Great Documentary on the Legendary Johnny Thunders
John Anthony Genzale, aka Johnny Thunders, was a force of nature and one of the most important figures that came out of New York during the 1970s. He became well-known as the guitarist for the New York Dolls and for being a fantastic songwriter. To put it simply – without him, and the bands he was part of, there is no punk. The documentary Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders shares his life, as it parallels his music career, explaining his influence and his self-destructive behavior that never aided in his success.
In Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders, you come to find out that Johnny Thunders, born in New York, spent his youth playing baseball, forming bands, and traveling to see groups like the MC5 at the Fillmore East. How he would meet people like Sylvain Sylvain, Billy Murcia, Arthur Kane, and David Johansen to form his first successful band, the New York Dolls. Most importantly, you see why the New York Dolls meant so much to both the city of New York and punk rock.
As Johnny Thunders’ music career progresses, drugs enter the picture. Sylvain Sylvain even explains that he and Billy Murcia introduced Johnny to marijuana. After smoking a joint with Sly and Bill, Johnny buys a pound of pot the next day illustrating his excess with drugs. Eventually, someone (a person in the film says Iggy Pop) introduces him to heroin thus leading him to the junkie life. Substance abuse within the band would lead to the New York Dolls breaking up in 1975. Johnny Thunders would then form the band the Heartbreakers with Richard Hell, Jerry Nolan, and Walter Lure in 1976.
As most know, the most popular song for the Heartbreakers is “Chinese Rocks,” going hand and hand with why the band was unable to score a successful record deal or sell many albums due to their heroin addiction. This is when Johnny Thunders’ life begins to go downhill, and it’s a bit tragic to watch. There are attempts to get him off drugs, but nothing can stop Johnny from his self-destructive tendencies. Despite his influence and his ability, he was a man who was his own worst enemy. His problems were produced by his drug habit. Yet he states his drug habit is how copes with his problems. A pattern that he was never able to escape until his death in 1991.
After seeing the film, one should recognize how even the best of us cry for help in different ways. Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders starts with Johnny Thunders in front of the camera, speaking and looking strung out. He says, “nobody really listens.” The man behind the camera replies, “And that makes you want to leave?” Johnny replies, “yeah.”
In case you didn’t know, there is speculation on how Johnny Thunder died. His affirmation to “leave” within the opening of Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders makes one believe he was ready to end his life. Despite some evidence that Johnny Thunders was murdered, which the documentary also explains. And with that, I say, open your ears to the people you love. We are all fighting silent battles that could be silenced with a friendly voice.
Overall, the film Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders is a great presentation of the life of Johnny Thunders. They packed so much content in a short time frame and reveal everything you might wanna know about one of the best songwriters, and guitarist, that graced the early punk rock scene. Check it out, swine.