Playing with the New York Dolls and fronting the Heartbreakers, Johnny Thunders was punk rock from day one, an unfairly forgotten downtown legend. Now, a new documentary, Looking for Johnny, directed by Danny Garcia of The Rise & Fall of the Clash, is attempting to tell his story, moving from the beginning of his career through his tragic death in 1991. (Watch a clip from early in the film above.)
Photographer Marcia Resnick sets the scene, recalling “there were drugs on every street corner” and “the level of angst in New York City was pretty tremendous.” From there, focus shifts to the influence of the New York Dolls and the CBGB club.
“The whole scene was really concentrated on Max’s [Kansas City] and CBGBs,” recalls Phyllis Stein, the former girlfriend of Dolls and Heartbreakers drummer Jerry Nolan. “Some bands were Max’s bands, some bands were CBGBs bands, and sometimes there was crossover. The Heartbreakers were a Max’s band, straight out, and part of the reason they were a Max’s band is because Max’s paid them a lot more than [CBGB owner] Hilly [Kristal] paid his bands.”
“The whole punk thing … really started with the Dolls,” says Heartbreakers guitarist Walter Lure. “Television and the Ramones, they were sort of children of the Dolls.”
The film also contains interviews Lenny Kaye, Sylvain Sylvain and Malcolm McLaren, as well as previously unseen Dolls and Heartbreakers footage and photos. It can be pre-ordered here.