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NEW YORK - New York City was a gritty place in 1972 and, was in a state of urban decay. A lot of people have left the city and moved out to the suburbs to look for a better less congested way of life. The now-empty streets were filled with drugs, rats, rapists, murderers, and one could die at any minute. It was in this filth that some of rock and rolls greatest icons were born. The New York Dolls emerged from this rotting city in plight, along with Kiss, and soon many others. There was not an active rock and roll scene in the early '70s but that was soon about to change. The movie "Looking For Johnny Thunders" us a unique look at one of rock music's unsung heroes.

Directed by Danny Garcia, this film provides insight into the mysterious life of one of Rock's hellacious guitarists and untimely deaths. The film opens up with a candid film clip of Thunders being interviewed about his artistry and explains "Nobody really listens, nobody really knows what I want to do. Nobody cares.". When asked what he wanted to do he simply says, "leave". This sets up the premise for the film because Johnny uncompromisingly lives his life. The film is jam-packed with insights from people who knew him personally like Walter Lure, Alan Vega, Lee Black Childers, Nearl X, Terry Chimes, Sami Yaffa, Nina Antonia, and New York Doll's manager Marty Thau. The musical soundtrack for the film is from The New York Dolls, The Heartbreakers, Actress, which is all of the bands' Thunders was associated with.

It All Began In Queens, New York

Johnny Genzale was born in 1952 in Queens, New York on July 15. He was raised by his mother Nina and sister Maryanne. He attended PS 148 grade school with the Dictators Andy Shernoff. Young Johnny had aspirations of playing professional baseball and claims he was spotted by a recruiter for the Los Angeles Dodgers. His aspirations to play professional ball ended when he first encountered The Beatles. After that music became the focal point of all ambitions. Johnny is inspired by girls' groups such as The Angels and The Shangri-Las. Johnny soon forms a band of his own called the Reign and even cuts a single "The Green Spectacles".

Johnny would travel to England and would find musical inspiration. He would also spend time at The Filmore East, where he observes the top rock acts. After a night of running around in Little Italy's San Gennaro Festival, he and a friend wind up at Nobodys bar. It is here that he meets up with musicians Sylvain Sylvain, and Arthur Killer Kane from the band Actress. They connect, and Johnny is eventually asked to play in their band. A friend comments that the group needs a lead singer to match their rough and raw sound. He refers them to a neighbor, David Johansen, who has a long mane of unruly hair and facial expressions like Mick Jagger. The newly formed group goes out and gets gigs at the Mercer Arts Center in New York City.

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At the time of the formation of the New York Dolls there wasn't a rock and roll scene. The band would dress up in high heels, women's clothing, and have wild long hair. The idea to do this was not to promote homosexuality but to appear as living playthings for women. Little girls like to play with dolls and the public actually ate it up. Nothing was too outrageous and their crazed stage presence attracted female followers. It is interesting to note that homosexuality was outlawed in 1972 one could get arrested. Frank Infante, from the iconic rock band Blondie, commented that The New York Dolls looked like a comic book. Richard Lloyd, from the rock band Television, said that the crowd dressed up just as outrageous as the Dolls. Alan Vega, from Suicide, and photographer Bob Gruen add additional commentary. The early star is rising for this makeshift rock and roll band.

Guitarist Slyvain Slyvain works at Truth and Sole clothing store during the day. The New York Dolls are a hit in the Bowery at CBGB's bar but moves to Max's Kansas City where bands were paid better. The Andy Warhol crowd would frequent Max's including such screen stars as Candy Darling, Ultra Violet, and the Velvet Underground. Johnny Thunders has a head of unruly hair and is known as the nickname "Wig City". New York Dolls band manager, Marty Thau, gets an idea to connect them with two producers Steve Leber, and David Krebs. The band makes a play to get signed but record labels steer clear because of their outrageous dress. The band goes to England to open up for Rod Stewart at Wembly.



