Friday, August 10, 2012

I Was Pissing Next To Johnny Thunders

   
  "In 1979 I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan
      I was pissing next to Johnny Thunders
      He was fucked on smack, I thought of the words of Jim Carroll
      I was filled with empty wonder."

    from "Thinkin' Of Going On The Road Again" - © 2001 Ricki C.


In 1979 I was working in the warehouse at Service Merchandise.  Payday was Friday, I didn't work weekends, so by 5:05 pm my thoughts had generally turned to rock & roll.  If nothing was going on in Columbus, those thoughts often turned to Ann Arbor, Michigan.  I had idolized Detroit bands since 1969 - The MC5 and The Stooges, in particular - and Sonic's Rendezvous Band (containing not only Fred "Sonic" Smith of The MC5 and Scott Asheton of The Stooges, but also Scott Morgan of The Rationals and Gary Rasmussen from The Up!) played a bar called The Second Chance in Ann Arbor all the time all through 1979.  Ann Arbor was only a three-hour drive, so a lotta Fridays I pointed the car north and my buddies and I would make the drive to Michigan.  (I mention this partly because I sometimes now find it difficult to make it to The Rumba Cafe or The Tree Bar for shows I want to see and those bars must be upwards of six to ten miles from my home.)

One Friday night I was in the bathroom at The Second Chance and a guy stumbled up to the urinal next to me.  He had to lean on the wall just to stay upright.  The guy was a few inches shorter than me but with his hair teased way up high we were about the same height.  I glanced over at him as he hacked up a lung while he was pissing and thought he looked familiar but I couldn't quit place him.  Judging by the hair, I thought it might be somebody from either a Columbus or Ann Arbor band.

I made it back out to where my friends were standing.  They were digging Fred Smith blazing through a guitar solo and when the guy teetered out of the bathroom I said to them, "Hey, look at this guy, do we know him?"  "Jesus, Ricki, that's Johnny Thunders from the Dolls," my bass player said, "How fucked up IS he?"  "Pretty fucked up," was my dejected reply.

For the next hour or so I watched as Thunders lurched around the bar, hitting up people for drinks or cash.  I later learned he was in town forming a band (which later became Gang War) with Wayne Kramer, also late of The MC5 and also a junkie.  I just couldn't get over that this was the same guy I saw live and on TV just five years earlier, cutting great wide swaths of rock & roll guitar noise next to David Johansen in The New York Dolls.  My brush with Johansen was still a little ways off (see Exchanging Pleasantries With David Johansen blog, February 2012) but David was an erudite, hilarious gentleman next to the shambling wreck that was Johnny Thunders that night.

I've never really understood the concept of heroin addiction.  I think I might be too simpleminded for it.  My family always had cats when I was growing up.  And since I grew up in the 1960's before spaying and neutering were a big deal, there were always kittens around.  One day in 1971, when I was still living in my mother's house, before my ex-wife Pat and I were married, we were in my mom's basement watching the latest litter of kittens playing.  It was just starting to sink in to me that almost all of the musicians I admired were fucked up the large majority of the time.  I was a very naive young man.  Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin had already left this mortal coil and I was still very much in the dark.  As Pat and I laughed at those kittens rolling around the basement, leaping ferociously on each other in the most innocent version of combat I could possibly conceive of, I said to her, "I don't see how anybody can be addicted to heroin when they could be watching this."

I still can't.  I guess that's one reason I've been allowed to grow old with rock & roll.


© 2012 Ricki C.


             

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