The walking undead relax at home

Shock rocker Rob Zombie's boyhood house, where his parents still live, is somewhat less than hellish

Pop Music

August 11, 2002|By Reilly Capps | By Reilly Capps,THE BOSTON GLOBE

HAVERHILL, Mass. -- "We dare you to see the bloodcurdling Zombie House!" reads a cartoon inside the jacket of Rob Zombie's 1998 album Hellbilly Deluxe. "So scary you'll have nightmares for a week!"

So the Zombie fans come, like pilgrims to an unholy shrine, to the house where a Zombie grew up. Mom Zombie, a.k.a. Louise Cummings, greets seekers at her door like this: "How did you find this address?"

Circa 1999, when Zombie-mania was at its height -- and after the local paper printed directions to her house -- Cummings had to take a vacation to Alaska to escape the Zombie-heads. She says she has to field a steady stream of fans of the gore-loving shock-rocker, whose act seems to mirror a '60s horror flick.

When they arrive, the fans usually can't believe what they find: a white, boxy, vinyl-sided house. Totally C-SPAN boring. If they get inside, they see it's just books stacked neatly on a glass coffee table, walls covered with pastel paintings of Paris.

This is the Zombie house? Where are the corpses rotting on meat hooks? The portals to hell, not just the pantry?

And this is Mom Zombie? A quiet, stay-at-home wife wearing a flower-print tank top that nearly matches her couch?

"I'm Rob Zombie's mother," she says quietly, almost confessionally, "and I'm pretty normal."

She's the matriarch of one of Massachusetts' greatest metal rock families. Zombie, 36, after 13 years as the lead singer for the tongue-in-cheek Satan-worshipping band White Zombie, has hit pay dirt on his own. He's released three discs: the platinum-selling Hellbilly Deluxe, the gold-selling Sinister Urge, and a remix album called American Made Music to Strip By. Mike Cummings, her younger son by two years, is better known as Spider from Powerman 5000, another platinum-selling group.

Zombie gets some of the coolest gigs in rock. He's wrapping up a Ramones tribute album, which he produced and which includes greats such as Tom Waits, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rancid, Green Day, Garbage, Offspring, Marilyn Manson, U2, Eddie Vedder, Metallica and Kiss. Zombie himself lays down "Blitzkrieg Bop." The album is due out next month.

Zombie also directed a horror movie called House of 1,000 Corpses, although he may have put one too many corpses in it. The film initially got slapped with an NC-17 rating, and one industry executive called it a "celebration of depravity," which Zombie took as a compliment. After editing and re-editing, he got the "R" rating he needed. The film will be released across the country on Labor Day.

"Making a movie is the best job in the world," he says from the Buffalo tour stop of Ozzfest, the Ozzy Osbourne-led metal fest. "It's difficult, but then everything's difficult."

'It's full of cemeteries'

Don't get her wrong. Louise Cummings couldn't be prouder of her two children. But she's changed her phone number to an unlisted one. Won't let it show up on caller ID. Wouldn't agree to a photo of her appearing in the paper. And though Mom Zombie was nice enough to let a reporter in her house, Dad Zombie -- Robert Sr., a furniture upholsterer -- slipped out and didn't come back until the interview was over.

Zombie was born and raised in Haverhill, an old industrial town tucked under the New Hampshire border with all the energy and sex appeal of a Billy Graham family reunion.

"It's full of cemeteries," he says. "It's boring. When you're a kid, you don't realize it. It's only when you go back that you realize how bad it is."

Mom says Rob and Mike were quiet, well-behaved kids who shared not just a room but almost all the same interests: painting, drawing and listening to music, especially rock artists such as Alice Cooper and Kiss. They read books, especially science fiction. They were TV zombies eight hours a day.

Mostly, Zombie recalls being bored. "The day I graduated high school, I left."

He quickly moved to New York, where he worked a string of odd jobs as a bike messenger, a production assistant on the campy TV show Pee Wee's Playhouse, and an art director for porn magazines. (His mother doesn't like to talk about that part of his career.)

Dearth of bashed skulls

He formed White Zombie in 1985. The band's breakthrough came with the 1992 album La Sexorcisto, when the video for "Thunder Kiss '65" was relentlessly plugged on MTV's Beavis and Butt-Head. The huge hit "More Human Than Human" followed in 1995, after which Zombie decided to go solo.

His mother calls his spooky persona his "gimmick" (he bristles when it's phrased like that), and she would rather talk about her boy, a happy baby (first word: "Mom") who became a savvy Hollywood businessman. She tries to restrain herself from bragging because she doesn't want the world to stop thinking of him as the devil incarnate.

"Fans expect Rob to slap his mother around," Mom Zombie says, embarrassed that she has to admit her son has never been a true jerk. "I should say he was bashing people's skulls in back then. But it just isn't true."

She keeps memorabilia of her sons in a small room upstairs. Magazine covers, trinkets and all their CDs. On a high shelf are a Rob Zombie figure (a plastic Rob struggling at the gates of a plastic hell) and a set of Powerman 5000 action figures (a plastic Mike with a spacesuit and phaser gun).

Next to the action figures stands a well-worn book: Wunnerful, Wunnerful: The Autobiography of Lawrence Welk

Now, what would the pilgrims think of that?

Ozzfest

Where: Nissan Pavilion, Bristow, Va.

When: Thursday (daylong festival begins at 9:30 a.m.)

Tickets: $35.25, $69.50 and $129.50

Call: 410-481-SEAT

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