An ode to Oderus: Gwar’s Dave Brockie remembered

TOBY McCASKER pays tribute to one of heavy rock’s last remaining full-bore WTFs. Photos by Mikey Hart.

The last time Australians saw Oderus Urungus in the oozing flesh was just one month ago at Soundwave 2014. He’s walking around before and after Gwar’s set in full interstellar regalia. Did not care. A tatty blonde girl is interviewing him into her iPhone, and what he might’ve lacked in complimentary genitalia, he’s more than making up for with a superior gift of the gab. He had an answer to and for anything. In fact sometimes all she had to say was an ellipsis, and then he would declare war on a dangerously humourless and nuclear-capable country. She became exasperated in a good way and wondered what was even happening. He’d shrugged his great sticky limbs and told her, “But I might die at any moment.”

Maybe he meant to, maybe he didn’t, but he said that in a voice that was not the gruff voice of caricature but the smaller voice of the man inside it. People within earshot had laughed or made wry smiles. Standing that close to Oderus Urungus, he was landed-spaceship-tall. Looking up at him ‘cos you gotta, you never realised he’d gone to the weird trouble of specifically requesting a clitoris be embedded in the chin of his mask. It wasn’t until Dave Brockie was dead and gone yesterday that I also realised it was only a mask in form, and that I had not actually known his name was Dave Brockie. He’d been wearing that gross interdimensional skin for so long it hadn’t just become a part of him, it had totally become him. The man covered his artistic discipline with comic dirt over lime, but you don’t put something like that on every show for three decades without giving a shit. It wasn’t all about him or even the band, either. It was about the crowd, wherever that crowd might’ve been gathered to soak in a collective bloody bukkake. Oderus needed to see a urologist pretty desperately.

Ever try to get your head around the politics of other countries not of immediate concern? Who is even the political leader of Finland? No peeking. You don’t know. Most people from the US do not know that Tony Abbott is unfortunately Australia’s political leader, though that ignorance is ironically fortunate. Nor do they probably care. Oderus pissed a fine scumdog stream of consciousness when the crowd was hot, or the cameras were rolling, or the Dictaphones were on, but he knew a lot about what a cosmic, perpetual, and even dangerous gaffe many Australians understand our PM to be.

“Seeing Gwar and mostly listening to Oderus vomit stand-up genius was really listening to Gwar”

Many bands run a similar pre-game, sure. They raise their fists in token defiance of a reviled political figure mid-set and ding-ding-ding their hands at the token validation that roars back at them. It’s cheap and rings hollow. Oderus had a bonafide effigy of the PM made up specifically for Soundwave and violently interfered with it specifically because it mattered. Some might’ve called it easy controversy, but come on. Look at them. They couldn’t command more attention if they tried. It was nothing less than a statement made even more poignant by the fact Gwar are alien/American. In some parts of the world he would’ve been shot, but Australia thankfully has no guns anymore, so some people just got a little bit mad. A limp apology usually follows out of fear of burning bridges. Usually.

“We’ve gotten a way bigger response than we ever thought we would,” Oderus later told triple j. “For him to be at the height of such controversy, and to hear how upset people are about [asylum seekers] … these people are trying to escape horrific civil wars and persecution to a land that’s supposed to be full of free people like Australia, and here they are in a freaking concentration camp? I think he probably deserves to have his fucking head cut off.”

Gwar were technically a metal band, but they were the sound of punk to cum. And like a punk band, in 13 album over 30 years, no one song ever rose above the median galactic thrash of the others. Weirdly, that’s also a bit Aussie of them. It was not terrible metal, just the #backdropcore to one of harder rock’s last remaining full-bore WTFs. That was where the magic was at: Gwar’s unrepentant pre-, mid- and post-show odes to a bygone era of stadium spectacle now only genuinely embraced by Steel Panther. The music became secondary by necessity, and that is the only context where that sacrifice is OK. Listening to Gwar casually is not really listening to Gwar. Seeing Gwar and mostly listening to Oderus vomit stand-up genius was really listening to Gwar. If you never got the chance because the line for dagwoods was too long, you know what Oderus would say? He’d say, “Completely understandable. You probably had to take an urgent and lengthy poo afterwards as well. Now let us march to war on the Dutch.”

Oderus “Dave Brockie” Urungus’ whole life was a basically a fat manual titled “How To Be More Hectic.” Don’t be bummed. He wasn’t. He loved every second of it, and he got away with every second of it. Every interview he ever gave, every appearance he ever made on every song and show, are a page out of that book. It’s mostly cool pictures of space dicks.

Follow Toby on Twitter @jane_tobes.