No Compromise, No Regrets
Nina Antonia, Spiral Scratch – June 1991
Stiv Bators, a man whose name read like an anagram, managed the rare feat of creative reincarnation, within the span of what was to be a sadly curtailed lifetime. He made his debut on October 22, 1949, in Cleveland (Ohio, USA.) An only child, born into a fittingly nomadic family heritage – his mother is descended from Czechoslovakian gypsies (Stiv is the Czechoslovakian equivalent of Steven). Twelve years of catholic school was enough to sow the seeds of Stiv’s later irreligious interpretations: the cross and the switchblade imagery, not forgetting the classic Stiv crucified artwork from the first lords of the new church single, were part of a recurring theme even more perverse than Madonna’s sex and rosary fixations.
He managed to avoid the draft – the physique of a malnourished imp does not a soldier make, before going on to form a local band, mother goose. An apparently Alice cooper influenced combo, of whom a silent 8mm reel is still in existence. Already armed with his own particular brand of night creature vocabulary, next came Frankenstein, who appropriately played their first gig on Halloween. Frankenstein reanimated into the dead boys, when they were given their first New York booking. Money was tight back then in the 5 dollars a night league, and they kept their expenses to a minimum, making a necessity out of auto-theft, each time they had to drive to N.Y.
The car-owning residents of Cleveland must have breathed a sigh of relief when the band relocated to the big apple in the summer of ’74.the dead boys were a pornographic k.o., impeccable purveyors of dirty doggy style punk. As a dead boy, Stiv was an irregular Dennis the menace, with a hairdo of the consistency of starched mohair. It would have been easier to stereotype him as a malevolent wrecker, rather than the offbeat, amiable character that he was. A fact, that strangely enough, did on occasion upset those odd audience masochists who prefer abuse to an autograph, according to his longtime partner, Carroll Ayache-Bator: “during Dead Boys’ days, fans were somewhat disappointed when they met him backstage, because he was such a nice person, he always said his fans were let down because he didn’t spit in their face or tell them to fuck off.”
Although the dead boys had parted company by the late summer of ’78, the band were never fully renounced, they just took very long intermissions between occasional reunions.
Death Valley days: early ’79
Perusing his usual disordered fortunes, Stiv flew out to L.A., where he had secured a solo deal with Bomp, and came to roost in the valley near the old Manson family ranch. He also did some gigs with an Ohio band, the rubber city rebels, alongside dead boys guitarist, cheetah chrome.1980 found Stiv in the starring role of neighborhood threat bo-bo belsinger, in polyester, trash-gourmet john water’s scratch and sniff movie, between promoting the Stiv Bator’s band and starting work on a new project, with the remains of Sham 69. The Wanderers played their inauguration gig at the Lyceum, in March ’81. They released one album and two singles and true to the vagabond nature of their name, split not long after.
Animal magic: The Lords of the New Church
Bators had first met co-founding Lord, Brian James, in 1977 when The Damned and the Dead Boys had shared the same bill at CGBG’s. Even back then, they had vague designs for a future affair. Their baptismal gig as the new church boys was a support slot to the members at the Marquee. In the spring of ’81, the boys upped their standing to lords and proved themselves to be a really bad pack. Coven and gang, the Lords of the New Church were a perfect rock and roll excommunication with Stiv up front, a skinny witch in Halloween attire, possessing an off the wall range in vocal skills – from serial killer psychosis to deviant lover. And a sticky penchant for twirling chewing gum around the microphone. Bator’s emergence as a lord was recounted by Carroll, as seen from the view point of an old friend, Joey Ramone.
Joey was talking about the Ramones, how they are doing better now, in a way, than they have ever done but they have to do the same thing over and over, and joey said to Stiv, “I don’t know many people who have been able to have a second career, start all over, do something different and succeed.”
By this point, Bators had certainly achieved a certain cult status, but the art of true cult is rarely lucrative and doesn’t often prey on good fortune. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart went to a pauper’s grave.
Carroll: “for Stiv, success wasn’t okay money wise. He always got fucked but he was successful to the extent that he could record when he wanted to, he could tour. We had enough to live on, it wasn’t amazing, he always got fucked on the royalty thing.” why? “because he signed stupid contracts. I think Stiv is like most performers, wants to be loved, wants to believe most people love him. With illegal (Illegal Records, to whom the lords were signed) everything looked rosy but clauses in the contract weren’t respected and we were suing for that.” (they won the first part of the lawsuit but were unable to find the 17,500 pounds necessary for the second part.)
Why did the lords split up? “it’s a long story. When I met Stiv he was really fucked up and unreliable, there was stuff with his divorce, stuff with the band that didn’t go right, he was just generally unhappy. Anyway, there was a tour in Spain and Stiv fell off stage and fractured a bone at the base of the spine. He couldn’t go back on stage for two months and that was a lot of money lost. Stiv had to rest and we were in France. In the meantime, the band advertised for a singer. I don’t think they believed the doctor’s report. Stiv always forgave absolutely everybody – we were on speaking terms with the Lords before the accident. Stiv was really happy to be doing something else.”
