“Culture is a little like dropping an Alka-Seltzer into a glass. You don’t see it, but somehow it does something.” — Hans Magnus Enzensberger

  • Gonna Die Young: Stiv Bators & the Dead Boys

    Among the many American bands that played CBGB in the late seventies and have gone on to take their place in history as pioneers of punk rock, the Dead Boys are often overlooked. With only two albums to their name (one of which the band themselves disliked because of its producer), they were eclipsed not only by CBGB regulars like the Ramones and Television, but by punks across the pond: the Sex Pistols and the Damned, especially, with whom the Dead Boys shared a sound that was more angry and arrogant than most of their contemporaries.

    When and where the punk movement began is a matter of great debate among music historians. Critics have applied the term “protopunk” to everything from sixties garage bands and seventies Glam to Detroit’s MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges. But most cite the formation of the Ramones in January 1974 — with their first gig, at Performance Studios, on March 30 — as a good a place to start as any. Television took to the stage at CBGB the very next day. And Blondie (billed as Angel and the Snake) would do the same in August — quickly followed by the Ramones themselves. All would become CBGB regulars. But CBGB in the mid 70s was not packed with fans, clamoring for these bands. Most artists were paid in beer, and crowds often numbered little more than the members of the bands themselves, their friends, and roadies. Punk had started, but very few outside of New York and London knew.

    Except in Cleveland. Rocket From the Tombs (https://en NULL.wikipedia — formed in 1974  — shared the same DIY ethic with bands from the east, and would oddly enough put Cleveland on the map of punk hotspots. Despite never going into the studio and leaving behind only a handful of poorly recorded live songs, RFTT had talent. And out of their ashes came Pere Ubu (in 1975) — and the Dead Boys (in 1976).

    The original Dead Boys line-up included two RFTT alums —  Cheetah Chrome on guitar, and Johnny Blitz, on drums. They would even play a few RFTT songs, including Dead Boys‘ classics “Sonic Reducer” and “Ain’t It Fun.” But finding gigs few and far between in Cleveland, they picked up and moved to New York in July 1976 (with the encouragement of Joey Ramone, coincidentally, who got them their first CBGB gig).

    It was at a CBGB gig that the the Dead Boys opened for the Damned — three nights a week. By the time 1977 rolled around, the band had a record deal with Sire.

    Dead Boys' Young, Loud and Snotty
    Dead Boys’ Young, Loud and Snotty

    Released in October 1977 (the same month as the Pistols’ seminal Never Mind the Bollocks), Young Loud and Snotty — arguably a better album — was met with minimal commercial success. That same Fall came support of the Damned on a UK tour, and though “Sonic Reducer” would get crowds cheering (and, in true punk fashion, jeering), few if any Dead Boys‘ work made it to the radio, or the newspapers, for that matter. They always seemed to be in the shadow of The Damned and The Sex Pistols overseas, or the Ramones at home. Despite Cheetah’s Chrome’s blistering guitar work and Bators’ anarchic, nihilistic, almost punchdrunk energy, it would take years before the Dead Boys began to get the credit they deserved. Pearl Jam and Guns and Roses would cover their work in the decades that followed (“Sonic Reducer” and “Ain’t it Fun” respectively). Fans like Henry Rollins would keep their memory alive in interviews and cover versions, too (in an age before YouTube where everyone can live on and on). But there wasn’t enough of a following to keep the band afloat. A breakup was inevitable. Disappointment with the mix of their second album, We Have Come for Your Children, and a grueling U.S. tour that left them, for the most, broke, spelled the end for the band in 1978. A contractually-obligated live album was released, and there were a couple of attempts at reunion. But by 1979, the Dead Boys were essentially, um, dead.

