The idea of a "viking funeral," in which a fallen warrior's remains are set out to sea and then set on fire, is somewhat of a tricky thing to explain to someone. Things only get further complicated when you find yourself explaining how, in this instance, the fallen's mile-long penis had to be filled with fireworks prior to the ceremony so that the space pirate could get his rocks off one last time. Things get even more confusing when you try to explain that what you saw was one of the most moving things you've ever witnessed. Such was the position that I found myself in following the memorial service for Dave Brockie that was held on this relatively calm Friday evening at Hadad's Lake in Richmond, Virginia.
Brockie, better known as Oderus Urungus, frontman of Gwar, passed away the previous spring as the result of an accidental heroin overdose. The dates for the 5th annual Gwar-B-Q (also held at Hadad's Lake) had just been announced and I had just pitched my idea to trek down to Richmond and take part in the day-long affair, one that features a bevy of bands, Gwar-branded beer, Gwar-branded barbecue sauce and also sports the added perk of being held at a lake tucked away on a dusty road and surrounded by clapboard houses. Following the news of Brockie's passing, I received more texts and emails offering condolences than I did for my last birthday. Oderus wasn't the first member of Gwar to leave the planet so—obviously--the show was still going to happen. Obviously.
Just what the show would entail was by a wide margin the most discussed thing by revelers at Hadad's on Friday night during the service for Brockie. Now may be a good time to point out that the general idea for the weekend was that a service would be held to honor Brockie on Friday and then on Saturday Oderus would be given his final send-off. It was hard to tell just what to expect, mostly because all of the announcements sent out by the Gwar camp prior to the festival were just about dismembering people and how the beer was going to taste like piss.
As someone who reads lots of Thor comics and also grapples with the idea of just "hanging out" versus "hanging out big time," I arrived on Friday night expecting a party. Drink a lot of beer, hear some stories and then set the boat on fire. Jello Biafra, the evening's master of ceremonies, spoke first and insisted that no one would be receiving closure this evening. Instead, he said things like "Dude, you knew better" in regards to Brockie's battle with heroin and "Dave, I hope you are somewhere throwing Abe Lincoln and Jimi Hendrix into the great meat grinder in the sky." He also brought up the recent passing of Robin Williams and tied that into Brockie's passing, saying "You and Robin are going to have a lot of fun. He needs you, man."
Randy Blythe of fellow Richmond-based band Lamb of God spoke next and delivered an incredibly moving eulogy. He spoke lovingly about his friend—his friend who rushed to his defense while he stood trial in Czech Republic on manslaughter charges. The way that Blythe clutched his beer in his hand on stage, it was clear the wound hadn't totally healed. He talked about how only Brockie could warrant two funerals, and as an outlooker it was hard to shake the notion that this wasn't the first time that Blythe has given this speech, the first being at Brockie's actual funeral service months ago. Later in the weekend, Blythe posted a photo to Instagram along with a caption that reiterated what he had said on Friday. "[W]atching his alter-ego burn tore me up way more than the first memorial, maybe because there was Dave, the human who was my friend who just "left" us—I never saw his body—& and then there was Oderus, who was something else entirely. To watch his stage gear burn was like watching part of my life literally go up in flames," he wrote.
Other speakers followed but by this point, the crowd was well on its way to tying one on. The "Killsner," the specialty brew whipped up for the festival that was supposed to taste like piss but really was a crisp American pale ale, was flowing through most veins. Away from the stages and next to the lake, Oderus Urugus's suit was laid out on a boat. The costume cut an impressive silhouette in front of the setting sun: one comprised of horns, cloved hooves and the infamous cuddlefish filled with fireworks. The sound of bagpipes filled the wooded area while the thousands gathered rushed to the edge of the lake. As Oderus floated out to sea, Slymenstra Hymen lit a torch and then fired into the sea. Upon making contact, the boat was awash in orange flames. As it built, fireworks began to spring up. A final cum shot. "It was like the pinnacle of a laugh and cry scenario. Glorious," Mark Bronzio of Iron Reagan said the next day. As Oderus's remains burned out, the crowd seemingly took the moment to gather their thoughts and offer a moment of silence. This lasted for about a nano-second as some chisler decided to dive into the lake and swim toward the boat.
On Saturday morning, I found myself walking through town looking for the shuttle buses that had been promised to take revelers out to the lake. Monroe Park, the designated pick-up zone, was awash in activity. Wide swaths of clean looking folks in fresh khaki shorts and tucked in shirts were stationed all over the park and directing cars where to park while others lugged boxes in and out of the various buildings around the park. After noticing that virtually everyone in the area was either under 21 or over 50, I quickly realized that I was standing in the middle of move-in day for incoming freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University. However, off in the northeast quadrant of the park, I saw a tall dude with shoulder-length hair and a Star Wars T-shirt smoking a cigarette. I looked closer and saw another guy crossing the street. He was wearing a bucket hat, sporting a Camelbak, and also was vaping like a real asshole. As I got closer, I saw others dressed in all black. These were my people. 15 minutes later and we were on the bus.
