“My head is spinnin’ but/I’m doing what I can to get it on” - Come Down Sister
If you blinked in the early 90s, you probably missed The Throbs entire career. That may or may not have been by design, but either way, it works. They were built for impact, not endurance. Their sole album, 1991’s The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds, is essentially America’s answer to the Dogs D’Amour, a punkier, snarlier take on besotted gypsy-glam. It’s the sound of scarves drenched in blood and brutal Sunday mornings in the drunk tank. They weren’t called The Throbs for nothing, man. While they had roots in the spandex-wars, they were miles above that crass commercial fracas, and really, below it as well. The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds was a true howl from the gutter, a full-throated war-cry from staunchly underground, slithery, dive-bar sleaze-kings, snake-booted royalty flailing wildly in a dead, empty scene. Doomed from the get-go, but spectacularly so.
In 1987, the delightfully monikered Ronnie Sweetheart was nestled comfortably in the Toronto glam-rock scene, playing guitar in VO5, a short-lived flash metal glitter-bomb of a band fronted by one Sebastian Bach. Fame soon came calling for Seb, however, and after he skipped town to join Skid Row, Sweetheart found himself in search of wild new kicks. He grabbed a bus to NYC to catch a Johnny Thunders gig, where he met unsung NYC rock’n’roll hero-slash-bass player Danny Nordahl and gnarly glam-punk guitarist Pete Pagan. It was lust at first sight, and they decided to form a band right then and there. Sweetheart used some rugged demos recorded back in ‘86 to get a buzz going, former Sweet Pain drummer Ronnie Taz joined up, and The Throbs were born. Things got hectic fast. Pagan split, so they snatched up former Smashed Gladys guitarist Roger Ericson. Ginger joined up for a couple gigs before heading back to London to form the Wildhearts. And somewhere along the way, they signed to Geffen records.
By the way, can we take a quick moment to praise Danny Nordahl? It’s not easy to look like a total fuck-up when you’re in Faster Pussycat, a band created by and for total fuck-ups. But Danny finally got a little dose of late-game fame last year when he was filmed falling over drunk and getting dragged offstage while the band attempted to get through Bathroom Wall at a club in Georgia. It was their first song. Who gets that drunk in their late 40’s, man? It was the inglorious apex of a life of misadventure and fine rock’n’roll. I mean, The Throbs are just the tip of the iceberg. Not only has this dude brought a little authentic swagger to both Faster Pussycat and LA Guns in recent years, he is also one of the chief architects in flash metal resurrectionists Motochrist and 90s glam-punk stars NY Loose, and he backed-up Stiv Bators during his post-Lords of the New Church twilight days. If anybody can say, “hey man, I was there”, it’s Danny Nordahl. Because he was fucking there, man. When everybody else figured flashy rock’n’roll was dead in the sour-puss 90s, this dude carried the torch. And given ten more years in the trenches, it’ll probably kill him. And he’ll probably be fine with that. We could use more Danny Nordahls in this world.
Anyway, the album. It was produced by Bob Ezrin and Dick Wagner, presumably because Geffen was hoping for the bombast of Kiss and the creepy-crawl of Alice Cooper. You can hear echoes of both, but if anything, The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds sounds like a Zodiac Mindwarp record if the Love Reaction were skinny and liked tambourines and the Rolling Stones. It’s shamanistic sleaze metal, heady and cosmic in scope but direct and immediate in sound and fury. The Throbs know what’s up, that’s for certain. I mean, Little Richard plays on this record, man. Nobody had to teach The Throbs about rock’n’roll. Of course, it was the early 90s, so nobody was gonna buy it, either. They released the epic NYC-is-the-place-to-be jammer Come Down Sister as the lead-off single (and video), which caught on with the cool kids and nobody else and Geffen shrugged and sent them packing six months after the album was released.
And thus ends the ballad of Ronnie Sweetheart. I saw him play to almost nobody in a tiny club here in Boston maybe ten years ago with a band called Strip Club Devils, an offshoot of another late 80s NYC flash metal suicide, Mr. Nasty. And I will tell you this: even despite the deplorable turnout, this motherfucker was thoroughly aristocratic onstage. If anybody deserves a third stab at greatness, it’s Ronnie Sweetheart. In the meantime, Nordahl is still drinkin’ and bassin’ and pussycattin’ around, and The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds remains one of the finest flash metal albums ever. If only they coulda kept it going for another album or two. Nothing gold can stay, man. That’s the bitter truth.
Next week: Jesus built a road on Highway 69