All I wanted was to be like the kids who hung out around Tim’s Volvo.
The student body at Jackson Central-Merry high school in the early 2000’s was monstrous. It was easy to go four years and only know a small pocket of your fellow classmates—to never even meet the people you shared the same halls with every day. And there I was: a lowly freshman.
JCM (as we called it) was an amalgamation of two high schools, Jackson Central and Merry high, so as a result, the campus was incredibly large—two separate buildings with a parking lot and a covered crosswalk bridging the two campuses together. Hundreds of students crossed campus every hour to change classes, sneak in a covert cigarette, or socialize with friends. Tim, his friend Skott (that’s really how he spelled it), and a bunch of other kids would use this time as an opportunity to blare punk rock out of the speakers of Tim’s pale blue Volvo.
I had been exposed to punk rock before I reached high school; I was an avid listener of our town’s “alternative rock” radio station, and I was obsessed with blink-182. But I had never heard of the music that Skott and Tim played out of his car, nor did I have the testicular fortitude to befriend them.
About a month into my first semester of high school, I learned that Skott and Tim were a sophomore and junior respectively, they were into theatre, like me, and that they were friendlier than I thought.
During after school rehearsals for The Remarkable Incident at Carson Corners, I listened to Skott and Tim talk about everything from chicks to light-boards, but most important of all, they talked about the Misfits. In fact, over the next few weeks of rehearsal, it felt like they talked about nothing but the Misfits. I had to find out what they were talking about. I had to be in on what was cool. I begged my mom to drive me to our local Davis-Kidd and bought my first Misfits CD.
The Misfits were a punk rock band. The Misfits was also the last complete film Marilyn Monroe appeared in before she died. The connection was intentional. They played fast three chord “hardcore.” They formed in 1977 in Lodi, New Jersey. The original line-up was lead singer and keyboardist Glenn Danzig (at a towering 5’ 3”), bassist Jerry Only, and drummer Manny. In 1978, the band released the Bullet EP. The cover is a black and white picture of JFK with cartoon blood spraying out the back of his head. The title track is about Glenn Danzig asking Jackie O to give him a blow job. The shock value was intentional.
The band went through a lot of line-up changes—Doyle, Jerry Only’s brother joined the band, they released a bunch of records, played a bunch of shows, wore all black clothes, and then they broke up.
In 1988 and ’95 respectively, the Misfits released Collection I and Collection II. All of their major songs are collected on these two albums.
I bought Collection I. Perhaps it was the grainy, yellow skull with the peculiarly large jaw on the cover that drew me to it. What I remember striking me first about the CD as I lay on my waterbed listening to the album was how quiet it was. Something must have been wrong with the mastering, because I had to turn the CD up really loud to hear it. It took me even longer to understand what words Danzig was singing—there were no lyrics printed in the liner notes.
The songs are fast, simple, and violent. Glenn Danzig seemed to have a lot of pent up sexual energy—half of the songs on Collection I talk about sex in some way, all mixed with lines from b-movies and teen angst. I think “Teenagers from Mars” epitomizes this angst nicely: Teenagers from Mars, and we don’t care / Well, we don’t need no introduction / No visas or carte blanche / Inhuman reproduction / We’re here for what we want / We want it, we need it, we’ll take it / Teenagers from Mars, and we don’t care.
The pure swagger—the aggression—was intoxicating.
After a week of waking up to nothing but Danzig’s croons coupled with fuzzy guitar and bass lines, I knew something was changing in me. I was becoming a new person.
Misfits fans are called “fiends.” I read that the Misfits used to have these flyers in their records for the “Fiend Club.” When you filled out the form and mailed it off, you got free stickers and stuff, and later, the band has a record club just for their rabid fans. The phrase kind of stuck—fiends. But what better way to describe someone who’s passionate?
My friend McCaskill has a theory about the Misfits: past adolescence, if you’re not already a Misfits fan, you’d be wasting your time trying to become one.
In terms of music theory, there is nothing technically good about the band. Their lyrics are absurd and obsessed with sex at best, their guitars are seldom in tune, and, due to Jerry Only’s egotism, the bass lines are overwhelming on most of their recordings. And yet, despite their lo-fi shortcomings, they are, as McCaskill put it, “just rockin’.”
It’s as if the whole goofy package of “whoahs” and cheap horror movie aesthetic slapped together equal a sum greater than its parts. Perhaps the Misfits were modern day alchemists, transforming teen angst into something palpable. Something that they pressed into thousands of 45 rpm records. Their mystique helps awkward teenagers everywhere piece together a lifestyle of horror flick pastiche and rebellion; they help kids make their own worlds where they felt comfortable, unlike the one they lived in—they formed their own Mars.
The first clash with my mother over the Misfits happened my sophomore year towards the end of an evening at the mall. Bolstered by my newfound passion for the Misfits and my new identity as a “punk”, I was making friends with Tim, Skott, and all the other misfit kids in my high school and I needed my clothes to match accordingly. While Mom and I were shopping I spotted it, a Misfits t-shirt with day-glo green lettering and the photo from the insert art of Collection I. I had to have it. I politely asked Mom for the money.
She said no.
I asked her again.
Again, she said no.
I asked why not.
She said she didn’t want to have to look at that.
I asked if I could spend my allowance on it instead of her money.
She said no again. Then she made us leave the mall.
The picture in question is a photo of the aforementioned Crimson Ghost laid on top of a black-and-white photo of Glenn Danzig. To be fair, the effect is pretty gruesome, but to this day part of me still wants that damn shirt.
The band members themselves had a very distinctive fashion sense. They wore “Devilocks”—their bangs twisted into one lock of hair coming down to a point near their chins—,skeleton suits, and black eye makeup. Jerry Only still wears a leather jacket with spikes as big as pineapples, and has a bass with a toy skull on the neck.
For me, sewing tattered patches and punching spikes into my leather jacket said to the world: hey, I feel different. I am different. Treat me with respect or pay the price.
I’m twenty-seven years old now. That means I’ve been listening to the Misfits for about thirteen years, but about a month ago, on the way home from Taco Bell, I noticed something about a line from the song “Astro Zombies” that I’d never thought about before. In the song, Danzig croons about being the master of space zombies that can “exterminate the whole fuckin’ place.” But it’s the chorus that really stands out: All I wanted to say / And all I gotta do /Who’d I do this for, hey, me or you?
Why did I get into the Misfits? Did the rebellion that songs about zombies and guts sung in a style like Elvis’s give me a true sense of identity, or was I just trying to fit in with the other social misfits at my school? Why do I have such a hard time articulating why this band matters? Why can no one else articulate why they’re good? Why is their popularity so widespread?
The first iteration of the Misfits were only together for seven years, but that was enough time to help generations of American teenagers craft a new identity. It doesn’t matter whether or not I got into the Misfits because I wanted to fit in. What does matter is that they gave me the confidence and strength to survive high school, and let me have fun while doing it.
Once when I worked at Hot Topic, I sold a Misfits bandana to a fourteen year old girl. She was wearing a skeleton hoodie (also official Misfits merchandise) and red eyeliner. Half of me wanted to tell her that it was ok—that high school only seems bad now, and when you grow up, you will find your niche; that her parents will probably never understand; that, in another ten years, she’ll probably have the same kind of crisis I’m having now. I wanted to say that the world really can be a kind place.
Instead, I silently handed back her change.