|THE DEAD BOYS are part of a new generation at CBGB's, a generation that has finally succeeded in
erasing that fine line that divides the cool from the retarded. The most prominent of the new bands, they
recently signed a contract with Sire Records and their first LP, 'Young Snotty And Loud', is due for release in
British fans will already know them for the two impressive tracks on the 'New Wave' compilation - 'Sonic
Reducer' and 'Dead Boys'.
Stiv Bators (vocals), Johnny Blitz (drums), Jeff Magnum (bass), Jimmy Zero and Cheetah Chrome (guitars) grew up in Cleveland Ohio. They went to Catholic
schools (where Stiv claims he used to fake epileptic fits in study hall), worked in factories and eventually joined together in a band called Rocket From The
Tombs. A fight where they beat up another band with pool cues got them barred from playing in Cleveland clubs. There were fist fights at rehearsals, and on
one occasion Stiv attacked Cheetah with a spaghetti strainer.
Jimmy: "I think it was a transitional phase. We were pretty violent people. We hadn't learned to channel it out through music."
The group disbanded, and they wouldn't even talk to each other for six months.
However Peter Laughner brought them word of the New York underground. Peter was
a rock writer and musician who died last month of a drug overdose; he had been a
member of Rocket From The Tombs before joining Pere Ubu, and on return visits to
Cleveland told his friends about the Patti Smith Group, Television and the Ramones.
Stiv went to New York to check it out, and on his way home he rang Cheetah and told
him to gather the rest of the band at the airport.
" I said "They're into Iggy, they're into Search and Destroy! Why don't we try it - why
don't we play CBGB's? What have we got to lose?' Stiv rang Hilly Krystal (the club's
owner, who has since became their manager) and pretended that he and his friends
were former members of Pere Ubu.
"I made him think we had a band together. We knew four songs, and we got together
and learned four more, and practiced a week, and then came up here and played on
July 22." That was a year ago, a performance distinguished by the way Stiv Bators
grabbed his girlfriend and tried to screw her on stage.
Even before they came to New York they had read about the Sex Pistols in the music press. They were the first CBGB band that was a fusion of London and
New York: their music was influenced by the Ramones, but their clothes and more important their attitude came out of the British New Wave. They were the
first band of any importance to take the Sex Pistols vehemence and aggression and apply it to American themes.
Where the British sing about 'No Future' the Dead Boys anthem is 'Ain't Nothin' To Do', a relatively trivial complaint. Cleveland may be a working class city
and the Dead Boys may have worked in steel mills and factories, but $7 an hour does not constitute economic privation.
As Jimmy Zero says, "I don't feel that I'm politically oppressed. I'm not on welfare. And I'm sorry that they are. But living in America and growing up here - I
can't identify with that dilemma and I'm not going to pretend that I can." What they were kicking against in Cleveland was 'hopeless boredom'.
Stiv: "What you do when you get out of high school is work in a steel mill, and get a brand new car a month later - a brand new Caddy or something."
Jimmy: "Get in debt for three years."
Stiv: "Find a girlfriend, go steady with her for a year, knock her up, get married and get a house. All the kids do is work eight hours a day, get as much
overtime as they can, and feel hip by buying marijuana and going to a rock concert."
Jimmy: "Go and see Led Zeppelin."
Cheetah: "Throw frisbees."
Jimmy: "Hit each other in the head with them."
Stiv: "After a while that bores them, so they just sit in front of a TV set. Pop open a beer, the old lady makes supper,
if you've got any kids you shut the brats up, go to bed, screw your old lady for five or ten minutes, roll over, go to sleep,
and go to work the next morning."
Assembly lines are inhuman and many American suburbs are so bland and sterile that life there is a form of sensory
deprivation. Now it would certainly suit my middle-class liberal heart to say that the Dead Boys songs of aimless
boredom and moronic violence are a protest against the American way of life.
But as a friend of mine pointed out, "The Dead Boys are not a product of working-class anger from Cleveland.
They're having a good time.
When they start wrecking the stage, it's not to make a political point. You can spend so much time earnestly justifying
punk rock bands that you forget that for many kids, English or American, having fun means smashing things up.
The Dead Boys are not morons, but they do share the attitude that there is something intrinsically funny about people getting hurt. They are the apotheosis of
all those little jerks across the country who, at this very moment, are taping firecrackers to windows, removing manhole covers and trying to blow up frogs.
(There is another side to the Dead Boys story, which is dangerous and even tragic, but we'll come back to that.)
THE FIRST generation CBGB bands were rather restrained: the emphasis was on music. It was the Dead Boys who introduced English punk fashions and a
stage act devoted to whipping the audience up. Their music is derivative, but they do have a good sense of theatre.
Stiv Bators, who looks like a fragile little gremlin, has a lot of grace, and he can outmove anyone on the New York stage. He is also a natural actor, flashing
between moods. One moment he'll be slobbering lewdly over the microphone, his eyes popping and his face contorted so that it seems like his skin is
creeping over the back of his skull. The next moment he'll be curled up inside the bass drum, eyes blank with fear, like ,an embryo trying to crawl back into the
It's not quite theatre. Watching the Dead Boys you get the feeling that they themselves don't know what is happening, that the performance is controlling them.
