new york dolls - The I-94 Bar

Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders (Chip Baker Films/Jungle Records)

looking for johnnySeems not so long ago (and in fact, it was the late 1980s) that the shadow of a still breathing, although not always fully-functioning, Johnny Thunders was almost everywhere you looked. His records filled the racks and every second person in a band wanted to look like, if not be, JT. As in buying the T-shirt with no need to tap a vein.

It was P.I. (Pre-Internet) so we didn’t have the same visual options that YouTube and Torrenting now offer, but you had to wonder how someone whose wasted pictures and sound defined the term “fucked-up” so convincingly could continue to make music.

Of course, way down in Australia we got our answer when an at least partially cleaned-up Johnny toured, with the ever-present legend Jerry Nolan on drums and a real live Sex Pistol, Glen Matlock, on bass. That had to be the year I was overseas, but by all reliable reports The Man and His Band were both lucid and great.

His music tends to be overshadowed by the fact that Thunders was a hardcore junkie for the second tw-thirds of his career, at first by choice and then, over the years, by necessity. You might argue that he also milked that reputation for all it was worth, to the point that it was a marketing tool as much as a cross to bear.

After The Dolls 1977-87 - Johnny Thunders (Cleopatra)

afterthedollsTo say that my behavior occasionally borders on obsessive compulsive when it comes to some popular music, especially if there is caffeine or alcohol involved, is like saying Bob Marley was into marijuana.

Anarchy? What Anarchy? Glen Matlock just wants to have serious fun


men with no shameMen Of No Shame: Earl Slick, Glen Matlock and Slim Jim Phantom

Sweat is pouring down my neck and back. Rob from the C-Bombs is dangling pictures of his empty pool at me on facebook and I suddenly remember to start dialling.

I’m calling Glen Matlock in London. It will be something like 8.30 in the morning there. He’s organised, sounds quite sober, matter-of-fact and down to earth. Which is pretty good, cos if you’ve never heard the bugger’s name you’ve certainly heard at least one of the bands he’s been in, and helped write the songs for: The Sex Pistols.

Glen is coming to Australia for the ‘Men of No Shame’ tour with Earl Slick and Slim Jim Phantom.

Doll Dreams and Heartbreak: Jerry Nolan biographer Curt Weiss and that wild ride

Jerry Nolan

Telling the tempestuous and tragically short life story of ex-New York Dolls and Heartbreakers drummer Jerry Nolan was always going to be a formidable challenge. American author Curt Weiss has succeeded with "Stranded in The Jungle. Jerry Nolan’s Wild Ride", the unvarnished biography of one of New York rock and roll's most mercurial figures. 

It's an account of a man whose flaws were seemingly as large as his talents. Nolan was the pre-eminent rock and roll drummer of his era but his life was scarred by drug addiction. His death at 45 - almost certainly AIDS-related, according to "Stranded In The Jungle" - came hard on the heels of that of his bandmate Johnny Thunders, and closed a time in NYC that we won't see again. The book's theme is that Nolan's playing skills and style were admirable; his addiciton and treatment of others much less so.  

Weiss' book takes us  through the underbelly of rock and roll on a trail littered by used syringes, stymied ambition and squandered opportunities. Importantly though, "Stranded in The Jungle" makes the place of the Dolls in punk rock's continuum crystal clear. And is impossible to put down.

Curt Weiss consented to talk about his book from his Seattle home. Here's the lowdown.  

Hurt Me - Johnny Thunders (Easy Action)

hurt-meThe back catalogue of Johnny Thunders is way overdue for re-issue treatment. It’s coming up to 24 years since the talented but terminal ex-Doll checked into a New Orleans hotel and checked out on life. "ho better to revive his recorded legacy than Easy Action?