As our bus pulled onto the dusty road that lead to Hadad's, a Gwar B-Q staffer came running out waving his arms. "Go around to the back exit with this thing. It'll be easier for dropping off and picking up," he told our driver. After executing a 56 point turn to get out of the main entrance, our bus was back on the road. When we got to the back entrance, another staffer greeted us with a "Oh, hell no. What are you doing? You can't drop people off here." Our bus came to a halt once again as did the two buses behind us and the scores of cars behind them. Some just started parking on the side of the road. Our driver got out and tried to get to the bottom of things. The vaping asshole started chirping about how he didn't give a fuck. Evidently, it was very important to him that the other five people on this bus understood just how much he didn't give a fuck. Also, his name was Carl. In the midst of it all, Philadelphia's Eat The Turnbuckle was trying to maneuver their van through the gate as they were scheduled to take the stage in less than an hour. "Fuck you and your Charles Manson shirt. Nobody cares about your band," Carl roared from the bus, because he's a coward, when one of the members of Eat The Turnbuckle who had gotten out of the van to see if staffers wouldn't open the gate for the band. As Carl continued to demonstrate his ignorance, I had a scary thought. "Are these what actual Gwar fans are like?" The night before, waiting in line for beer, folks were friendly and eager to share their stories about both Brockie and the band. Some colorful language, but nothing like this. If Carl doesn't like hardcore music or pro wrestling, then it's fine that he's not into Eat The Turnbuckle. My main issue with him was his insistence on using the word "bitch" over and over again. Look, I'm not an complete moron. I understand that to say something offended me at the Gwar B-Q makes me sound like I should be in the Hamptons and not Hadad's, but Carl wasn't a space pirate from Antartica. He wasn't wearing an elaborate rubber monster costume. He had a neckbeard. He was just a guy who thinks it's okay to call everyone a "bitch."
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't spend so much time harping on this but I heard this guy's diatribes for nearly two hours. Due to some late cancellations from Revocation and Fuckface Unstoppable, the start time was pushed back by nearly an hour. Not that anyone standing in the line waiting to get in got that announcement. We all just waited about 45 minutes longer than we had expected to. By the time, anyone got through the gates Turnbuckle was already halfway through their set. They still managed to make quite the impression. While standing in line for my first beer of the day, I craned my neck to get a glimpse of the bloody mayhem and while doing so a guy sidled up behind me to inform me that he couldn't "stomach" Turnbuckle's set. When I relayed this encounter to Jay, the lead singer, later on in the day, he laughed and said that he couldn't imagine receiving higher praise. "We're on a bill with Gwar and all these other bands, and we're the ones they can't handle? Doesn't get much better than that," he said in between pulls from his Pabst. It was 11:30 in the morning and I was standing around with five shirtless dudes covered in blood.
Bands at the Gwar B-Q played in one of two areas: it was either the large main stage erected above the dirt or it was the smaller pavilion area which normally doesn't house thrash bands. Eat The Turnbuckle performed in the latter which provided them with ample space to use their barbed wire, ladders and steel chairs. As the day progressed, the second stage became more and more the place to be. It's where Baltimore's Noisem whipped up a fresh batch of fury that included the first of many instances in which people were climbing the scaffolding to rail and exercise any demons they may have arrived with. Later on, Richmond's very own Iron Reagan, who feature members from Municipal Waste, Cannabis Corpse, and Darkest Hour, upped the ante slightly and doled out what very well may have been the best set of the day. As more people climbed up into the rafters, more and more outsiders packed into the pavilion. For Iron Reagan to go this all-out, it wasn't just because their brand of thrash but it also seemed to have something to do with their relationship with Gwar and Dave Brockie. In 2013, the two bands toured together. Talking with guitarist Mark Bronzino before their set, he shared not just how tight-knit the two bands were but also highlighted how extraordinary Brockie was as a person. "He was my buddy on tour. Those in the audience may not realize this but, when you're on the road like that, you kinda pick that one person and say that's going to be my friend on tour. That's who I connect with and Dave was that for me. He would say to me 'You're the biggest freak in your band. I'm the biggest freak in my band. That's why we're hanging out."
At the main stage, the crowd truly came to life for the first time when The Meatmen stormed the stage. It may have had something to do with the fact that frontman Tesco Vee was brandishing a large inflated penis when he walked out on stage or it might have been more the fact that these four guys from Detroit and their hard-charging, wildly inappropriate brand of punk rock sounded like the most perfect thing to hear on a Saturday afternoon. They ripped and raged for as long as they could. They hardly paused in between songs. "We have a half-hour to play an hour and a half worth of songs," Tesco Vee announced. They hardly paused in between songs, and their set was a pretty even mix of cuts from their latest album, Savage Sagas, and older tunes. "If you want to be a legendary punk band, don't be fucking Black Flag," Tesco said in the middle of their set. The sentiment was almost too on-point, as less than an hour later Jerry Only and what the courts recognize as The Misfits occupied the same space.
