Saturday, November 15, 2014

Looking For Johnny Review & Show # 534

Looking For Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders is a documentary about the dangerous life and times of the New York Dolls and Heartbreakers guitarist. Written and directed by Danny Garcia, this film delves into the human condition as it relates to Johnny Thunders. To further add depth to this analysis there are interviews with a cast of characters who had a part in Thunders life such as Walter Lure, Billy Rath, New York Dolls manager Marty Thau, Sylvain Sylvain, to Lenny Kaye, Bob Gruen and Nina Antonia, among others. Born John Anthony Genzale Jr. in 1952, the film has a quote from Thunders where he describes his upbringing in its early moments which states, “I grew up with just my mother and sister and you know, you had to fight for every inch that you, every notch on your gun I guess you could say.” New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain also provides insight after we are informed of Thunders upbringing mentioning that there was always a void that Johnny carried with him. Johnny Thunders fought for every inch of his character and his career, with guns blazing so to speak, despite the excesses throughout his life.

In the early parts of this documentary, we learn of Johnny Thunders musical beginnings with his early bands The Reign, Johnny and The Jaywalkers and Actress, until he got connected with the members that were to become the New York Dolls. We see a young fresh faced, Johnny Thunders rise to popularity with the New York Dolls, but are also presented with the things that boiled beneath the surface of the band, as layers are peeled back we see the details behind the Dolls stage gimmick to how they were as people and how they operated as a band. We learn of the opinions of the band’s first album to their overlooked second album, Too Much Too Soon. The combination of the image presented of the band on their first album cover to the difficulties of the record label marketing the band and their introduction to drugs, all added to their eventual split. We also see how the songs on Too Much Too Soon particularly “Chatterbox” would lead to the sounds explored in Johnny Thunders next group, The Heartbreakers, who took their excesses to new extremes.

Another picture that Garcia paints throughout this film is the connection with people from Thunders past that pop up at various points throughout his career such as with drummer Jerry Nolan. The two had a musical connection that some might call familial and also Walter Lure, who would play sporadic live shows with Johnny in the 80s. But, with all this presented, Looking For Johnny is not all one sided. It does not just add to the myth that was Johnny Thunders of drugs and rock and roll, it probes deeper than that bringing to light the conflicted battles he had to deal with personally and as a musician. There is a great deal of coverage of Thunders post-Heartbreakers work such as his album In Cold Blood recorded with Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller, his life while living in Paris and Sweden, which also involved parts in several films to his time in Detroit as part of the group Gang War.

Bassist Adam Pearson of the English rock band Sisters Of Mercy provides a quote near the end of the film for more insight into Thunders character traits, “At the same time Johnny wanted significance, there was also this self-destructive pattern that would kick in when things were going too well.” Whether it be the early influence and popularity of the New York Dolls on what was to become punk rock, the conflicted mix on The Heartbreakers full-length album L.A.M.F. which caused drummer Jerry Nolan to quit the band, to his diverse solo career, this quote could be tied back to the beginnings of the film in conjunction with the later part of it. When we learn of the obstacles that Thunders dealt with prior to his death, we are presented with the facts and are not forced into one opinion. This method allows the viewer to contemplate and make up their own mind about Thunders controversial and tragic death.

Danny Garcia digs deep looking behind the haze of drugs that dominates the popular public opinion of who Johnny Thunders actually was. He looks behind the drugs to reveal the musician beneath, a prolific songwriter and at times a mystery. All sides are presented, the good, the bad in parts that make up the human condition in an unbiased way. Looking For Johnny helps to define the allure, but also adds to the influence of the career and life of Johnny Thunders.

Saturday Night Play List:

1. The Flaming Lips - Good Morning, Good Morning
2. The 13th Floor Elevators - Don’t Fall Down
3. Ariel Pink - White Freckles
4. Wampire - Bad Attitude
5. Drums Along The Gardiner - Fish
6. Huevos Rancheros - Raunchy
7. Cellos - Pilgrimage
8. The Francs - Situation
9. The Demics - Blueboy
10. Ex-Hex - How You Got That Girl
11. Neil Young - Payola Blues
12. Neil Young - Wonderin’
13. Bob Dylan & the Band - This Wheel's On Fire
14. The Band - Katie's Gone
15. Marianne Faithful - True Lies
16. Frankie & Jimmy - Let It Rock
17. Indian Wars - Wastin’ Time
18. Pow Wows - I Can See But You Don’t Know
19. The Prime Movers - I’m A Man
20. Hookworms - The Impasse
21. Johnny Thunders - Just Another Girl (Live August 6, 1982, Cambridge)
22. Johnny Thunders - In Cold Blood
23. Johnny Thunders - Sad Vacation
24. New York Dolls - Stranded In The Jungle
25. Wire - Lowdown

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for November 15. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.

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