JOHNNY THUNDERS (John Anthony Genzale, Jr., 1952-91) had a vertiginous, smart-alecky, raw and shimmering guitar style that disguised joy as menace and vice versa, articulating the New York Dolls’ point of view so clearly that it’s easy to think of him as a parallel frontman. The songs he wrote, alone and with the Dolls, wrung expressive power from half-finished sentences and reckless guitar breaks. “He could have been the Chuck Berry of his generation,” said photographer Bob Gruen. He probably never had a chance, though, ping-ponging as he did between a devastating talent and a devastating heroin addiction until they must have seemed like the same thing. He and the equally doomed Jerry Nolan spiraled off into the Heartbreakers after they’d exhausted the good will of the other Dolls, as such people inevitably do, and, despite that group’s dumdum funtime aspirations, post-Dolls Thunders lived up to the name. He broke your heart. He invented a new kind of sensitive bad boy, a James Dean covered in sores who went through your purse while you were in the bathroom, and whose voice was a bell of sorrow. It doesn’t pay to try/All the smart boys know why.
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