jerry nolan - The I-94 Bar

Butterflyin’ - New York Dolls (Easy Action)

butterflyinRiddle me this, Batman: In these digital times, why put out a CD of a live recording in a box set and split it over two discs? A strange attempt to mimick the vinyl exprience of flipping an LP over after it hits the run-out groove? Yes, Barflies, these are some of the weighty societal issues we trouble ourselves with at the I-94 Bar. Let’s back the truck up a bit here…

“Butterflyin’” is an upgraded version of a Dolls boot that’s been doing the rounds since Steve Jones was old enough to do time in an adult detention facility. Not that he’s the only one who swiped something from the Dolls’ output. It’s taken from a 1974 WLIR radio broadcast. An additional six live tracks, from another undated radio show, are the icing on the cake. More about them later. 

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.  

LAMF Live at The Village Gate 1977 - Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers (Cleopatra)

village gateIn 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.

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

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. 

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.

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.

Wacka Lacka Boom Bop A Loom Bam Boo - Walter Lure and The Waldos

waka lacka loom bop a loom bam booThere’s a temptation to hail this record as the last gasp from a dying breed. After all, it’s 24 years since the last Waldos studio album, the wonderful “Rent Party”, and a lifetime since Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers last staggered onto a stage.

Walter Lure is almost The Last Man Standing from what’s erroneously generalised as “the New York punk scene”. There was a scene but it was more than just punk (whatever that is or was) and it was pushed to the margins by the dual forces of Disney and gentrification.

Walter has lived his share of the nine lives that his old band was gifted, and maybe then some, so if the temptation proves too much not to tag “Wacka Lacka Boom Bop A Loom Bam Boo” as a lowering of the curtain on a long-gone era of Lower East Side guitar sleaze, cut me some slack. A handful of other people still wave that flag.

There are a dozen songs on “Wacka Lacka…” and most contain more raunch per ounce than you can squeeze into a digital back catalogue of Strokes records. This is as you’d expect: Walter Lure – “Waldo” to his stockbroking mates – was the guitar foil to Johnny Genzales in the post-Dolls Heartbreakers, and they were the band that made the template for street-level, pharmaceutical-fuelled, bad boy, four-chord goodness. (Yes, Keef did it first but he could afford not to mix it with the masses who were copping on Norflok Street, hence the term “street-level”.)