Thursday, December 14, 2006
What Stiv Taught Me
Everything I know about punk rock, garage rock, touring guerilla style, living large in London with no money and the musical history of Cleveland, I learned from Stiv Bators...by osmosis.
I met Stiv in 1977 when he was in the Dead Boys, and we became fast friends. Michael Sticca was involved in our introduction, but I'm not entirely sure of the why's and wherefores... Sticca was the premier roadie for NYC punk bands and also provided the world's best hand claps on record. Seriously... that's in print on either a Dead Boys or Blondie album.... if not both.
Stiv, though eight years older than me, was in many ways like a son. A son you sent off to war. In many other ways, he was like a brother, with his matchmaking attempts, and his bonafide guidance and help/advice that I can say completely straight-faced, did indeed advance my career. In fact, I credit Stiv, Joan Jett, Billy Idol, Pleasant, the Kessel Brothers and The Germs right alongside the likes of three stadium rock bands with giving me professional boosts along the road of life.
In the photo above are Franch Secich, Stiv and the late Greg Shaw. I had a halo effect with Bomp and with Greg because of Stiv. We three spent so much time together - working, hanging out, enjoying music and all that stuff that seems really normal and every day. Except now that I look back on it... these guys with exceptional taste and talent in music....were like my brothers... and I soaked it all up. Greg Shaw hired me to shoot many a promo and record cover photo for Bomp; trusted me to keep an eye on Stiv while we were on the road; but mostly Greg helped me all along the way as I built a career. To me, he was Greg Shaw, friend who had a record label and quite an awesome record collection and archive of really cool cultural artifacts. Sure, I knew he was someone... but he was always just a phone call away. Greg was the only person in the world who understood my position regarding the last "job" I had in NYC. The ONLY PERSON who got it.
Which leads to....Stiv teaching me all I know about garage rock. Whenever Stiv came to Los Angeles, he'd stay with me or with Chris Marlowe. We were his brunette and his blonde moms. Stiv, being older than both Chris and me, really filled in the blanks for us on the rock n roll that came out of Ohio when he was a teen. Also - and this is a BIG, "also,"... Chris was friends with the Stooges from way way back in the day, and has maintained a life long friendship with Ron Asheton. She was and is still particularly close to Radio Birdman as well. Talk about immersion in the stuff. Chris and her boyfriend at the time, photographer David Arnoff (with whom I share "Disconnected" album cover credits), also had an impressive record collection. It honestly took over their little Hollywood bungalow. Being around this as if it were perfectly normal to have such record collections and encyclopedic knowledge of the music really set the bar pretty high for me.
Here is a photo that Chris Marlowe took of Stiv and me in 1980.
Stiv gave me entree into a world that a lot of people tell me was notable. I'm not blase - but this was the life I led with Stiv. I recall nights that Chris and I would accompany him to a club and at his request, try to keep him from going home with someone (when he would be in a committed dating relationship with someone - anyone ranging from Cynthia Ross to Bebe Buell to any other hot blonde woman you could think of)...but he would always ditch us. One of us would find ourselves in line at the bar to get drinks, and the other of us would wander around with Stiv. He'd excuse himself to the men's room, and then Chris and I would have each other's company for the rest of the evening firmly believing that Stiv would come back at any moment saying he wanted to go home. Yeah right. The thing is, some of these clubs were exclusive.... only I wasn't there to be in awe. I was there at Stiv's behest to make sure Stiv stayed out of trouble with his lady friends. In that mess, I got to meet alot of amazing people.
On tour with the Wanderers, our first night in NYC found us at Johnny Thunders' birthday party. Johnny's mom gave him socks and underwear, as they weren't worth hocking for drugs. Another time, another tour, another band... there was some Stiv/Thunders gig somewhere and the van was full of junkies. There was snow on the side of the road and one of them insisted we pull over because he'd always wanted to mix his smack with snow. That much got accomplished, but Stiv admonished the man not to shoot up in front of me because needles freaked me out.
A real gentleman... in an honor among theives kind of way... like the guy in the middle of the photo below.
The man on Keith Richards's left is John Spacely, one of NYC's original punks, and sadly, a man no longer with us. Spacely, as we all called him, was a St. Marks Place maven and was always at our side during the Wanderers NYC sojourn. A wonderful practical joke that Stiv played on Wanderers guitarist Dave Parsons involved Spacely and Keith Richards.
In the summer of 1981, the Wanderers and the Rolling Stones were hanging around NYC's St. Marks Place at precisely the very same time. The Stones were shooting a video for "Waiting on a Friend," and a friend of both the Stones and Stiv, Marty Abrams was hanging out also. Spacely was always talking about his hang time with Keith... and what rock n roll guitar player worth his strings is not a Keith fan? Stiv convinced Marty to make a walk-through at the bar we were hanging at...on an ad infinitum level until Dave's attention and curiosity were piqued. At that point, Stiv would approach Marty and then they would leave together. Of course they would --- to have a laugh at Dave's expense.
I was pretty amused, but what was more exciting for me was seeing the final result of the video for "Waiting on a Friend," as I recognized all the St. Marks Place regulars and remember the day vividly - most especially the joke we played on Dave Parsons. (left)
Stiv was the best practical joker I've ever known in my life. Jimmy Zero tells the most amazing story of Stiv and Mick Jagger and the laugh the Dead Boys got at Jagger's expense. I know it well, but Jimmy is the master raconteur - so just seek him out next time you are in Cleveland and let him bend your ear.
I was called upon to be the straight man - the Gracie Allen - of all Stiv's practical joking. On a Lords of the New Church tour, drummer Nicky Turner was flirting with a beautiful young woman at the bar at Barney's Beanery in West Hollywood. Stiv instructed me to ask Nicky all sorts of terrible questions about the previous night and sexually transmitted diseases... you know - if he were in a fraternity... Stiv would have ruled in a total "Animal House" way... anyway, the punch line is that even though Nicky was mad as hell about this... it didn't matter. He married the girl; they have a couple kids and last time I saw them, an amazing dog and are living happily ever after. I guess the joke was on Stiv. And me.
In the critical eyes of those who watched us, Stiv and I both risked our street cred on the most mainstream of all mainstream bands, the Rolling Stones. Punks appreciate Stiv's treatment of Mick Jagger, but they may not appreciate his friendship with Stones via the Faces musicians, Ronnie Wood and Ian McLagan.
Stiv didn't care. And neither do I. Our friendship with these fine men was just as dear to us as our friendship with Jimmy Zero and with each other.
Stiv may have faked his own death a million times at shows and on tour, he may have wooed thousands of women simultaneously (but they all felt loved), he may have been the ultimate trickster/hustler at getting money out of indie label honchos.... but Stiv was always a gentle man, a kind man. He was idolized, only he and I rarely recognized it.
One such idolization of Stiv was by none other than Sid Vicious. And Stiv loved Sid like a brother. The Sid you hear about is not the Sid we knew. Sid was the ultimate punk rock music fan. When Sid died, Stiv paid him the the ultimate respect.
This photo was the centerpiece of Sid's obituary in Creem. Thank you Stiv, from me and I know, from Sid. I could not believe it when people started calling me from London and Paris to tell me Stiv had died. I kept asking them to put him on the phone. Unfortunately, it was no joke.