All Shook Up
On Danzig, Elvis, Hospitals and Health Scares

I had a health scare last week.

No, it wasn’t COVID-19 related, but having any kind of health scare in the midst of a global pandemic is truly terrifying, let me tell you. If you hear that people are staying away from hospitals and emergency rooms even when they need life-saving care because they are scared they will get this virus, believe it. I went through the same mental back and forth.

Last Saturday I started experiencing chest discomfort. I wouldn’t call it pain – on that vaunted 1-10 scale, it was about a 1. But it was really uncomfortable. I looked up the symptoms of a heart attack, and then – I think partially because I’d looked them up – I started experiencing them. I was fatigued. I had a spell of lightheadedness followed by sweating. The discomfort felt like it was radiating.

So after two days of hoping it would get better, I went to the emergency room on Monday night. I had my own mask, but the kind nurses gave me a medical mask on my way in. I had a chest x-ray, some blood work and an EKG. All of them showed no problems, and they were about to let me go home and figure it out when my second EKG turned up something irregular. The reading showed an inverted T wave, which could mean a lot of things. But one of the things it could mean is that my heart was not getting the oxygen it needed to keep functioning properly.

I knew when they sent the supervising physician to tell me this that things were potentially grave. (I’d also just heard the patient in the next exam room receive his positive COVID-19 diagnosis, so that only added to my unease.) The hospital staff kept me overnight, hooked up to a heart monitor. That was definitely not an easy night’s sleep, and I only managed a couple hours. I don’t remember my dreams, but I probably dreamt of angiograms and open-heart surgeries.

On Tuesday I had what’s called a stress echocardiogram, which is basically an ultrasound of your heart. The lovely staff (and I must emphasize that I got great medical care, as safe as possible) took little videos of my heart, then made me run for 10 minutes on a treadmill and took more videos. The idea is to force your heart to work hard, because it is only then, when it is pumping hard, that the doctors can see whether there are blocked arteries or damaged areas.

And after four more hours of waiting and stressing, I learned that my heart looked fine. I still have no idea what that second EKG turned up – I have read stories of faulty EKG readings, and I hope this was one – but my chest discomfort was not caused by any kind of heart failure. I cannot even describe to you the relief I felt at that news, since of course my major worry was needing open-heart surgery during a pandemic. Catching COVID while my heart was weak and recovering from major surgery sounded like a death sentence to me.

Long story short, with heart issues ruled out, my doctor and I have been trying to track down the problem. Digestive issues and muscle inflammation, combined with crazy amounts of stress, seem to be the culprits. All of those things can feel like a heart attack, and I’m happy I went in and got checked out. Another week or so and I’ll be certain I didn’t catch COVID-19 while I was there, too. Fingers crossed.

So, that was frightening. Coming home after my hospital stay felt like getting a second chance at life, or at least at avoiding heart disease. Everything felt new, in a way. I started thinking about all the new music I wouldn’t have had the chance to hear, that now I would get to enjoy. And then I started considering which album would be the first one I experienced after my health scare. What new music would I use to welcome myself to this next chapter of my life?

Of course, I knew it had to be Danzig Sings Elvis.

I mean, just look at those three words together. Danzig. Sings. Elvis. Truly these are the days of miracle and wonder. I assume Glenn Danzig needs no introduction. Founding member of the Misfits, leader of Samhain and of his own eponymous band, the guy who sang “Mother.” Danzig’s place in punk and metal history is assured – he’s an absolute legend.

He’s also one of the least self-aware human beings on the planet. For a couple decades now he’s been on a steep decline, and he still acts like the Glenn Danzig of the ‘80s. He still takes “scary” photographs with scantily clad women at age 64, and he still believes people take him seriously as some kind of horror-punk auteur. Last year he premiered his directorial debut, Verotika, and he was stunned that the audience laughed at it. By all accounts it’s terrible, much like Danzig’s albums since the original band broke up.

One way or another, Danzig Sings Elvis was bound to be enjoyable. Either it would be a fun little romp, or it would be a glorious train wreck. I don’t think anyone is surprised that it turned out to be the second one, but it’s pretty stunningly bad. Danzig has somehow produced 40 minutes of music that even defy the kitschy thrill of Danzig singing Elvis songs. This is utterly impossible to enjoy, even as a winking joke. And it’s Danzig’s total lack of self-awareness that does him in here, repeatedly.

The first thing Danzig should know about himself is that he can no longer sing. This has been evident for a while, at least since Circle of Snakes, but here the voice is on full display, and it’s painful. Gone is that magnificent bellow that burst out from the din of the Misfits, or that drove the original Danzig band’s gothic metal blues. He literally cannot hit or hold notes any longer. You may think I am exaggerating, but I am not. His voice is spent, shot, completely destroyed.

But he clearly doesn’t know this, or can’t hear it, because he spotlights that voice here, giving himself minimal instrumentation to hide behind. Danzig produced this album and played almost every instrument on it, so he has no one to blame but himself. There’s almost nothing to these tracks – some minimal electric guitar, single piano notes, occasional hi-hat. Nothing to distract from the creaking, blown-out voice. It’s even in the title. Danzig wants you to hear him sing these songs, as clearly as possible.

His lifelong Elvis Presley fandom works against him here, too. If you’re expecting an album of revved-up rockabilly covers, you’re in for a major disappointment. Danzig has scoured the Presley catalog for unlikely song choices, and nearly all of them are slow ballads. I’m talking songs like “Pocket Full of Rainbows” and “Lonely Blue Boy,” tunes that Presley could truly dig into as a world-champion crooner. But as we’ve previously established, Danzig is no longer any kind of crooner, and the slower and more plodding the song, the worse Danzig sounds trying to sing it.

Which leaves us with two kinds of outcomes here: the merely bad, and the utterly atrocious. “Fever,” for example, is merely bad. Popularized by Peggy Lee, the song was covered by Presley on his 1960 album Elvis is Back. Danzig’s version is the worst I’ve ever heard, but by comparison it’s listenable. “First in Line,” on the other hand, is abominable. This ballad, from Presley’s second album Elvis, finds Danzig simply unable to meet the melody line. Like, at all. It’s like those early-in-the-season episodes of American Idol, where they bring out the horrible singers and humiliate them on television. It’s that bad.

What’s worse is that this should have been an easy win. Had Danzig made this album in 1993, with the original Danzig lineup, it would have been unstoppable. Even with his current capabilities, if he’d just chosen songs with a pulse and rocked this up a little more, it would have been better. But he’s so self-serious that he simply couldn’t play this concept up. And by the end, I was thankful that Elvis was not around to hear it. (Or is he…?)

So yes, Danzig somehow made an album on which he sings Elvis songs, called Danzig Sings Elvis, and did so without any irony or humor or even any recognition that this should be fun. It’s a slog, a dire mess, a hunk-a hunk of burning crap, and I cannot recommend strongly enough that you do not put yourself through it. And yet even this – even this unbelievable misfire – even this made me feel grateful that I get to hear music for at least another day. Even terrible music. It’s all a gift.

Or something. There’s no real lesson here, I guess, except that life can change in a minute. Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

Next week, I get to play catch-up with some decent recent releases.

See you in line Tuesday morning.