AFTER THE DOLLS 1977-1987 – Johnny Thunders (Cleopatra)
To 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.
Take the recent three-hour runner from the pre-pubescent maelstrom that perpetually surrounds Chez Paull like a thick, stifling cloud of nerve gas, when I found myself wandering the music racks of my local book/magazine/music/movie/coffee boo-tique like an extra from George Romero’s “Living Dead” trilogy, bored and fully convinced I needed to buy something, anything.
The cold, bitter truth - that I need another Johnny Thunders compilation like I need a third testicle - didn’t phase me in the least when I tendered the 12 bones for this one. In much the same way Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz received his marching orders from his neighbor’s dog, something deep and unexplainable within Thunders’ Ray-Bans on the cover compelled me forward on my own Bataan Death March up to the cash registers. My inner completist is loud, naggingly persistent, and completely unconcerned with things like mortgages, college funds, and storage space.
Although their collection remains incomplete without the holy grail of Thunders’ solo catalog “So Alone,” Jungle Records have consistently and admirably served well as curators of his haggard legacy, part of which has here been licensed out to and rewrapped for U.S. consumption by Cleopatra with a bonus DVD to ensure the separation of consumer from paycheck.
There is nothing hidden here which won’t be intimately familiar to those who have been following the Genzale chronicles thus far, all 19 tracks drawn from “L.A.M.F.,” “Que Sera Sera,” and Thunders’ vanity project with Patti Palladin “Copy Cats,” the inclusion of the latter making its continued unavailability on disc all the more puzzling.
Sonically, “After The Dolls” reverberates with the unmistakable sound of a bar being raised, representing a new standard in the Thunders catalog with each and every song (yes, ever those from the eternally lambasted “L.A.M.F.”) given a good, swift kick up the backside, levels boosted well into the red and crumbling the plaster.
When it comes to the DVD, however, “bonus” may not be entirely accurate unless you’re keen on close-ups of Marky Ramone’s cosmetically altered mug and bad rug, uttering “uh” about 1,000 times while waxing semi-eloquently on why the Ramones and not the Stooges were the first punk band (The Ramones were from New York. Iggy wasn’t. World without end, Amen.) and reminiscing about bathroom brawls with Thunders and dealing with Dee Dee’s drug habit. There’s also a “video” for the Heartbreakers’ “Get Off The Phone” which is merely a collection of still images, photos, and video captures cut, spliced, and edited in time to Jerry Nolan’s backbeat and a Ramones video scrapbook which is about as captivating as watching a car rust.
Contentwise, there are much better anthologies out there for neophytes – Jungle’s “Born Too Loose” comes immediately to mind – but Cleopatra have applied a sonic sheen to this one that’s damn near blinding. – Clark Paull
DOWN TO KILL – Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers (Jungle)
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.
The repackaging, reshuffling, remixing, and regurgitation of The Heartbreakers’ only studio album “L.A.M.F.” has reached obsessive compulsive proportions since its release back in 1977, completely understandable given a knob job rivaled only by the Bowie mix of The
Stooges’ “Raw Power” in terms of inner ear infection clarity. Considering the magic of digital technology, it’s probably safe to say that Todd Rundgren and Shadow Morton’s legacy on “New York Dolls” and “Too Much Too Soon” respectively is somewhat less than bulletproof as well.
“Down To Kill” is a double-disc, single-DVD Pandora’s box of supposedly previously unreleased material, but with the glut of Thunders/Heartbreakers loss leaders out there, I lost track of it all years ago and can’t really vouch for how much of this collection actually qualifies as new. And this is coming from someone who has fallen hard for just about every “remastered w/bonus tracks” compendium on God’s green earth. A pox on Rhino, Castle, Sanctuary, Razor & Tie, Captain Oi, et al.
Disc 1, subtitled “Raw & Rare,” features a brace of studio recordings from not only the Heartbreakers, but Walter Lure & The Ramones, Heroes (Walter Lure, Billy Rath, Henri-Paul, and Steve Nicol), and The Heartbreakers with ex-Clash drummer Terry Chimes sitting in for Jerry Nolan. There’s even a track (“Flight”) recorded with the band’s original line-up, with future Voidoid Richard Hell on bass, that sounds alarmingly pleasant, welding a slithering guitar figure to surprisingly lovelorn lyrics about punctual airport departures.
The 1976 demos, recorded at Nap Studios in Staten Island, besides being ground zero for the band’s most notorious line-up - the one that would get blamed for everything from off-loading narcotism and Nancy Spungen on wide-eyed, unsuspecting London kids to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby - are tough, no-nonsense, floggings of several songs that ultimately wound up on “L.A.M.F.,” Lure purportedly responsible for many of the licks that were passed off as proof of Thunders’ genius.
The Riverside demos, recorded in December 1977 with Chimes on parole from The Clash, is where everything comes together in a nimbus cloud of dubiously-lined Chuck Berry riffs and questionable manners, Thunders and Lure revving their guitars like post-apocalyptic lumberjacks and muscling through “London Boys” and “Too Much Junkie Business,” seemingly guided by a mission statement crafted with input from some of New York’s scurviest dope peddlers and inspired by the gauntlet thrown down by the Sex Pistols’ “New York.” Unfortunately, there was nowhere else to go from here but downhill - in Thunders case like an avalanche – the band eternally suspended between genius and a dribbling nod.
