By Alex Rendon
By C. Townsend Rizzo
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Misfits' bassist and current vocalist Jerry Only (born Gerald Caiafa) has made a career out of playing dress-up. With his ghoulish getups and pointy, trademark Eddie Munster tribute "devilock" 'do, Only sports one of punk's most recognizable looks. His band is an innovator of the horror-punk movement, an antiestablishment culture combined with a zombie aesthetic. It was the perfect fit for Only, who joined forces with Glenn Danzig to form the macabre Misfits in 1977.
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Based out of Danzig and Only's hometown of Lodi, New Jersey, the seminal group formed from a mutual appreciation for grade-B horror flicks, '50s harmonies, and simple, three-chord progressions. In the early '80s, the band's campy and crude songs hit the punk scene — more concerned with social upheaval and political unrest than having a good time — like a bolt of lightning. Punk rock was taking itself way too seriously when Only and Danzig introduced their everyday-is-Halloween, over-the-top brand of horror punk. In this serious climate, the group released its 1982 debut, Walk Among Us. Considered an instant classic, the album's rollicking riffs, throwback verses, and, most notably, Danzig's mammoth bellows cemented the Misfits' place in rock 'n' roll's pantheon.
Although Danzig and Only would go their separate ways one year later, the band's legacy lives on, with notable acts such as Gun N' Roses, Pennywise, Metallica, Superchunk, and countless others covering the band's tunes. A continual wave of bands paying tribute to the Misfits' dramatic songs and the prevalence of their skull logo has led to legions of new fans 35 years later. Chances are you know at least five guys under age 35 who have the Misfits' iconic logo tattooed on their flesh.
Only attributes "98 percent" of the band's popularity among young followers to this ubiquitous logo. The 53-year-old musician still resides in Northern Jersey and was en route to New York to visit his 6-year-old daughter and take her to swimming lessons when we spoke. "For the young kids, the image has a lot to do with it," Only said in a Jersey drawl reminiscent of Pauly D or Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero from HBO's The Sopranos.
"When kids see the biggest bands of the day coming onstage with our shirt on, it breeds excitement," Only said unapologetically. He's a no-nonsense type of guy, completely in tune with his band's place in punk history. He is fully aware that some die-hard fans scoff at the fact that Only is touring under the Misfits moniker, considering that he is the sole remaining member of the group's original late-'70s lineup. "I have absolutely no problem playing with anybody, as long as what we are playing for is an affirmative outcome."
According to Only, the current lineup of the Misfits trio — consisting of Only on bass and vocals, former Black Flag guitarist Dez Cadena, and Murphy's Law drummer Eric "Chupacabra" Arce — still carries formidable might. "We deliver the songs with force and energy. We don't stop in between numbers. Before the audience knows it, one hour and a half has blown by."
Only seems to be content handling both bassist and vocalist duties. "I follow in Paul McCartney's footsteps. I feel much more comfortable with the bass in my hand while I sing; that's why I don't have to do any dancing around. I'm not a dancing-around type of guy."
If anything, Only feels the group's lack of a frontman causes the threesome to step it up a notch onstage. "It forces us to upgrade our show. The good news is, our songs are really good and really fast."
The question on everybody's mind is will Only and Danzig ever reunite? Only responds: "I could tell you things that would make your head spin. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility right now."
Only holds lots of respect for his former bandmate and seems to want to keep the option open for a reunion. "We are brothers," said Only of Danzig. "Whether we get together and do something again, that's yet to be seen, but if we do it, it's got to be a positive. That would be worth the sacrifice."
Only strives to maintain an optimistic image for youngsters who find their way to his theatrical shows. "These kids, they look at us — we are in good shape, lifting weights at our age, and keeping a down-to-earth attitude. That's the image I want to portray to them." Only, who also owns a machine shop that specializes in cable fittings and custom guitars, says he wants to take the opposite approach of other bands who act, he says, "like intake valves with no exhaust pipes." He claims of his band, "We will be working grunts for the rest of our lives, and that is an important perspective to maintain. We are not on the West Coast. I don't go to movie premieres every night."
Misfits will perform at both Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale and at Respectable Street's 25th Anniversary Block Party. Only says West Palm Beach punk and alternative rock institution Respectable Street has seen the likes of the Misfits in the past. He can't remember just when he played there last, but he assures us he has performed "everywhere across the U.S." He compared Respectable Street to Washington, D.C.,'s famed 9:30 Club and L.A.'s legendary Whisky a Go-Go. "These are the type of places that have withstood the test of time and still manage to draw an audience in, night after night." Proprietor Rodney Mayo and company have demonstrated a sagacious will to survive through the thick and thin of a fickle nightlife scene.
In his fifth decade, Only insists he is angrier than he ever was when he was 17. "When I was 17, I could give a shit. I played sports, had a job, a car, and played in a band. There wasn't much I was looking for beyond that." Now, Only is not only more emotional but also stronger. An avid weightlifter, he's plateaued at lifting 450 pounds. "Lifting is an ongoing comeback," Only says. "You get to your goal weight, and then you collapse, get hurt, and start over again."
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