Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls, Heartbreakers)

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New York Dolls (1973), 8/10
Too Much Too Soon (1974), 6/10
L.A.M.F. (1977), 7.5/10
So Alone (1978), 6/10
New Too Much Junkie Business (1983), 6/10
Hurt Me (1984), 6/10
Que Sera Sera (1985), 5/10

Johnny Thunders and his cohorts of tranvestites, the New York Dolls, played furious and catchy rock'n'roll on their debut album, New York Dolls (1973). Their trash aesthetic descended from the Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground, but their frantic pace descended from the rockers of the 1950s and from the surf bands of the early 1960s, while their anthemic melodies came from the Who and the Animals. But what made them dangerous was the fire power (all instruments were played like automatic weapons) and the attitude (not exactly consistent with the prevailing mood of re-alignment). Thunders went on to form the Heartbreakers (1), who were, basically, an updated version of the New York Dolls for the punk generation. The songs on L.A.M.F. (1977) were slogans, and the album as a whole was a personal diary.
(Translated by Giorgio Curcetti)

Johnny Thunders is one of the most important figures of 1970s' rock'n'roll reinassance which would lead to punk-rock. Besides being a link between the Velvet Underground's decadent rock, the outrageous rock of the Stooges, Marc Bolan's glam-rock and hardcore, Thunders updated for a new age the character of the desperate loner/loser, so typical of the American culture, and which would have served as a moral prototype for the following decade. Haunted, like many other rock heroes, by the very same damned stance which he had built for himself, Thunders was forced to remain coherent with his isolation until his death.

Revaluating the hard'n'dirty rock of the 1960s, the one still drenched in Merseybeat, and inaugurating rock music for homosexuals, Thunders contributed in a fundamental manner to the emancipation of decadent rock from the stereotypes of hystrionics for their own sake.

The New York Dolls were the transvestite band par excellence. They formed in New York in 1971 (when Johnny Thunders' Actress met the singer David Johansen) in New York most dubious clubs. The band mimicked and amplified the look and sound of the Rolling Stones, with Johansen imitating Mick Jagger's outrageous posturing. But their power was of another order of magnitude: Jerry Nolan's rhythmical vehemence was the sonic equivalent of an epilectic fit, Arthur "Killer" Kane spewed out glooming notes from his bass, Bo Diddley-style, and Syl Sylvain duelled to the sound of heavy metal sword-like guitars with the stony sarcasm of Johnny Thunders' guitar. Their rhythm and blues was dissected by neurotic charges la Stooges and by a precise intent to destroy in the style of the MC5. The songs attacked with elementary and pressing rhythms, augmented by anthemic choruses and by a savage and ferocious playing spirit. Their first album, New York Dolls (Mercury, 1973), lines up a terrifying set of supersonic riffs, of epilectic distortions, and shouted howls. One side all impetus and propulsion, worked up and arresting (Thrash, with beat backing vocals, Bad Girl, the giddy rock and roll of Subway Train, the tribal Private World, Jet Boy, with an electrifying solo and hand-clapping rhythms) and one side all poison and perversion, tormented and screeching (the epilectic Personality Crisis, the martial Looking for a Kiss, the poisonous ballad Vietnamese Baby) constitute on the whole the most depraved and gripping depiction of the delinquential New York underground, are eight fired-up masterpieces which do away with years of sonic rubbish and create a bridge between underground and punk. Truculent and outrageous, the five transvestites bring back the sixties' gutar based sound, epidermic riffs and savage distortions, tribal rhythms and epic choruses. Forever urban outsiders, the New York Dolls could claim to have invented a debauched New York which was a blueprint for the violent New York of punk. Their animal magnetism spreaded in clubs and inspired a new generation of rebellious teenagers; but the group split up after the mediocre Too Much Too Soon, which applies eccessive trust principally on the covers.

