GWAR shop foreman Bob Gorman also plays a character that gets decapitated onstage. (Photo by Jay Paul)
When I spoke this summer to longtime GWAR member Bob Gorman, he’d not yet seen director George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. The film’s post-collapse mythology, its operatic, gore-erupting violence and characters with names like Imperator Furiosa, Rictus Erectus and the Splendid Angharad seem cleaved from the GWAR universe where reside Oderus Urungus, Beefcake the Mighty and Flattus Maximus.
“GWAR wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for The Road Warrior,” Gorman says of the 1981 film also known as Mad Max 2. When the group formed in 1985, its members possessed a fascination with elements of popular culture that are more “in” now than when the founding members were glomming onto them during the “Dim Time” at GWAR’s Richmond Dairy building fortress. The band’s interests also included the California custom hot rod art of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the work of Marvel and DC comic book master Jack Kirby, Godzilla movies — and the cinematic adventures of “Mad” Max Rockatansky.
The do-it-yourself punk aesthetic of those films appealed to GWAR, says Gorman: “Miller just getting junk from a thrift store and putting it together in a different way for his movies is like what we do. The idea there is the primary thing and execution secondary. Now, 30 years later, for GWAR, execution is the main thing and the strength of our ideas over time. So we owe a debt to George Miller. If we influenced him in any way, we’d be honored.”
Gorman started with the band as an intern in 1988 and shortly thereafter left classes at Virginia Commonwealth University to run away with the GWAR circus. Besides playing a character often decapitated onstage — “I’m the shortest,” he says — Gorman became the art collective/metal group’s shop foreman and, after a fashion, its archivist.
“There’s a side of me that likes to document and keep track of things,” Gorman says. “Most artists tend to make the work and not document their own creations.” This is particularly the case for a band that travels the world and is busy preparing for the next thing, which includes a momentous three-day 30th anniversary celebration Aug. 14 to 16 that will feature 24 bands, concerts at the National and the Broadberry and an enormous three-stage GWAR-B-Q on Aug. 15 at Hadad’s Lake (see gwarbq.com).
Gorman became the office manager for Slave Pit Inc., the organization that produces all things GWAR, and inherited a file cabinet into which was jammed the impressionistic and formerly inaccessible history of the band.
Trying to make sense of GWAR’s background mythology (the characters originated under the hard frost of Antarctica) was, he says, “a real mess,” in particular for the years before he joined. “It’s a revolving cast of artists and musicians, and I didn’t realize how difficult it’d get to be. It’s like trying to explain, ‘How did World War I start?’ ”
He found himself drawn into online debates with self-proclaimed experts about characters and concerts. And even though Gorman was in the band, there were those who disputed his version of events. Matters got further complicated by the tall-tale spinning of GWAR’s founder, the late Dave Brockie. Gorman shakes his head and chuckles. “I’d have to tell him, ‘Dave, it didn’t happen like that.’ ” The GWAR story started to resemble an M.C. Escher artist’s arm, drawing itself.
Then came inspiration from an unlikely source. In 1997, while visiting a friend in Berlin, Gorman learned of a tome called KISStory that chronicled the evolution of the rock band KISS. Gorman didn’t particularly care for KISS, but reproduced in the in-depth book were pages from leader Gene Simmons’ high school notebooks, the margins filled with sketches of superheroes. Behind all the brio and makeup was, well, a nerdy kid.
Thus began the sometimes-arduous adventure of creating the monstrous 352-page Let There Be GWAR, set to emerge on a 3,000 initial publication run (Gingko Press, $60) in September, accompanied by an event at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on Sept. 26. The first 150 copies, signed by GWAR members, sold out months ago.
Gorman says that the book wouldn’t exist without the intercession and input of Roger Gastman, who gets co-author credit. He published the magazines While You Were Sleeping and Swindle, and has packaged more than three-dozen books for small publishers, curated museum gallery exhibitions and produced or contributed to several documentaries concerning various subcultures. He interviewed GWAR in 1999.
Let There Be GWAR is the first in a multiphase project that will include a box set with a disc of outtakes, demos, rarities, a 45 rpm of the last song Brockie sang, and the first that past and present band member Mike Bishop sang for GWAR’s appearance on the A.V. Club website. Culling from the “cutting room floor” after editing the book, Gorman added a 12-page list of every known GWAR show to the box set’s liner notes.
A documentary film is also in the works, and the GWARbar in Jackson Ward has opened around the corner from the Richmond Dairy, now an apartment building. Gorman’s efforts to construct the historical record were complicated by the band’s continued touring and by the deaths of guitarist Cory Smoot in 2011 and Brockie three years later.
GWAR’s members have discussed how their characters might outlive them and what that might look like. “Dave, in some of his last interviews, talked about replacing himself,” Gorman says.
No art rock collective can last 30 years without mishaps and missteps. A concentrated resurgence in 2003, he says, was part of a re-commitment to the members’ mission of making art their way.
“One thing about Dave’s death was, it made us — GWAR, this whole giant mythos — human. We found out that people actually cared. And so if they want us to continue, then we need to be at the top of what we’re doing — or else it’s just junk mail.”