The Punk Chronicles chapter XX

I just found another link between myself and the tragically demised Stiv Bators – he actually died on my 7th birthday, June 3rd 1990. Too bad I didn’t realise that last summer, when I should have held a 20th anniversary since his death. Anyway, my friend Antonia just happaned to remind me of a Lords of the New Church song, Dance With Me (later covered by Nouvelle Vague), which he wrote and sang.

Stiv back in the 70ies

Stiv Bators is one of the unsung heroes of punk rock, lead singer of The Dead Boys and one of those few early punkers that actually managed to build a respectable career after the demise of the punk in the early eighties.

Although punk is usually considered to have its roots in Britain, the seeds of the genre were sown in the US of A, as early as the late 1960ies with bands such as MC5 and The Stooges. British punkers Sex Pistols are often heralded as the original punk rockers, but truth to be told, there were a lot of bands playing around with the same elements long before them, and they were American, like the glam/garage outfit New York Dolls (the inspiration for many later glam and hard rock bands) and of course The Ramones. In Britain there were bands like London SS (that later split up to become The Clash and The Damned) and The Vibrators starting out at the same time as Sex Pistols, 75-76. One of the important proto-punk groups in the States was a little known outfit called Rocket from the Tombs out of Cleveland. The band formed in 1974 and gained a cult following among many later punks. Stiv Bators joined the group shortly before it split up in 1975, and along with Cheetah Chrome and Johnny Blitz from RFTT he formed Frankenstein, that later morphed into The Dead Boys in 1976. By now The Ramones were something of a name, and at the suggestion of Joey Ramone, The Dead Boys moved to NY, where they quickly earned a reputation for wild stage antics and raw energy, instigated by singer Stiv Bators. And it really wasn’t until The Ramones and The Dead Boys toured Britain in 1976 that the British punk rock scene got going. There are stories of Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones climbing in through a bathroom window to see The Dead Boys in London, since they didn’t have money to pay the entrance fee. Wikipedia has this to say about the band:

The Dead Boys

”Lewd gestures and profanity were the norm. On more than one occasion, lead singer Stiv Bators slashed his stomach with his mic stand. They frequently played at the legendary rock club CBGB and in 1977 they released their debut album, Young, Loud and Snotty, produced by Genya Ravan. Their song “Sonic Reducer” is often regarded as one of the classics of the punk genre, with Allmusic calling it ‘one of punk’s great anthems’”. Other legendary songs include the anthem Ain’t It Fun, later covered by Guns N´Roses and Michael Monroe, Ain’t Nothin’ to Do, Son of Sam and 3rd Generetion Nation.

The Dead Boys split up in 1979, but Bators continued to be a prominent figure in the punk and glamrock scene of New York, working with a variety of groups and starring in many punk rock films. He tried to re-invent himself more as a pop-punk singer and added keyboards and glam rock elements to his music. The greatest and mots prominent effort was probably the band Lords of the New Church, wich he formed with Brian James of The Damned and Dave Tregunna of Sham 69, who recorded the song I mentioned in the beginning of the post. They had one surprise Top 40 hit in Canada in 1982 with the single “Open Your Eyes.” A more contrived attempt to have a global hit with a parody cover version of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” in 1985 proved less successful, but ironically remains the band’s best known single to date. The band played a small, but important role in the film Tapeheads in 1988, with Bators playing a character called “Dick Slammer”.

Stiv during the New Church days

Lords of the New Church was founded in 1981, when Hanoi Rocks had started to revive the glam punk scene initiated by New York Dolls in the 70ies. With Bator’s band, the gap between gothic batcave rockers and glam punkers was blended, and along with Depeche Mode, the band had a huge influence on the darker bands of the burgeoning new romanticism scene. Although the music might have been a tad more radio friendly than The Dead Boys’, the wild performance of Bators was never subdued. A trademark move was to theatrically hang himself with his mic cord during on stage. At one point this adventure went awry and Stiv Bators was officially declared dead for several minutes until a first aid team managed to revive him.

During the mid-eighties Bators struck up a close friendship with Hanoi Rocks singer Michael Monroe, and they are often referred to as ”best friends”, they actually shared a flat in New York in 1985 after Hanoi Rocks broke up. Michael guested a LOTNC record and both Bators and Monroe contributed to the Artists United Against Apartheid music video. They also wrote a few songs together, but they were unfortunately never recorded, although a few snippets of them have found their way into Monroe’s solo production and the band Demolotion 23 (who covered a Dead Boys song as a tribute to Bators). Bators also became good friends with the members of Guns N’ Roses, and the linear notes of both Use Your Illusion I & II are closed by the text ”Ain’t It Fun – Stiv Bators”. Guns N’ Roses also recorded Ain’t It Fun as a duet with Axl Rose and Michael Monroe on their cover album Spaghetti Incident.

During his last years Bators lived with his girlfriend in Paris. His tragic death came after he was hit by a car in the street. Although he did not get any serious external injuries, he went to the hospital, where he had to wait for hours to see a doctor. Finally he got tired of waiting and went home. The same night he died in his sleep due to complications related to a concussion and internal skull bleeding, a tragic fate that could have been avoided had he received medical attention in time.

Stiv & Michael Monroe in New York

Stiv Bators is often clumped together with another tragically dead glam punk star, guitarist Johnny Thunders, which is kind of unfair. First of all, he never had the same kind of problems with drugs as Thunders, who died of a heroin overdose. Bators was no angel, but he never got reduced to pitiful junkie state that broke down Thunders. Artistically Bators was also able to keep up a fairly successful career after the demise of the band that originally propelled him to fame, while Thunders lived more or less on his bad boy/misunderstood artist image. He did put out a couple of solo albums and had a band with the Heartbreakers, but they have produced nothing worthy of mention, apart from a few video clips with Thunders staggering drunk and high on stage, neither able to sing nor play. Although Bators could get wild and hammered on stage, he was never too fucked up to perform (apart from the time he actually hanged himself, that is). But Bators actually had a short-lived band called Whores of Babylon along with Thunders and Dee Dee Ramone. The latter died in 2002, also as a result of a heroin overdose.

Well, there it is. If you actually managed to read this far, I congratulate you. This is my take on educating to public. 😉




Filed under Art & Music

4 responses to “The Punk Chronicles chapter XX

  1. Sean "O-Grady" Kinkade

    Thanks for the post!! Being a avid fan of Stiv, Hanoi and the Damned I have to say you nailed it!! I remember when I heard that Stiv died and how bummed out I was!!! Such a talent he was!!! No one brings it like Stiv did!!!

  2. I was reading an article about Stiv Bators

  3. BullHead

    Well, yes…you’ve been a lil’ unfair to poor Johnny. After the dolls he was a mess, true…but his first solo album, “So Alone”, is a classic. So was The Heartbreakers’ sole LP, “L.A.M.F.”….anyway, great article.

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