The last induction into The Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantheon (RNRP, not to be confused with The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) honored a wrongly overlooked group, The Shangri-Las, two of whose members, twin sisters Mary Ann and Marge Ganser, tragically didn’t live long enough to receive their just reward.
Tonight’s inductee is even more tragic—and our first posthumous induction.
Stiv Bators died in 1990, at 40, in Paris, after being hit by a taxi. He actually went to the hospital and thought he was okay, and apparently left before seeing a doctor. Wikipedia says he reportedly died in his sleep due to a concussion, his ashes spread over the Paris grave of hero Jim Morrison—though his girlfriend told John Waters (Bators was in his movie Polyester) that she snorted some of his them.
Rock ‘n’ roll of the highest order.
Indeed, Bators, was surely one of punk rock’s, nay, all rock’s great frontmen, up there with Joey Ramone and Johnny Rotten, and seemingly well on his way to a career that likewise extended beyond the confines of its initial punk rock hardcore.
In Bators’ case, it was a more mainstream pop orientation than the ultimate punk of his historic group the Dead Boys—a direction begun in the transition to his next band Lords Of The New Church with pop and garage rock classics like “It’s Cold Outside,” then continued with the Lords (their second album Is Nothing Sacred? had a hit in gorgeous lead track “Dance With Me” and a cover of the Grass Roots’ “sunshine pop” classic “Live For Today,” while last album Method To My Madness had the menacing, magnificent “Murder Style,” with its brass and female backup vocals).
Who knows where Stiv would have gone had he not collided with that taxi? We do know that he had a political bent, having recorded the cynical hit “Open Your Eyes” with the Lords and appeared in the Artists United Against Apartheid video in 1985. There was also talk of forming a punk rock supergroup with former New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders, who woefully checked out a year after Stiv, and Dee Dee Ramone, who was gone in 2002.
But we do know that Stiv Bators was the epitome of punk, and we have none other than the great Genya Ravan here to explain why.
Genya, of course, would know. She was punk long before there was a punk scene. In fact, Genya, who was then known as Goldie, led the first all-female rock band signed to a major label, Goldie and the Gingerbreads.
Signed to Atlantic in 1964, the group toured the U.K. with acts including The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Beatles, The Yardbirds, The Hollies and The Kinks. They had a hit over there with “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” which RNRP inductees Herman’s Hermits hit with here.
Genya went on to found the influential rock/jazz fusion band Ten Wheel Drive and have a solo recording career, but she’s here to induct Stiv Bators as the producer of the Dead Boys’ classic 1977 debut album Young Loud And Snotty (she also notably produced Ronnie Spector’s 1982 comeback album Siren). The Dead Boys, of course, was Stiv’s first band, formed in Cleveland in 1976 and relocating to New York later that year.
Genya, tell us what Stiv was like, if you would, please!
“He was so learned in music it was amazing! He floored me!”
Do you remember when you first met him?
“You know what he said to me when he met me? ‘I know you! I used to see you in teen magazines when you were Goldie and the Gingerbreads!’ He even knew our version of ‘Can’t You Hear My Hearbeat’! Any song you’d mention, he would know the writer and know what label it came out on—that showed me that he did his homework.”
As the Ganser Twins say to Mary Weiss in The Shangri-Las’ hit “Give Him A Great Big Kiss,” tell us mo’!
“Okay. Here’s the other thing about Stiv: What he was was exactly who he is.”
Meaning to say…
“He definitely was who he is on stage–it wasn’t a role he was playing. But I think all of us have three people inside us: who we want to be, who we think we are, and who we really are. Stiv picked one of those—and it was real. This was him. He wasn’t acting. He wasn’t trying to be Iggy—though he may have been insprired by him. I was inspired by Ray Charles—but I don’t sound like Ray Charles! Not that I would mind! But you have to find yourself, and Stiv found his niche.”
Tell us mo’!