The singer, David Johansen, typical figure of the debauched hooliganism of the Lower East Side, gave with his album David Johansen (Blue Sky, 1978) maybe the last gem of a decadent kind of music, an album which continues the suburban saga of his old band with Girls, Funky But Chic, Frenchette, Donna, Cool Metro, played in a powerful bar-band style. After two more commercial albums, vindicated only by the long anthem Flamingo Road, on In Style (1979), and by the heavy metal of My Obsession, on Here Comes the Night (1981), Johansen converted himself to synth-pop with Sweet Revenge (Passport, 1984), which shows off the parody rap King of Babylon and the warring anthem Heard the News, Johansen will end up singing swing, calypso, rhythm and blues and cabaret under the nostalgia banner and the pseudonym Buster Pointdexter (RCA, 1987), augmented by the arrangements of Joe Delia and a surprising latin crooning.

In the meantime Thunders had formed the Heartbreakers, with Nolan on drums and the young Richard Hell on bass (replaced by Billy Rath), with Walter Lure as a perfect lead guitarist-vocalist foil for Thunders, who created successfully a breathless rock and roll record which, from urban violence, projects frenzy and the wildest instincts. Although more directly autobiographical and more sentimental, the album L.A.M.F. (Track, 1977) which stands for Like A MotherFucker, doesn't renounce to the New York Dolls sadistic and desperate attitude, and the impact of the songs is still dazzling: an avalanche of progressively beastly sounds. The clou is represented by the melodic slogans sang chorally all at once at the end of their sonic excursions: Born to Lose (the self-portrait) and Richard Hell's Chinese Rocks, menacing and boastful. The method consists in an epilectic frenzy which opens up in epic choruses like the ones in Get Off the Phone, All by Myself, One Track Mind. And the fillers are dizzy means for raging dances (Baby Talk, I Wanna Be Loved), or cocky beat lullabies (I Love You), The vehemence of this record is the most direct testimonial of the spirit which animated the New York clubs on the eve of the punk era. Those riffs and those elementary choruses, thrown at a crazy speed on the general noise of the instruments, announced a deep revolution in the way to conceive rock (concision, absence of virtuosisms, pounding drumming), The album came out in an horrible version, the original masters would eventually brought out by Jungle (1984).

Unfortunately the Heartbreakers would never release another normal album and, after having recorded the subdued So Alone (Real, 1978) to his name (which contains Great Big Kiss, Leave Me Alone, You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory), Thunders disappeared, brought to his knees by heroin and lack of recognition. In the following years his discography was enrichened by albums recorded live which recycled ad infinitum old material. The E.P. IN Cold Blood (New Rose, 1983) contains two new classics, Diary of a Lover and In Cold Blood. New Too Much Junkie Business (ROIR, 1983), half live hand half recorded in studio, contains again Diary of a Lover and In Cold Blood, plus Too Much Junkie Business and So Alone. The E.P. Diary of a Lover (PVC, 1984) duplicates Diary of a Lover and In Cold Blood and adds Endless Party. Que Sera Sera (Jungle, 1985) duplicates Endless Party but at least adds Little Bit of Whore. Hurt Me (New Rose, 1984) is an acoustic album, maybe Thunders' most sincere, ennobled over all by the scream of pain of Hurt Me. Copy Cats (Restless, 1988) is a compilation of covers and Gang War (Zodiac, 1990) an album recorded with the MC5 guitarist, Wayne Kramer. They are records where Thunders vents his passion for the Rolling Stones, and that bring him back on a more human plane, with no tricks or masks.The chaos concerning his discography will be solved thanks to the double anthology album Born Too Loose (Jungle, 1999), which gathers all his classics.

Johnny Thunders e` una delle figure piu` importanti del rinascimento rock and roll degli anni '70 che portera` al punk-rock. Oltre a fungere da cinghia di trasmissione fra il rock decadente dei Velvet Underground, il rock oltraggioso degli Stooges, il glam-rock di Marc Bolan, e l'hardcore, Thunders aggiorno` a una nuova era la figura del loner/loser disperato che e` tipica della cultura Americana, e che avrebbe funto da fondamenta morale per il decennio successivo. Perseguitato, come tanti altri eroi del rock, dalla stessa figura di maledetto che si era costruito, Thunders fu costretto a rimanere coerente fino alla morte con il suo isolamento.

