Even intermediate students of proto-punk know that Rocket from the Tombs was a band whose influence far outstripped its sales: a Cleveland, Ohio, combo that split to create art-rockers Pere Ubu (formed by Rocket vocalist David Thomas and guitarist Peter Laughner) and CBGB pioneers the Dead Boys (featuring guitarist Cheetah Chrome and drummer Johnny Blitz). To add to the mythos, Laughner is remembered for his untimely death at age 24; an evocative body of unreleased work; and a eulogy by his friend, seminal rock critic Lester Bangs.
One member of RFTT is mentioned less often than the rest: bassist Craig Bell. However, Bell’s trajectory helped catalyze the Cleveland scene before Rocket ever started, then sparked an indie music movement 500 miles east in New Haven, Connecticut.
Footnotes of fandom: I was the Violent Femmes’ first California follower. My family lived in Milwaukee for a couple years before we moved to San Diego in time for junior high. I kept friends there, though, and that’s how I ended up seeing the Femmes at Milwaukee’s Jazz Gallery in June 1981, just a few months after the band formed. On August 23, 1981, the Pretenders spotted the Femmes busking in front of the Oriental Theatre and invited them to open that night; the rest is college-radio history.
The April passing of favorite son Prince turned media attention back onto Minneapolis’ musicians of the late ’70s and early ’80s. One Magnet Magazine piece gathered tales from close to 40 witnesses to the scene that spawned two other Minneapolis legends: Hüsker Dü and the Replacements.