Contradiction was Johnny Thunders. He was a sweet kid, a loving father, a kind soul and a find musician. He was a hardened junkie, a hateful bastard, a terrible friend and nothing but a Keith Richards wannabe. The real Johnny Thunders was maybe all of this and more.
Almost ten years after his death, Nina Antonia has taken an unwavering look at the mixed up character that has both delighted and repulsed fans around the world. The first version of this biography was released in 1987 and copies of it are difficult and expensive to acquire. This new version has an additional 4 chapters that cover the last few turbulent years of Johnny's life. It has many new photographs and an updated discography by Freddy Lynxx. Also included is a 10 track CD featuring new mixes of favorite Thunders tunes and a 5 minute interview with Johnny that was recorded in 1984.
Nina interviewed Thunders many times and hung with him through the 1980's so she has a good grasp on what he was all about. She also interviewed many of his cohorts and family members to try and find the reality behind the myths and tall tales. Johnny's chaotic life is documented without judgement in a straightforward style that is both easy to read and difficult to put down. Sprinkled liberally throughout are photographs documenting the many stages of Thunders career, many with captions written by Johnny himself. This book covers his whole life from the early days in Queens New York to his final hours in New Orleans.
For those who would write him off, Thunders had a long recording career, spanning almost 20 years with many successes. The early Dolls recordings are still in print today and continue to influence young bands with their trash/glam/punk attitude. LAMF and DTK recordings are punk standards that document the important bridge between the U.S. and U.K punk scenes. The complex bittersweet sound of So Alone is a standard that many bands aspire to emulate. Later recordings such as the live shows in Japan are still selling quite well and the flood of bootleg recordings has never slowed. Background to these great, and not so great, recording sessions are documented in the book. So Alone, for example, was laid down in drug laden sessions with all the swirling turbulence of an atomic explosion.
Thunders always had a loyal following no matter how he treated the audience. No doubt there would be many more fans if not for the uneven performances and lack of good publicity. Fans new to Johnny have lots of material to cover but even the seasoned followers will find new tidbits about Johnny in this book, including details about his several films and notes on his later Japanese tours. Family life is also explored and Antonia is able to gather details that would be unavailable to most biographers. Nina notes all the high points and low points of Thunders career with care.
With the recent nomination of the New York Dolls for induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame it's time that Thunders was recognized as the fine musician that he was. His screeching penetrating guitar sound is as distinctive as rock 'n' roll is dirty. Johnny was not the 2 dimensional junkie rock star cliché that many may label him. He was a good kid that tangled with the demons of fame and drug addition and left music that lays it bare. This book is the definitive document that provides the context for any new or old Thunders fan to appreciate his sound. Antonia has captured the rough tenderness of Johnny's soul and made it available for those who dare.
Available from Jungle Books (they may still have some signed copies), Cherry Red Books, Amazon U.K.and others. 235 pages. Photo of Nina Antonia by Gary Lornie.
From The Johnny
Thunders Cyber Lounge
Last modified: December 26, 2000
Created by: Chris Ridpath