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You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory

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Thirteen years ago yesterday, on April 23, 1991, ex-NY Doll/Heartbreaker guitar slinger Johnny Thunders (nee John Anthony Genzale) was found dead of an apparent drug OD in his room at the St. Peter Guest House in New Orleans. His room had been ransacked and in the typical sloppy manner of the N.O. Police Dept., the investigation was thoroughly F-ed up. Just another dead junkie in the Vieux Carre to them. Johnny was in New Orleans to find kindred musicians for a new project when he died. I guess if ya gotta go, N.O is a damned fine place to do it. And he did. Our loss. RIP.

The Dolls were my Rolling Stones redux. They came along with the same amount of raw energy, verve and enthusiasm as the Stones had a decade earlier. Only the Stones had really started to SUCK! big time by the time the NY Dolls hit the scene. To wit: The R.S’s released “Angie” (easily the worst thing they had done to date) and the Dolls released “Trash” almost simultaneously. Now, I still dug the Stones and all but the Dolls had the energy that appealed to a barely pubescent snotnose little punk like me, plus my parents HATED ’em, which at the time was a seal of approval to me. Rule of thumb: If your folks like it, forget it, if they don’t like it proceed with some caution, if they hate it, it must be great. It always works for me anyway.

Johnny Thunders is my favorite rock ‘n’ roll guitar player bar none. His guitar playing sounded like some bastard child of Keith Richards recycled through the MC5. His upchucked Berry riffs were laced with feedback and distortion and were the obvious inspiration for punk guitarists from the Pistol’s Steve Jones to Greg Ginn of Black Flag, to about a thousand others in between.

Despite his infamy & personal problems the cat had a wicked sense of humor too. He once organized & played a benefit in NYC to buy bulletproof vests for the citizens there to help protect them from trigger happy NY cops. Most likely he left early with the door money to go cop some dope, but it IS the thought that counts, right???

He was notoriously unreliable from one show to the next. He might put on the best show you’ve ever seen one night then the next night stumble through two or three songs, vomit onstage and leave. The only time I saw him play was a bit of both. He came out firing both barrels, crashed and burned halfway through the set then came back out a few minutes later on fire. Typical set, I was told by the soundman at the club. Just Johnny doing his thang to pay his rent. Johnny lived, ate, breathed and dreamed rock ‘n’ roll. He cut a wide swath everywhere that he went & did so without regrets. He lived hard, died young and left dozens of tore up guitars and blown up amps in his wake. His legacy will always be with us via the wonders of modern technology. Rawk On Johnny, Rock On L.A.M.F.

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  • Jim Carruthers

    I don’t imagine the benefits plan in NYDolls Inc. was very good.

  • Vern Halen

    I don’t know what it is – there’s nothing to like about Johnny T’s sloppy, amateur guitar playing. It’s simple, repetitive and unstructured. And yet, to this day, I love the two Dolls albums and the So Alone album – maybe there’s magic there in spite of it all.