I never met Elda Stilletto, who died unexpectedly on August 6. But I’d corresponded with her on social media, and I’d hoped to interview her about her role during the New York underground’s crucial moment of artistic churn between Andy Warhol’s Factory and the rise of CBGB.
There are 8 million stories in the naked city, and Johnny Angel has a few thousand of them. As founder of Thrills, the Massachusetts native (and current Los Angeles resident) played a major role in Boston’s late-’70s scene focused on the legendary Rathskeller, better know as the Rat (and a k a “Boston’s CBGB“). Thrills gigged with Boston’s finest as well as touring groups from the Ramones to the Dead Boys to U2; Angel has maintained those relationships as a musician, radio personality, print journalist and actor.
But how to tell the tale without the clichés of a standard-issue memoir? Johnny took a novel route in 2015, when he published Looking for Lady Dee: A Punk Rock Mystery. The book weaves together scrupulous autobiography with a film noir mystery: An old flame from his days at The Rat has disappeared, and Johnny teams with a punk femme fatale to find her.
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.