Thursday, 31 March 2011

Johnny Thunders - "Cosa Nostra Never Sleeps" by Nina Antonia

Johnny Thunders & Jerry Nolan

Back in 1985, I was put in touch with Nina Valez Guidio (aka Nina Antonia) to discuss a proposal that we should do a special issue of what A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen dedicated to Johnny Thunders. Nina was working on what would become “Johnny Thunders; In Cold Blood”, the official biography, that was eventually published in 1987 by Jungle Books. I was a fan of The Heartbreakers especially and held a slightly morbid fascination of the self-destructive tendencies of Johnny Thunders. More importantly, I loved the “Hurt Me” album that had come out in 1983 and I'd been at the Heartbreakers' March 1984 reunion shows in Nottingham (still one of the best live shows I ever saw) and London (as described below – an interesting show shall we say – glad I'd seen them in Nottingham though......).

He'd appeared in issue 1 and issue 2 of WANWTTS with both pieces, “Heartbreaker! Hipshaker! Troublemaker! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” and “My Guitar Never Sleeps” (originally titled “Diary Of A Motherfucker” but my printers refused to print unless I changed the title....), by Pedro Mercedes. We'd taken a break from him in issue 3 and this special issue would be #4. It seemed like a natural fit so we went for it, printed up 1,000 copies and pretty much sold them in no time at all. I even set up a stall in the foyer of the Marquee at a Thunders show, to sell copies. In walks Johnny and entourage – I'd not previously met him – and he's steered towards the table behind which I nervously waited. Briefest of introductions ensues, I'm tongue tied as usual, I hand him a couple of copies and off he goes to the dressing rooms. My one and only direct encounter with Mr Johnny Thunders.

I've excerpted Part Five from the magazine, the last part.

Johnny Thunders - "Cosa Nostra Never Sleeps" by Nina Antonia

January 1984 is spent in Sweden. Being linked to every kind of sonofabitch baby eating drug craze fiend from Hell hasn't injured Johnny's commercial potential in that country one bit. In fact the opposite holds true, as “Hurt Me” quickly climbs the national charts. 15,000 copies are shifted worldwide in its first two weeks of release.

London February 1984

Tony James mixes Billy Rath's bass line out of its original quicksand on “Pirate Love”. Thunders nods his approval and starts listening to the playback. The pair are in Greenhouse Studios, hunched alternately across the mixing desk or around the heater, trying to restore “L.A.M.F.” to what it should always have sounded like. Thunders chains himself to the tapes, ignoring the early morning chill that has everyone else present huddled into coats or blankets.

The latest in an endless line of cigarettes hanging from his lips, he pounds his fists on his knees, mixing the drum opening to “Born To Lose” “Do it harder. Harder. The first crash has gotta be harder – really bangy!”

Re-mixed "Born To Lose" from "L.A.M.F. Revisited"

Christopher arrives, pleased at the productivity around him. The present situation, for perhaps the first time in almost a decade, allows for a careful optimism.

During 1983, Thunders played 45 concerts, established himself with production work, and now, less than a month distant, a Heartbreakers reunion concert is planned, with a live album and a video due from the results of it.

Christopher Gierke; “They have new openings – films, videos, records...they've got the talent and energy, with more long as they keep away from drugs...”

The Heartbreakers pull off an unexpected coup on the ears of England when, on March 24th, Radio One's Richard Skinner plays (the censored) “Get Off The Phone” as a preface to interviewing Johnny on his show. Johnny makes sure to get in a few plugs for “Hurt Me”, until Skinner asks if, in fact, it's true that...

Skinner - “...Walter's working as a commodity broker on Wall Street?”
Johnny - “Believe it or not, yeah.”
Skinner - “He's having a quick vacation with The Heartbreakers?”
Johnny - “He goes back to work on Wednesday.”

The Lyceum. London's Strand.
25th March 1984 .

The day of the re-united Heartbreakers' London concert.

Walter Lure crosses one leather bound leg over the other in an effort to get comfortable in the dressing room's narrow chair. He hunts through the pockets of his long blue overcoat for a cigarette; mumbles about how he should have washed his hair, and pushes it under his cap before picking up his guitar to pose for a photograph for me. It's a long way back to Wall Street.....

Johnny & Walter

I ask him what he thinks of the re-mixed “L.A.M.F.” and he shrugs;

WL - “I haven't heard it yet. Everyone who has says it's good but I've not heard it.”

NA - “I was there in the studio when they were doing it.”