Seeing The Misfits in 2014 was like a dream. Not a dream in the sense that it was everything one could hope for and more but rather it was like one of those dreams you have where you want to scream out in horror but you can't because you're asleep. Following on the main stage were arguably the two biggest bands of the day not named Gwar: Hatebreed and Body Count. Walking toward the stage after leaving the press area, I began to have trouble seeing as a massive dirt cloud had risen up over the area where earlier I had seen people. Not being able to really see anything, I had to rely on my hearing. What I heard was Hatebreed’s frontman Jamey Jasta continually and enthusiastically calling for a circle pit and, boy, did the people eat that right up. While I was fishing through my pockets for more beer tickets, I felt a sharp punch in the back. It was Taco, one of four guys whom I had shared a cab with the night before. "I've lost my phone and wallet and broke my sunglasses," he exclaimed before adding, "But it's worth it to fucking see this." Such is the effect of a good circle pit.
I lost track very early in the day of just how many times I heard someone say, "Isn't it weird that Ice-T plays a cop on TV but is going to perform a song called 'Cop Killer'?" Body Count came up time and time again throughout the day in whatever line I was waiting in. The line for the meet-and-greet with Ice-T and his wife, Coco, was the only one that rivaled the masses lined up to spend a minute with Gwar. And for all intents and purposes, Body Count gave the people what they wanted. I spent almost the entirety of their set waiting in line for the porta-pots but I could hear it all and I made sure to note when Ice said that he was changing his name to "Ice Motherfucking T, Bitch." I thought I had a real news scoop on my hands. A celebrity announcing a name change? Imagine my disappointment the next day when I discovered that Ice was merely just talking shit.
When Body Count's set ended, no one budged. Not a one. No one wanted to risk losing their spot as the band, who was hosting this whole shindig, was going to be taking the stage next. Those who didn't have a good view jockeyed for position. Lines for the bathroom, the burger truck and T-shirt vendors all blurred into one throng. No matter what line people were in, they kept an eye on the stage. It was almost time.
Talk about what Gwar might or might not do dominated just about all conversations throughout the day. In the press area earlier in the day, I very (dumbly) asked guitarist Pustulus Maximus what people could expect from Gwar during their set. "They can expect a lot of death and destruction and a lot of uncaring, unmoving speeches from me," he snorted. "It's going to be terrible and it's going to make you sick and you're going to fucking love every minute of it," he added.
I followed up by asking him what his thoughts on Oderus's passing were. "Where the fuck is he at? I had a truck bed full of chopped up hookers that we were supposed to fuck and he fucking bailed. What's better than that kind of fucking dinner date?" Colorful language aside, the answer wasn't surprising. Dave Brockie had memorialized the night before. Today was about Gwar. Today was about the remaining members of the band showing that they were going to continue on without their leader. Despite teeming with diehard fans from all corners of the country, there were a few times throughout the day where I overheard people doubting that the band would be able to soldier on. In talking with Pustulus, I quickly realized this was bullshit and Gwar wasn't going to be throwing in the towel anytime soon. Ever the true professionals, they were going to march on.
Boiled down, Gwar's set consisted of songs that were written by the members of the band who were on stage with a few of Brockie's choicest cuts peppered in. Returning member Mike Bishop, handled the bulk of frontman duties, at least in the beginning. The former Beefcake the Mighty had re-christened himself as Blothar as there was already a Beefcake on stage. And as promised, there were crass jokes and death and destruction. Justin Bieber had his guts ripped out and GorGor feasted on fetuses. At one point, Slymenstra Hymen tossed Oderus's ashes all over the stage. Toward the end of the set, Gwar manager Sleazy P. Martini returned to the stage and asked everyone to bow their heads. As it turns out, Balsac had dropped a crack rock and they were anxious to find it. Put simply, the band sounded great and no one died. (At least, no one who wasn't supposed to.)
When their set ended, everyone in attendance was given their marching orders. It was time to go. I walked the same dusty trail that I had descended upon that morning and stopped once I hit the wall of people waiting for the shuttle buses. I felt a tap on my arm followed quickly by a "Hey man, can I bum a smoke?" It was Carl. He was covered in fake blood and grinning like an idiot. He asked me if I had fun today. I told him that I had and in doing so, I realized that Carl was my people too. He's the drunk uncle that I keep my distance from or that one co-worker who is pleasant enough during the day but not someone you'd want to spend long stretches of time with. Whatever our differences may have been, I let it go. Maybe I had just been desensitized from a day’s worth of depravity or maybe it was the beers, but either way I could feel the large moron smile forming on my face.