There's an evil in rock & roll," says Blackie Lawless, and he ought to know; he's the chief songsmith-bassist-lead singer and head perpetrator of W.A.S.P's outrages.
It's a Saturday night at L'Amour, the self-proclaimed (and as yet uncontested) rock capital of Brooklyn. It's certainly the prime New York metal venue; even bands playing other halls in Manhattan try to make a point of gigging for the faithful metallists at L'Amour. Tonight's show features W.A.S.P, fresh from a cross-country triple bill that starred Krokus and Helix. And brother, they're determined to be loud.
The heads bobbing to the usual bam of sound-system metal music suddenly break into huge smiles as the Doors' epic, mystical view of America pours forth, it seems, from nowhere. Jim Morrison's "L.A. Woman"-rebelliousness is spiritual kin, perhaps even grandsire to the contemporary metal undercurrent of "other"-ness. It grandly sets the stage for another kind of show that never ends: the escapist specacle of rock fantasy about to be presented by W.A.S.P.
And, accident or not, the strains of Doors music have hardly died when the video screen rises, the darkness onstage bristles with activity, and suddenly W.A.S.P are upon us- with a vengeance.
They are deafeningly, chest-rattlingly loud, and appear threateningly demonic: the Gene Simmons-like Lawless is flanked by guitarists Randy Piper, whose axe has three exhaust pipes, and Chris Holmes, who performs with frenzied intensity, all the while wearing a death's head-crazy grin (Drummer Stephen Riley can't easily be viewed, but he can be heard pounding away like the devil.)
By the end of the set, which has included Lawless' by-now well documented blood-drinking routine, W.A.S.P. have been playing hard enough to have drenched their garish stagewear, sweated off their make-up, and perspiration-plastered their hair right through to their skulls.
Which brings us to what Lawless perceives as the evil in rock & roll: "It's pretentiousness."
And what's that you're doing on stage, Blackie? "It's theater," he says. "We're characters. Look, rock & roll is meant to be sweaty and smelly," the bassist emphasizes; and there's little doubt, particularly seeing the soaking Chris Holmes work out onstage, that W.A.S.P. aim to stay true to that motto. Lawless decries rockers who preach politics-or anything else-from beind a guitar, at least if they make it their central focus but can't truly rock out.
Even "occult stuff" bothers Blackie. "I studied the occult for about three years, it must be about seven years ago," he says, "and I determined that it's a load of crap. I don't believe in it." You might not be able to tell, if you watch the group playing itself in Rage War. It's a feature film presented by, says Lawless, "the folks that brought us goodies like Parasite and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. "It's about a contemporary sorcerer and an older one who you later find out is the devil, who kidnaps the other's girlfriend and sets him seven challenges to get her back. We're the third challenge: we're playing a gig and we've got the girlfriend onstage, tied up, and I'm threatening to kill her as part of the act, while that guy is trying to get through the crowd and stop us. You find out later that me and the devil are one and the same.
"It's a pretty neat film, with a lot of good imagery. That's all I'll say about it-go see it."
But doesn't Rage War perpetuate the image that W.A.S.P. are a bunch of genuine ghouls? Lawless hedges his bets. He thinks that most people-the ones in the audience, that is-don't believe it for a second, and that the ones who do (like some ,religious groups, the daily press in Europe, certain European government officials and others whom W.A.S.P. managed to offend on its European tour), those folks just get the fans worked up so that W.A.S.P. can administer the coup de grace onstage.
"When we started, we'd been studio musicians for so long that it was like when you release an animal from cage-we went wild. We started doing this stuff to entertain ourselves- in fact, even if the audiences loved when we got tired of it, it was gone."
The most notoriously theatrical (and most pulicized) aspect of W.A.S.P.'s antics was officially phased out months ago. "What we were doing in the beginning was a type of theatre called psycho-drama," Lawless explains. "That works real good in three or four hundred seaters because it's very intimate. Psycho-drama takes what's happening on stage and tries to bring [read: throw] it into the audience. That's where the meat came in."
Lamb chops? Hot dogs?
"Whatever we could get our hands on. Twelve-year-old kids. Whatever. We're still doing the blood, but the meat's gone. We traded in the psycho-drama for the staging because we're playing ten thousand seaters now. What am I gonna do? Apocalypse Now? Take a whole cow up on stage? That would get expensive- though we'd have some great barbecues afterwards," he laughs.
More than one fan, he says, "has come up with a slab of meat and wanted me to autograph it. I'd ask what the fuck they were going to do with it and they'd say, 'I don't know. Take it home.' A kid asked me the other day 'What kind of blood is that? Is it real? How much do you use? I said, 'Well, if I can find a good-size twelve- or thirteen-year-old, I can get three or four shows out of one of them." The bassist grins. "His eyes got real big."
Despite the video image, the bassist reckons that fans seeing W.A.S.P. for the first time get something other than what they bargained for. "Kids have heard about the band, about the reputation, and seen the photos. They've got a pretty good idea what they're going to get. But if I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times: We're not like they expected us to be. That's good. It keeps people off balance. Like when people went to see the New York Dolls, they expected drag queens. What they got was closer to the MC5."
But where the MC5 were buming flags 15 years ago, Blackie Lawless unabashedly raises one for American rock & roll. It's eerie (if understandable) to hear a musician who's been clear around the world leading an on-stage cheer for the good ol' U.S.A.
"I'm not trying to be some flag-waving Yankee Doodle Dandy," he explains. "But to tell you the truth, I much prefer to spend my time here. If somebody told me I had to tour the States for the rest of my life and couldn't play anywhere else, it wouldn't break my heart. "
He shrugs comfortably. "I like it here. This is home."