Guitarist for seminal rock band The New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders is legendary for two things, his distinctive guitar sound and his drug use. Sadly his drug use tended to overshadow his musicianship. Director Danny Garcia (The Rise And Fall Of The Clash) at least recognizes that and gives us plenty of the music whilst not shying away from the drug abuse.
From his childhood days through to his tragic death in 1991, Garcia uses the tried and true method of talking heads, snippets of music and quotes from Johnny himself to tell us the story of what is ultimately a waste of talent and a sordid and sad life. There’s Sylvain Sylvain, Jerry Nolan and Johnny talking about the NY Dolls days, former managers Marty Thau and Malcolm McLaren hovering in the wings then some frustrating silent black and white footage of the original Heartbreakers with Richard Hell before we get to see how Walter Lure has aged remarkably well whilst Billy Rath is a poster child for what drugs can and will do to you. Not a pretty sight at all.
There’s the Heartbreakers in the UK, where interestingly enough one musician blames Thunders for introducing heroin to the UK punk scene, there’s Johnny’s solo career, Gang War with Wayne Kramer, a look at the way that Europe and Japan sustained Johnny’s solo life, there’s moments where he is so fucken good it will break your heart, and moments where he’s so fucked up it will do the same.
Along the way we hear from a long list of luminaries, friends, musicians, fans and comrades in arms. All with their own little stories to tell, their own take on Johnny.
Ultimately though the feeling you get is one of missed opportunities, wasted talent and a wish that someone could have slapped him back to reality. Danny Garcia doesn’t shy away from the dangers of drugs, nor the fact that Thunders was his own worst enemy and for that we should be thankful.
This isn’t a fanboy documentary aimed at putting Johnny on a pedestal, instead it’s an attempt to show us what this enigmatic but frustratingly self-destructive musician was really like. Does it succeed? That’s for you to decide. Personally Garcia has made me want to go back and take another look at the career of a musician I always felt was over rated so I guess, yeah it has succeeded in some way. And anyone who thinks heroin chic is cool should just skip to the interview with Billy Rath.
Approx 43 mins worth of extras including video clips: All By Myself, Alone In A Crowd, Looking For Johnny, Rock’n’Roll Relics; deleted scenes; behind-the-scene and a trailer.
Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders is available on DVD from MVD Visual.