Monday, January 09, 2012

Cheetah Chrome – A Dead Boy’s Tale from the Front Lines of Punk Rock

Cheetah is certainly no literary genius, but his writing is much better than you would expect from someone who is known as a drug addled punk rocker with asshole-ish tendencies. In fact, he claims that, as a youth, he was in classes for “gifted” children – that is, until he became fascinated with drugs and alcohol and dropped out. Due to these proclivities he admits that his stories may not be completely accurate, chronological or necessarily even coherent, but he does do a good job of detailing his r’n’r life.

Growing up, he learned to love music at an early age and despite his fuck-ups, his mother encouraged his guitar playing. Due to the immense amount of amazing music that came out during his coming-of-age (he is only a couple of years older than I am, so he immersed himself in the great 60’s & 70’s r’n’r and got to see, and even meet, many of the greats), Cheetah learned from a variety of musical styles. As with most teenage guitar players, he jammed with his friends, joined a few bands, but then eventually became involved with the legendary Rocket From the Tombs from which Pere Ubu and Chrome’s Dead Boys sprung.

Of course, these are the tales that everyone wants to hear and he doesn’t let people down – the Boys were the evil punk-rock cretins that everyone thought they were – lots of sex, drugs, vandalism and pillaging. These cats were all quite young still, but weren’t afraid to act even more juvenile than they were – plenty of stories and mooning, pissing in hotel ice machines, drunken brawls, destruction, naked adventuring and much more.

He has very kind words to say about Genya Ravan and her production of Young, Loud & Snotty, which is good to hear, and she was instrumental in helping him clean up (his first time). Unfortunately, he doesn’t care for much else that he has released and has had all kinds of bad luck with bands, fights, lawsuits, health issues, etc. His story is not a particularly happy one, mostly of his own doing (his addictions), but also many things out of his control conspired against him. He did eventually marry a good woman and have a son, both of which have helped him to emerge a happier, more centered person.

All too many r’n’r bios these days have a very depressing side as people let the “drugs” in “sex, drugs and r’n’r” take over their lives and ruin their careers. But Cheetah does his best to remain positive and his story is captivating – you really find it hard to believe that he is still alive and by his own account, he probably shouldn’t be – and told in a conversational tone. No guarantee that you will come away from this liking any of the characters (including Cheetah), but it is a good, honest tale of the early days of punk rock. Certainly worth getting!