This is the good stuff, good people, a genuine once-in-a-blue-moon recovery of a lost treasure trove. You, Dangerous Minds’ readers, are literally the first people in the word to see these photos, apart from the photographer and a tiny handful of others.
In 1976, Dave Treat, a student at the now defunct Cooper School of Art in Cleveland, Ohio, lived in a Lakewood apartment building that also hoveled the members of a rock band that had just re-christened itself from Frankenstein to the Dead Boys. As he was both the nearest accessible art student who owned a camera and a close friend to singer Stiv Bators, Treat was recruited to shoot publicity photos of the band, and while one of them may have been used (it remains unclear, but we’ll get to that), the rest have sat unseen since then. They became obsolete quickly, as Jeff Magnum would be added as the band’s bassist shortly after these were shot. In the last year, their existence became known to art historian Brittany Mariel Hudak and photographer/gallery owner Bryon Miller, who are working to release them in a book, and preparing them for exhibit in Cleveland, with the possibly of a New York exhibit later in the year. What the photos reveal is a band unknowingly on the cusp of achieving legendary status, and a sensitive, vulnerable Stiv Bators very, very unlike his self-consciously bratty public persona.
From Hudak’s introduction to the forthcoming Stiv 1976: Lost Photographs of Stiv Bators & The Dead Boys:
This is not about the onstage, very public Stiv or his antics – you can visit that guy on YouTube, read about his New York shenanigans in Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me, or watch him wield a baseball bat as tough guy “Bo-Bo Belsinger” in John Water’s film, Polyester. In contrast, these photographs taken by his neighbor Dave Treat in 1976 capture a different Stiv altogether – what they capture is “Stiv” in the making. They offer a rare glimpse into the private life of a young man on the brink of something, with a marked sense of unfettered opportunities and grand plans. There’s an unquestionable eagerness in his eyes, a what-do-I-have-to-lose attitude – and even hints of the onstage Stiv being built. He poses quite consciously for the camera, wearing the soon to be comfortable guise of the seductive rock star – lanky, languid, oozing sex appeal and confidence, complete with outrageous platform boots.
But if you look closely you can detect another, more vulnerable side of the performer. Crouched in a corner or staring off into the distance, at times there’s a palpable sadness – a peculiar malaise. This too could be a pose – the tortured artist suffering for his art, another familiar component of the rock-star myth. But one gets a sense that this side is genuine, and for Stiv rarely seen, which makes these photos all the more special.
The negatives for these amazing photos were buried in a closet for almost 40 years, and most have been printed for the first time this year by Miller, a gallery proprietor and photographer for High Times and Billboard, who, out of respect for their origins and provenance, actually printed them old-school gelatin silver style. In an actual darkroom. Some of those still exist. The photos will be exhibited at Miller’s Gallery 160 in Cleveland beginning on Friday, June 5th, to mark the 25th anniversary of Stiv’s death from injuries sustained when he was hit by a car, with an opening reception beginning at 6:00PM. Apart from Treat, Hudak, Miller, myself, and the Dead Boys’ Cheetah Chrome, nobody has ever seen these images before you, right now. Clicking on an image spawns an enlargement in a new browser tab.
More unseen Dead Boys, after the jump…