I hate to break it to you, but many of our "punk" rockers changed their names. It's a showbiz tradition, after all. If John Denver (Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.) and John Wayne (Marion Mitchell Morrison) can change their names to something catchier, who can blame a young musician for deciding that Rat Scabies, Poly Styrene or Cheetah Chrome isn't a better way to get the world to pay attention?
Even my band decided upon leaving high school that before we practiced another note, we needed new names: So Cowboy Bob West, Robbie Thunderbolt, Jonny Bondage and Mike Miami became the official names of the guys who would become the legendary, original line-up of "Cool Ranch." Boy, were we lousy!
Anyhow, other "punk" rockers were more talented than us and made names for themselves that they haven't been able to escape since. In some cases, why bother? They chose right, anyhow. Some of these musicians even have the nerve to claim they were never punk rock in the first place. Some probably weren't. But I say take the notoriety wherever you can get it. It's not like being identified as a member of NAMBLA or the John Birch Society.
Here are 25 great names from the earliest waves of the punk movement (no one after the early 1980s need apply) I wouldn't mind having myself. The order is pretty random, really.
25) Johnny Rotten--John Joseph Lydon: Of course, the pompous little spoilsport had to throw a tantrum and act as if being advised to change his name to "Johnny Rotten" was such a terrible compromise to his artistically pure soul as the lead singer of the Sex Pistols. He changed his name back to John Lydon for his involvement in Public Image Limited and turned THAT into a publicity stunt. In a few short years, PIL went from being a groundbreaking post-punk group to Johnny and whichever studio musicians he could round up to help him write some hits.
24) Glenn Danzig--Glenn Allen Anzalone: Danzig always seemed more of a joke than his other fellow punks. Maybe it's because he's from Lodi, New Jersey, not far from my young environs. The Misfits were a very cool punk rock band whose Walk Among Us and Legacy Of Brutality albums are top-notch. However, once he went on his own and tried to be DANZIG, it seemed as silly as HENRY ROLLINS, another guy who no one I've ever known has been able to take seriously, since they do all the take care of all the "seriousness" all by themselves.
23) Johnny Thunders--John Anthony Genzale, Jr.: Now, Junior, behave yourself! After the New York Dolls, Johnny would go on to become one of those musicians who had trouble stringing an album together. He might have been more productive if he hadn't been so busy working on perfecting his "junkie business." His catalog looks like a collection of bootleg live tapes, a handful of half-finished solo albums and bands doomed to break up before they finished a tour. But consistency is overrated. You want consistency? Go listen to Dan Fogelberg.
22) Lux Interior--Erick Lee Purkhiser: There was no way he would make it as the lead singer of a psycho-billy band like the Cramps with a name like Erick Purkhiser. Seriously. That sounds like the sales manager of a Midwestern Auto Dealership. ("Mr. Purkhiser, call on line one, Mr. Purkhiser"). So, he eventually came up with the perfect name and encouraged the love of his life to do the same.
21) Poison Ivy (Ivy Rorschach)--Kristy Marlana Wallace: Kristy Marlana Wallace is a perfect name for someone with a respectable day job. Maybe Kristy works with animals. But if you're going to be in a band as intense as The Cramps, you need to make yourself tougher and dangerous to touch. It works.
20) Captain Sensible--Raymond Burns: The Damned were always such a weird band that they never comfortably fit in as "Punk" rockers. Too weird. Too creative. Too unlikely to follow the rules. I mean, even "Captain Sensible" is ironic.
19) Joan Jett--Joan Marie Larkin: Either as a solo act or a member of the Runaways, Joan Jett always had the tenacity that said she would one day be a star. The Industry itself didn't help her much, beyond the loyalty of her manager who sold her records out of the back of his car. Even after a string of hits, Jett was never embraced by the industry, a situation that seems to bother her none. She never saw herself as a punk rocker, but just someone true to the roots of the music she loved and someone who enjoys working hard, If she'd been in real estate, she'd been a top agent in no time. For your good and mine, she chose rock n' roll.
18) Pat Smear--George Rothenberg: The Germs symbolized the crash and burn of L.A. punk. (Joan Jett produced one of their albums). Pat Smear went on to be the surprise second guitarist for Nirvana and worked with Foo Fighters, proving you just never know in this business.
17) John Doe--John Duchac: I've got three members of X on this list. John Duchac makes it for being the most popular John Doe of all time. Usually a potential rock star chooses a name that makes them stand out, not blend in. In lesser hands, this could've backfired and have been taken as an admission that he was purely generic stuff. Not true.
16) Jello Biafra--Eric Reed Boucher: One critic described him as sounding like Tiny Tim. In 1982, when I finally first heard them, I thought they were great, which means I can't make an accurate critical judgment about them. I can't hear their albums, I can only transport myself back in time to a moment when I believed anything was possible and that I would surely become famous myself--just for breathing. I was terribly, terribly wrong.
