One day I was sitting in Shafer Court, scribbling evil things and chain smoking Marlboro red 100’s. Just then Mohawk Beth plopped down next to me on the bench. She lit a smoke and watched me draw for a while.
GWAR, Me, and the Onrushing Grip of Death Part 16: Fighting the Love War
One day I was sitting in Shafer Court, scribbling evil things and chain smoking Marlboro red 100’s. Just then Mohawk Beth plopped down next to me on the bench. She lit a smoke and watched me draw for a while. The center of her attention became a cartoony pig face I had scrawled on the back cover of my notebook. It was just a circle with a couple of pointy ears, with the features drawn inside the circle in the simplest manner possible. At one end of its slit-mouth either a tooth or a tongue (it was often hotly debated) protruded.
“That thing looks like a fucking death piggy,” said Mohawk Beth (and she really did have a great Mohawk)…and so a semi-legend was born!
It was the perfect symbol for us, easily spray-painted and vaguely sinister. In fact lots of people said they liked the symbol more than the band. Soon they began to appear all over town.
Death Piggy was me on bass and vocals, the benevolent Buddha on guitar, and the irrepressible Bam-Bam on drums. The songs, at first, were pretty damn horrible, but soon we had found our sound and style (horrible). With the battle cry of “Smile or Die,” we did our best to both entertain and confuse the local scene. Happily I would pour a gallon of mayonnaise down my shorts and blast into a 20-minute long set full of idiotic ditties like “Bathtub in Space” and “Mangoes and Goats.” One night we had a transvestite horn-section; the next we brought all of our shitty furniture to the club and set up our living room on the stage, at one point ordering a pizza which was delivered to us as we “practiced.” Soon we had overcome the traditional Richmond resentment of new-comers and actually began to get a bit of a following. Word was spreading about that band that drew pigs on everything and their kooky front man whose head was way too big for his body (that would be me).
DEATH PIGGY PERFORMING AT BENNY’S, CIRCA 1982 (photo taken in the years before color film)
Bam-Bam had a buddy in DC that was forming his own label and wanted to put out our record. At that point we got our friend, Fatass, to be our manager. He started getting out-of-town gigs for us and we often made weekend trips to far-off and exotic lands…places like Charlottesville or Norfolk. Then finally the record came out. “Love War” was a hit, and was actually being played on the radio on DC’s WHFS. At our record-release party, we brought out a homemade piñata filled with money and candy and threw a baseball bat into the crowd. Within seconds the thing had been ripped into shreds, and the several dollars worth of quarters jangled nosily to the club’s beer and puke-drenched floor. This caused an avalanche of people to leap onto each other in a desperate attempt to grab some extra beer-money… or at least a Jolly Roger. The pile of bodies rolled around the slam-pit like some kind of multi-limbed undead horror, shoving quarters into their pockets and candy into their mouths. But then, faintly at first, the reek of animal excrement began to fill the room. We had forgotten to mention that we had also filled the piñata with a months’ worth of kitty-poop, courtesy of Bam-Bam’s cat. People were really mad!
The next step in Death Piggy’s assault was to conquer the hallowed hang-out heart of the Richmond scene—back then Shafer Court would have big free concerts every Friday, and the concert committee was cool enough to book the occasional hardcore show. One night we showed up at one of their meetings, instruments in hand, and proceeded to serenade them with a non-stop acoustic barrage of silliness that would not cease until they promised us a gig at Shafer Court. We had triumphed!
And when the day finally came, we rose to the occasion. Several local bands were playing besides us, so there was a huge crowd. We were delivered to the stage via the S.S. Boat, a crude cardboard cut-out, from which we disembarked to the stage where we proceeded to launch into our set. Through-out the performance our friends distributed “Fun Bags” to the crowd—they contained several bananas, a flock of paper airplanes, and several tin-foil pie plates. Agents began to fan out across the crowd, filling the pie-tins with whipped cream. Paper airplanes filled the sky as discarded banana peels made the slam-pit a treacherous place. Yes, you really can slip on a banana peel! Then a pie was launched, and then two, three more…before long it was raging across the whole Court—the great Death Piggy Shafer Court Pie-Fight had begun!
The school paper claimed it was a riot, but the giant VCU cop was the only person hurt, having been blinded by a whipped cream pie and then bounced down the steps via a banana peel. I will never forget the image of that 6’7” bruiser of a cop wiping whipped cream off of his otherwise immaculate uniform. He was genuinely upset, but couldn’t get mad…it was a cream pie for God’s sake. Of course doing this today would get you shot.
But despite all the fun we were having, it was proving difficult to keep the band on track. Buddha was by nature a quiet and introspective character, and Bam-Bam and I were most decidedly not. Bam-Bam was often completely out-of-control and would drunkenly swing at just about anybody. I wasn’t as violent (being at heart a coward), but I am sure I was just as annoying as Bam-Bam in my own asinine and drunken manner. By the time we had recorded our second record, Buddha was on the verge of bailing.
About halfway through that first year I got a call from my mom. She was living in Fairfax, still in the house. She had taken a job as a phone receptionist for a legal firm, where her beautiful English accent wowed the local lawyers. My dad had moved to West Virginia after the divorce, and my brother was off in California. In fact it was because of Andrew that Mom was calling.
My brother had contracted AIDS. And back then it was a death sentence. But for some reason I wasn’t worried. People who had AIDS usually lived for at least five or six years, and I was fairly certain they would have a cure by then. Five years…? Back then, it seemed like a lifetime.
Next time–The Richmond Dairy! The Scumdogs of the Universe! And the birth of a band called…GWARGGHH? All this and less in the next episode–A GWAR IS BORN…