Live, the Heartbreakers resembled nothing if not a closed-head injury support group and whether their shuffling, mumbling, sleep-walking
countenance was authentic or a complete piss-take is anyone’s guess. To those who subscribe to the popular, grain-of-truth notion that Thunders greedily swallowed, smoked, or snorted everything he could lay hands on, it will come as no surprise that Disc 2, which spreads the disease over two sets captured in 1977 at London’s Speakeasy, veers dangerously close to “Metallic K.O.” territory due to his special brand of barbed eloquence and audience diplomacy acumen.
Twenty-two years on, the live DVD footage, filmed in London at the Lyceum and Marquee in 1984, looks surprisingly sharp, Thunders approaching every second on stage like a shootout at the OK corral. Despite his diminutive stature, the guy had balls the size of a bull elephant, but was apparently only half as smart. How best to explain challenging anyone and everyone at the Lyceum to a dust-up, lobbing a few casual asides in the general direction of everyone’s mum, and never bothering to look back to see if Lure, Rath, and Nolan had his back (they didn’t)?
The Greenhouse Studio segment depicts a kindler, gentler Thunders fumbling his way through four acoustic tracks and if you think it’s difficult to slot “kindler,” “gentler,” and “Thunders” into one sentence, try sitting down and watching it. The most amazing thing here, though, bordering on revelatory, is a short, unidentified French film clip (perhaps from "Mona Et Moi"?) of Thunders entering a Parisian café, ordering a glass of milk and a pack of Luckys (no filter), and engaging one of the locals in semi-coherent small talk about the relative dangers of Chicago and New York. Who would’ve guessed the guy was hiding an uncanny, seemingly natural knack for acting, exuding the type of greasy, scruffy charisma which wouldn’t have been entirely out of place on something like, oh, “The Sopranos.” No, I haven’t been drinking. Had to give it up.
Compared to true believer and liner notes compiler Nina Antonia, who’s laboring under the impression that Thunders and Nolan now claim pearly gates mailing addresses, my love of the band is decidedly less weatherproof. Without Lure performing on-stage CPR many nights, Thunders’ wheels would have come off long before they finally did and when they did, like the last time I saw him back in 1989 at St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit, it wasn’t pretty, exhibiting all of the down-home charm of a methamphetamine lab. Fortunately, “Down To Kill” finds all members of the choir freshly scrubbed and dressed in their Sunday best. Aside from the “L.A.M.F.” two-disc special limited edition (also on Jungle), this is all the Heartbreakers you’ll ever need. - Clark Paull
THUNDERSTORM IN DETROIT - Johnny Thunders And The Heartbreakers (Captain Trip/Motor City Music)
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.
I do recall seeing The Heartbreakers earlier that summer (1980) at an over-booked Nunzio's (sort of the little sister bar of Bookies Club 870) in Lincoln Park, birthplace of the mighty MC5. While standing around the club that night soaked in our own sweat and that of others, waiting for Johnny and the boys to grace us with their presence, an anemic friend was overcome by the heat and passed out right on his face. Quickly making sure he hadn't swallowed his tongue, we took him outside and revived him, dropped him off at home, and talked the bouncers into letting us back in just in time to see the band take the stage and tear "Pipeline" a new orifice. Have you seen the slides from my last vacation?
It's hard to believe, but at the time this show was recorded (December 21, 1980), Thunders was living near Ann Arbor in the cow town of Dexter, Michigan. For those who have been there, the mind reels trying to imagine what he was doing for fun ? animal husbandry? The previous year he spent some time in boot camp with Wayne Kramer and Gang War, so perhaps this was a period of refocus, er, focus.
Although it's been well documented that Thunders was no stranger to various "medicinal" powders at this point, he was nowhere close to being as drug addled as he was near the end. In other words, he was still able to focus his attention on seeing a song through from beginning to end and hitting his marks. One listen to him muttering "fuck it" before tearing into a jaw-dropping solo near the end of "So Alone" is enough to disprove the popular theory in some camps that the guy couldn't/wouldn't play. Humphh...
For more proof, check out his guest appearance on the Nomads' "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls." Walter Lure is no slouch, either, long rumored to have shown off his grinning guitar during certain Ramones sessions.
It's immediately obvious to anyone familiar with the shitload of Thunders/Heartbreakers live albums out there that two common threads bind them all - little if any variation in set lists and the liberal use of the word "douchebag" by Thunders and Lure in baiting audiences. For the most part, both Thunders and Waldo are like choirboys (relatively speaking) on "Thunderstorm In Detroit," the closest thing to an insult either of them hurls being a snide comment by Thunders about people around here still building cars. This frees them up to do what they do best - disheveled gutter swill raised to art form level.
Beginning with perennial opener "Pipeline," Thunders, Lure, bassist Tony Curio, and drummer Billy Rogers romp through a brief, but deafening white knuckle ride with stops along the way in Thunders ("London Boys," the aforementioned "So Alone"), Heartbreakers ("Too Much Junkie Business," "All By Myself," "Let Go," "Get Off The Phone"), and New York Dolls ("Chatter Box") territory, as well as covers of The Contours' "Do You Love Me," Ramones/Richard Hell's "Chinese Rocks," and George Morton's "Great Big Kiss."
Sound quality is probably best summed up with something Thunders once said: "Rock 'n' roll is about attitude. I could care less about technique." If you're reading this, an audiophile experience probably isn't very high on your priority list anyway.
Performancewise, slot this one somewhere just under "Live At Max's Kansas City," but miles above most of the bootleg quality discs which chronicle Thunders' disintegration into boorish, drooling, buffoon, albeit an elegant and beautiful boorish, drooling, buffoon. But that's heroin - keeps you young and kills you early. - Clark Paull
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