Monday, August 02, 2010

Flash Metal Suicide: The Dead Boys

The Dead Boys
We Have Come For Your Children

Sire Records,

Talk about living up to a name. But first, we need some context.

The punk scene didn't really last that long in the late 70's. By the time that the Pistols self destructed, Thunders got deeper into addiction and became more unreliable and when it became evident that most punk albums didn't really sell that well, I think that the big major industry realized that the whole thing was a sinking ship. Perhaps overestimating the youth's investment in a genre that was supposed to be all about being down with the man, the whole thing was a dubious thing to begin with. Maybe the nation's youth bought into the rebellion, and then realized that with a big, huge commercial juggernaut behind those bands, that maybe the motives became a little more clouded. It turned out that alot of the musicians and bands really wanted to be big stars, which was at odds with the tenets of what punk was supposed to be about. Most of the bands morphed into something quite commercial. Johnny and the Self Abusers became Simple Minds. The Damned became goth lite. Stiv Bators formed the decidedly less punk Lords of the New Church.

And you can't really blame those guys, because after reading books like Please Kill Me, most of 'em were broke and didn't have much money. So for some of those guys, plan B in the industry meant toning down the angst and watering down the message. For some, it was a necessity--there was no future in punk rock...unless it meant holing up in squat houses and sharing dirty needles and whatnot (read John Armstrong's "Guilty Of Everything" about the late 70's/ early 80's Vancouver punk scene). The same thing happened to hippies in the late 60's and early 70's--it's easy to say that you're not gonna cave in to the big machine, but when it came down to cutting your hair and donning a suit and tie to be able to support yourself, tons of those guys made that decision without even having to think twice about it. Maybe you figure that your scene is a dead end, that the only people left are a hollow shell of what they once were. Thunders certainly became a shadow of his former self. When that happens, things have to change, or it's the end anyways.

"Ain't It Fun"

"ain't it fun when your friends despise what you've become....
ain't it fun when you get so high that you, well you just can't come...

ain't it fun when you know that you're gonna die's such fun

......I punched my fist right through the glass, and I didn't even feel it but it happened so fast.....
such fun....."

Delivered in it's original incarnation in Rocket From The Tombs, it takes on a "fuck you, live and let live" tone. But delivered in The Dead Boys towards the end of their career, it sounds more like a warning and an epitaph. Based alot on what I think was "Open Up And Bleed" by the Stooges, it has a similar structure and message; you may open up and bleed every night for the fans and audiences and for the show, but eventually it'll take it's toll. Rock n' roll sometimes will bleed you dry, and at that, Stiv had a penchant for cutting himself onstage; that crimson red wasn't fake like KISS'....that was the real thing. And as much as it seems like you're winning one moment, it won't remember you for a second when you're losing. There's always someone younger, prettier, more malleable. Maybe the fans will remember, but only you have to live with yourself. As the casualties mounted (especially around the year 1991) for the true punks--Rob Tyner, Thunders, Fred Smith-- songs like the Replacements' "Johnny's Gonna Die" and even Stiv's own delivery in "Ain't It Fun" became more true and prescient with each passing year.

The Dead Boys formed out of the ashes of Rocket From The Tombs and moved to New York from the confines of Cleveland where they felt there was little support and future for their brand of raw, back to basics rock n' roll. So off to New York it was--the big city, big lights, big dreams. But there was a penalty. Drummer Johnny "Blitz" Madansky was stabbed in a streetfight, and as the band became more ensconced in the New York CBGB's scene, the more that they stagnated and ended up descending into bad drug and alcohol addictions. Stiv ended up singing off key for the live contractual obligation album for Sire, because he was that pissed at them. As punk became yesterday's trend, The Dead Boys were--as many punks had been-- being pressured to change their sound and make it more commercial, just like in the mid 90's, when bands were instructed to cut their hair and change their image from grunge or alternative to "respectable". One day, the rocker look sells, and then the next day it doesn't. One day, some kid has "Kurt Cobain 4ever" written on their binder, and then it's ________ (insert new favorite artist here). That's the thing about trends, you can't base it on what some kid likes, because that kid is usually gonna trade you in or up towards whoever's selling the most records this year.

Belushi dug The Dead Boys and tried to get the word out, but Belushi fared the same eventual fate as the band.

But before The Dead Boys officially called it quits, they'd put out "We Have Come For Your Children", which despite the acclaim towards the first album "Young, Loud and Snotty", is also a great album and tends to be sort of forgotten or dismissed. I'm not sure why--I think that's just the way that history has transpired, and the popular consensus becomes just to assume that what they're told is correct because, you know, that's just the way that it was.