Stiv says: "As soon as I hear that feedback I get a burning right here at the back of my head, and a chill. I really don't remember much of a set. It's like time
stops. Anything could happen - you could die, you could do anything. It's great. We let it out so much that everything else is boring."
At one point during our interview Jimmy Zero said: "We're all ambulance chasers at heart. People who like to see car wrecks." Presumably when Stiv split
open his head on stage and needed five stitches, he was providing good entertainment.
Last week the Dead Boys were on stage and a girl ran up to Stiv with a plate of spaghetti, which he smeared over his chest. A guy from the audience jumped
on stage and rubbed it in Stiv's face, who threw him down and rubbed spaghetti in his face, all in good fun. Then, as Stiv turned back to the microphone two
fans tried to grab him from behind; two roadies jumped them and it turned into a brawl. Someone threw a shoe at Johnny Blitz, the most violent member of
the band. He took what was described as his "spiked cock ring", wrapped it around his fist, and punched the kid's face in.
I asked Stiv what the audience reaction was and he replied "They were cheering. Every time there's blood spilled they love it." (This is an exaggeration, as I
talked to people who said it was horrible.) The Dead Boys have the power to incite their audience, but not to control them. One reason is that Stiv Bators
seems so vulnerable. Rock and roll audiences are like animals - they know when it's safe to attack.
The Dead Boys says that their female fans are 'sick'. Stiv: "This is typical. They always
want us to sign autographs with razor blades on their arms." Mary: "Do you do it?" Stiv:
Jimmy: "A lot of them like us to go home with them and tie them up and beat them or
burn them with cigarettes or something."
They despise the girls and yet are rather proud of their forays into perversion. They also
say that they don't enjoy it sexually; Jimmy says its funny, like a good game of monopoly
or hide-and-go-seek. There was something rather ridiculous about their lurid stories.
(Stiv showed me his whip, and it looked like something they'd give away at Disneyland.)
I think that the Dead Boys do enjoy violence, but the kind you get in a street fight, not the
mental pleasure of watching someone else suffer. What excites them about S&M is its
shock value (what's left of it) and because it seems glamorous - the sort of thing that
decadent New Yorkers do.
Jimmy Zero insisted that they only do these things because their sick fans ask them to.
Jimmy is the most articulate and personable of the Dead Boys, and the only one that
you could bring home to your mother.
He also told me the one story that did shock me. One day one of his depraved female friends came over and wanted to be tied and beaten. Jimmy had
decided that S&M wasn't fun anymore. He wanted to watch a movie.
"This is how I got my message across: she wanted to be tied up, so I did that, and I blindfolded her. Naked. To make it better I even turned all the lights out in
the room so she couldn't see anything, and shut off almost all her senses. Then I plugged her ears with earphones, playing the Raw Power album over and
over. And I watched an entire movie and never even touched her."
I have no idea whether this or any of the other stories were true - as Jimmy says it's amazing what people will do if you ask them nicely. But I do know that
Jimmy Zero is the only member of this band who knows what sadism is.
However Jimmy does not seem to enjoy it when his fans come up and stab lighted cigarettes out on his arm. The fans have taken the band's rather naive
flirtation with S&M literally.
On the night of their first year anniversary at CBGB's a girl walked up to Stiv and smiled.
"Congratulations!" she said, and slashed him across the chest with a razor. What did he
"Gee, thanks. What else can you say at a time like that?"
You could try saying 'don't.' The band may not like these little attacks, but they're not doing
much to stop them either. It doesn't help if you say that every fight at CBGB's is great, and
beating up girls is cool.
In person, Stiv Bators is very endearing. As someone once said of him: "I don't think
anything's beyond Stiv in terms of perversity, but he has an innate gentleness." But I
remember once at singer Helen Wheel's house Stiv and I were standing in front of a cage
where a pet boa constrictor was trying to swallow a mouse. Ugh. I said. "Don't worry,"
"It's just like watching television." Not it wasn't, not for the boa constrictor or the mouse. This may have been a pose - that kind of remark is very fashionable
right now, like saying that 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' is your favourite film. But maybe it was the key to why Stiv can wear Nazi insignia, play around
with S&M, and sing songs about smashing up women and still radiate a genuine innocence. He has a hard time distinguishing fantasy from reality.
It wouldn't matter if rock and roll hadn't given him the chance to live out his fantasies on stage. His performances are inflammatory because they are so
genuine; he is really and truly "getting off' on stage. What he does not seem to realize is that he is unleashing the same manic forces in his audience, but they
can't channel them through a microphone. This, I think, is why the audience's behaviour is worse than the band's.
Lou Reed is much nastier, more death-attracted and genuinely perverse than the Dead Boys will ever be, but his fans don't riot and they don't try and attack
him with razor blades. But then Lou Reed has a genuine sense of evil, which the Dead Boys do not. He knows the power of what he is dealing with and how
far to take it, and he has always kept his audience under control.
There are times when ignorance and thoughtlessness and naivete are more dangerous than deliberate cruelty. The Dead Boys are not responsible for
everything that is going wrong with punk rock, but they and their fans are being swept away by a situation they don't understand and which will hurt them.
(Sounds August 27th 1977 - reprinted from the Punk Rocker archives)
|The Dead Boys - Cheetah Chrome, Jimmy Zero, Stiv Bators,
Johnny Blitz & Jeff Magnum
|The DEAD BOYS live at CBGB's
|The Dead Boys recover after another close call with the razor