They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, as long as you spell the names right. A case in point is W.A.S.P., who :an boast the distinction of becoming 1984's most-banned band. The more the public's hackles are raised at W.A.S.P.'s horrific antics--real and imagined-- the more the group's notoriety grows. Which appears to be just the way they planned it.
For instance, there was the little matter of their first single, "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)." W.A.S.P.'s company, Capitol Records, took what many observers see as a deliberate pass on the offending song, leaving it off W.A.S.P.'s debut album but allowing it to be released independently on England's Music for Nations label. "Animal" hit the top of the British heavy metal charts. It was promptly banned by most U.K. record shops, which only encouraged its sales-- a reported 100,000 copies all told.
W.A.S.P.'s salacious reputation flour ished. Last fall's semi-global tour of Europe and Japan became a veritable orgy of lurid headlines and canceled concerts. The first of the latter, in fact, occurred on opening night of their tour--in Dublin, Ireland, on Sept. 18--but someone forgot to tell the boys in the band about it.
"I walked into a shop in Dublin," relates Blackie Lawless, black-and gray- maned lead singer, bassist, and official mouthpiece for W.A.S.P., "and I saw this headline in the newspaper bin. It said, 'AMERICAN BLOOD- AND- SEX ROCK GROUP BANNED HERE.' And I thought, 'Goddamn, we've got some competition; who are these guys?' " Lawless, his 6'4" frame sprawled languorously across W.A.S.P.'s tour bus couch, laughs at the memory. "We didn't know yet that we had been banned."
Evidently the U.K. press had got wind of some of W.A.S.P.'s more notorious concert antics, such as the staged "torture" of a woman on a rack, the drinking of blood from a skull, and the ritual slinging of raw meat. "To get a reputation like we have is a lot like being a bully," Lawless admits, not without some misplaced pride. "You would have had to have beaten somebody up at least once in your life."
As atonement for their sins, and to prevent further transgressions, Lawless recalls, "We had to sign releases before every show we did in England, saying that we would not turn rats loose in the audience,-things like that--things we never did.
"I don't know if you saw any of the news clippings that came out of there, but if you had you would've thought the devil himself had come to Britain." And W.A.S.P. wouldn't have had it any other way.
According to Lawless, the press was waiting to pounce on W.A.S.P. the minute they landed at Heathrow Airport. The band was sporting a somewhat changed lineup since the recording of their debut album W.A.S.P.; Steve Riley had replaced original drummer Tony Richards, with guitarists Chris Holmes and Randy Piper continuing in their respective roles.
"We were on the front page of every major newspaper there for two weeks straight," brags Lawless, "except for the one day Princess Di had the baby."
Not only didn't the sensationalim mad British press let up on the feral foursome; representatives of the Roman Catholic Church hounded them too. Priests allegedly appeared in the doorways of venues. "They weren't just picketing the shows," recalls Lawless, shaking his snaky locks in disbelief; "they were buying tickets, coming inside, and praying while the show was going on." Nor did the sensationalism end with the hysteria- prone United Kingdom. Official word has it that a promoter was later barred from using a certain hall in Frankfurt, Germany, for not telling W.A.S.P. to tone down their stage act. The press in Sweden slammed their show on the front page of a daily newspaper. They were banned at the House of Culture Theatre in Helsinki, Finland, and had to change halls on two days' notice. (The show reportedly sold out anyway.) Even the European wildlife seemed to have taken exception to Blackie and the boys: The story goes that a pair of moose ran them off a wooded road "somewhere near the North Pole."
In Japan, where a predilection for gruesome cartoons and films is legend, W.A.S.P. was inexplicably confined to a hall that forbade horror-show special effects. Undaunted, Lawless and gang made do with bags of smoke hauled in from a machine in the venue's parking lot, as well as a simulated hara-kiri performed on a Nipponese fan "abducted" from the audience by Blackie.
The furor created by W.A.S.P. on the continent and elsewhere only served to swell their concert attendance. Sellouts weren't uncommon, according to a press agent for the band.
W.A.S.P. undoubtedly has come a long way in the three years since they were slogging around the L.A. club circuit. Lawless himself can't quite believe how life has changed in the process.
As he tells it, Blackie used to sell musical equipment to support his nightly rock & roll habit back in his pre-W.A.S.P. days. "In L.A., where you've got ten thousand unemployed musicians, there's a tremendous market for musical equipment. I could work literally one and a half, two days a week, and sometimes make a thousand dollars profit," Lawless reminisces, somewhat suspectly.
Lest his dues-paying period appear to have been unduly cushy, however, he points out: "I didn't always make a grand a week; there were lean times. Sometimes I couldn't make anything for six weeks at a time. Let's put it this way: I can remember eating hot dogs by myself on Christmas Day more than once."
Even now, years down the road and with money in the bank, for Blackie the past can rear its ironic head. "One Christmas morning at three a.m.," he relates, "I flew to Florida to stay with my father. It was the only flight I could get, with a layover in Georgia. We arrived in Atlanta at six-thirty in the morning. I got off the plane and went to the snack bar, and the only thing they had was chili dogs. I sat down and got halfway through one, and it dawned on me: I've got all this money now, and I'm still eating hot dogs on Christmas Day by myself.
"It goes to show," Lawless concludes sagely, "that the more things change, the more they stay the same."