Johnny Thunders ⚡️⚡️⚡️Nina Antonia

Extrapolating drugs, sex, rock n roll and great art is never easy.  Be it poets, artists, singers or the destitute, they all get wrapped in myths of madness, nymphomania, witchcraft, addiction, crazy clothes and all things normal members of society can’t be.  Thank you, Satan!  But when you’re one of the most romantic artists of the 20th Century, Johnny Thunders, there’s a frustration from biographer, Nina Antonia, in separating the goods from the chattels…

In Cold Blood was Nina Antonia’s first book, she was a struggling single mother and got a break with Leee Black Childers, Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders…they became her fam, an apprenticeship with rock n roll blood of the highest order…

It’s always hard to be a woman, she wanted to write but says she wasn’t the kind of girl, or person to be taken on by Sounds or NME. Already typecast as a cult heroine, working-class from Liverpool, the opportunity offered through this book was her golden dawn.

The rest, is written…yet I chiselled away a little more into the legend at this talk, and made this lil film for ya…

Punk, a label that many originals prefer to deny, gets blamed for spreading heroin from the boho set of the 60s to the football terraces of the 70s, whether there’s a wider conspiracy – like the way cocaine flooded the streets of Harlem in the race riots, who knows – smash the oiks…as Nina says, heroin was everywhere before punk, you could buy it in shops in the Kings Road, and Finsbury Park, the Irish ghetto was awash with it – but Nina seems to believe it’s a case of repackaging the old as something new… this time, the press created totems of behaviour (spitting, violence, rudeness, green mohawks, etc) which overshadowed the talent – and  in the same way that Johnny Thunders proudly stuck a needle in his hat, heroin became a symbol of its era, as the culture became commoditised into a look you could buy, and now appropriated into middle-class events at cinemas, and galleries, with Johnny Rotten sticking a finger up at the canon of the Queen and a burning, safety-pinned British flag.  How very quaint.  What’s clear is the seventies were bleak.  There wasn’t the panache of super-loans that we see now.  Powercuts were frequent, blamed on the poor (as Ballard notes in Highrise), money was scarce, squatting was normal, and the only option was to go out in a bin bag…now that trashsack is the meat-bikini of Gaga, or perhaps a post-bling world of filters where flagrant abundance of Primark devastates the future with plastic on beaches.  Today is a world of crap wigs, and Italian fashion companies tipping leather-dying byproducts into the eco-system.  The new punks tote Starbucks on Insta in a recession, wilfully sheltered in desire and post-modernist digital submission and corporate oppression – but the G at a Grindr party, or the sanitised normality of Adele or Ellie Gould, these poisons are as toxic and complex as Sid Vicious’ mum being a junky, lest not forget – heroin was not new, as it was not new in the 90s with heroin chic, it was not new when smoked in pipes in the 20s, nor had poppies never been seen in the Opium Wars of the 1800s.  LSD was not new in the 60s, and ecstasy was not new in the 90s, speed is still used to get soldiers marching in wars.  But drugs and subcultures often seem inexplicably bound, the psychedelic art of Beardsley to the acid of Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe,  the symbolic rhetoric of culture is never as simple as a stand-alone product, be it an album, book, poem or picture – because we are ether, we are sentient, and we take in all around us like the cellulose of our skin…pop culture’s symbols, be them flares, drainpipes, mini-skirts, kaftans, pills, pipes or needles often overshadow the art at the time, and it’s not until the products of art have been rinsed in a sieve of centuries that the good stuff sticks.   Yet the myth is always part of the attraction to legend.  Anaïs Nin, for example, is appealing because of her porn writing, and the mystery of her personality; Gertrude Stein, some of her writing is terrible, but her courtly abilities are as pithily attractive as a line of Dorothy Parker shouting down the Algonquin Table.

Although my punk pal, Bruno Wizard, of The Homosexuals would say there’s no such thing as subculture, or the underground, only what the government and establishment don’t want to be mainstream; ultimately, tabloids love to find new enemies such as Johnny Thunders to entertain, vilify and nail to the crosses of sacrifice.  It’s no coincidence that Nina Antonia has edited the diaries of Peter Doherty, who loved In Cold Blood…

