A lapsed Misfits fan explores the meaning behind the macabre, and what exactly drives supporters to cult-like levels of devotion…
by: Robin Sinclair
I‘m seventeen. It’s three in the morning and I’m parked outside of a tiny house tucked into the trees on a hidden side road. I fiddle with the defrost and heat sliders while trying to find the perfect spot that will allow me to actually see through my windshield. I hear the clomp of boots and I lean across the seats to unlock the passenger door.
Cassidy just had the type of day that feels like a catastrophe when you’re a teenager. A fight, some shouting, some crying, and a whole lot of hopelessness. Following a recent breakdown, I’d decided that my psychologist was a fucking idiot and I took myself off of my meds without telling anyone. Things were not going well for either of us.
As we barrel down the backwoods roads of New Jersey, I light a cigarette and roll my window down. Cassidy lets out a performative fuck!, saying she’d forgotten her cigarettes at home. She’d very likely run out hours ago and didn’t want to seem presumptuous. We chain-smoke mine, one at a time, passing them back and forth. Sure, it would have been easier to light one up for each of us, but there’s something of a hidden love language, a carcinogenic intimacy, to how hands trust and fingers graze and spit mixes as we pass Winston Lights to and fro. As she flicks ashes from her window, I reach my free hand toward the radio.
The convenient thing about old car stereos is that the on/off knob is also the volume dial, so all you have to do is turn it all the way right or all the way left. I click and crank, and a cassette of the Misfits’ debut album, Walk Among Us, is already in and primed to buzz and bounce off of the interior of my jalopy.
As I take a drag of our cigarette, I taste the mix of Cassidy’s lipstick and mine, and I listen as she sings along to Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?, not actually knowing any of the words1. As ridiculous as it sounds, it’s in this moment that I feel able to finally take some sort of emotional breath. A breath that gives me the space to have hope that I might actually make it through whatever is happening to me.
This is why Cassidy and I are here, in this car and in this moment together.
So…Why the Misfits?
It can’t just be the horror movie thing. Sure, Cass and I both loved horror movies, a common thread between Misfits fans. But a band singing about zombies and aliens surely can’t be the reason the band was able to have such a profound impact on its fans.
What is it about a band — one with absolutely nothing pertinent or important to say — that gives them such emotional power? What is it that drives fans of this goofy, midnight-monster punk band from Jersey to cult-like levels of devotion?
Seriously…Why the Misfits?
The Fiend Club, which is the official title of the Misfits fan club that no one actually uses, is a fascinating microcosm of cultural tribalism. Fans of the band are often fans in the truest sense: fanatics. This is a group of people whose true identity is the version of themselves that exists in dingy clubs, in faded black denim and hand sewn patches, shouting and hugging and flinging sweat as they bounce their bodies off of one another, shouting “We are 138!” without knowing what the hell 138 even means2.
They tattoo their bodies with enormous images of the Crimson Ghost (sometimes called the Fiend Skull), a long lost horror movie villain from the eponymous 1946 film.
And while fiends are mostly white men, make no mistake that there is some amount of diversity within the devil-locked, “Bullet” t-shirt wearing ranks3. Aside from a song about John F. Kennedy getting his head blown off, the Misfits are a particularly apolitical neutral-zone.
An apolitical4 punk band may sound like an oxymoron, but there’s something to be said about an outlet of thoughtless fun.
I think that’s what it was that made the Misfits so powerful to me. Long ago, when I still believed that the world could be saved, I was round-the-clock-hyper-political5. Annoyingly so. But the human mind can’t operate forever in a vacuum of hurt and anger; it needs a space where it can exist without the constant reminder of personal pain or political strife. One of those spaces, for me, was the Misfits.
Is escapism what binds together the identity, the pride, and the nearly religious devotion of Misfits fans? Is it just that life is bleak and this world is shit, and people need somewhere to sing songs about murder and corpses as a break from our goddamn lives? Is it the sense of camaraderie found there, in that leather-clad tribe?
Time changes many things6, but for the most diehard of Misfits fans it changes nothing but the ticket price (which has gone up considerably). The dream lineup of original singer and founder Glenn Danzig, co-founder and bassist Jerry Only, and not-quite-original-but-certainly-the-most-iconic guitarist Doyle7, have played a handful of select performances in recent years at festivals and arenas far larger than any venue the band had ever headlined in their heyday.
They are scheduled to headline the 2022 Riot Fest in celebration of the 40th anniversary of their debut album, Walk Among Us, the same record that Cass and I spent that night, and many others, listening to, over and over as we recklessly careened along the narrow pavement that veined through the pitch black forests of New Jersey.
Time led Cassidy and I away from one another. Nothing terrible ever happened between us. Sometimes, people just drift with age. But so many people I’ve cared for didn’t make it. Drugs and suicide, mostly. A good chunk of the others just became assholes. I like to imagine Cassidy as one of the ones still out there, that stayed alive and stayed true to themselves, no matter how that self evolved throughout their lives. And selfishly, I like to imagine Cassidy with her window down at witching hour, pressing the pedal a little harder than usual, hopefully not smoking but definitely still singing, taking a moment for herself.
Robin Sinclair (they/them) is a queer, trans writer of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Their debut full-length poetry collection, Letters To My Lover From Behind Asylum Walls (Cosmographia Books, 2018), discusses themes of identity, gender, and mental illness. RobinSinclairBooks.com.
1. The internet of the day was in its infancy. Getting accurate lyrics was more time consuming then than it is today, ya whippersnapper.
2. Actual members of the band have apparently given conflicting answers. It doesn’t really matters what it means. All that matters is that everyone shouts it together in a state of euphoria.
3. Don’t let this lull you into a false sense of safety. Pour liquor down the gullets of enough angry white dudes in the same small room, and even a fiend could turn on you. This is one of the reasons I never became one of the die-hard fans described. I’m too small, too queer, too brown, and too brave when I drink.
4. Apolitical music and apolitical as a band. Over the years, various members/ex-members have blurted political ideas ranging from humorously uninformed to wildly problematic. Most of this has happened relatively recently, and from what I can tell, people still listening to the Misfits aren’t able to do so simply because of some “separation of art and artist” philosophical stance, but more so because they are completely apathetic to who the Misfits are as people. It’s mostly about the cult, not the leaders.
5. Alright, I own it. I’m still annoyingly political. But there’s an unfortunate cynicism to my participation. I want to believe there will be a world left for your grandchildren, but I’m no longer convinced it is even possible. What do we do when faced with that reality?
6. Even the apolitical Misfits have a few songs that once were shocking, but are now just brutally cringe-inducing. No judgment, but I’ll take a personal pass on singing along to Last Caress, thanks.
7. While Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein was not the original guitarist and didn’t play on some of the earliest singles, he was the first guitarist on a studio album.