With all manner of unnecessary vitriol flying to and fro, social media can be a nasty thing during an election year like this one, but the most unfortunate thing I’ve seen in my social graph lately had little to do with politics. It had to do with punk rock, and a friend’s expressed preference for The Misfits’ post-Danzig era; that is, the seminal horror punk band’s mercenary reformation without its creative mastermind, Glenn Danzig, more than ten years after he disbanded it. Many fans (including myself) have found the several incarnations of the reformed band over the last seventeen years to be superfluous, sad parodies of its former glory, even if – as was the crux of my friend’s argument – the recording quality and musicianship of the newer material is technically superior to the early stuff. For me, the amateur murkiness of those old recordings is a big part of what makes them great, because it reflects the urgency that is at the core of the music.
Punk rock is folk music. It speaks directly to the people. Its best examples are fueled by raw, youthful emotion – the kind whose message can’t be compromised by outside interference and can’t wait for its owner to spend years carefully honing instrumental chops, stagecraft, or studio prowess. Of course, that do-it-yourself-and-do-it-now ethos applies to punk’s worst examples, too, and they are legion. But when the stars align and a punk rock band’s naïve and unfiltered passion truly connects with its target, the result can be absolutely glorious. As former Misfits roadie and photographer Eerie Von says, “As long as kids with guitars are getting together in somebody’s basement, all will be right with the world, because every once in awhile something great happens.”
I always wanted to be one of those kids with guitars in somebody’s basement, but for some reason my first meaningful attempt at making music didn’t happen until a few years ago, when I was almost thirty-three. By then, I had developed a meticulous creative process, possessed an affinity for a fairly wide variety of music, and was generally prone to be very deliberate about self-expression. Accordingly, getting started as a musician has been slower and more frustrating for me as an adult than it might have been as a teenage punk. My ambitions are far, far ahead of my abilities. But luckily, plenty of punk rock has persisted in transcending its humble origins and retained my adoration into adulthood. Part of my musical self-education has been in capitalizing on the simplicity of those songs and trying to rework them in progressively sophisticated ways.
And so, in honor of my favorite punk band and its love of all things horrific, I have an annual tradition of recording a Misfits cover for Halloween. This year’s late entry is “Devilock,” whose aggressive, occult menace shares its name with the haircut that was central to the band’s distinctive visual style. The original version of the song is ferocious, evoking a surging firestorm of hellish terror.
My version couldn’t hope to match that fury, so I took a markedly more subdued approach, using a downtempo, countrified twang to inject the subject with a different kind of venom. I’ll leave it to you to decide if it succeeds. Happy belated Halloween!