Halloween songs no. 21: Misfits – “Dig Up Her Bones” & “Scream!”

American PsychoYou’re getting a twofer today from the 1990s Misfits. I’ve mentioned before that, taken on their own merits and without comparisons to the original, Glenn Danzig-led era, the later incarnations of the Misfits are quite good. Their turbulent story is rather well-known, but here’s a summation if you’re not up on the history:

Glenn Danzig started the Misfits and, certainly, was the driving creative force during the band’s initial run (’77–’83), being the frontman and writing most, if not all, of their material. Bassist Jerry Only was also a founding member, and he and Glenn were the two constants in an ever-shifting lineup that saw a succession of guitarists and drummers. Jerry’s younger brother Doyle was their longest-lasting guitarist, joining in 1980 and playing on the original Misfits’ two proper studio albums, Walk Among Us (1982) and Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood (1983). After the band split in ’83, Glenn went on to form Samhain and then found worldwide success with Danzig.

Jerry and Doyle, meanwhile, started work on a new, more heavy metal-based musical project. Jerry, who who was now a father and had always favored the campy, B-movie worshiping side of the Misfits over the more gruesome & graphic path Danzig started to go down, felt that the demonic/satanic imagery of Glenn’s post-Misfits bands was damaging to impressionable young fans. Seeking to counterpoint this, he named the brothers’ new project Kryst the Conqueror, fusing the medieval fantasy/sci-fi imagery of heavy metal with religious themes and messages. Their one release, an EP titled Deliver Us from Evil (1989), featured singer Jeff Scott Soto of Yngwie Malmsteen’s band. By the early ’90s they were working with drummer Dr. CHUD (“Cannibalistic Human Underground Drummer”), who’d gone to high school with Doyle.

The success of Danzig, coupled with the punk rock revival of the early ’90s, led to renewed public interest in the Misfits and increased sales of their back catalog. This led to a legal dispute between the brothers and Glenn Danzig over songwriting credits, resulting in an out-of-court settlement in which Jerry and Doyle gained rights to record and perform as the Misfits, using the name and associated imagery, while sharing merchandising rights with Glenn. With Dr. CHUD on drums, and recruiting new singer Michale Graves, they launched a new incarnation of the Misfits and used some of their Kryst the Conqueror material as a starting point to write new songs. This lineup released two studio albums, American Psycho (1997) and Famous Monsters (1999), and toured worldwide. Here’s “Dig Up Her Bones”, which was the lead single from American Psycho and the most representative track from the ’90s Misfits:

Opinions have long been divided on the merits of the post-Danzig Misfits. Certainly they deserve credit for forging ahead with new material rather than simply rehashing the back catalog, and in the process proved themselves to be strong songwriters. However, the validity of any group not including Glenn Danzig laying claim to the history and legacy of the Misfits is rightfully called into question. If they’d only called themselves something else—say, the Astro Zombies or the TV Casualties…a name that acknowledged and celebrated Jerry and Doyle’s history with the Misfits rather than re-appropriating one they had questionable claims to—they could have been embraced by old and new fans alike with significantly less drama. The rampant capitalizing on the Misfits name and image that ensued certainly didn’t help the perception that this was a rather blatant cash-in: The latter-day Misfits are nothing if not a marketing machine for their own brand. Then again, those albums are good and they put on a fun live show.

Famous MonstersI wavered indecisively between two tracks to present here, and decided to do both. “Dig Up Her Bones” is the better song, but “Scream!” is more Halloween-y, in large part because it has a music video directed by George A. Romero, famous for his Living Dead film series. Even Jerry Only admits that it wasn’t the band’s best material, though, saying it “was released as the single from Famous Monsters at the choosing of label executives. The band never felt it was the strongest choice for either the single nor the corresponding music video that followed.”

It is demonstrative of a quirk of Jerry’s, though: He kept trying to get the band into movies. First he got them in the background of the Neil Patrick Harris/Matthew Lillard vehicle Animal Room (1995) lip-syncing to a Kryst the Conqueror track. Then he wrote “Mars Attacks” hoping to get it into Tim Burton’s 1996 film of the same name…no dice. “Monster Mash” was covered and a video shot for a DVD release of Mad Monster Party? that never materialized. “Scream!” was written when he heard that Wes Craven might be interested in using a Misfits song in Wishmaster (1997). Instead, Jerry wrote “Scream!” and sent it to Craven hoping it could be the title track to Scream 2 (1997), which of course it wasn’t. The music video came about when Romero needed a band to perform in Bruiser (2000); the Misfits appeared in the film and provided two new songs for the soundtrack in exchange for Romero directing their “Scream!” video, but the film’s soundtrack album was never released. Then there was Campfire Stories (2001), another horror film in which the Misfits appeared and provided an exclusive song but for which no soundtrack was issued. Perhaps the most “WTF?” moment was when the band appeared in the Insane Clown Posse vehicle Big Money Hustlas (2001). I realize they had a longstanding relationship with director John Cafiero and wanted to do him a favor by appearing in his first real film, but c’mon guys, have some standards.

Ultimately, tensions between the band members spelled doom for the 1990s Misfits: Graves and CHUD walked offstage during a 2000 Halloween gig in Orlando, abruptly quitting the group. Doyle took an indefinite hiatus due to divorce, remarriage, and tendinitis. Jerry Only gathered up Dez Cadena and Marky Ramone, forming the Project 1950-era Misfits. We’ll hear from Jerry’s current Misfits lineup later this week, as well as from Doyle’s post-Misfits projects which have included Dr. CHUD. Michale Graves has done a few solo records, and CHUD has also done Dr. CHUD’s X-Ward, but I haven’t listened to any of those.

“Dig Up Her Bones”

Anything is what she is
Anywhere is where she’s from
Anything is what she’ll be
Anything, as long as it’s mine

And the door it opens is the way back in
Or is it the way back out?

Anyplace is where she’ll be
Anyplace she’ll see you from
Lies and secrets become your world
Anytime, anywhere, she takes me away

And death climbs up the steps one by one
To give you the rose that’s been burnt by her son

Point me to the sky above
I can get there on my own
Walk me through the graveyard
Dig up her bones

I have seen the demon’s face
I have heard of her death place
I fall down on my knees in praise of the
Horrible things that took her away

“Scream!”

A chill runs up your spine
It crawls into your brain
The freezing touch of fear

It’s driving me insane
Although you try to fight
Dragged from the silence where you hide

‘Til you scream

Scream
I can’t wait to hear you scream

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One response to “Halloween songs no. 21: Misfits – “Dig Up Her Bones” & “Scream!”

  1. Pingback: Halloween songs no. 24: Misfits – “Land of the Dead” | meep[zine]

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