In concert, Jon Mikl Thor wields fake swords and foam war hammers in mock battle with masked opponents. He also bends steel bars between clenched teeth and sings heavy metal songs about how mighty he is. Even stranger is his age--this 51-year-old Vancouver bodybuilder and self-proclaimed "rock warrior" is returning to the routine that earned a cult fanbase over 30 years ago.
But Thor's fame has never risen beyond novelty act status. Perhaps it's the brainless lyrics ("It's Thor against the world/and the world is turning/it's Thor against the world/and the bridges are burning"). Maybe it's the trend-chasing music. Or maybe it's too easy to laugh at an aging, costumed muscleman acting out metal fantasies so over-the-top they're immune to the satire of Spinal Tap and Tenacious D. But don't be fooled. Thor is serious about his shtick--the broken teeth, broken bones and onstage unconsciousness are proof--and as a result, he actually kicks some ass.
Before 'roid-metal bands like Manowar and costumed camp acts like GWAR, there was Thor, rocking out in the late '70s and early '80s, the heyday of myth-loving, swords-and-sorcery metal. He evolved the Thor experience from a sandals-wearing male stripper routine to what he calls "gladiator rock," a spectacle that combines head-banging glam metal, costumed battles and steel-bending strength feats. He also landed roles in schlocky horror and sci-fi flicks, one of which was once mocked on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Most recently, he landed a bit part in Murder at the Presidio with Lou Diamond Phillips and Jason Priestley, and his music video for the flick, "Glimmer," can be seen on his new DVD, An-THOR-Logy 1976-1985. The DVD is an exhaustive collection of Thor memorabilia with live performances, music videos and even commercials that are full of comic book costumes, glam-loving concert footage and plenty of '70s camp and cheese. Somehow, the dated material is drawing large crowds to his latest club tour.
"It's a lot younger of an audience than I thought it would be," Thor says. "We'll get 500 at some, some will be 200. In Boston, at the premiere for Another Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare [his latest horror film], we filled the theater."
In the early '70s, Thor initially made headlines by becoming the first man to earn both Mr. Canada and Mr. America titles. He listened to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath while he pumped iron and eventually was inspired to make music himself. After playing bass in garage bands, he hit upon the idea of having a rock band play while male and female bodybuilders in Greek outfits struck sexy poses. Thor called his creation Body Rock.
But like the Greek gods after which they modeled themselves, the men and women of Body Rock couldn't get along.
"One of the muscle girls took a chair and slammed a guy in the back, and that pretty much ended it," Thor says. "I don't know what the problem was. Maybe too much steroids."
Afterward, he formed a new band named Thor and the Imps. Live Aid creator Bob Geldof, who was a Vancouver music critic at the time, had been impressed by the Body Rock shows and subsequently raved about the Imps. His accolades eventually landed Thor a guest appearance on the Merv Griffin Show in 1973. The Imps weren't invited, though, and Thor had to provide sheet music for "Action" to the Mort Lindsey Orchestra. Thor provided a bizarre contrast to the full band sounds, strutting around the stage in knee-high silver boots and inflating a hot-water bottle with his lungs until it exploded.
"I was into glitter rock--Ziggy Stardust, Alice Cooper--and wanted to have it be a real performance," Thor says about his Merv Griffin debut. "That was Thor in his infancy. I was trying to develop the character."
The Merv Griffin show also marked the television debut of his trademark one-liner. Just before he began blowing air into a hot water bottle, he addressed the audience with the following bon mot.
"I know what you're thinking," he said as he donned a pair of safety glasses. "It's a crazy way to make a living. But I bet ya Donnie Osmond couldn't do it."
Thor discontinued blowing up hot water bottles after passing out onstage one too many times. That said, his current tour still includes other crowd-pleasing feats of strength: picking up the heaviest person in the audience with his neck, bending a steel bar, ripping microphone stands and license plates in two.
"The stuff I do is not normal," he said. "Biting steel bars does hurt. I've cracked molars. There is Thor pain. After a show, I leave in pain."
Friday night, in his first-ever Dallas performance, Thor will surely dust off the old quote and issue it to the younger audience between feats of strength, even though he acknowledges that the Osmond reference is dated.
"Now I might say, 'I bet 50 Cent can't do this,'" Thor says. "What we're trying to say is, a lot of kids have forgotten about rock 'n' roll. We're trying to wave the flag for rock 'n' roll before it becomes a dying breed. Rock 'n' roll is almost where it was in 1956. We want kids to listen to this kind of music and be excited about it again. And there really has been absolute hysteria at some of the venues."
And really, beyond Thor's B-level theatrics and dumbed-down songs is his youthful enthusiasm that hasn't waned after 30 years. Call it naïveté or devil-may-care attitude, but Thor isn't just trapped in a world of glam and swords--he's firm in the belief that his rock journey has only begun. It's a crazy way to make a living, sure, and it's even crazier to believe that fame is still looming. But as long as he believes it, Thor will keep trying.
"We're hitting everything," he says. "Well, not stadiums...yet. But we're hoping we will."
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