Rivalutando il rock duro e sporco degli anni '60, quelli ancora intrisi di beat, e lanciando il rock per omosessuali, Thunders contribuiti` in modo determinante all'emancipazione del rock decadente dagli stereotipi dell'istrionismo fine a se stesso.

I New York Dolls furono il complesso di travestiti per eccellenza. Si formarono a New York nel 1971 (quando gli Actress di Johnny Thunders incontrarono il cantante David Johansen) nei club piu` equivoci di New York.
Il gruppo copiava e accentuava il look e il sound dei Rolling Stones, con Johansen a imitare le pose oltraggiose di Mick Jagger. Ma la potenza di fuoco era di un altro ordine di grandezza: la veemenza ritmica di Jerry Nolan era l'equivalente sonoro di una crisi epilettica, Arthur "Killer" Kane vomitava suoni cupi dal basso nello stile di Bo Diddley, e Syl Sylvain (Mizrahi) duellava a suon di sciabolate heavy-metal con il sarcasmo pietroso della chitarra di Johnny Thunders. Il loro rhythm and blues era dilaniato da scariche di nevrosi alla Stooges e da un preciso intento al massacro in stile MC5. I pezzi aggredivano con cadenza elementare ed incalzante, forti di ritornelli da anthem corali e da uno spirito esecutivo selvaggio e feroce.
Il primo album, New York Dolls (Mercury, 1973), allinea un repertorio terrificante di riff supersonici, di distorsioni epilettiche, di urla sgolate. Una facciata tutta impeto e propulsione, scalmanata e trascinante (Thrash, con i coretti beat, Bad Girl, il rock and roll vertiginoso di Subway Train, la tribale Private World, Jet Boy, con un elettrizzante assolo a ritmo di clapping) e una facciata tutta veleno e perversione, tormentata e lancinante (l'epilettica Personality Crisis, la marziale Looking For A Kiss, la ballad velenosa Vietnamese Baby) costituiscono nell'insieme il piu` depravato ed avvincente affresco del sottobosco delinquenziale newyorkese, sono otto capolavori infuocati che spazzano via anni di rifiuti sonori e fanno da ponte fra underground e punk. Truci e oltraggiosi, i quattro travestiti riportano alla ribalta il sound chitarristico dei Sixties, i riff epidermici e le distorsioni selvagge, i ritmi tribali e i ritornelli epici.
Disadattati urbani per antonomasia, i New York Dolls potevano vantarsi di aver inventato la New York del vizio che tenne a balia la New York violenta dei punk.
Il loro magnetismo animale dilago` nei club notturni ed ispiro` una nuova generazione di teenager ribelli; ma il gruppo si sciolse dopo il mediocre Too Much Too Soon (Mercury, 1974), che fa leva soprattutto sulle covers.

Il cantante, David Johansen, tipico esponente del teppismo depravato del Lower East Side, diede con David Johansen (Blue Sky, 1978) forse l'ultima gemma del genere decadente, un album che continua la saga suburbana del vecchio complesso con Girls, Funky But Chic, Frenchette, Donna, Cool Metro, eseguiti in un possente stile da bar-band. Dopo due album piu` commerciali, riscattati soltanto dal lungo inno di Flamingo Road, su In Style (1979), e dall'heavy metal di My Obsession, su Here Comes The Night (1981), Johansen si converti` al synth-pop con Sweet Revenge (Passport, 1984), che sfoggia il rap parodistico King Of Babylon e l'anthem guerrigliero Heard The News. Johansen finira` a cantare swing, calypso, rhythm and blues e cabaret della nostalgia sotto lo pseudonimo di Buster Poindexter (RCA, 1987), forte degli arrangiamenti di Joe Delia e di un sorprendente crooning latino.

