Seems 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.
12 Super Duper Extraordinary Girl Trouble Rock ‘n’ Roll Tracks – Bang Bang Band Girl (Voodoo Rhythm)
First, the whinge. This is one of those cases where you’re left wondering what might have been if the contents matched the cover. A one-lady band from Chile via the Netherlands, Bang Bang Band Girl,has great taste in covers but the sum of its parts make this album not so much unhinged as mildly off-beat and muffled.
The one-sheet for what's almost an album full of covers promises a “spaced out wall of fuzz, theremin, reverberation and a warm, dangerous yet sweet voice” and there are elements of all those, but they’re sometimes buried by so-so production.
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.
Let’s be honest: John Anthony Genzale Jr.’s reputation as a pharmaceutical repository often threatens to overshadow the scraggly legacy he left behind with the New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers as the toxically charming Johnny Thunders. Taking Keith Richards’ lead by spiking up his blue-black hair and taking up smack, Thunders surprised absolutely no one nearly 15 years ago when his ticket was punched in a manner that came nowhere within sniffing distance of “natural.” He. Was. A. Donkey.
In a world of shoddy, sub-par live releases and infinite re-issues of studio out-takes, this one lives up to the hype. Capturing the Heartbreakers briefly back on home turf after their first stint in the UK and in all their drug-infested glory, “LAMF Live” is the album your mother warned you about and your old man wanted banned.
Where’s the danger in rock and roll? You hear people asking all the time. It’s around if you dig deep enough but it was never so nakedly on display as back in the late ‘70s when the Heartbreakers were in full swing.
Walter Lure plays LAMF 100 Club, London August 10, 2019
Walter Lure has had a storied career, duelling with Johnny Thunders in the Heartbreakers, recording with The Ramones, burning up stages with his own Waldos and in working in the markts on Wall Street.
Of the Heartbreakers, Lure is the last man standing after the passing of Thunders and Jerry Nolan in the '90s and the departure of Billy Rath in 2013, and he has done gigs showcasing the Heartbreakers debut "LAMF", most notably in New York City with a fairly stellar cast including Wayne Kramer and Clem Burke.
Achtung! If the name Walter Lure doesn't ring bells, jump right out of the steeple, ya heathen. Taken from a German show in 2007, this is the liveliest of live records. No surprises but no prisoners taken, either.
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
Here’s news for those who thought Jeff Dahl had put his guitar in a rack and drawn an end to his prolific punk-glam career. He’s back with a new album - and it sounds like he never went away.
Dahl had been laying low with protracted health issues since pulling up tent pegs at his Arizona desert digs and moving back to his own (and his wife’s) childhood home of the Hawaiian Islands. Prior to slipping off the public radar eight years ago, Dahl was a force of rock and roll nature, turning out a string of abrasive, hard-rocking records and publishing one of the world’s greatest magazines, Sonic Iguana.
A bunch of New York City’s rock and roll past and present recently gathered in Manhattan to celebrate and play the music of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers.
Led by the eternally cool Walter Lure, who was assisted by Blondie drummer Clem Burke, ex-Lower East Side resident and MC5 member Wayne Kramer, Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson and a bunch of guest vocalists, the band played four sold-out shows. And they were reportedly underwhelming.
Phillippe 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.
This is the initial release on the Remarquable label and what a way to start. Basically the deal is that these folks have gotten their hands on some utterly prime Johnny Thunders music that no one has heard before. They are focusing on the year 1978, when Johnny was on Real Records and put out his classic solo album "So Alone".
This first EP (more is promised) is a beautifully-packaged 10" record with four songs ("Leave me Alone"/Great Big Kiss"/"Pipeline"/"London Boys") recorded early January 1978, a mere two weeks after Walter Lure and Billy Rath had called it quits and returned to NYC from London, where the Heartbreakers had relocated to in 1977.
I ain't owned that beautiful Nina Antonia book about Johnny Thunders for years-poor people can't have nice things - ya always have to sell it all to eat and smoke. "Everything is in the pawnshop", you dig? But all those swanky Heartbreakers photographs are etched forever in my mind.
The 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.
Want to know what the classic line-up of Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers sounded like live? Most of us missed them the first time around and with three of them no longer with us there’s no chance whatsoever of them reforming - at least in this life.
So you’ll just have to settle for listening to “Live At The Village Gate”.
Glad you asked.
“Live At The Village Gate” is a newly-minted album on Los Angeles label Cleopatra Records. It’s out on LP and CD. It was recorded at the legendary jazz venue, The Village Gate, in New York City in 1977. Our review is here.
To many ears, it represents the ultimate recording of the infamous Heartbreakers at their highest peak. No slop, no pop. Pure power and energy that’s powerful enough to level a New York City block. It captures the notoriously drug-addled quartet in clear-eyed form and totally on their game. Out to impress and definitely Down To Kill.
When we were young and skinny and fearless, it was easier to celebrate the ch-cha-cha-changes, than it is now, when so many of our favorite places, people, bands, and way of life are just vanishing a little more each day. I can't keep up with all these changes.
In my head, I'm still a new wave kid with a Walkman. Probably listening to the Cult"Love", on 10, right? Making rehearsal tapes on a boombox in the basement. You could save 20 or 30 dollars, and come home from the big city record store with a new t shirt, some little buttons, a copy of "Flipside" or "Maxiumum Rock And Roll", some Jesus & the Mary Chain and Bauhaus postcards to send to your goth girlfriends in far away cities, a Gene Loves Jezebel or Flesh For Lulu promotional poster the nose-ringed death rocker cashier gave you for free, and a whole stack of winning indie punk $1 vinyl from the cut out bin. Those were different times.
For most of us, there ain't no rock ‘n’ roll no more, just the ludicrous worship of bullshit do nothing politicians, media monopoly lies and propaganda, and cos-play lab-coated scientific astronaut rich people on TV, and/or, always more blandly insufferably mediocre and meaningless mainstream garbage like the Foo Fighters - there's nowhere to go, no more basement shows. No real underground bands or real underground rock press in Amerikkka.
Far be it from me to claim that I had my finger completely on the punk rock pulse of the Murder City back in the late '70s and early '80s, but try as I might, I just can't remember this show ever taking place, but nearly a quarter century of recreational beverages, better living through chemistry, three kids, and a 15-year adjustable rate mortgage may have dulled my synapses a tad.
Heartbreakers – “LAMF - The Found '77 Masters”. As the title hints at the original mixdown tapes had long been lost. The reissues had all been dubbed from vinyl and the original pressing from 1977 was considered by some to sound muddy (not by me though). A chance rummaging through an attic and bingo! The tape was found. This newly remastered edition sounds as solid as a rock! (I only have the CD, the record store day vinyl re-issue was under pressed and sold out in a milliseconds. A re-re issue will happen in 2022).
Buffalo (Revisited) – “Volcanic Rock Live”. Imminent LP release (January 2022 I am told). It has been a rock and roll dream for me (as a long time Buffalofan) to be playing these songs live with Buffalo foundation member Dave Tice. A live gig we did was recorded and deemed more than worthy enough for mass release by USA label Ripple Music.