    Stiv Bators
    Stiv Bators

    Stiv Bators would go on to record some solo work and play with other bands. He eventually found some critical and commercial success with ex Damned guitarist Brian James in the punk / new wave / hard rock hybrid that was Lords of the New Church (https://en NULL.wikipedia

    It was with LOTNC that Bators would continue his on-stage antics, including hanging himself by a microphone cord, tied to a lighting rig. In 1983, the trick went bad and Bators turned blue. He was taken to the hospital and told he had been clinically dead for a few minutes. But Bators shrugged it off and joked: “Once you’ve actually died on stage…, I mean, how do you top that?”

    Stiv lived his last years in France. In June 1990, just standing on a sidewalk in Paris, Stiv was hit by a car. He walked away from the accident — checking into, and then later released from a hospital —but he died later in his sleep at home. He was 40 years old.

    Brought together by guitarist Cheetah Chrome, the Dead Boys would reunite in 2017 with a guy from a Dead Boys‘ tribute band on vocals. But like the man says, you can’t go home again.

    CBGB is gone. Punk rock has been absorbed into the mainstream, and John Lydon makes butter commercials (https://www

    Punk rock is dead. It died young, along with Stiv Bators.

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  • Lust and Disgust: the Vampires of FROM DUSK TIL DAWN

    In this current climate of post Harvey Weinstein real-life #metoo horrors, FROM DUSK TIL DAWN could easily be construed as terribly misogynistic Distributed by Mirimax (a company co-founded, coincidentally, by Weinstein), directed by Robert Rodriguez, and written by Quentin Tarantino, it stars George Clooney (in his first film role), Tarantino, Harvey Keitel and a very young Juliette Lewis. Oh, and Salma Hayek as a vampire seductress who dances on top of tables in a skimpy bikini.

    It was the 1990s, after all.

    From Dusk Tile Dawn (1996)
    From Dusk Tile Dawn (1996)

    During a decade that saw undead bloodsuckers that ran the gamut from the far too serious ( 1994’s Interview with the Vampire),  to the quite silly (Mel Brooks’ amusing Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), FROM DUSK TIL DAWN (1996) was actually a fresh take on the vampire mythos, combining elements of the heist thriller with a healthy dose of grindhouse gore. It had humor, blood (albeit green to avoid an NC-17 rating), and a biker bar.

    It is the latter — the seedy south-of-the-border “Titty Twister” strip club — that sets the stage, literally, for the di rigueur overt display of nudity that is to be expected of late twentieth-century vampire films. Movies like Night Shade (1996), Bordello of Blood (1996) and Club Vampire (1998) come to mind (there are many others). But FROM DUSK TIL DAWN is decidedly different. Its vampires — best portrayed by Hayek as the Queen bloodsucker Santanico Pandemonium — are true monsters. Though bikini-clad, Hayek is no caricature of the femme fatale.

    Salma Hayek as Satánico pandemonium
    Salma Hayek as Satánico pandemonium

    Moving like a serpent — with a serpent (despite the actress’ fear of snakes) — Hayek is every bit the object of desire, especially for foot fetishist Tarantino. As she pours alcohol down her leg into his waiting mouth, other men watch. But their gaze is not returned by the vampire queen.

    It is telling that in a recent interview (https://www NULL.html), Salma Hayek was quoted as saying: “[Quentin] makes me dance only for him. George Clooney was like, ‘How come she doesn’t look at us?’ [Quentin said], ‘Because I’m the writer.’”

    So unlike the iconic vampire brides of Dracula, the undead things of FROM DUSK TIL DAWN become not only non-sexual, but non-human. Hellish demons more than inviting vamps. As throats are ripped open, and decapitated heads fly about the room, eroticism and vampirism do not converge as they do so often in this genre.

    What little seduction there is quickly becomes rampant cannibalism.

    The true face of Satanmodicum Pandemonium
    The true face of Satanmodicum Pandemonium

    When Hayek’s head turns reptilian and strippers’ skin becomes sickly grey, few audience members can still feel attraction toward these vampires. There is only repulsion.

    Misogynistic? Maybe. Women are still made to be objects — first of lust, then disgust. But there is an inversion, even perversion at play here — disrupting typical male erotic fantasy.

    It is what sets FROM DUSK TIL DAWN apart from other vampire films of its day.




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