Over the past 14 years, Stevie Starlite has built a career out of playing hard-driving, traditional rock 'n' roll at nightspots all over the South Side and beyond. His bawdy songs and stage patter have invited comparisons to the comedians Lenny Bruce (whom Starlite admires) and Andrew Dice Clay (whom he doesn't).
Stevie Starlite, in short, is about as politically incorrect as they come. Anyone who doesn't know this will discover it soon after walking into one of his gigs. At a south suburban club recently, Starlite strode onstage to loud hoots and hollers from an all-white crowd in their early 20s, then launched into an uptempo rendition of "She's a Pig," a song Starlite penned as a homage to one of the band's would-be groupies. "That song's getting heavy rotation on MTV right now," Starlite deadpanned.
In subsequent songs and monologues, he cast his sardonic eye on blacks, foreigners and- perhaps his favorite target- gays. Far from offended, the audience seemed to grow more enthusiastic the more outrageous Starlite became. Diehard fans screamed at the top of their lungs for Starlite to take a request.
"If he cleaned up his act he'd be on the loop, XRT, the Blaze," said Chris Murphy, a 22-year-old chef from Evergreen Park who claimed to have seen Starlite in concert 41 times. "If he cleaned up his act, he'd be a multimillionaire. But he's stuck on what he believes in. He's a white man with the blues in a black man's world."
Mike Spinelli, owner/manager of J.D. Batts in Blue Island (where the band has played 10 or 15 times over seven or eight years) said of Starlite: "He's unique. He's a very talented musician. [The audience thinks] it's funny. Everybody's laughing at one of his shows. Stevie doesn't just pick on one group. He picks on Italians blacks, whites, Irish. Whatever he thinks, he says."
Starlite is "very interested in the roots of rock 'n' roll, from Johnny Burnett to more modern acts like ZZ Top. He thinks the essence of rock is the trio," said Kevin Toelle, rock and blues critic for Illinois Entertainer magazine, based in Des Plaines. "The lyrics and on-stage patter are a little risque, but people seem to laugh uproariously." Of audience sensibilities, Toelle said: "He's not at the door checking I.D's; I don't think that's his job. I think if you're old enough to go in there, you're old enough to take it. If you don't like it, leave. I'm not big on sensorship."
As it happens, the man who calls himself the X-Rated Rocker leads a relatively tame life off-stage. "I think one of the things I like most is how family-oriented he is," said Julie Bonadona, Starlite's girlfriend. "He's very close with his family, and since I started going out with him, he's become part of my family too. He understands the value of family traditions, and despite his act, he's very big-hearted."
Stevie Starlite, born Steve Pacelli, moved with his family to Evergreen Park from Chicago when the future rocker was 8. At about that time, he started playing guitar. "I saw one of my uncles playing guitar, and I said I wanted one. So they bought me a real good guitar-a good Les Paul that at the time cost about $250," he said. "I had a kidney problem as a kid, and I guess they thought if I died they could return it."
Starlite formed his first band when he was in the 4th grade and subsequently was in a number of other groups. During the height of Beatlemania, his group was doing songs by traditional rockers like Eddie Cochran, and the Ventures. He still likes that music and counts records from the era as among the favorites in his LP collection.
Starlite attended Catholic grade schools, graduated from Evergreen Park High School and received a degree in commercial art from the school of the Art Institute of Chicago. But he never became a professional artist. Instead, he played in bands and worked as a clinician for Ampeg, a maker of electric amplifiers.
After his band "One Pound Round" broke up in the late 70s, Starlite formed a new group, taking his stage name from a Chicago Ridge drive-in theater that has since closed.
"It used to be the place to go on a Friday or Saturday night and take advantage of a young lady," he said. "I got to be known as Starlite over there [because I spent so much time there]. Now it sounds kind of hokey and showbiz, but I like that. I get 55- or 60-year-old people thinking it's going to be a 50's act. It's a good shocker."