Nel frattempo Thunders aveva formato gli Heartbreakers, con Nolan alla batteria e il giovane Richard Hell al basso, i quali indovinarono ancora un disco di rock and roll mozzafiato che della violenza urbana proietta la frenesia e gli istinti piu` bradi.
Benche' piu` direttamente autobiografico e piu` sentimentale, l'album L.A.M.F. (Track, 1977), che sta per "like a mother fucker", non rinuncia all'indole sadica e disperata dei New York Dolls, e l'impatto dei brani e` ancora stordente: una valanga di suoni bestiali in progressione. Il clou e` rappresentato dagli slogan melodici cantati in coro tutto d'un fiato al termine di scorribande furibonde: Born To Lose (l'autoritratto) e Chinese Rocks (di Richard Hell), minacciosa e reboante. Il metodo consiste in una frenesia epilettica che sfocia in ritornelli epici come quelli di Get Off The Phone, All By Myself, One Track Mind. E i riempitivi sono cadenze vertiginose per danze scalmanate (Baby Talk, I Wanna Be Loved) o spavalde filastrocche beat (I Love You). La veemenza di questo disco e` la testimonianza piu` diretta dello spirito che infervorava i club di New York alla vigilia dell'era punk. Quei riff e quei ritornelli elementari, scaraventati a velocita` pazzesche sul frastuono generale degli strumenti, annunciavano una rivoluzione profonda nel modo di concepire il rock (concisione, assenza di virtuosismi, drumming martellante). L'album venne pubblicato in una versione orrenda. I masters originali verranno pubblicati (Jungle,

Purtroppo gli Heartbreakers non riuscirono mai a pubblicare un altro album regolare e, dopo aver inciso il dimesso So Alone (Real, 1978) a proprio nome (che contiene Great Big Kiss, Leave Me Alone, You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory), Thunders svani` nel nulla, provato dall'eroina e dall'incomprensione. Negli anni seguenti la sua discografia si arricchi` di album registrati dal vivo che riciclavano all'infinito il vecchio materiale. L'EP In Cold Blood (New Rose, 1983) contiene due nuovi classici, Diary Of A Lover e In Cold Blood. New Too Much Junkie Business (ROIR, 1983), meta` live e meta` studio, contiene di nuovo Diary Of A Lover e In Cold Blood, oltre a Too Much Junkie Business e So Alone. L'EP Diary Of A Lover (PVC, 1984) duplica Diary Of A Lover e In Cold Blood e aggiunge Endless Party. Que Sera Sera (Jungle, 1985) duplica Endless Party e aggiunge almeno Little Bit Of Whore. Hurt Me (New Rose, 1984) e` un album acustico, forse il piu` sincero di Thunders, nobilitato soprattutto dal grido di dolore di Hurt Me. Copy Cats (Restless, 1988) e` una raccolta di covers e Gang War (Zodiac, 1990) un album registrato con il chitarrista degli MC5, Wayne Kramer. Sono dischi in cui Thunders sfoga la sua passione per i Rolling Stones, e che lo riportano su un piano piu` umano, senza travestimenti. Il caos discografico verra` dileguato grazie al doppio antologico Born Too Loose (Jungle, 1999) che raccoglie tutti i classici.

Johnny Thunders died in april 1991 at the age of 38 of a drug overdose in a New Orleans hotel. Nolan died of a stroke in january 1992.

Johnny Thunders died in April 1991 at the age of 38 of a drug overdose in a New Orleans hotel (but the family claims he was killed). Nolan died of a stroke in January 1992.

The two surviving New York Dolls reformed the band and released One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This (2006), mostly a Johansen album, the equally competent but dejavu Cause I Sez So (2009), and the not even competent Dancing Backward in High Heels (2011).

Sylvain died in 2020.

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