Whatever your stance on how the media portrayed Thunders, the guy was a walking contradiction. When it came to his image as Rock’s Most Wasted Human Being (aka The Guy Who Makes Keef Look Like a Schoolboy), he alternately kicked against it or embraced it with open, track-marked arms. “Hurt Me” was a poignant collection of stripped-back covers and standards - and a departure of sorts for JT, coming as it did five years after the bleary-eyed party that was “So Alone.”

In Too Much Too Sun - Kevin K and the Krazy Kats (Rankoutsider Records)

too much too sunKevin K has been plying this trade for 40 years and almost as many albums. His latest American crew, The Krazy Kats, are in synch with his modus operandi of gritty but melodic rock and roll.

As the title reveals, Kevin's latest studio album takes a generous leaf out of the New York Dolls book while slyly alluding to his longtime adopted home of Florida. 

Kevin K was always going to end up back on Rankoutsider, the label run by ex-Lazy Cowgirls frontman Pat Todd. Like Todd’s current band, The Rank Outsiders, the label specialises in down-to-earth, streetwise rock and roll music - of which Kevin K is the embodiment. 

If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that there’s a distinctive Kevin K Sound: It’s no frills, guitar-laden punk rock, with a very tough edge, informed by life in the dives and gutters of New York City’s Lower East Side. Kevin’s plaintive vocal sits oddly but comfortably with the gritty sound of his bands. 

Looking out for Johnny: Author Nina Antonia on Thunders, the Dolls and The Only Ones

johnny thunders nina antonia closeupJohnny Thunders and his biographer Nina Antonia.

Recently, I was obliged to dig through about 30 of my 100 boxes from storage and came across Greil Marcus' philosophical punk book “Lipstick Traces”. Highly regarded around the world, I recall reading it with irritation at the time, feeling that... there was a distance to his writing. He just didn't seem excited.

I suppose it was that the man was a music journo, and obliged to listen to so much pap that after a while... everything is part of the same thing. I liked how he got the world-wide impact of what punk did, but I really don't think he came close to nailing his topic.

When I had the opportunity to conduct an e-mail interview with UK author Nina Antonia, I grabbed it with both hands. Nina Antonia is the author of biographies on Johnny Thunders, the New York Dolls and Peter Perrett (The Only Ones) and has a knack of always nailing her topic. She's a delight to read. A quick scamper through bookdepository.com - armed with her name - is always exci

New Johnny Thunders doco screens at festivals in US, UK

 

Directed by Danny Garcia ("The Rise and Fall of The Clash"), "Looking For Johnny" is promised to be the definitive documentary on New York City's legendary guitar player Johnny Thunders.

Peanut Butter Blues - Dr Boogie (self released)


"There is nothing to win by this kind of an outcry..." -Richard Hell

"Everything is really hard, if you ain't got that credit card."-Iggy Pop

peanut butter bluesOld grape popsicles don't expire, they just get freezer burnt.

Back in my bespangled youth, there was no Internet and no downloadable sound files you could carry around in your hand-held Orwell gadget. We had, like, Walkman's and a couple of cassettes, if we were lucky, you know? If we got real enterprising, we'd spring for all those big batteries to power up our boom boxes, with all the band stickers on it, but it costs a lot to keep those machines blaring, especially if you hung out with a ragamuffin lot of heavy metal kids, Stooges heads, and ersatz break-dancers.

Rock 'n' roll sounds still mostly came on collectible black platters with colorful picture sleeves, but you had to send cash away for it in the mail, relying on the honor of scuzzy rascals, and every so often, you might get chumped. 'Had to figure, somebody must be awful hard up, to rip off their own fans. There was no Pay-Pal, you just paid your pals.

Punk Avenue: Inside the New York City Underground 1972-1982 by Phil Marcade (Three Rooms Press)

punk avenuePhillippe Marcade was briefly drummer and then frontman for long-running New York City band The Senders, and a close confidant of many on the CBGB and Max’s Kansas City scenes.

Born in France, for the most illegally living in NYC, he rode the rock and roll roller coaster as hard as anyone in Lower Manhattan. 