Artists are forced to be as extreme as Van Gogh under the pressure of not conforming – to challenge the demonic hegemony of the day.  If they’re true geniuses.  And this is the mortal trap.  To be a true soothsayer, one must live outside of a system, like a monk – but this is the privilege of few layabouts, saints, and people who really can live on lentils 365.  Even Rimbaud gave up poetry to sell coffee.  The issue of current day culture is the system that raises those to be distributed is generally one of privilege.   Obscurity is ever easier on the internet, and without a little genie’s magick, it’s hard for smoke to be seen.  The cultural superstructures are so cataclysmically embroidered to the weaves of corporaations and networks, you’ve got to be in it to win it, to pervert from within.  If Vice is largely owned by Hearst, Disney, an ad company, and News International, all we can do is trust in the power of our art, and rock n roll.  As Nina says, play the game, or lose.
Whether Looking For Johnny is a hagiography or not (a word I learnt last night, meaning the method of creating saints in story),  any ripples in the pond lead towards a cultish or glorifying process and yeah, it’s impossible to explore a whole life in a film. But as Viv Albertine has been very clear to point out, the women are often left behind. Not in Looking For Johnny, one gets a sense of equality from a series of strong business women but aside those women, there’s a somewhat never-ending stream of floozies, muses, and beauties, invoking a ‘player-ness’ to the rockstar hero.  But perhaps there is a darker tale here, where actually women are far more than accessories, they are part of this hero-making crime, because Johnny is accused of beating someone, and it’s brushed over.  I thought it was just the lifestyle but serial domestic abuse is common in all situations and it made me wonder if this parade of women through his life, was actually more to do with the women saying no to the patriarchal blows of rock n roll, bored of the bruv-hood of bands and violent, vain frustrated bastardness.  Hanging like useless decorative objects to the carved bust of sex and drugs and rock n roll is a pretty pointless preoccupation, and most girls get with that programme, yet are still vindicated by their associations to this epic image frequently outdoing their own success.  The competition between women to be rock n roll empresses repeatedly enables this imbalance;  whether it’s Posh Spice hanging by Beckham, or Hilary Clinton double-matriarching Monika Lewinsky.  Many women believe matchmaking is a contract – but poets believe in love, and I for sure would rather die at that altar than rise with a pre-conceived maliciously intended gameplan, but life is full of greys, and freedom is rarely black and white.  But this phenomena of women enabling gender-roles to continue with all their romantic and flawed tropes is as crazy and beautiful as the fact that great artists are murderers, philanderers, rapists, and thieves.  Should we rip up every book by Burroughs because he shot his wife, or walk out on all the recordings of Joe Meek because he shot his landlady, before himself?  Carravagio was a murderer, but we still look at his gods over Italy…I know it’s hard to listen to Gary Glitter – but maybe it’ll come around again; Lewis Carroll, Benjamin Britten – they seemed to get away with it…Roman Polanksi, Woody Allen…as Johnny Thunders said, “You can’t put your arms around a memory…”

So, tortured genius, we salute you.  We take pleasure from your pain.  Nabakov, or die.  Without Keith Richards’ gonzo-ism, the fascination with the Stones would not be as great, without Madonna’s proclivity to boundary pushing ideas of sex, society would not have embraced liberal attitudes as easily, perhaps – or maybe, we’ve been cheated – and if we take it right back, there is nothing new, ever…the Greeks did it, the Romans – the Egyptians, ETs… but don’t forget women have ruled this world too, matriarchs maybe just need to be repackaged and glorious, and embracing and wild – because, like there is only one of each of us, there was only one Johnny Thunders…and without sex and drugs, rock n roll is straight and sober and uninspiring.   It’s great to have some Coldplays, because they make Nirvana look better.  Life’s edges are all so wilfully intertwined.  The only precipice is death and destruction – which is one hell of a muse.  Far stronger than any woman.  Or man.  And that cliff is the one walked by rock n roll at its finest.

 

Find Nina’s beautifully penned In Cold Blood, or her others on Peter Perrett from The Only Ones, or the bestselling: Too Much Too Soon about The New York Dolls (I need my copy, Ninaawwww!).  She writes thoughtfully, poetically and with great reverence to decent research and those that have flown the earth in laudanum twilights.  Nina Antonia is just finishing her first novel, which I can’t wait to read, and In Cold Blood is seeking the perfect Johnny T in Hollywood…

To hear more, watch the film above…x

It’s the lovely Colm Forde & Vanessa Lobon Garcia at Doc N Roll Festival who put the event together that sparked these deliverances, please do comment below.   Danny Garcia’s documentary about Johnny Thunders, Looking For Johnny was screened at ArthouseN8 on 21st August 2016. I’d intro’d for Doc N Roll before, at a special screening of The Sex Pistols’ The Filth and The Fury (Julien Temple) at the 100 Club to celebrate 40 years since the Pistols first played the stage – did a chat after with Viv Albertine and Skinny Girl Diet for Converse (will hopefully feature some of the convo about fashion and punk in the next ed of Cold Lips). 

Vive la Rock! x August 2016

When Kirsty first met Nina, 2015
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