Misfits: the story behind Static Age
Static Age was supposed to be the album that put the Misfits on the map – but it was shelved for 20 years. Jerry Only looks back on the US punk masterpiece that nearly wasn’t
The Misfits are brilliant. Purveyors of puerile punk back in the late '70s and early '80s, the New Jersey fiends blazed a trail that nobody dared touch lest their fingers catch fire. Only a clawful of singles and two full-lengths, Walk Among Us and the fecklessly feral Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood, were unleashed before the band disintegrated in 1983. Poof. Into the ether. A battle over song rights was resolved with ex-singer Glenn Danzig in 1995, thus allowing the Misfits' unreleased gem of a debut, Static Age, to be included as part of a boxset the following year.
As the Monday morning sunshine sees Streetfighter: Danzig Edition unfurl before the bemused eyes of the internet, Misfits bassist and now vocalist Jerry Only sits in his family's machine factory – which he's worked in since he was a teen – and he's ready to hit the weights with his nephew. His mum wanders in asking for some spare parts, to which Jerry shouts down the phone, “My mom! Who gave birth to the whole scene! Mom had Social Distortion at her house when they were 14 and they puked on my rug! She had Circle Jerks, Black Flag... we had everybody.”
This familial loveliness may seem far removed from the bass-bashing maniac on Bloodfeast and Die, Die My Darling, but we're sure even Watain like to curl up and watch Netflix in their onesies every now and again. Jerry is a punk legend, and, in his own words, he recounts the Static Age story...
“The Misfits began in 1977, in April,” begins Jerry. He pauses, scanning his encyclopaedic memory. “April 18th. At the time, Glenn was playing keyboards and I was good friends with the drummer, Manny [Martinez], who played on our first single in the summer of '77. That was Cough/Cool and She, but we didn't have a guitar. That summer, we were hanging out at CBGB; we saw the Ramones there and thought, 'Hey, if we want to be on the cutting edge of this whole thing, we really need a guitar player.'”
“In New York, there were bands like Television, Talking Heads and a lot of artsy-fartsy shit that didn't have balls; everyone was strung out on heroin and that wasn't what I wanted to be,” he continues, detailing the pitch-black canvas from which Static Age sprung. “I didn't want to be shooting dope or wearing my dad's old clothes, and I just thought, 'Fuck it, we need a guitar player.' I asked a good friend of mine, Franché Coma – we played basketball together in school – if he wanted the job. We got another drummer because Manny had a drinking problem, and then we started working on the Static Age songs.”
The quartet of Only, Danzig, Coma and drummer Mr. Jim were soon to make history. With their only real source of income being the cash Jerry earned in the factory, the favourable hand of fate gave the Misfits an encouraging shove into the studio.
“We were very fortunate because there was a band called Pere Ubu – who fit into that artsy-fartsy scene – and they were on Mercury Records, and that label wanted their own little independent label,” says Jerry. “They called it Blank – but we'd already put out Cough/Cool and She through the name Blank – so they wound up giving us money for studio time in exchange for the name! At that point, we came up with Plan 9 Records, which was taken from the Ed Woods movie Plan 9 From Outer Space; that's when we started making the transition from keyboardy, beatnik scene stuff into horror punk.”
Misfits at Florentine Gardens, Los Angeles circa 1980
The Misfits' early shows were – to put it politely – absolutely fucking bananas. Everything was played with the utmost brutality and the crowd became one disorganised pool of perspiring punters with more limbs than The Luggage and a mindset just as violent. The band were, at one point, arrested for allegedly grave-robbing. They were punks in the most archetypal fashion; they would have taken your #ladbanter and your #cheekynandos and lodged it forcefully between your buttocks. Given this colourful backdrop, the Static Age sessions were surprisingly uneventful.
“The studio was on 57th Street in Manhattan, it was called C.I. Recordings and a gentleman named David Achelis was the engineer,” recalls Jerry, once again with pin-point precision. “They gave us about 20 hours of recording time, so we went in having written all the Static Age songs in January 1978. It was about nine months into my career and we were recording our first album! Most things were done in the first take or two but we needed more time, so I came up with more money to keep the project going.
“Preparation is the key to success when recording,” he assures us, shattering every beginner's dream of picking up a six-string and churning out a note-perfect rendition of Dyers Eve. “There are some people who believe they can just strap on a guitar and blast something great out, but we were dealing with something new. Punk rock was relatively new at this point so we needed to keep our shit together, and we did. If you listen to all the leads, though, they're all one-note leads – so it doesn't take long to drop something like that! – and I love it.”
The songs are simplistic in nature but that's punk rock for you. Static Age harbours some of the catchiest, most defiantly anarchic anthems the Misfits ever penned. Metallica covered Last Caress. Guns N' Roses had a pop at Attitude. Hell, even Refused took on Bullet. The skulls and hairstyles may be what many perceive as the Misfits, but it all stems from the chunky basslines, repetitive choruses and lyrics of a horrific hue.