“Punk Avenue” - the title is a play-on-words reference to the Park Avenue location of Max’s - is a fantastic read. There are no dead spots; Marcade tells his story colourfully, underlined by droll, self-deprecating humour. 

Punk trailblazer Marty Thau dies

Legendary New York punk rock forefather, label head and manager, Marty Thau, has passed away, sources close to the ex-New York Dolls manager say. He was aged 75.

Ramones By Nicholas Rombes (Bloomsbury, 33 1/3 series)

Why is it relevant to review a book initially released in 2005? Because (1.) the subject matter seems as relevant now as it ever did, and (2.) it’s still in print.

You can’t expect anything usual from the 33 1/3 series, that’s clear. All that matters is: Does it work? Does it help us, does it add to the LP in question..?

Given the huge influence that this first "Ramones" LP had on modern rock’n’roll music, it is with woeful heart that I report that Rombes is another academic. in 2005 he was Associate Professor of English at the University of Detroit Mercy. (No, me either).

It was a worried frown that I found I disagreed heartily with the first two sentences, which hung out Rombes’ slate above his wares; "Ramones is either the last great modern record, or the first great postmodern one. Fully aware of its status as pop culture, it nonetheless has unironic aspirations toward art." I winced.

Surely not another academic with no clues as to actual context ..?

Should I Suck or Should I Blow? - Heavy Drapes (Suck-Revolution Records/Tarbeach Records)

suck or blowWhen was the last time you heard a British guitar band with the energy of the Sex Pistols, swagger of the New York Dolls and great songs to boot? Scottish punk band Heavy Drapes (the name’s something to do with Malcolm McLaren/Vivienne Westwood’s shop, apparently) have been making quite an impact since the release of this impressive four-track EP (vinyl or CD on Suck Revolution Records), which has now been re-released as a US edition by New York-based Tarbeach Records.

While many UK punk bands have sunk into a mire of clichéd, pseudo-political lyrics and music to match, Heavy Drapes stand out due to the quality of their songs and the sheer exuberance with which they are performed. The four band members have all adopted appropriate noms de guerre; hence we have De Liberate on vocals, Rikki Stiv on guitar, Jerry Dangerous handling bass duties and Billy Chaos on the traps. Fortunately, there’s much more to this group than just a good dollop of old school show-biz pizazz (which they have in spades.) Heavy Drapes can back up their image with serious musical chops.

Stranded in The Jungle. Jerry Nolan’s Wild Ride by Curt Weiss (Backbeat Books)

stranded in the jungleThe cover does not lie. It was a wild ride for Jerry Nolan, drummer from the New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. And it’s all outlined in detail in Kurt Weiss’s gripping, 310-page biography.

Much of the wild nature of the journey was self-induced: in a New York underground rock scene where junkies were prominent, Jerry was one of the most notorious. A bigger fiend than his running mate Johnny Thunders, some say. 

His death at the unripe age of 45 - on life support, fighting bacterial meningitis and pneumonia - was more than likely related to his two decades of intravenous heroin use. He was HIV-positive at the end - and possibly in the grip of AIDS, the author suggests.

Curt Weiss (aka Lewis King) drummed in Beat Rodeo and succeeded Nolan in the lesser-known Rockats. He met Nolan only in passing. His style is incisive and direct, and his critical faculties are those of a rock and roll player, which is no bad thing when talking about Nolan's technique.

The Haunted Writings of Lionel Johnson, the Decadent Era’s
 Dark Angel - Edited and with an essay by Nina Antonia (Strange Attractor Press)

incurableNina Antonia crops up at the I-94 Bar yet again. Perhaps best known for:

  • Her compelling, astonishing book (the first if you discount Morrissey's) on The New York Dolls (a band renowned for decadence at a time when decadence was almost a rite of passage),
  • Her bio of Johnny Thunders (the film currently out doesn't use her research, so you can guess what it'll be like),
  • Hr bio of Peter Perrett,
  • And a book with Pete Doherty.

