The Upshot: Photographer living in Cleveland when the punk icons formed was able to capture them at the beginning of their ascent.
By Fred Mills
It would appear that 2017 is The Year of the Dead Boys. Not only does it mark the 40th anniversary of the release of one of the earliest, and most influential, punk albums, Young, Loud and Snotty, it also brings guitarist Cheetah Chrome’s revived Dead Boys (featuring fellow alumnus Johnny Blitz, plus three like-minded miscreants rounding out the lineup) with a tour and an actual remake of that album, titled Still Snotty: Young, Loud and Snotty at 40, on the Plowboy label. (They performed it this past March in Austin during SXSW and reports are that it was positively smokin‘.) Meanwhile, even the bootleggers are taking the cue, such as with the vinyl release a couple of months ago of Down in Flames: Live at the Old Waldorf San Francisco 1977.
Which brings us to Dead Boys 1977, a coffeetable-style volume that collects heretofore unpublished photos of the band. It turns out that photography student Dave Treat had moved into a Cleveland apartment complex, and soon enough, one of his neighbors was Stiv Bators. “We became friends,” writes Treat in his foreword. “Over the next year, hanging out with Stiv, Cheetah, Johnny, and Jimmy was always a great time. The parties on Giel Avenue were legendary.”
No doubt. Treat also found the band to be a fertile photography opportunity, shooting the a reel of photos that would inspire the iconic YLAS cover (which itself was shot by Glenn Brown, but simply compare the cover to the Treat book here to the record sleeve and the evidence is undeniable). Collected in Dead Boys 1977 are a number of similar images, the band posing in the doorways of crumbling Cleveland tenements, lounging in decrepit alleyways and on loading docks, perched on fire escapes and in front of liquor stores and porn shops—you get the idea.
One particular gem is of a dirty apartment building’s hallway with Cheetah crouched over between his bandmates and mooning the camera.
Most of the photo are black and white (Treat also had a showing of his work in 2016 that included many of the images that now appear in the book), although there is a dynamic sequence of live shots that includes eight pages in full color. There’s also a final closing section dedicated to Stiv posing in his apartment—on the floor, laying on a couch, asleep in a chair, peeking out of the bathtub—and one of them, which depicts him crouching in the corner of the room with his hands stretched across his head, bears an uncanny similarity to the front cover of his first solo album, Disconnected. Perhaps he remembered the apartment session and wanted to recapture the original photo’s despairing, discombobulated vibe?
Treat clearly looks back on these days with great fondness, and his written recollections of Stiv in particular bring out an emotional side to him. For a performer and a band that specialized in outrage and confrontation, and did their fair share of giving American parents the willies about letting their kids check out this new punk rock noise, it might seem a stretch to suggest that Stiv and the Dead Boys are a source of tender nostalgia. But they meant something to us, and Stiv in particular managed to endear himself to a lot of people. His death in Paris in 1990 (he was hit by a car) was a huge shock, so to have these photos now, four decades after he hit the public consciousness in a big way, is a true gift.
By way of a personal coda: I never saw the Dead Boys first time around, during their Sire Records era in the late ‘70s. I did, however, see them at a small punk dive when they did a reunion tour in 1986 a few years after the initial breakup, and they—Stiv, in particular—didn’t disappoint. It’s a memory I cherish.