CHEETAH CHROME: A DEAD BOY'S TALE FROM THE FRONT LINES OF PUNK ROCK by Cheetah Chrome; Voyageur Press, 2010
Cheetah Chrome’s saga includes his many identities: a dumbass, a loser, a hooligan, a loveable lug, a rock hero, and finally, a family man. Or does he clumsily wrap all of those characters into one loveable punk? A Dead Boy’s Tale, Chrome’s humorous, anecdote-jammed autobiography, is also his self-deprecating journey through Cleveland’s flats into NYC’s CBGB scene and... well, then it’s a little spare, seeing as Chrome did little but inhale and inject drugs to go with his copious alcohol intake in the years after the Boys’ demise.
Trouble is, it takes a while to get to the Dead Boys; we’re at page 151 of a 364-page book by the time the band gets its name. Before we get to the heart of the book, Chrome outlines his childhood and his fledgling juvenile delinquency, his shattered family life and his alienation that sets the stage for his life in the music community.
It’s a good geography lesson for those unfamiliar with Clevo. The psychology bit—yes, he’s fucked up in the head, we get it, it is tedious.
And the history of Rocket From The Tombs, while a great band, is hardly the stuff of legend.
On the other hand, the Dead Boys certainly are, which is why we picked up the book; they were the real deal and imitators have been few and cheap. But it’s hard to care about much else in the book.
The Dead Boys were signed to Sire by Seymour Stein during the five minutes in 1977 that Warner Brothers thought there might be riches in this punk thing. Chrome makes the dubious claim that the band got a $100,000 advance and tour support—but we can let that slide. The Dead Boys did get some decent road backing and abused the privilege with a pleasing abandon, playing on bills with Cheap Trick, the Ramones and the Dictators, staying in the requisite Holiday Inns, judging punk rock costume contests in the South and getting tossed in jail in the North.
This line sums up the Dead Boys tours, with Chrome coming back to his hotel after a long night with an adoring female fan:
“The sun was coming up when I got there, and I took a ‘lude and drank some more bourbon until I went to sleep.”
Chrome loves to talk—and the writing here is clear, giving him room to tell his tales. Aside from the usual girling and drugging, he Super Glues his finger together, smokes weed with Andy Gibb, snorts lines with Paul Schaffer, sits around with Anita Pallenberg at her Long Island house and tells of the torture of working with legendary weirdo Felix Pappalardi, who was chosen over Lou Reed by the label as producer for the second LP, We Have Come For Your Children.
Along the way, he loses people who made indelible, if misguided, impressions on his life—Stiv Bators, Hilly Kristal, Peter Laughner and finally, his mother.
In his losses, Chrome is exposed and sentimental: the death of Bators in 1990, “That is when I went numb,” Chrome says, almost hinting at some twisted but understandable survivor’s guilt.
When his mother passed, his feelings were not punk rock, they were the same thing we all feel: “A good part of me died with her.”
The groupie-busting, drug taking life wound Chrome out; he was beaten, arrested and ended up broke and strung out, alone. A Dead Boy’s Tale has a happy ending—a man at peace with his wife, child and Nashville home. Chrome proves his demons wrong—they couldn’t take him down.
But even today he suffers from a common malady as toxic as any drug: Too much information, obviously born of the Facebook world we live in, where everything someone does is somehow important. Chrome lived a life like any other garden-variety delinquent until the Dead Boys. It is that brush with fame that gives him his identity, although he doesn’t seem to realize that. After the Dead Boys, he inexplicably cruises on his legend with a batch of obviously deluded “fans,” who no doubt love to watch human cartoons. Chrome is a strong guy, as this book testifies. But damn, is he goofy.
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