LA Weekly, 10/27/99
by Greg Burk
THE ACCUSER. THE ROVER. THE REMOTE ONE. THE one who burns. These are a few translations, based on speculative etymologies, that have been offered for Satan, a word Glenn Danzig, with his rock & roll snakes and blood-and-doom and demons, has been dancing around for a long time. And why shouldn't he dance? Every translation fits Danzig himself like a cape. If anyone has a right to call an album Danzig 6:66: Satans Child, it's Mr. D.
There's one more translation of Satan that suits him even better: the Hebrew notion of the adversary. Because, like Brando said, whatever you've got -- self-righteousness, deceit, greed, irresponsibility, addiction, wimpitude -- Danzig is against it. From behind the desk of his West L.A. office, dressed in black, cool but smiling, the loudest and quietest of rock singers explains the title of his moody new slab, the best thing he's done since at least, uh, six years ago, when he had an out-of-nowhere smash with a live version of "Mother."
"This is Danzig's sixth, and the title was too great to resist," he says with an offhand East Coast shrug in his voice. "Especially with what's going on nowadays, I'm thinking, 'It's really gotta be called Satans Child. You could piss off as many people as possible right now.'" He says he threw in the colon in 6:66 just for the nice biblical spin.
How did Danzig find his identity? Every adversary needs an opponent, as a lyric from "Mother" reminds: "Father -- do you want to bang heads with me?"
"As a kid, I'm very rebellious, I'm anti-government. My dad's a Marine, fought in the Korean War. We were always head to head," says Danzig. But now they get along. "Guys he knew, he saw the government cutting their welfare, cutting their medical, not caring if they lived or died. He became an activist for veterans' rights. He realized that maybe the government isn't everybody's friend."
That says something about Danzig. A characteristic often overlooked about most Satan spawn is their idealism.
"The main thing that makes me write songs is anger, frustration with the world. People say, 'You ever gonna run out of things to write?' Like, no. All I gotta do is watch the news, get really angry. Or watch MTV and get even angrier."
Sometimes, though, Danzig needs to manage his anger. "I'm into meditating while I'm talking to people. It's one of the ways I keep my aggressive nature under control. I can still function, and also relax my body at the same time. I started doing it so that I wouldn't go to jail for fighting."
For orthodox literalists, let's make clear that Danzig is a guy who opposes conformity and repression, not an idiot who literally identifies himself as "evil." To him, the word is "just a metaphor. I don't even know if evil exists or not. Somewhere maybe there's a place where people still eat people. They're not thinking of it as evil, they're thinking, 'I'm eating you because you don't belong to my tribe, and they don't have a McDonald's here.'"
Danzig shows restraint in avoiding the word when he describes some of his business partners, with whom he's gone through hell in recent years. In 1995, he dissolved a seven-year relationship with American Records' Rick Rubin.
"If he would've just said to me, 'I'm a record-company scumbag, but I love your music,' that would have been real. But that's not how it went. It was like, 'You're a friend, everything's gonna be fantastic.' I tried for as long as I could to deal with the problems."
Rubin and Danzig boarded the Divorce Unlimited; Danzig emerged with his freedom and the rights to his band's unreleased material. The nondrinking, nondrugging, weightlifting singer parted ways with his band (Eerie Von, John Christ and, up till Danzig 4, Chuck Biscuits) over lifestyle differences, and signed with Hollywood Records. Assured that the label had been emancipated from its parent -- Disney Entertainment, no less -- Danzig, armed with new band members and an experimental new sound, forged ahead. And he hit a brick wall. Hollywood Records, it seemed, retained a fetter or two; organization higher-ups freaked upon discovering 666-shooter Danzig bedded with the corporate Mouse. The 1996 release Blackacidevil was stillborn, and after much back-and-forthing, Danzig found himself out on the pavement.
Now Danzig has his own label (Evilive), a new licenser (the Internet-oriented E-Magine), a new distributor (ADA), a new band member (guitarist Todd Youth, reinforcing '96 vets bassist Josh Lazie and drummer Joey Castillo) and a new album. Which is a monster.
On Satans Child, all Danzig's strengths are maxed. Every song comes equipped with an insinuating melody, from the murderous sludge of "Five Finger Crawl," to the arabesque twist of "Firemass," to the dynamic agony of "Lilin," wherein the singer convincingly portrays both love slave and master. The sound is unprecedented: It's layered with noisily beautiful effects, driving, heavy, yet insubstantial, so that it seems to share your physical space. And Danzig's voice, a more sandpapered version of the Jim MorrisonmeetsWillie Dixon drawl he's been working for most of his 44 years, comes at you as if through a wall of flame, howling or crooning, the essence of determination and despair.
"This is the first time I recorded my vocals digitally," says Danzig. "For the first time, I hear the voice that I hear when I sing in the shower or in the car." It's a voice some might prefer to keep out of their shower.
THE ROAD TO THE MILLENNIUM HAS been a long one. Raised mostly in the industrial town of Lodi, New Jersey (known for its floods and exploding chemical factories), the youthful Danzig regularly escaped to Manhattan, where he was drawn to the chapbooks of Charles Bukowski and Patti Smith. He formed the horror-punk band the Misfits with local friends in 1977, then was hitting a rise with his next coven, Samhain (named after the pagan Halloween), when Run-D.M.C. producer Rubin spotted them at a New York show and signed them to American Recordings, his offshoot of Def American. After some personnel changes, Rubin persuaded Glenn to switch the name of the band to Danzig. Despite limited airplay and scanty MTV exposure (or maybe because of such credibility-enhancing facts), it's become one of the most fanatically followed names in the hard-rock biz.
"I appreciate it," says Danzig, "and I think the fans know I appreciate it."
Maybe the real reason Disney didn't want Danzig was that he was competition: The singer's also a comix publisher, distributing and producing quality animation through his Verotik company. A glance through his colorful "Satanika" series, for which he writes the stories himself, finds the titular naked demon woman slashing a bloody path through the upper world while evading infernal pursuers.
"Verotik is something I've spent the last five, six years doing. I want to change the comix industry in America, because it's so infantile and geekified. But I wasn't prepared for the comix industry being dirtier than the recording industry. Every comix company wants to destroy the other. And they'll do anything they have to -- cut off your distribution channels . . . Right now there is one distributor. One. The fact that they haven't been hit by an antitrust suit is mind-boggling."
So -- as a boss, how does he rate? "I'm an okay businessman. I think sometimes, though, I'd rather do what's right than what's good business."
As a musician and a publisher, Danzig feels just fine about his exile from megacorporate heaven. And he feels there's plenty of room for more souls in his adopted Erebus.
"If you're scared of going this route and getting out of the whole crazy music-industry maze, I don't know if you should be that scared. This is fantastic. You have more control, and if nothing happens you have no one to blame but yourself. And you're paying yourself, so if you're getting ripped off . . . I dunno, you have to kill yourself. It's exciting, and I'm happy. Of course, it took a fucked-up road to get here."