October 10-16, 2002
Damned to Eternity
Dave Vanian's gonna smash it up till there's nothing left.
It’s hard to believe that the first punk band to chart a single is still going -- and stronger than ever. But don’t remind The Damned’s flamboyant frontman, Dave Vanian, that he’s been at it for a quarter of a century. “It’s quite bizarre that The Damned have become history,” he exclaims, as if noticing for the first time. “It’s only now I’m realizing how long it’s been because people keep telling me. But I don’t really notice.”
So what's the secret to their longevity? Well, let's see. Lineups shifting like a revolving door certainly hasn't helped, nor have fractious relations between core members. And you could speculate that there's something supernatural going on. Vanian, the one constant in this Damned dynamic, has maintained a just-this-side-of-undead look for the last 15 years that makes one wonder if he's finally made it to the other side. (And the ethereal moans of some horror-parlor music wafting through the trans-Atlantic telephone wire that connects us are downright creepy.)
But Vanian, apparently alive and well, likes to talk about music, particularly about his uncanny ability to tap everything from punk, goth and surf pop to western, flamenco, ballad and B-horror-flick soundtrack.
"The Damned would always invite an audience of eclectic people; we still do. It's never one particular kind of music," says Vanian, adding that they made a point of keeping true to that tradition with their latest release, Grave Disorder (Nitro). "It's not the same song over and over like so many things are now. I don't blame that on the bands so much as I blame the industry. The music business forces people into little boxes. It's put a stump into creativity."
The new disc reunites Vanian with former guitarist Captain Sensible after a 10-year separation. They've been called the Lennon and McCartney of punk, an odd comparison when you listen to Sensible's catchy Lennon tribute, "Would You Be So Hot (If You Weren't Dead?)." The same dastardly duo who brought you "New Rose" and "Disco Man" are now turning out trumps like the nihilistic "Democracy?" and the brooding sadomasochistic ballad "She." The profane becomes sacred in "Beauty of the Beast," and you can guess what awaits the sacred in "Amen."
"That particular song started off with the church bells where Captain lives," Vanian explains, laughing. "He had an argument with the vicar there because they'd ring the bells on Sunday, and it would always wake him up. His argument was, If I was playing my guitar that loud at seven in the morning, I'd be arrested.'"
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Vanian and Sensible got back together when spinoff projects landed them on the same bill at a gig. They hadn't seen each other in years, but they reconnected instantly. "We got to chatting and realized there was no reason why we shouldn't start The Damned again," Vanian says. "We started by doing a 30-second track for the Fat Wreck Chords compilation [Short Music for Short People, 1999]. We brought this track that had organs, theremins, everything but the kitchen sink in it. It's funny, you probably put more into 30 seconds than you do into three minutes, in a way."
Shortly thereafter, The Damned were signed to the label run by Dexter Holland of The Offspring, who covered "Smash It Up" on the Batman Forever soundtrack. The irony of being helped back into the limelight by bands they inspired isn't lost on Vanian, who apologetically related the misadventure of joining Rob Zombie's tour earlier this year. "It wasn't really a good tour for us; some bills just don't work. It turned out that Zombie's audience is really single-mindedly just... Zombie," says Vanian, adding that it was an awkward situation for Zombie, an avowed Damned fan. "You couldn't even get a rise out of them -- it wasn't a case of being insulted or heckled -- just ignored, which was worse."
Vanian has no hard feelings, however. Zombie's pyrotechnic set with ample TV screens and huge platforms impressed him, but as he put it, that's not his brand of theatrics. "I'm a bit more old-fashioned-theatrical," he says. "We have and we do play bigger venues; I just prefer the more intimate old-fashioned theater venues. They're more interesting."
He'll love The Trocadero, then.
The Damned and Tiger Army, with Tsunami Bomb, Sat., Oct. 12, 7 p.m., $13 in advance ($15 DOS), The Trocadero, 1003 Arch St., 215-922-LIVE.