WL - “Yeah? Did it sound better?”

NA – “It did....but you know, in the studio, you just hear bits and bobs...”

WL - “Yeah, that's the problem. See, even when we did the original, it sounded great in the studio, but as soon as it went on a record, it sounded fucked up. We couldn't get around that; every time we gave them a new tape, it sounded screwed up, so I don't know what went wrong....the pressing or the mixing...I'll have to see when this thing comes out if it really does sound better.”

NA - “Are you looking forward to playing tonight?

WL - “Ummm....that'll be fun. There's so much audience. We got a video tape goin', we got a new live album....if we blow it, it's gonna be a nightmare. But it should be okay. Something might come out of, tours, something like that. I could quit my job and go back to being a musician again, but....until that time comes....I'll struggle along.


As the minibus deposits them at the Lyceum's back entrance, Billy cocks an appraising eyebrow at the solid block that winds straight down the Strand, as far as it's possible to see.

Photos of Johnny by Nina Antonia

The addition of a recording and film crew had perhaps un-nerved Thunders slightly. Whatever the reason, he sinks eight large vodkas before leading the band on-stage, to the theme music from “The Man With The Golden Gun”.

The Man With The Golden Gun - Lulu

It's the ultimate rock'n'roll line-up, and the audience, packed in SO tightly, knows it. Before the tumultuous cheering, stamping of feet and hurtling of beer cans has even slowed, the Heartbreakers have launched straight into “Pipeline”, Johnny's unofficial anthem.

The original "Pipeline" by The Chantays

These men breathe style; their chemical reaction with one another is viciously lethal. The unspoken aggravation between Lure and Thunders' guitars provides a sound with a potency as shocking as kissing an electric grill, both taking turns on lead with equal ease and urgency.

At one point during the set, Johnny walks over and kicks out at the bass player's legs. Rath's venomous glare is enough to instantly send Thunders pirouetting to stage front like a demented prima donna.

Jerry Nolan, as ever, ignores the antics of his colleagues and pounds out the beat behind their electric/emotional games, consummating the event; the guitars are in a blistering interplay of steely arrows of noise over Rath's throbbing bass.

There is something dark and hilariously sinister about watching this rabid, sexy pack of debauchees singing “Seven Day Weekend”, gloating like a street gang over a stray freshman tasking them directions.

Thunders cuts short his acoustic spot; “Awwrite....that's enough of this shit....I'll get th' boys back on...”

The Boys

The Heartbreakers are back, gunning from the lower levels; time has made them harder.

Thunders is drunk...
Rath looks annoyed....
Lure looks nonchalantly bored...
Nolan looks as unmoved and unbeatable as ever...

Johnny decides, during a guitar pause in “So Alone” to add a touch of blasphemy to his list of public sins. He tells us a moving tale of the kid on the Lower East Side who gets fucked by “the big black guy in leathers”. Thunders then piously makes the sign of the cross before intoning slowly:

“Our father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name....fuck you!”

Photo by Nina Antonia

Johnny Thunders. The Heartbreakers. Nobody else even comes close to their shadows, and their souls were pawned long ago.

Nina Guidio

by Pedro Mercedes

Following The Heartbreakers' re-union shows, Waldo returned to Wall Street, and Sylvain Sylvain joined Johnny'n'Jerry'n'Billy for J.T.'s “Revenge '84” tour of Sweden. During the tour, new songs were previewed (including “Countdown Love”, “Size Ten Shoes” and “Have Faith”). On completing a tour of Europe and the Soviet Union, Johnny returned triumphant to London for “Thunders Week” at The Marquee, showcasing Thunders at his best.

Sylvain had to return to NYC prior to the London shows due to family matters. Johnny recorded two songs with Patti Palladin, “Crawfish”, an old Elvis number from “King Creole” and an original, “Tie Me Up” (re-titled “Love Not”). After a few dates around the country, Jerry'n'Billy quit Johnny to return to domestic life in Sweden. Johnny had been booked on a double headlining nationwide UK tour with Finnish refugees Hanoi Rocks.

"Crawfish" by Elvis Presley

"Crawfish" by Johnny Thunders & Patti Palladin

A new band was hastily assembled, Terry Chimes (drums), Keith Jon (bass), Dick Trueman (guitar). Next on the schedule were dates in Germany, in December. Only Keith Jon remained. Tony St. Helene (drums) and Henri-Paul (guitar) were drafted in. 1984 ended and Johnny had played a total of 95 concerts during the year.

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