JOHNNY THUNDERS – ” So Alone ” 40th Anniversary Reissue

Posted: December 20, 2018 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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“The only heroic rule is to be alone, alone, alone…” – Cesare Pavese

“What did Johnny Thunder’s guitar sound like? It was the sound of the…incommensurable.” – Rene Ricard

The music on So Alone is the color of black hair; it is the sound of machines being manipulated by addicts and criminals under conditions of destitution. All love is wretchedness. We listen to rock and roll to escape the terror of history, to escape its fragmentations and ceaseless changes. Johnny’s music does not impart anything approaching ‘truth’ but instead offers a profound sense of the ‘Real’ – the morbid, the uncontrollable, the unwholesome.

Let us dispense with a detailed list of who played what, where and what a toxicology report of each of the (at the time) living bodies might have revealed. All rock music is palimpsest just as is ‘rock journalism’, with its endless recitation of the same words and events. It would be a waste of time to illustrate this point by citing fact after banal fact, so let’s instead simply attempt to situate Johnny in a different milieu, a different light.

Johnny Thunders, like many rock musicians – of a certain, perhaps vanishing ilk – was a consummate sufferer; he cultivated the deepest level of suffering and picked the perfect career to exploit it. A surface examination of this statement would seem easy to confirm. He was a junkie who wasted every opportunity that came his way. A man in revolt, he lived in a permanent state of bad faith. Ignored, of course, is the fact that there was a metaphysical yearning in his search for oblivion, in his self-laceration. With that in mind we should consider placing Johnny Thunders in a tradition alongside Jean Genet, Simone Weil, and Antonin Artaud.
Jean Genet has stated that crime, sexual degradation, even murder were threshold experiences that led to the highest glory. Simone Weil believed that the proof of god’s existence was in His absence, and that the most dire affliction was evidence of this absent God’s love.

Up until quite recently, the heroes of our liberal, affluent society have been its opposite; anti-liberal, anti-bourgeois. They’ve been obsessive, ill-mannered outsiders who used violence in all its variety to leave their mark. Think of Lucien Freud with his spurned mistresses, multi-million-dollar gambling debts and sizable complement of illegitimate children. Sanity to such artists was a form of cowardice. Their impact was to achieve by the extremity of their personal lives and their intellectual points of view, a totalizing vision that went against the grain of our supposedly polite, civilized world. These violent, profligate, destroyers of the self have been considered (perhaps until now) the true heralds of ‘the Real’.

The body of work Johnny Thunder’s left behind is little more than fragments, shards of black glass strewn here and there, mostly overshadowed by the physical, spiritual and moral wreckage of his life. Perhaps, in our own decentered, disjointed time, this can be considered a success; fragments after-all, are the art objects par excellence of the 21st century. As such, So Alone is his masterwork, his one complete statement – a compendium of jagged, melancholy yet perfect fragments.

Perhaps the time of the artist/visionary as extremist is over. Perhaps there will be no more Johnny Thunders; no more near-penniless, globetrotting drug-addicts continuously traversing the capitals of the world, pockets brimming with narcotics, trailing an ever growing arrest record. Such a scenario seems impossible to imagine in 2018.
The same centrifugal forces that compelled Johnny to inject heroin into his arm, to abandon his wives and children, also compelled him to pick up the guitar and leave a permanent mark on the world.

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