15) Handsome Dick Manitoba--Richard Blum: The Dictators beat everyone to the punch, combining a love of rock and wrestling before all the punk bands showed up. They even signed to a major label for their album Go Girl Crazy! Manitoba was the band's roadie and "Secret Weapon" before becoming their official lead singer. He is also an authority on lists, since in November 2007, Manitoba, along with author Amy Wallace, put out The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists. I'm sure he could tell me how wrong I am!
14) Richard Hell--Richard Meyers: Richard Hell is an artist. Many of the punk "fashions"--the safety pins, the ripped T-shirts--were Hell being Hell in the early to mid 1970s. His band, the Voidoids, released Blank Generation, an album that is everything punk rock should be but often was not. His guitar players, Robert Quine and Ivan Julian, were ingenious, tearing the music apart with a love for influences well outside the punk circle, while Richard Hell wrote and sang lyrics that conveyed his struggles with the world. He is now a successful novelist. (That is, his novels are artistic successes. I have no idea if anyone reads or buys books anymore.)
13) Dee Dee Ramone--Doug Glenn Colvin: By calling himself Dee Dee Ramone, he almost sounds like the singer of a Phil Spector Girl Group from the early 1960s. Colvin was a solid songwriter who turned yelling "1-2-3-4" into an artform.
12) Joey Ramone--Jeffry Ross Hyman: Be sure to read I Slept With Joey Ramone, the excellent memoir written by his brother Mickey Leigh. Joey battled the odds and became a legend.
11) Darby Crash--John Paul Beahm: Darby Crash was one of those poor kids who were doomed from the starting gate. The Germs weren't much of a musical band and more of a cultural statement that now seems a bit sad considering some kids lost their lives in short order.
10) Billy Zoom--Tyson Kindell: I was pretty shocked to learn this one. That platinum hair and constant smile makes him seem like the perfect Billy Zoom, the guitarist for X. I would've figured his name was at least Billy. But Tyson Kindell? WOW. Just goes to show you how wrong you can be.
9) Exene Cervenka--Christine Cervenkova: First off, she gave her name to the band: X. But why Cervenkova needed to be shortened to Cervenka is beyond me. Both sound cool enough.
8) Joe Strummer--John Graham Mellor: As the leader of The Clash, I still think he could have come up with something better than "Strummer." It's better than Mellor, but it still doesn't sound right to me. Mick Jones had it made. He didn't have to do anything. But then the Clash were always cornier than their fan base would admit. That doesn't mean they weren't amazing. But they always seemed too aware that the camera was on them and their every move was being scrutinized in a way while other bands could move more freely. The Clash had to stand for something, whereas no one ever expected the Sex Pistols or the Ramones to change the world. And no one was disappointed when those other bands didn't.
7) Ari Up--Arianna Forster: The Slits were an abrasive group who led to the equally difficult Raincoats being formed. It continues to amaze me how many bands come out of the British Isles. It's like they manufacture bands the way IKEA manufactures furniture.
6) Siouxsie Sioux--Susan Janet Ballion: Siouxsie Sioux was an expert with make-up and her band held together long enough for her to be a big star in the U.K and a "college radio" classic in the U.S, which was about all you could hope for in the 1980s.
5) Iggy Pop--James Newell Osterberg, Jr.: Iggy's a legend who spent years being told he was no good. A cult of hardcore fans and writers like southern-California born Lester Bangs and the Detroit-based CREEM Magazine kept this hometown hero afloat while famous friends like David Bowie produced his albums and stole his moves. Even the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame voters took their sweet time letting this legend onto their roster, after Iggy had long become a definite influence on everyone who wielded a mike stand with authority. To think, all he ever wanted was to be your dog.
4) Rat Scabies--Christopher Miller: It's quite wonderful when your drummer has a name worth mentioning. The Damned managed this feat. Most drummers grow accustomed to their second-class citizenship in their bands and either pal up with the roadies or learn to sing and completely ruin the band that way. Thanks Phil Collins.
3) Cheetah Chrome--Gene O'Connor: Cheetah Chrome is a survivor and he still lives his life with one of the coolest stage names of all time. The Dead Boys were among my favorite punk rock bands. He's no relation to me--that I know of--and if I had even a tenth of his sense I would've changed my last name as well.
2) Sid Vicious--Simon John Ritchie: Easily the least talented guy on this list, Sid Vicious was a poor, impressionable kid who thought he had to live up to a reputation that included behaving as if he had no real feelings. Which his heroin addiction eventually made possible. Then it killed him.
1) Poly Styrene--Marian Joan Elliot Said: I picked Marian Joan Elliot Said for the number one position because I mean come on! Look at both those names. Her real name sounds like her parents were sending her to the convent. Her punk name sounds like she's made out of synthetics and melted PVC. She never had a long career in her, but her teenaged angst vocals on X-Ray Spex's Germ Free Adolescents is pretty damn cool.