In the shadows of Paris
In September 1989 Stiv played a one off Return of the Living Dead Boys gig at the Opera on the Green, in London’s Shepherd’s Bush, with a band comprising of Bryn Merrick from The Damned on bass, ex UK Sub Alan Lee on guitar, and former Medics drummer Vom. Naturally the set was made up of Dead Boys tunes, plus some new material, amongst them, the notable No Compromise, No Regrets. You could describe the event as the answer to most bootlegger’s prayers. As the evening drew to a close, Stiv and the boys were joined by three Hypnotics for a finale of ‘Sonic Reducer’ and ‘All This and More’. Stiv returned to Paris (a treacherous city of people who favour black leather and sing in rock bands) where he and Carroll had set up quirky domesticity, with their two cats Satan and Dumbfuck. By the beginning of April, 1990, Stiv’s something else finally got underway. A local record company, Bondage, put up the money for a weeks recording session at the EMI studios in Paris in order for Stiv to put down some demo tracks. For this purpose, he enlisted Dee Dee Ramone (bass) and the Brotherlands Kris Dollimore (guitar) and Vom (drums). Johnny Thunders guested on two tracks and Neal X (former SS Sputnik) was brought in to engineer.
In accordance with the laws of chaos, before the first chord had been struck, Dee Dee Ramone had apparently flipped out in Stiv’s apartment and had to fly back home to New York, Neal X deputized. Originally it was planned to only record two or three tracks, however the chemistry had such essential kick, they laid down six songs. ‘Magic’, a Tony James/Bators collaboration, Dee Dee Ramone’s searchingly reflective ‘Poison Heart’, ‘Witch’, penned by an early ’60’s garage band, a version of the Young Rascals’ Good Lovin’, ‘Two Hearts’, an out-take from a Lord’s album, and ‘Ain’t Got Nobody’ by The Tombstones, a San Francisco punk band. Stiv had intended to take the demos to America, with a view to getting a deal and setting up a more permanent band, although several us dates had been planned with the nucleus of the studio line up – they had hoped to play the Whiskey in Los Angeles on the fourth of July.
Tragically, Stiv was never able to realise any of these events. In early June, he was hit by a car and died the following day. There is a plaque for Stiv in Pere Lachaise (the most celebrated and aesthetic of all European cemeteries), not far from where he used to visit Jim Morrison’s hippy bespangled shrine. Stiv Bators was an uncompromising, charming soul, who laid hands on rock and roll and raised it to his own specifications. He leaves behind a dark wonderland of slutty panache and causally divine compositions. A loopy legend — with respect.
Carroll: “It’s so fucking unfair to go at a time when everything was so perfect, he was so proud of the record, things were so wonderful between us.” If you were to ask Carroll to describe herself, she would quite simply and without exaggeration, reply that her life has been shattered. What is holding her together is her utter determination to complete the work that Stiv began, trying to negotiate the best possible deal for a release of the Paris sessions. The proposed album will probably also contain some Lords’ tracks that only came out in France.
Carroll: “I feel confident that i know exactly what Stiv wanted for the album. I know all the details, for the sound, for everything. There are two things he would have done, one of them would have been either to work with a big producer but he’s not around to direct it, so I would never take that chance, the other would have been to work with people like Chris (Stein) or Joey Ramone, he got along with them; they wouldn’t betray the sound, they knew Stiv well enough. There are a couple of songs on the album that are accessible to a bigger public, it’s a great album, the six songs anyway, he sang better on this than he ever sang before – Magic reflected exactly what Stiv was about at the time. It’s a very magic, mystic song, and that is what Stiv was really aiming for.
I do think there is more chance of anything happening in New York, than in London. Labels have more money in America, at least I can expect a bit of money for his parents and a bit of money for musicians. I would almost be ready to sign for no money, if I knew all the money was to be out in to the promotion. I care more about that, with promotion it could do well. To tell the truth, the more I have to go around and see the labels, the more I admire Stiv ‘cos it’s so disheartening. In a way, I found strength I never knew I had, because I never needed it before. Stiv would do all the rounds of the labels. Now I have to do it. I never knew I had that much determination, it’s very important to get that album out but I’m not that desperate that I’ll sign anything. I would really betray Stiv if I didn’t finish that work.”
A special thank you to everyone who helped out – Carroll Ayache Bator, for her participation and interview. Tony Fischer and Steve Meekings for the discography details. Kris Dollimore, Vom, and Neal X for the Paris sessions info, Doreen Boyd and Gene October at IRS. And David Arnoff for his consideration and photographs.