Danny Garcia: Looking For Johnny

Johnny Thunders biopic leaves plenty of stones unturned and offers few, if any, new insights.

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Being a Johnny Thunders fan was never easy because, for much of his solo career, he was a junkie. Ostensibly a guitar player of rare incendiary style and a so-so vocalist (he did doomed fragility well, but as time passed and his inner hoodlum succumbed to the puppy-eyed self-pity hard-wired into his psyche as a spoiled fatherless child, little else), Thunders’s principal raison d’être was taking drugs, pursuing oblivion and fucking up. Heroically. Again and again.

Like many junkies, Johnny didn’t give a fuck: for his audience, music or legacy. The smack zombie stumbling from chump change one-nighter to cash-in-hand guest slot during his second lost decade apparently saw no further than his next fix. I know, I was there: when he refused to play until given 20 quid for a poster (Dingwalls, ’82); when his latest pick-up band left the stage in embarrassment as Johnny sat crying and mumbling that no one loved him (Croydon, ’85)… If you’re really looking for Johnny, well, there he was. But we forgave him everything because when he was good he was peerless.

Very occasionally his magic was captured: 1978’s So Alone album; single Dead Or Alive. And despite received wisdom insisting that both New York Dolls albums and L.A.M.F. were fatally emasculated by shoddy production, they still confirmed JT as the nascent punk scene’s ultimate guitar exemplar and all-round Keith substitute.

Sadly, though, neither these recordings, nor acceptable alternative versions, are included in Looking For Johnny. Accordingly, no JT newbies will be converted by what should be central to any Thunders movie: his customarily overlooked music. So LFJ is squarely aimed at existing fans; ie those who paid for its production (via Indiegogo).

Aside from soundtrack shortcomings, its narrative seems slightly skewed. Talking heads – Sylvain, Childers, Lure – are well chosen, but where’s Johansen? Hell? And, crucially, the one person who truly ‘found’ the real Johnny we’re all purportedly looking for: Susanne Blomqvist, the girlfriend with whom he set up home in Sweden before embarking on the final, open-ended tour that concluded with his tragic death in depressingly sordid circumstances.

The one piece of fresh information this fan gleaned from Looking For Johnny about the imperfect Thunders was that he was also a wife-beater… So, yeah, thanks for that. One for the (long-suffering) faithful.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.