One begins to rather wonder about Antonia's fascination with doomed, beautiful men... 

As she reveals in "The Prettiest Star" (nominally the story of Brett Smiley) she's clearly drawn like a moth to a flame; and she's been writing in solitude and sacrifice for well over 30 years... suffice to say she should be better known. 

The Prescient World of James Baker

james-grinda-pic
Photo by Greg Walsh of Grinda Pics

If they paid musicians retrospectively for being ahead of their time, iconic Australian drummer James Baker would be a billionaire. Picture his teen years growing up in The World’s Most Isolated Capital City (that’d be Perth) at the far end of Australia (that’s Western Australia.)

The Prettiest Star. Whatever Happened to Brett Smiley? By Nina Antonia (SAF)

prettiest starThis book completely beggars belief. Top marks and way, way beyond. It’s also utterly brilliant as well as being compelling reading. It’ll have you ranging your emotions from laughter to sorrow and is so well researched (Nina doesn’t bother much with academic references as her books come mostly from her own interviews and experience) and put together … words completely fail me.

If you’ve read any of Antonia’s other books (on the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders and The Only Ones) and enjoyed her style and intelligence … The Prettiest Star is so far ahead that it may as well be the best fiction you’ve ever read, except it’s all true.

I can’t believe that you’ll recall Brett Smiley. He had one hit, “Va Va Va Voom”, in the UK in 1974, at the height of that bizarre post-6ts glam and pop period where decent songs were generally in short supply in the charts. Oh dear, much like now? Really? I’m shocked.

There’s No Bones in ice Cream. Sylvain Sylvain’s Story of the New York Dolls by Sylvain Sylvain (Omnibus Press)

sylvain bookThere are two undeniable take-outs from "There's No Bones In Ice Cream." One is Sylvain Sylvain's deep and abiding love of the New York Dolls and pride in their legacy. The other is a feeling that things could have turned out much differently had they been given five minutes during their time on the roller coaster to catch their breath.

If you're reading this review at the I-94 Bar you don't need to be told who the New York Dolls were or how important they are. Glam rock probably still would have happened without them, but punk's birth would have been very different.

The Dolls are influential because they proved that you didn't have to be good to be great. Their lack of virtuosity was as influential as their style.

Mainstream America didn't want to know about the Dolls. The image was just too fag-ishly confrontational. Their first lifespan was only two albums. Others who trod the same path - who moderated the look and sound and stuck at it like Alice Cooper and KISS - cashed in, big-time.

Too Much Too Soon - Nina Antonia (Omnibus Books)

dolls bookIt’s that time of year again, when that fat prick comes scrambling down the chimney armed with a sawn-off and robs you off all your money so’s he can spend it on whores and drugs.

How fair is the world? That’s what I was going to spend it on.

This being the I-94 Barr site, where rock is from Detroit, synths are for Germans and the volume is at 11, you will all have friends who love rock’n’roll. So the bookstores around the world are ready for you this Krimbo, usually armed with tomes the size of one of Mose’s tablets on That Notorious Stone or That Bland Beatle or worse, Someone Who Was Someone Maybe Once (and Just Can’t Get Over It) Volume 3.

Undercover: Live in China – The Boys (Action Records)

undercover in chinaThe Boys rode the original wave of UK punk in the ‘70s, missed the crest and ended up in the shallows; it wasn’t their fault. They suffered from poor distribution after signing to a second-order record label, but in the end they were far too musical to be lumped in with most of their contemporaries.

The Boys - specifically singer-guitarist Matt Dangerfield - had their origins in England’s most celebrated non-functioning band, the London SS, whose ranks included Mick Jones (later of The Clash) and Tony James (who went on to Generation X.) Both their subsequent outfits and the Sex Pistols made their first recordings in Dangerfield’s rented Maid Vale basement. Talk about being at the scene of the crime. Casino Steel did time in a glam band the Hollywood Brats who almost out-pouted the Dolls.