Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Johnny Thunders - Live at Max's Kansas City, 1980

Johnny Thunders was like the house band of our punk days. We must have seen him 15 or 20 times, always a blast, always a party ... part standup comic, part crooner ... a full-fledged heroin addict who was like most junkies in turn equal parts disturbing and amusing. But he was our Frank Sinatra in a lot of ways. No two shows were alike, and his stage banter was interspersed with nasty asides directed at the audience, who was always either too comatose or too noisy for Thunders' liking depending on which night you caught him on. But when he was on, I guess if the smack was good that night, he put on a show that put other, more dependably sober artists to shame. And of course the songs were just so good and catchy that they caught you by surprise. His blistering version of the instrumental Pipeline on So Alone is still in my mind the best version of that song ever recorded. Live at Max's Kansas City is in many ways the ultimate punk document, with songs like All By Myself, Get Off The Phone and One Track Mind -- a true snapshot in time of what it was like to be young and addicted. Thunders only really made one solo studio record that measured up to his live shows, but So Alone is essential listening.

I have always thought, or at least lately have come to admit, that to me Johnny Thunders' guitar work, especially on that first New York Dolls record, often sounded like a distressed mother elephant frantically calling for her lost young calf. But that's just me. Others may have completely different reactions. Discuss among yourselves...

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