The band makes big waves in the U.K. and this has been noted by Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols and Morrissey from the Smiths. Morrissey is a young teenager and becomes obsessed with them and starts The New York Dolls Fanclub president. On November 6, 1972 drummer Billy Murcia overdoses on drugs and alcohol, and his friends try to revive him in a bathtub. They pour hot coffee down his throat to revive him and he chokes on his own regurgitation and dies. Murcia is 21 years old.

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Jerry Nolan tries out to be the new replacement beating out 20 other drummers, and the band is signed to Mercury Records. They sign on for a 2-year contract and the label isn't completely sold on them. For the cover of their debut album, the band members are dressed up like transvestites with makeup and lipstick. Film commentators say the band never looked like this ever and it was all image. This comes at a time when being outrageous was in. Rocker Iggy Pop cuts himself on stage and requires 16 stitches and this was the audience's taste of the day.

The Dolls are signed at Max's Kansas City for a 6-night appearance. They play alongside with Birtha, Bobby Whitlock, and Loudon Wainwright III. Bassist Arthur Killer Kane has a violent home altercation with his then-girlfriend who mutilates him. She tries to cut his thumb off. Battered and worse for wear Arthur continues to perform at the famous Whiskey A Go-Go for an epic 4 nights doing two shows a night. It is around this time that Iggy Pop introduces Johnny Thunders to heroin.



Johnny Thunders starts to develop a signature sound by 1973. He opts for the cheap Les Paul guitar body with a single pick up that one could purchase for around $90 dollars. It has a wrap-around bridge and he could tune it quickly during a live show. He would feed that guitar through a Fender Twin Reverb speaker with the volume turned up to 10. This full-on blasting sound becomes the trademark Johnny Thunders sound. They tour England again and appear at the Divas Club. By this time Johnny is inspired by Chuck Berry and Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones.

The second album was produced by Shadow Morton who wrote songs for The Shangri-Las. This album has more drama and theater and is bluesy. Its themes are comedic in nature and bizarre. The song "Bad Detective" has campy Chinatown overtones with a rock and roll beat. The song "Stranded In The Jungle" is another campy tune with jungle beats, animal cries, and kitsch 1950's rock and roll beats. These songs are lesser-known but overall forgettable. The song "Chatterbox" on the other hand generates more heart from the band and the fans and was incorporated into their live sets for years to come. The song would get covered by The Heartbreakers and Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols. The band ends up touring and stops by in Metro Detroit in a shopping mall type venue.

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The musicians' excesses start to take a toll on the entire band. Arthur Killer Kane drinks to excess and during a performance in Cleaveland, Ohio he keeps playing after the band leaves the stage. The audience mistakes his extensive playing for a bass solo. The band wears out its welcome with Mercury and finds itself without any management. Fan and clothing store owner Malcom McLaren takes an interest and offers to change the band's image and get them shows lined up. The new image makes use or Communism and red leather suits. They play on stage in front of a big hammer and sickle flag for shock value. The theme here is red patent leather. Lead singer David Johansen's ego proves to be difficult to work with bandmates complain. The band falls apart while on tour in Florida. They end up staying with Jerry Nolan's family.

Tensions rise as heroin enters the scenes. To make things worse manager Malcom McLaren informs the band members that they are all replaceable. Sylvain and Johnny Thunders take offense to this. The bandmates split up and head for the airport. Sylvain leans out the car window as yells out to the bandmates "Hey what about The New York Dolls?". Drummer Jerry Nolan reportedly turns around and says "Fuck The New York Dolls" and continues to walk into the airport and with that, the band was finished.

Johnny Thunders then focusses on his own ideas for great rock songs. He is undefeated and starts to assemble his own musicians. He has a name and contacts with venues like CBGB's and Max's Kansas City. He sticks with his raw rock and roll roots and uncompromising sound. The drugs become a mainstay. The drug scene in New York City by 1973 is rampant and street violence is escalating. This movie goes on to talk about Thunders and his later creative projects and his odd and mysterious death. This film puts together bits and pieces of the legend that is Thunders by interviewing many important people in his life. This is a rare opportunity to hear from the people who actually knew him personally. Their observations and brief but historical nuggets make this film an overall joy to watch.



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