GWAR keeps shock rock alive

Jason Cominetto (’10)/Eastside Underground Editor

alice-cooper.jpgThere are many types of genres in the world of music, but none may be as interesting as shock rock. 

Shock rock is a subgenre to rock, where musicians combine their music with theatric shock value in their performances, pushing the modern limits of decency with their use of sex, violence and horror. Many modern artists use these shock values to enhance their performances, but the concept has been incorporated for around fifty years. 

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, arguably the first shock rocker, used to pull himself out of a coffin and sing into a skull once his song “I Put a Spell on You” hit it big in 1957. He also used macabre stage props, adding to his notoriety. In 1967 Jimi Hendrix performed a then-offensive and mortifying act of lighting his guitar on fire. At that time nobody had thought of doing that to instruments and the masses thought of it as insane. 

It was around this time in the mid to late 60’s and early 70’s that Alice Cooper began to define how true shock rock was to be performed. His satirical and elaborate props and antics made him the most controversial artist at the time. Some props included guillotines, electric chairs, fake blood and boa constrictors. Though completely harmless, many parents and authorities viewed Cooper as a violent individual and saw his live antics as a threat to the youth of the country and the decency of the public. Cooper’s shows were banned in many areas, but he is arguably the most successful shock rocker of all time, influencing many later artists like KISS and King Diamond. 

Punk-metal band the Plasmatics also had a bad reputation for their live shows in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Chainsawing guitars, blowing up speaker cabinets and putting sledge hammers through television sets was not enough for this band, as their most notorious crowd pleaser was blowing up an automobile on stage. They were banned from playing in London after being labeled as anarchists. 

While these artists sound over the top, none compare to the absolute ridiculousness of GWAR. Formed in the 1985, GWAR wears their own latex, styrofoam and rubber costumes and are known for being one of the most interesting and over-the-top live bands ever. Their costumes and music are based around sci-fi themes and all the members of the band claim to come from Antarctica and almost never leave character, even when being interviewed. The band’s live shows consist of spraying the audience with fake fluids (blood, pus, etc.) and committing fake acts of violence to themselves and the crowd. They are also known for lampooning celebrities and figures in current events, whether it be making fun of them verbally or bringing out a model of the person and disemboweling them. GWAR still performs up to this day. 

In the current music scene, with the exception of GWAR, most artists do away with the antics of the shock rock artists of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Maybe it is because America is desensitized to violence, or perhaps it is because it has been done so much it has become boring. Some artists like Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie include acts of pyrotechnics and violent or sexual content on stage to help enhance their show, but none take it as seriously as part of their music as musicians like Alice Cooper have. Whether it was just a passing phase in music or not, bands like GWAR show there is still room for shock rock bands out there, and that they can possibly be the most entertaining and original artists there are.