CHEETAH CHROME: A DEAD BOY’S TALE - Cheetah Chrome (370 pages, Voyageur Press)
For over 20 years, I have been playing the classic DEAD BOYS debut, ‘Young, Loud And Snotty’ almost weekly. For me, it is the defining album of 70s US Punk - and that includes THE RAMONES. During those years, I knew that one day there would be a DEAD BOYS biography but I never thought it would come from the hand of the band’s founder and guitarist, Cheetah Chrome. To be honest, I thought Chrome’s prowess with prose stemmed no further than a bit of lyric writing. How wrong...
The autobiography starts with Chrome reliving the day’s events of when he heard the news of the passing DEAD BOYS vocalist, Stiv Bators. It’s a poignant opening, linking this harrowing day to Chrome’s reflections of his own past. An in-depth and completely riveting account of a life lived to excess follows.
Chrome’s Irish heritage is detailed before the narrative flows onto his school days and his first guitar. It’s of no surprise as you read, even this early on in the book, that Chrome attended a High Achievers school; his writing is clear, witty, descriptive and, without a doubt, honest. Another trait of his early life is his respect for his Mom, who herself seemed a liberal and inspiring lady.
As Chrome’s obsession with music spiraled, so did his fascination with intoxication grow - be it drink or drugs. From there, this is an enthralling summary of the formation and collapse of ROCKET FROM THE TOMBS and, more specifically, the best account of life in the DEAD BOYS that you are ever likely to read. After the band’s split, there is a comprehensive account of Chrome’s drug addiction, his move to Nashville and subsequent marriage, his role as a father and the formation of his latest band, BATUSIS.
Throughout the book is a myriad of stories that can have the reader laughing out loud (getting naked at a flat with Stiv and answering the door to Jehovah’s Witnesses), cringing (Joey Ramone using a BB gun to shoot pelicans from a boat with Stiv’s nazi flag draped over the back), disgusted (Johnny Blitz’s stabbing or the assault on Chrome at the Limelight) and every other emotion possible.
Visually, the book is filled with rare photos (all captioned), set lists and record sleeves with an understated ‘scribble’ graphic running throughout on the page numbers and opening of chapters while Legs McNeil writes a foreword.
The strength Chrome has with his text is its unflinching honesty and lack of pretension. Unlike, say, John Lydon’s autobiography, there is no sense whatsoever of ‘Rock Star’ elitism or ‘Cool Guy’ boasting or self-preserving caution - even when Chrome talks of riding in limos to gigs, or hanging out at parties with The ROLLING STONES, or goading IGGY POP into a fight. The detailing of his drug addiction and efforts to get clean are not glamorised or down played; he gives a full account of the ravages the addiction inflicted on his body and his finances. His text about the passing of Stiv Bators, Johnny Thunders (who, on first meeting, Chrome threw a drink in Thunders’ face) and of his Mom in particular, is sincere, heart-wrenching stuff. The Rock ‘n’ Roll pranks and decadence are also written about in a totally unflinching style be it getting DEAD BOYS fans to gatecrash a Neil Diamond party, being locked out of hotel rooms naked or, during the band’s UK tour, lining up glasses full of snot, piss and vomit at the front of the stage to kick at the Punks who gobbed at him!
The dominant feeling I got from this - something that very few autobiographies manage - is the sense that I now know Chrome and that I know he has been authentic and sincere in all he has written. I feel I’ve known him for years and each chapter was akin to having been out for a few beers and a chat with the man.
Not only is this an excellent read, but it’s inspiring to read of someone who faced such hardship (often brought on by himself) and has come through it intact, sane and with enough sincerity to realise his faults - and his good fortune. Highly recommended! (28.11.10)