LOOKING FOR JOHNNY – ” The Legend Of Johnny Thunders ” Movie

Posted: March 19, 2018 in MUSIC
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johnny thunders

He was the New York Doll-turned-junkie poster boy who had it all – and threw it away. Even many years after his death, the friends, lovers and people who knew him best reveal the man behind the myth.

April 29th, 1991. A leaden grey sky hangs oppressively over St. Anastasia’s Roman Catholic Church on 245th St, Queens, as friends and lovers, united in grief, gather to pay their final respects to John Genzale; husband, brother, son and father. Mariann Bracken has lost the prodigal kid brother she’d introduced to the New York City melodramas of the Shangri-Las when he was just a fresh-faced altar boy. Leee Black Childers is inconsolable – the former manager of the deceased fainted when informed of his death – unable to imagine life without the man he was “totally” in love with. Susanne Blomqvist, only now realising the true depth of sacrifice her life partner made when he walked out of the home they shared with their infant daughter for the last time, absently registers the names on the cards of the numerous floral tributes piled on the back of a black El Camino: Deborah Harry, Mötley Crüe, Aerosmith – a stark reminder of Genzale’s other life, the one that always seemed to get in the way of their ephemeral moments of domestic bliss.

Johnny Thunders’s story is so steeped in doomed glamour and junkie mythology that somewhere along the line the man that was John Anthony Genzale has been lost in the telling, but to know one you have to know the other. Born in the middle-class Jackson Heights area of Queens on July 15, 1952, the boy who would be Thunders was irrevocably shaped in infancy by the departure of his father Emil Genzale. A serial womaniser of no little prowess, Genzale Sr ultimately chose swordsmanship over fatherhood, leaving little Johnny to be brought up by his mother Josephine and doting elder sister Mariann.

Haunted by rejection in his formative years, yet indulged by his matriarchal Italian upbringing, the young Genzale grew up spoiled but unsatisfied. Initially infatuated by baseball, he finally found a focus for his adolescent anger and angst in the perpetual soundtrack of Brill Building rock’n’roll drifting across the hall from his sister’s Dansette; shrill, urban dramas of switchblade romance and leather-clad Lotharios, delivered by keening teenage girls teetering on the brink of hysteria.

As Genzale matured he developed musical tastes that reflected his self-image. A born dandy with a taste for the urban blues, haphazard ebony locks, and a rebellious streak the width of Broadway, it was inevitable that he should come to idolise Keith Richards. Entranced by rock’n’roll, Genzale made the leap from observer to protagonist in his mid-teens.

“Me and my cousin Janis used to go to the Fillmore East every Saturday,” his childhood friend Gail Higgins remembers. “Johnny and his friends would be on one side of the room, and we’d be on the other, staring at each other.”

The 16-year old Johnny and Janis eventually started dating. They rented an apartment on New York’s First Avenue, where Johnny took up the bass. They caught shows by The Who, The Hollies and Small Faces, they drank beer with Rod Stewart backstage at the Newport Folk Festival, and Johnny was even captured on film gazing in awe at Keith from the front row of Madison Square Garden in the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter. In 1969 they travelled to London to sample the scene. But it was the sound of Detroit that particularly struck a chord with Johnny.

“We would drive eight hours to see the MC5 or The Stooges,” Gail attests. It wasn’t long before Johnny abandoned the bass and set about learning the guitar. “Whenever he was practising, I used to yell into the bedroom: ‘Give up, Johnny’,” says Higgins.

Never one to blend into his surroundings, Johnny always stood out from the crowd: long, spiky hair, and a penchant for borrowing his girlfriend’s clothes. His style was extreme. “He had high-heeled boots, velvet jackets and pants, bowling gear,” says Heartbreaker Walter Lure. “I’d see him at all the shows – mostly the British bands, as opposed to the Grateful Deads and Jefferson Airplanes – so I’d seen him around for years. Then when the Dolls started happening I said: ‘Holy shit! There’s that guy.’”

Looking For Johnny, The Legend of Johnny Thunders.

Directed by Danny Garcia (The Rise and Fall of The Clash), Looking For Johnny is the definitive documentary on New York legendary guitar

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