“What made him so brilliant was that he was open to everything and anything—and he was a trusting soul. He listened and trusted, and that means he was vulnerable–and vulnerable is what punk music is all about. He was a sweetheart: When I first met him, he had just pulled into town the week before and had no place to stay and no money. He was in a punk band from Cleveland playing CBGB, and groupies were putting them up and he went on to write songs about his groupies! We were at the bar, and in front of the girl he says, ‘You know how great she is? She gave everybody head in the cab last night! I said, ‘Oh, how sweet.’ But he meant it, and everybody knows ‘Caught With The Meat In Your Mouth’ [from Young Loud And Snotty]. He called her a sweetheart, not only for putting them up but for putting them down!”
“What I’m trying to say about Stiv is that he was true to his art. That he was vulnerable, which is what made him a punk, and that he wasn’t ashamed of who he was. And what is punk? All the way from Marlon Brando in The Wild One, it’s somebody who doesn’t conform to what other people are doing.”
That’s just so enlightening, Genya!
“Stiv never conformed—and he had so much pride! Even when he got hit by the car, he had to get up, brush himself off and go home! From spitting and picking his nose on stage to falling on the floor or whatever, he had a lot of pride in who he was. Only somebody with a lot of pride would not be embarrassed by getting hit by a car! He had to get up and brush himself off and go home to die, like a dog does—and not let anybody see it, out of pride.”
Again, Genya, this really helps us know Stiv. Anything else?
“He looked at me like I was crazy when I asked him to do things in the studio, but never said no—and it worked. He was open, and went on to do incredible stuff. I’d give anything to hear what he would be doing today!”
As would we all, Genya. But wait! Somebody’s approaching the lectern! Could it be? It is! It’s Jim Bessman! From rootshed.com! Formerly with Billboard!
Come on people, Jim Bessman! Let’s hear it!
Jim, you did such a great job inducting Nancy Sinatra into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantheon. What brings you up here tonight?
“Well, I just wanted to say that I met Stiv a couple times back when I was at Cash Box in the early ‘80s, and he was such a nice guy.”
That’s great, Jim. Perhaps you can add something that’s a little–how can we put it?—a little more substantial?
“Uh, yeah. I tried to get my dear friend, the late Steve Popovich, who was also from Cleveland, to put out a comprehensive Stiv box set on his label Cleveland International. He thought it was a great idea, but we never pulled it off.”
A nice try, we’re sure, Jim, but it is getting late….
“Please! Let me just say then that this is one of the great things about The Panth, in being able to formally recognize an artist, who was so important and influential, yet through no fault of his own, as in Stiv’s case, was unable to capitalize on his talents like so many much lesser artists who followed him, and again in Stiv’s case, tragically missed out on the opportunity to utilize those talents to their fullest potential. Luckily, he did live long enough to leave a substantial body of extraordinary rock ‘n’ roll work.”
Thank you, Jim! But before we conclude tonight’s ceremony, let’s bring back the great Genya Ravan! Genya, what are you working on now?
“Well, we just had the first reading of a musical that’s being based on my book Lollipop Lounge: Memoirs Of A Rock And Roll Refugee, which tells how I was born in Poland to parents who were in concentration camps and gave me away when I was born and got me back. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll script, from Hitler to rock, with my past songs and new ones form my new CD Cheesecake Girl—including ‘Lady Of The Harbor,’ ‘Me And My Yoyo,’ and ‘Stoop To High Heaven.’ I wrote the songs around the book, and the book is about my life: I even used to do cheescake modeling for Playboy and Penthouse!”
Hence the title! Is Lollipop Lounge still in print?
“It came out in 2004, and I just got the rights back and will put it out as an e-book with music in it and new photos and remixes for fans who already have it. It will be out in time for my New York show Feb. 6 at Iridium, which is the start of a tour.”
Let’s all be there! And you also have some film stuff coming up, right?
Stana Katik from Castles is playing me in the upcoming CBGB movie, and there will be a film version for my book as well.
And you’re still doing your monthly Chicks And Broads and Goldie’s Garage programs—respectively showcasing forgotten music of female artists and new and unsigned bands–on Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel at SiriusXM?
Well then, Genya, thank you for continuing to bring us great new rock music—and for helping us to remember the forgotten and overlooked ones…like Stiv Bators!
Previously inducted into The Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantheon:
David Johansen and the New York Dolls
Joan Jett and The Runaways
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