As hard as it may be to believe for those who don’t know much about punk’s history, at one time the center of the American punk universe was in and around Cleveland, Ohio. At least I didn’t know that when I started my journey into punk’s roots. Sure, Cleveland has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…. but it was probably known more for being a run down urban center and having bad sports teams back in the 1970s. Hell, the city was known as “The Mistake by the Lake”… the river that runs through it caught fire. Rivers aren’t supposed to do that. But that environment was the perfect breeding ground for punk. And with bands like the Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, Rocket From the Tombs, the Pagans, and Devo (OK, they’re from Akron… but I’m not from Ohio, so I have no idea how close that is to Cleveland and honestly I’m too lazy to look), Cleveland was an impressive breeding ground for the genre, much as Seattle would be for grunge a decade later.
One of Cleveland’s best known punk rising stars were the Dead Boys. Their career trajectory was a short one – roughly 1976 to 1979, with the group disbanding following the release of their second LP, We Have Come for Your Children, in 1978. So when I ran across a promo copy of this record at the Lake City Record Show earlier today, I figured I should pick it up and continue my punk roots education.
Tangent Alert! Speaking of record shows…. the one I attended today was my second since I got back into vinyl a couple of years ago, and I have to say it may be my last. On a positive note the guys set up at this show seemed a lot more organized than the ones at the last show I went to… at least most of the boxes were labelled with genres, and sometimes even sectioned by band. But there was still a ton of crap around, with guys working behind the tables seeming massively disinterested and customers who had no problem literally shouldering you out of the way without even an excuse me to get to an “All Records $1” box. It sort of reminds me of what baseball card shows were like in the early 1980s… except most people seemed pissed off and annoyed. I’m sure the minimal turnout contributed, but frankly I’d rather spend my time looking through bins at the local record stores.
But I digress. Back to Cleveland and the Dead Boys. I’m sure classic punk aficionados can speak much more eloquently than can I about the difference sounds that came out of various parts of the UK, New York, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Even to my untrained ears there are obvious differences… but they’re hard to describe. To me the Cleveland sound seems to more anticipate the post-punk/new wave movement that came on the heels of punk.
I love the sound of Stiv Bator’s voice. The band is tight, the music basic and straight forward, with Stiv giving the whole thing it’s character. The front man so often sticks out, since it’s natural for us to pay attention to what the singer is saying; but I tend to listen to the vocals as an instrument (and I’m always shocked when I find out most of my friends don’t….), so how the singer sounds is much more important to me that whatever words he/she is saying. I suppose that’s one of the reasons I don’t have any problems listening to music in foreign languages. And it’s also one of the things I really like about the Dead Boys. Stiv’s voice put the finishing touches on the attitude of the music. He didn’t have the same sneering sound of many of his English counterparts; he comes across as more insistent, almost like he’s annoyed at having to tell me what he’s singing about because he can’t believe I don’t know it already. In some ways his style anticipates some of the early grunge bands like Mudhoney.
Many members of the Dead Boys went on to play in other successful bands, and they even played some shows as the Dead Boys in the 1980s, going as far as to re-master and re-lease their debut LP in 1989. Unfortunately though a new generation of fans would not get to experience the Dead Boys, as Bators died from injuries sustained when he was struck by a vehicle in Paris in 1990, and passed away at the all-too-young age of 40. He left behind an impressive legacy, and We Have Come for Your Children is a great example of his early work.