Rock Bottom:
Dark Moments in Music Babylon
by Pamela Des Barres

link to cover photo

Pamela Des Barres' "Rock Bottom" deals with, as the subtitle announces, "dark moments in music Babylon." The book has pieces written about rockers ranging from the megapopular Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain to obscure legends like Gram Parsons and G.G. Allin. The book has a chapter devoted to Johnny Thunders that is fairly informative. Even though the book is an entertaining read, books of these sorts are highly sensationalized. If there was an essential quality to Johnny Thunders (like his demeanor, his guitar style, or "Born to Lose"), it is not present in Des Barres' prose.

The most obvious lasting legacy of Thunders was his music, which Des Barres pays very little attention to, only commenting on it if it was a "chart success" or not. Her chapter on Thunders' is a highly condensed version of the story of his life, focusing specifically on the darker aspects of his lifestyle, of which there were many (and to which the book's thesis was devoted to). Even though she does not detail the origins of his heroin addiction the way Nina Antonia does (in her book "Too Much Too Soon"), she provides some information that I was not aware of. I did not know of the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death in New Orleans in 1991. In an interview with Thunders' sister, Marion, she says, "I believe there was foul play," adding, "[from his room] his suits were missing, the money, his passport, all his stage makeup, everything. Nothing was recovered . . . The police didn't even rope off the area." Marion also claims that the New Orleans Police Department has only half of the police report. Apparently, the other half is missing. Adding to the confusion, the coroner's report said that Thunders' had leukemia (he only six weeks left to live, the doctor told her), and there were traces of methadone in his system. It is not clear whether the methadone reacted adversely with his body. Also, I did not know Thunders was married or that he had three children (two with his wife). This story ends up sadly as well. Thunders' wife Julie, fed up with his junkie business, left him in 1981. She took their children with her (at the time, their son Dino was only three months old). Thunders never saw his children again for the rest of his life. The remainder of the chapter is filled with easily attainable information about Thunders from any Rock N' Roll History Book.

One disappointing aspect of the piece, which is thirteen pages long, is that it spends less than three whole pages discussing his time in the New York Dolls. The chapter owes more to the fact that he lived way beyond his conceivable expiration date rather than presence as a highly influential guitarist, singer and songwriter. This short piece is recommended to any new fans just discovering the music of the New York Dolls or Johnny Thunders, but for hardcore fans, it is a quick read with a couple of interesting facts but missing entirely the dynamics at work in his life and his music.

Review by Brian Flota

Title: Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon
Author: Pamela DesBarres
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 329 Year:1996

From The Johnny Thunders Cyber Lounge
Created by: Chris Ridpath
Last modified: September 6, 1999