The band had toned down it's image somewhat from dog collars and ripped clothing to more normal attire; on the back of the cd, Stiv has a formal jacket on, and guitarist Jimmy Zero sports a tie. But the songs, themselves, are still high energy and raw, aside from the production. Apparently producer Felix Pappalardi didn't understand or even really like The Dead Boys. Guitarist Cheetah Chrome had once said something like, "here we were in Florida with dog collars on, with a producer that didn't understand us at all". Allegedly, names such as Lou Reed and James Williamson were supposed to produce the album, but i'm wondering if Sire was against another one of the "punks" to produce an album that they were trying to get their investment back out of. But ultimately, the truest, most distilled form of punk was still far too rough, too unpolished for saleability. The Dead Boys realized that even with a slightly toned down album, it was way too rock, way too intimidating for the average listener...especially for the aging baby boomer generation that had virtually locked up the major radio airwaves and touring circuits; people whose icons of rebelliousness in the 60's--Clapton, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, etc, were all appropriately toning down sympathetically with their maturing audiences.

The album starts off with "3rd Generation Nation"--not quite supplying it's equivalent of album opener power that was seen in "Sonic Reducer", but still a killer rocker. "There ain't no future and there ain't no past....there's just a graveyard and it's coming fast....well we want the truth, we're the modern youth history warned 'ya of....and we're down to kill". "I Won't Look Back" displays a surprisingly keen sense of melody and songwriting, really well done. "I Don't Wanna Be No Catholic Boy" is an anti-religion rant, but done in more of a sense of how a punk would do it--"....I wanna beat my meat right in the street....", with backing vocals from Joey and Dee Dee Ramone. Coincedentally, if this song had been released recently, it would likely take on a different connotation--sexual abuse from priests on alterboys and whatnot.

"Flame Thrower Love" seems like it borrows the riff from the MC5's "Over And Over", and has some cool drum fills, a really melodic lead bass line, and stop/ start rhythms. Jeff Magnum's bass playing is better than Bob Clearmountain's (Clearmountain--super producer to eventually be-- had played bass on the recording of "Young Loud and Snotty", but Jeff Magnum was listed instead). "Son Of Sam" has a muted opening intro, upping the suspense and tension and the creepy mood until the killer gets you--"look over your shoulder some dark rainy night......a dull pain will hit you, the sharp canine bite"--seemingly inside the mind of Davey "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, who asserted that his dog told him to kill people.

The next few songs are decent--a Stones cover in "Tell Me"; "Big City", "Calling On You" (which could have been a big radio single, had the radio airwaves been a tad less stuffy); "Dead And Alive"--a rocker that keeps the attitude high. But arguably the best song on the record is "Ain't It Fun" (as previously mentioned); a slower, moodier song that's much in the vein of "Not Anymore"--quiet and brooding until the buildup and crescendo at the choruses. By the time of the album's release in 1978, the song had already become somewhat of a classic in underground circles that had followed it since it's original Rocket From The Tombs version. The band has since been dismissed by some serious players as "not being able to play", but "Ain't It Fun"--what it lacks in technical ability, they make up for it in style and also prove that they didn't just do fast and attitude; they also did slow and excellent, too. Cheetah Chrome's lead guitar playing is excellent; there's not tons of lead playing on this album, but his restrained, bluesy playing works to great effect; re-imagining James Williamson's playing and what "Open Up And Bleed" might sound like with an update; done in a way where it was given an additional kick of attitude from the punk generation.

To me, The Dead Boys were really the epitome of punk rock. I think that they really nailed the youthful boredom and restlessness, and as well, they had the lineage back into the protopunk days with Rocket From The Tombs. There's other punk albums before this that represented punk better--namely the bands' own "Young, Loud and Snotty". There were also many punk albums that were released after this, leading up to the revival in the early 80's (SST, Dischord, etc). But for some reason--other than maybe the Ramones' "End Of The Century" album, which tanked commercially (and Johnny didn't even particularly like that album)-- this album represents the true last gasp of the commercial viability of an underground trend that had originally started out with near Bohemian ideals. I mean, if you really think about it, for all the punks and hippies' hatred towards each other, neither were of solid hygienics and neither party particularly cared to work a day job....and if you look at pictures of The Dead Boys in their initial Frankenstein phase, they were a buncha longhairs, before the short and spiked hairdos.

But some bands were never really destined to stay around for a helluva long time, and The Dead Boys were one of 'em. And sometimes it's better that way, considering how far that some bands stray from their core sound. The Dead Boys still live on.

--Ryan Settee

1 comment:

DGW said...

Also worth noting is the opening of '3rd Generation Nation', as revisited almost to the letter on 'Back To Mystery City' by Hanoi Rocks!

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