How Glenn Danzig got thousands of people to trek to the Orange County wilderness
“Moderate” is not the first word anyone would use to describe Glenn Danzig.
As frontman of the long-running hard-rock band that bears his last name, the 61-year-old singer toggles between a tender croon and a dramatic bellow. As a songwriter, he revels in gruesome imagery of skulls and demons.
And as the presenter of a new music festival — Blackest of the Black, held over the weekend at Orange County’s Oak Canyon Park — he was responsible for a two-day event complete with fake severed legs hung in trees and a guy suspended over a stage by hooks piercing his back.
“Blood like a crimson highway,” Danzig sang Saturday night in “Twist of Cain” as he performed with his group to close the festival, “Spreading out from his forehead to the ground.”
Get him talking about politics, though, and this aesthetic extremist will tell you that a moderate is precisely what he sees himself as.
“I’m that person that’s all over this country,” he says, meaning a man who lives according to common sense rather than what he sees are the partisan loyalties that prevent Washington from getting anything done.
Indeed, it’s that anger — the outrage of one who feels he’s the only reasonable person in the room — that drives the music on Danzig’s new album, “Black Laden Crown,” which came out Friday, just before he brought his band and other punk and heavy-metal acts, including Ministry and Suicidal Tendencies, to a scrubby stretch of land at Silverado.
The songs aren’t about Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi. In the pummeling “Devil on Hwy 9,” which Danzig sang Saturday as he prowled the stage in his uniform of tight-fitting black T-shirt over black trousers, he’s sketching a literal highway to hell. But you can grasp the metaphor deployed by someone convinced we’ve lost our ability to move in the right direction (or any direction at all).
“I might be conservative on some issues, and some issues I’m really liberal,” he said last week at a rehearsal studio in Hollywood, where he’d gathered his bandmates to prepare for Blackest of the Black. “I’m pro-abortion and I’m pro- Planned Parenthood. But I don’t think Planned Parenthood should be selling baby parts like a chop shop in Brooklyn, OK?”
Danzig first made a name for himself in the late 1970s with the Misfits, the influential horror-punk group he formed in his native Lodi, N.J., with bassist Jerry Only. The band didn’t last long in its original incarnation but influenced important acts like Green Day and Metallica, which covered its songs “Last Caress” and “Green Hell.” (The Misfits left a visual stamp too: When the Atlanta rapper Future performed this spring at the Coachella festival, he wore a denim jacket emblazoned with the group’s distinctive logo.)
After the Misfits broke up, Danzig started the more metal-leaning Samhain, which by the late ’80s had evolved into the group called Danzig. Acclaim in the hard-rock world came quickly, and the band even scored a mainstream MTV hit in 1993 with “Mother.”
But Danzig the man felt he wasn’t respected the way he ought to be, and that resentment, more than politics, once seemed to give his music much of its emotional intensity.
“There are bands that play in front of a lot less people than us, sell less records than us, and are considered successes,” he told The Times in 1994. “Yet we’re not.”
These days Danzig appears comfortable with his role as a kind of cult hero, a position reflected by the devoted audience of maybe 10,000 folks who trekked out to Oak Canyon Park.
And Coachella this was not: With meager food options and a woeful shortage of bathrooms, Blackest of the Black had little to lure festival-goers beyond the chance to watch Danzig play old classics and new tunes from “Black Laden Crown,” which adheres to his doomy, minor-key sound.
Asked how he reacts to the fact that he’s outlasted many of the successful groups he was referring to 23 years ago, he said, without smiling, “I laugh.” His fans, he added, have stuck with him through every period of his career, confident he wouldn’t sell them out in a bid to become a pop star.
Even when he reunited with the Misfits last year, having repaired a long-broken relationship with Only, he did it for just two gigs, as opposed to the extended cash-grab tour the band might easily have booked.
“It was nice to go back and do it,” Danzig said of the shows. “But [the Misfits] aren’t indicative of my whole career. That was a six-year period in a much larger story.”
Still, traces of the old vanity remain. At Blackest of the Black, Danzig wouldn’t allow The Times to photograph his performance unless he could approve which images were used — an unacceptable condition, which is why an old photo of the singer accompanies this article.
And while discussing the festival, he was quick to point out that his crowds in Europe are much larger than they are in the United States. “It’s like tens of thousands of people,” he said. “Sometimes a hundred thousand people just screaming, going crazy.”
That assertion couldn’t help but call to mind Trump’s claims about the number of people who attended his inauguration; Danzig also echoed the president in talking about Trump’s efforts to block visitors from certain predominantly Muslim countries.
“It’s really not a travel ban,” he said. “When you walk into the country, we want to see who you are and what you’re doing.
“Well, when I go to every country right now, they look at me and they see whether I can come in or not,” he continued. “And I’ve been turned away from Canada and other places before.
“Where’s my protest? Where’s my parade?”
But don’t be misled: Glenn Danzig, proud man in the middle, says it’s not that he identifies with Trump — he just hates the “stupidity” of the president’s detractors as much they hate the president.
“The world has always been full of” it, he said, using a stronger word. “But right now it’s even more full of” it.
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