“We played a show in Cincinnati recently, on Mother’s Day,” says Misfits founder Jerry Only during a recent phone interview. “And at the end of the show, this lady and her son came up to us and the son was saying ‘Hey, man, look! I brought my mom down to the Misfits show for Mother’s Day!’ And we were all thinking that was pretty cool when the mother says ‘Y’know, I never really got it before, but now I get it, now I see what you guys are really up to.’
“So we all nodded at her and smiled and I finally asked her what it was that she thought we were really up to and she said ‘Oh, well, just great fun, I guess.’ And that really is what it’s all about for me after all these years: everybody can be part of the Misfits experience, everyone can participate, everybody can have a good time, all are welcome. I mean, this mother had never understood why her kid was so into the Misfits, but now she’s into us too. And I think that’s the coolest thing imaginable.”
It’s been just over 20 years since the original Misfits (including Jerry on bass, vocalist Glenn Danzig doubling on keyboards and Manny playing drums) played their first guitar-free gig at New York City’s infamous CBGB’s, two months before Jerry Only graduated from high school. “When we were doing the whole Misfits thing at the beginning, I was 17 and I was the youngster in the crowd,” he recalls. “Then a couple of years later my little brother Doyle joined the band as our guitarist, so the two of us were like the young blood that was being introduced into this older New York punk rock scene. Today it’s just the opposite: Doyle and I are the old guys now and most of our audience is in the 16- to 18-year old range.”
Jerry is quick to debunk any romantic myths related to the late-’70s New York City music scene. “Everybody that we were opening for back then, all the people who were heading the New York scene, they were all junkies,” he explains. “And they’re all dead now, so I want kids today to know that my reaction to those people was to just try and avoid them, to focus on my band and my little brother and then to get back to Jersey as soon as I could. It was just a really tough scene back then, and people talk about it today like it was the best thing in the world–when really it was just a total shambles.”
Despite their youth and relative isolation in the Jersey suburbs, the Misfits steadily ingratiated themselves into the underground cultural consciousness via a unique, genre-spanning musical vision that incorporated huge instrumental chops (neither punk nor hardcore nor metal, but something bigger than all three) and a nearly fetishistic appropriation of B-grade horror and science fiction movie aesthetics. After seven years of laboring in relative commercial obscurity, Danzig finally left the Misfits in 1983 to form Samhain and (later) the ongoing goth-metal band that now bears his surname.
Danzig’s unexpected walk-out sparked a lengthy legal struggle over rights to the Misfits name and royalties. The conflict took on a heightened sense of commercial significance in the late ’80s as a variety of bands (including Metallica, Guns n’ Roses and the Lemonheads) began playing Misfits covers and publicly citing the band as a seminal creative influence. (“The tributes were nice”, notes Jerry, “but I think that they threw a major misconception into millions of people about what the Misfits did because I don’t think we sounded anything like any of those bands.”) It wasn’t until January, 1995 that a final legal decision was reached, a decision that awarded Jerry Only and Doyle the right to revive the Misfits name.
“It was a long, hard battle,” says Jerry with a weary tone to his voice. “And the main factor in the time delay was that Glenn and others continued doing Misfits business under shaky terms for several years, so things were going out without our consent, without our release, and I was really concerned about the quality of the material that was being sold as the Misfits. As an example, Glenn re-recorded all of my bass tracks for [1985 B-side and rarities compilation] Legacy of Brutality. I was really aggravated by that move, because Legacy was probably the biggest selling Misfits item at the time and it wasn’t even me on there!”
Upon regaining the legal rights to his band’s catalog and name, Jerry and Doyle’s first act was to compile a four-disc box set of crucial Misfits material, appropriately issued in a coffin-shaped box by Caroline Records in 1996. “The whole purpose of the box, as far as I was concerned, was to make the rest of the unofficial ’80s catalog worthless as far as musical value went. The box also helped take care of the bootlegging problem: now you’ve got the box you’ve got 104 original tracks mixed and mastered the way they were intended to be.”
Jerry and Doyle also wasted no time in assembling a new live band, recruiting drummer Dr. Chud and singer Michale Graves to round out their new line-up. The revitalized ensemble has played two European tours to date under the Misfits moniker, as well as an East Coast headlining tour. The four-piece is currently in the middle of a 14-show regional jaunt that stops at Bogie’s on Saturday night, then will take a short break before embarking on a major summer tour with Megadeth. In concert, the new band has been offering lengthy sets that mix equal portions of vintage Danzig-era material with new works from the recent Geffen Records release, American Psycho.
After years of laboring on small and self-run labels, Jerry Only finds himself particularly gratified by the financial and creative support that came with the major-label record deal for American Psycho. “What Geffen does is they try to make me famous. What I try and do is help them,” explains Only, laughing. “And I think that we’ve earned the right to enjoy the benefits of the deal, y’know? So if anyone’s got any political or social dilemma about it, I just tell ’em to chill out and enjoy it, ’cause I certainly am. And Geffen has really been great to us, they’ve just done everything that we’ve asked them to do . . . even the bubblegum cards.”
Bubblegum cards? “Yeah, Geffen did this five-card set for us that tells the story of the band and has each of our pictures on a card. And after all these years of making music, I don’t even feel like the CD release is as big to me as these bubblegum cards are. I mean, people ask me ‘How will you know when you’re a success?’ and I say ‘I think I am now, ’cause I’ve got my own trading card.’
“Or here’s another way I can tell I’m a success: the other night my son, who’s 11 years old, starts yelling from his room ‘Dad! Dad! Come in here!’ and I’m thinking ‘Oh god, what’s up, has he got a giant raccoon or something crawling into his window? Am I gonna have to fight some fierce animal?’ But I get to his room and he’s watching professional wrestling, watching these two bald guys called the Headbangers–and one of ’em’s got a Misfits shirt on! And the Headbangers are jumping all over some guy and we’re going crazy yelling ‘Get him! Get him!’ and just having a great time. So, y’know, it’s hard paying the bills sometimes, but I got a trading card and I can tell my son to wear his Misfits shirt so he’ll grow up strong like the Headbangers . . . so life’s really pretty good these days as far as I’m concerned.”