Why Glenn Danzig’s Wrong About Punk and “Woke Bullshit”

The former Misfits frontman recently claimed a "punk explosion" would never happen today

May 3, 2021 2:14 pm
Glenn Danzig
Glenn Danzig at the Wacken Open Air festival on August 2, 2018 in Wacken, Germany.

It seems as though it’s become trendy lately for aging white dudes to rail against “wokeness” and “PC culture” and the ways it has destroyed their legacy. The latest example comes courtesy of former Misfits frontman Glenn Danzig, who recently told Rolling Stone that a “punk explosion” could never happen today thanks to what he describes as “cancel culture and woke bullshit.”

Danzig specifically brought up the classic Misfits track “Last Caress,” whose notorious lyrics feature boastful references to rape and killing babies, as an example of something that would perhaps not fly nowadays. “It’s just a crazy-ass song,” he told the publication. “We would do things just to piss people off.”

When asked if “that song [was] just, ‘Let me think of the most fucked up things I can think of’?” Danzig replied, “Part of it, yeah. Like, ‘Fuck everybody. Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck the world.’ And that was pretty much the attitude. It was just like, ‘Fuck your system, fuck all this bullshit.’ It was something else. I don’t think people will ever see anything like it again. There won’t be any new bands coming out like that. Now, they will immediately get canceled.”

“People don’t understand, because everything’s so cancel-culture, woke bullshit nowadays, but you could never have the punk explosion nowadays, because of cancel culture and woke bullshit,” he continued. “You could never have it. It would never have happened. We’re lucky it happened when it did, because it’ll never happen again. You won’t have any of those kinds of bands ever again. Everyone’s so uptight and P.C., it’s just like, ‘OK, whatever.’”

That is, of course, simply not the case. For one, arguing that punk could never exist today ignores the fact that it does exist today. For Danzig to imply otherwise does nothing more than signal how out-of-touch he is. But even if you want to overlook the countless bands toiling away in basements and house shows and super-spreader events at Tompkins Square Park these days and focus solely on the past, punk has always been a scene that self-polices and provides a welcoming space for members of marginalized communities. There are entire subgenres like queercore and riot grrl whose entire ethos would probably be described as “woke” by guys like Danzig. And yes, the Sex Pistols and Siouxie Sioux probably wouldn’t get away with wearing swastikas for shock value nowadays, but they caught heat from their peers from it back then too. Just one year after Danzig penned “Last Caress,” the Dead Kennedys released “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” on which they reminded their fellow punks that while “You still think swastikas look cool/The real Nazis run your schools/They’re coaches, businessmen and cops/In a real fourth Reich you’ll be the first to go.”

“Wokeness” and “PC culture” are meaningless terms coined by people who don’t want to face consequences for their controversial words and actions — be it sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism or all of the above — but even before “Last Caress,” some of punk’s most prominent figures were aligning themselves against hate speech. After Rock Against Racism was founded in the UK (largely in response to Eric Clapton’s racist rant endorsing Enoch Powell and a David Bowie interview in which he expressed support for fascism and was quoted as saying, “Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars”), The Clash, the Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex and Stiff Little Fingers all performed at the organization’s Carnivals Against Racism in 1978. Spoiler alert: the “punk explosion” Danzig referred to still happened.

The idea that the Misfits would be “canceled” if they were to release “Last Caress” today also falsely assumes that music fans are incapable of reading a song’s intent. Danzig’s lyrics have always been goofy and over-the-top, and he himself admits that “Last Caress” was just an attempt to shock. He’s playing a character in his songs; no one actually thinks he’s earnestly advocating for child murder. And if “wokeness” really has such a hold on pop culture in today’s world, artists who push the envelope outside of punk — like Phoebe Bridgers, who employed the age-old rock trope of smashing a guitar on TV, and Lil Nas X, who recently angered evangelical Christians by giving the devil a lap dance in a music video — wouldn’t be enjoying the success they currently are.

Danzig’s comments just hammer home the fact that he’s completely disengaged with today’s punk scene, and that may be part of a broader indifference towards music and creativity in general on his part. When asked by Rolling Stone whether he has any plans to record new music, he responded, “You know, with people thinking they can download your record for free and all of that stuff, it gets to the point where you’re just like, ‘Why am I going to do a new record? People are just going to steal it. It’s going to cost me money to make it. Am I going to make any money back?’ I love doing music, but if I spend a ton of money doing a record and it just gets downloaded for free and people steal it, what’s the point?”

Maybe it was never about “fuck your system” so much as it was about making a bunch of money and living within the system. No one’s advocating for piracy here, and his frustrations with that are warranted, but “why should I do this if I’m not going to make money?” is about the least-punk sentiment one could come up with. If there’s any reason to “cancel” him, that’s it. As the Dead Kennedys sang on “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” “Stab your backs when you trash our halls / Trash a bank if you’ve got real balls.”

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.