johnny thunders - The I-94 Bar
Riddle 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.
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.
Gang War at Second Chance in Ann Arbor in 1979. Sue Rynski photo
It’s said the drummer in a rock and roll band has the best seat in the house. It’s given John Morgan his unique perspective on some of rock and roll’s most talented, fascinating and sometimes flawed characters.
Now living in Ventura, California, John Morgan’s spent half his life as a professional musician, playing with a long list of blues and jazz bands. But it’s his insights into two in particular: Gang War and Sonic's Rendezvous Band - the former as a partcipant, thw latter as an observer - that will hold the most interest for I-94 Bar patrons.
The Horniman Museum in South London is a monument to its founder's eccentricities. A giant stuffed walrus vies for space beside antique musical instruments. Medieval torture chairs sit next to a delightful selection of monk’s undergarments. Both horsehair and spiked.
They had a couple of live piranhas and a virtual history of pipe smoking. The Addams family would have felt right at home.
One unusual exhibition was a wheel of Chinese opium. It sat happily in its case for 80 years until some reprobate walked in, opened the case and vanished off into the English Autumn.
The legend shared by South London’s heroin users was the perpetrator was one, Peter Perrett. This wasn't based on fact. He just lived around the corner from the museum.
Here’s the two-part hypothesis: (1.) No schtick in rock and roll works as well as premature death and; (2.) the Japanese have a particularly deep interest in musicians who have checked out early – especially those terminally doomed through their own vices.
The latter probably has a lot to do with the strict Japanese drug laws and the populace's deeply rooted respect for authority. Remember the Macca bust? Did you hear the one about the Australian band that wouldn't tour there because the singer liked his pot so much and was worried he wouldn't find a connection? I digress.
The laws of science say that any hypothesis should be disprovable. While you’re trying, I’m spinning this album.
"Jesus Loves My Heroin II" is a Japanese tribute to Nikki Sudden and Kevin Junior Now, I have familiarity with some of the works of the late Mr Sudden; I’m less up-to-speed with the output of the late Mr Junior.
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.
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.
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.
Nina 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.
This 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 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.
There’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”.)