“You'll know it as Spinal Remains, but at the time we had a song called Feline Nursery,” Jerry says, explaining the logical jump from cats to corpses. “The studio had this really hot secretary; she came into the recording room and bumped into the 24-track recording machine and kinda put a glitch in Feline Nursery. It wound up later, Glenn changed the lyrics and it became Spinal Remains.”
Speaking of writing, there's an age-old argument that should be laid to rest. Danzig's part in the Misfits was fundamental. No-one can deny that. Without Danzig, the Misfits would never have been. With this in mind, it still seems a little unfair that armies of old school fans hurl abuse in Jerry's direction from the safety of their computers.
“Let's think of the Misfits as a restaurant,” says Jerry, hereby creating the best analogy known to man. “Glenn goes to the store and he comes to the restaurant with the meat and potatoes. Then he gives them to me. He brings in the main ideas, then I cook 'em up – I'm the chef, y'know? I wrote the intro and outro to Astro Zombies, the beginning riff in Return Of The Fly, I worked on Hybrid Moments... Glenn came down with this poem and he goes, 'Hey, check this out.' I looked at it and I say, 'Well, what key do you want it in?' and he goes, 'I want it in C.' I just grabbed my bass, started playing a riff and that was Theme For A Jackal. Glenn wanted to hear it in C, but it didn't exist until I started playing the riff.”
“This band was created on identity,” he elaborates, emphasising the importance of the band's crude, brutish beginnings. “It took us one 45-inch to figure that out. I'm not overly proud of it but I don't regret Cough/Cool – it was us trying to fit in to the New York beatnik scene, but we didn't fit in. We're the Misfits. We don't belong anywhere. As a result, our peers – Metallica, Guns N' Roses, Green Day, Volbeat – look at it, see the honesty and expression and they get it. A lot of people never will, but that's not important. We did Static Age with basically no money and some fuckin' attitude. It wasn't record company bullshit. It was real. We came up with something and we didn't compromise.”
The primitive approach of early Misfits is, to purists, seen as the only 'true' version of the band. After two albums in the '90s with vocalist Michale Graves, Jerry's spent much of this millennium pulling double duty on bass and vocals, and he's got a certain tic that seems to irk some fans. Mum-raping, baby-killing anthem Last Caress is censored when performed by Jerry, and it's more than just his insistence on making the Misfits a 'family band'.
“I saw something on TV,” he says. “A couple in New Mexico raped, beat and starved their little girl to death – she was about six months old and a beautiful little baby, I saw a picture of her – and her name was Britney. And I thought, for Britney, I'm not gonna do that song any more. I altered the words but people will sing what they want to sing! I don't say those words and I don't want to. When we did Attitude, with the lines 'I got some fuckin' attitude', nobody was saying 'fuck' every second word in 1978. Today, it's like the colour blue or red. Back then, we were doing that to be socially obnoxious, I guess. For many years, it was important for me not to play Last Caress, because to not do it was a bigger statement than doing it. I don't think the lyrics need to be like that... but that's what we did! We were trying to get a fuckin' reaction. And I guess we got it!”
Jerry is a true misfit. He lives and breathes the band he's been a part of for nearly 40 years and he doesn't give a flying fuck if you call him a sell-out. He's playing the music he loves and, finally, everything comes around. Static Age, for example, was shelved for so long because, at the time, no record labels were interested in it. Funny little world, eh?
“That's so funny! It still amazes me to this day,” laughs Jerry, abandoning all pretensions of modesty. He doesn't need to dilly-dally, Static Age is a stone-cold classic. “We talked to Chrysalis Records, who were doing Blondie and Billy Idol, and they didn't want it. We talked to Sire Records, who were doing the Ramones and Richard Hell, and they didn't want it. So it went on the shelf, but Franché had a cassette from the studio that was mint. He'd taken it home and never played it, because when you left the studio in those days, you left with a cassette – that's how far back we're going! 18 years after Static Age, we'd banged out the settlement agreement with Glenn – unfortunately, we had to sell our catalogue to Caroline Records to make it happen and I'm still pissed off about that – we listened to the tape of Static Age and just thought that it was fuckin' brilliant! We couldn't understand how nobody got it back then!”
“It was our first real studio experience, and it was amazing that we were able to do it in the time that we had,” he concludes. “Hybrid Moments is a kinda landmark song and Teenagers From Mars really set the pace. I remember the first poster that we made to play at Max's in Kansas City; it had the Teenagers From Mars artwork. That show was February 27th. It was a good show.”
Still, after all these years, Jerry recalls every painstaking detail with the enthusiasm and vigour of a teenager (from Mars). Static Age is, by no stretch of the word, a masterpiece. It sits on punk's dusty mantelpiece alongside Never Mind The Bollocks, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables and Damaged. The Misfits were, at a point, the greatest punk band on the planet. Whatever you think of their recent output, you owe it to yourself to listen to Static Age and fall in love all over again.