johnny thunders: love came in spurts

Jesse Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design )

Happy Birthday John Anthony Genzale, Jr., AKA Johnny Thunders (1952-1991).

American underground music might not have been quite the same without the protopunk guitarist Thunders, who was an integral part of one of punk rock’s earliest incarnations—The Heartbreakers—and significantly, also one of its immediate progenitors—The New York Dolls. Those projects and associations contributed to the primordial soup that eventually became punk rock (a child of many fathers, whose earliest origins can be traced, according to some sources, all the way to the Pacific Northwest of the mid-1960s), or at the least New York City’s contribution to that history. Not bad for a kid from Queens, and in spite of (or even fueled by) a nasty heroin habit.

---One of my favorite projects all time while in book publishing. I had a few Penguin projects at the "turn of the century" where I could cut loose as of old (a Pearl Jam book also comes to mind), almost bringing me back to The Rocket. The original Grove hardcover for this was designed by John Gall (same photo).---JMR

Thunders departure from the Dolls, along with drummer Jerry Nolan in 1975 (the band ultimately dissolved in 1977) lead to the formation of The Heartbreakers with departed Television bassist Richard Hell—and are considered part of the first wave of punk rock, depending on who’s side yer on in the debate. Though short-lived (the breakup of The Heartbreakers led to, significantly, the formation of Richard Hell and the Voidoids), The Heartbreakers were enormously important—Thunders was a killer guitarist—Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols has admitted how he patterned himself after Thunders—whose sound, although blues-influenced, had a nasty, growling tone and driving immediacy with ragged so-bad-it’s-good leads that launched Heartbreaker songs at you like a beer bottle hurtling at your head.

Thunders died from drug-related causes in 1991 (what authorities used to call “misadventure”), in a ransacked motel room. New Orleans police (no surprise) had no interest in pursuing the belief held by many that Thunders was not a self-inflicted overdose victim but (trying to gain control of his heroin addiction) had been relieved of his methadone supply, and his life.

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
Penguin, 1997 (Grove Press, renewed 2006)
Photograph: Roberta Bayley (The Heartbreakers, Thunders at right)
Design: Jesse Marinoff Reyes
Art Director: Paul Buckley

For another look at the early years of punk with a New York edge, don’t miss the Steven Kasher Gallery double-bill, opening July 21—Laura Levine: Musicians (35 vintage and modern photographic prints) and Rude and Reckless: Punk/Post-Punk Graphics, 1976-1982:

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