the singer guiding viewers through his stacks, shirtless.) But he’s emphatic that his personal collection has no place for bound collections of Kirby’s comics. “I’ve got the original comics,” he says.
Our conversation isn’t without friction. Danzig rebuts my skepticism that the Spear of Destiny, with which Jesus was tortured in Scripture, was hidden by the Nazis in a secret Antarctic base. “It’s true,” he insists. “That’s how they recovered the lance you see on those History Channel documentaries.” And he expresses disappointment at my ignorance on the global-warming hoax. A hoax? “You don’t do your research, do you?” he asks.
Scheduled for 15 minutes, the interview nearly triples that. With Danzig game, several long-unanswered questions spring to mind. Was Danzig ever in love? Did Danzig want kids? Is Danzig lonely? I steer our discussion away from his hobbies, back to his reluctance to collaborate. “You don’t understand the recording studio,” he counters.
A bullying aura hangs over the Jeet Kune Do–studying Satan symphathizer. While metal gods like Ozzy and Gene Simmons have undergone the humanizing gaze of reality-TV cameras, Danzig seems ready to hang up at the first poke under his skin. But perhaps my intimidation is just a by-product of Danzig’s image. After all, he’s a middle-aged man carefully stuffing mint editions of Thor into plastic bags. He’s buying things for his cat. Maybe someone with extreme self-confidence—with more Danzig in him—one day will crack the guy open.
Danzig’s Blackest of the Black tour spooks Congress Theater Sunday 7.