Rumor has it that the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu—the two bands that rose out of the smoldering ashes of Cleveland’s proto-punk cult heroes Rocket From the Tombs—were practically tame in comparison to the band that spawned them. Hard living, hard drinking, hard playing, Rocket From the Tombs survived for just 1974 and 1975, leaving behind no trace but for the songs that were reworked for Dead Boys and Pere Ubu albums. Pere Ubu’s “Life Stinks” and “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” and the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer,” “What Love Is,” and “Down in Flames” all shot out of the original Rockets’ lineup.
At the heart of Rocket From the Tombs was the troubled and self-destructive Peter Laughner—a lightning rod for the nascent Midwest punk scene, and a voracious and talented songwriter who penned the gut-wrenching “Ain’t It Fun.” “Ain’t it fun when you’re always on the run? / Ain’t it fun when your friends despise what you’ve become?” Guns N’ Roses covered the song on the platinum-selling Spaghetti Incident, but the lucky break came about 20 years too late for Laughner, who died in 1977 of substance abuse-induced pancreaitis.
“The original Rocket From the Tombs was Pete Laughner, David Thomas, myself, Craig Bell, and Johnny Madansky who is now Johnny Blitz,” Cheetah Chrome remembers. “We all met through an ad in the paper in Cleveland. Dave and Peter had started Rockets and wanted to make it more serious, and decided to put an ad in the paper for some musicians. Johnny and I saw it, and it mentioned the Stooges and the Velvet Underground, so we thought, ‘Hey, this might work.’
“When we first got together with Rockets, we all brought in our songs. I brought in the music to ‘Ain’t It Fun’ and Peter had the words, and we just married ’em right there on the spot.”
“Peter was a great guy,” Cheetah continues. “Looking back on it, he was 21, so I was like 17. He was kind of the big guy around Cleveland. He was fairly well known around town and gaining some notoriety for himself. I always liked Peter. He was a little bit on the nuts side, but he was very good-hearted, very funny, very fun to be around. He was, like, 23 when he died. I was with the Dead Boys in New York by that time. But I had just seen Peter, about a month before he died. We ran into each other at CBGBs and we ended up going to my apartment and sitting up all night talking. That was the last time I saw him. He died from drinking, and some other things. There was no one cause. He had pretty much shot his liver by then, at 23.”
Cheetah Chrome performing “Ain’t It Fun” at the Linwood Grill in Boston, 2007.