Even before Dave Brockie’s untimely passing from an accidental heroin overdose in March, the fifth annual celebration of his band GWAR looked to be the best one yet. Since then, it has taken on a life of it’s own – more than just an annual festival for one of America’s or Antarctica’s weirdest bands ever, it has morphed into celebration of the life and sad death of it’s leader. While the GWAR-B-Q kicks off today, the festivities began yesterday at Hadad’s Lake in Richmond VA with a tribute and sendoff to Oderus Urungus and his human alter ego. You could tell there’d be an outpouring of love and support even before getting there, as the parking was filled to capacity and many attendees had to walk almost half a mile to the ceremony, with several thousand people turning out for the sendoff to one of Richmond’s finest exports.
The memorial service started with a procession led by a bagpipe player. All of the former and current GWAR members were led onstage to the strains of “Danny Boy,” which a singer turned into “Davey Boy.” Then former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra led off the 90-minute service. Biafra, who had a professional and personal relationship with Brockie, called him a warped genius, comparing him to “a mischievous kid in a candy store that made off with the keys to Frankenstein’s lab.” With the passing earlier this week of Robin Williams, Biafra compared the two, saying both were geniuses. Referring to the formation of the band, who met as students at Virginia Commonwealth University, he stated “When students meet each other in art school, this isn’t supposed to be what happens.”
As far as the “completely preventable” way in which Brockie died, Biafra directly addressed his friend. “You knew better, Dave,” he said. “It shouldn’t have happened and you knew better.” He urged fans not to look at this as closure, stating that closure was pop psychology to sell religion and the death penalty. Instead, he said that people should let this really effect them a few times a year, have a cry, then “walk on, walk straight on.” He then said that it might be a good idea to learn from the mistake. “When my dad died last year, the first thing I did was went out and got myself a colonoscopy,” he said. Biafra concluded by saying that he hoped Brockie was looking down, while throwing Jimi Hendrix and Abe Lincoln in “that meat grinder in the sky.” He then urged the crowd to take care of themselves, before introducing Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe (who he mistakenly called “Adam Blythe.”)
Arguably the most popular musician in Richmond now that Brockie is no longer alive, Blythe had a unique perspective on GWAR and Brockie. Indeed, not knowing anything about the band the first time he saw them, he was under the influence of “three hits of high quality blotter acid.” As you might imagine, he became an instant fan. While he doesn’t remember the first time he met Brockie, he does remember being shocked the first time Brockie knew who he was. Lamb of God (then Burn the Priest) had been a band for about six months, and played a show that Blythe admitted “sucked.” Upon pushing the band’s equipment out of now-defunct club Twisters, he heard a voice say “Hey Randy.” He turned to see Brockie, who had been holding court at the bar, say “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.”
GWAR went on to take Lamb of God on their first tour ever, and as Blythe said, “taught them how to tour.” As the band’s career progressed, Brockie would tell him how proud he was of them. “It meant more than any award to hear him say that,” he said. He also got the opportunity to see Brockie working on ideas for GWAR’s always evolving stage show. “Every now and then he would summon me to the Slave Pit,” he said. He’d stop by as he got to know the band, but whenever he was summoned by Brockie as opposed to just stopping by, “I knew he would have some kind of fucked up idea.”
He ended his speech by referencing a specific show on their first tour. Standing on the loading dock at New Jersey club Birch Hill, Blythe remembered Brockie out of costume, standing with his arms crossed, wearing a fanny pack (“the only guy that could rock a fanny pack”) and a Redskins jersey. Surveying the crowd stretching down the block, he turned to Blythe with pride and said “we have the weirdest fans in the world.” Blythe then looked out to the multitude of fans and reiterated it. “He loved you. He fucking loved you.”
Next to take the stage was Holliston creator Adam Green. Visibly moved by speaking, he said that listening to Hell-O changed his life. The creator and director of the Hatchet films, he was inspired enough by GWAR to write Oderus Urungus into the show in a recurring role as an alien that lives in his closet. Stating that he was lucky enough to get to know the man beneath the costume, he said Brockie could get away with anything and you couldn’t debate him because “you’re arguing with a rubber alien.” He also said that having a dressing room next to Brockie meant that he got to smell the Oderus costume, which he described as “like a bag of rotting dicks that was left in a trash can full of curdled milk.”
He then got to the heart of his eulogy, stating that “what Dave the tattooed heavy metal badass wouldn’t want you to know is that he’d take the time to let you know he loved you.” He then played a voicemail that he’d gotten from Brockie just two weeks before he died in which he did just that. “I love you too, Dave,” he told the crowd. “I’m sorry I didn’t say it enough and I promise I won’t make that mistake again with anyone else.” Stating that “we will all help each other up in the mosh pit of life,” Green fittingly led the mourners in the chorus of “The Road Behind.”
Following short speeches from the band’s longtime publicist Jon Freeman and original Beefcake the Mighty Michael Bishop, Brockie was given the sendoff that had been promised. The bagpiper led a procession with a torch carried by backing vocalist Slymenstra Hymen to the lake, where a flaming arrow was then shot into a boat containing the Oderus costume. The boat ignited and burned, with rounds of fireworks going off as fans solemnly watched. The boat burned for about 15 minutes until a fire engine showed up to extinguish it. We’ll let Blythe, who took a picture of it on his Instagram, sum things up.
Tonight we sent Oderus home in a fitting manner at the public memorial for Dave Brockie. A blazing Viking ship with Oderus laid out in it, the cuttlefish pointing proudly straight up. Watching my friend Dave’s costume go up in flames in front of a thousand fans was so much more intense for me than the private memorial for friends & family we had April Fool’s Day. I spoke at both of them, as GWAR asked me to, & both times as I spoke I was sad. But watching 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- & then there was Oderus, who was something entirely else. To watch his stage gear burn was like watching part of my life literally go up in flames. I was sobbing my eyes out as I took this photo. It was just a super-intense moment. Very beautiful, but overwhelming. Fly free, Oderus- you are missed.
[boat photo: Randy Blythe’s Instagram]