‘Whispering’ Bob Harris turned on his chair and seemingly embarrassed, threw away two words; ‘mock rock’ . With the 30th anniversary of ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ upon us and a 3 hour BBC3 showing, it seems apposite to mention Harris’ seeming embarrassment that this group of preeners, all attitude, who couldn’t even play that well, were allowed on a serious music programme. The New York Dolls were antagonistic that night, but they always were and ‘Jet Boy‘ from that performance seems alive even now.
The Dolls’ influence should not be underestimated. Bob seemed not to understand that music in the music business is never just music; scant though their output was, they influenced Punk completely, in the US of course but also the UK, Sex Pistol svengali Malcom MacLaren was a fan; so was Morrissey, but that’s a different story.
Whilst vocal point David Johansen diversified, Jerry and Jonny, Nolan and Thunders, absolutely did not. They stayed in the Punk world, maybe because they had to, maybe because they liked to.
This entertainingly written but at times tut tutting book is about Nolan, the drummer. It’s uncompromising; Jerry was a junkie. And a smack junkie at that, with the lifestyle that comes with that; junkie first, everything else second. His treatment of friends, his treatment of women, is not glossed over, this is not a eulogy. And for that, credit should be given.
What he also was? A great, swinging drummer influenced by jazzy Gene Krupa. And stylish , he took care of his appearance, he looked good, smelt good and wore it so well – remember how important the look was at this time.
Jerry may have been ruined early. Born into a Jewish family, his mother gave him everything he desired, finding the money to furnish any dream he had, she seemingly even accepted at face value his story that he became addicted to heroin because someone injected him whilst he slept and may have inculcated him into the view that he deserved success ,making each abortive attempt harder to bear.
This is really a tale of failure – big shot with the Dolls failed due to fall out, the Heartbreakers could have been massive but not prepared to focus or get on well, his close relationship with similarity destructive Thunders, a series of pick up gigs and hastily thrown together bands for cash and always the spectre of smack, making his behaviour around money, people and playing less than admirable.
Throw in his casual racism, treatment of women and jealousy (particularly of former friend Kiss drummer Peter Criss) and it’s testament to Weiss that his writing brings us back to the essential humanity of Nolan , he was funny and well liked, even if a lot of friendships are rounded with words such as ‘he was great- but he did introduce me to heroin’, the little boy in him showing up regularly, reminding us of his humanity. There’s a wide variety of chat here, from all times in his life and their talk is wrangled to appear pithy and amusing.
A series of more and more colourful characters parade across the page and lest we forget, iconic music that changed things is made and influenced. The stories, however, are pretty similar, as they will be when someone is having to get up early to get his daily methadone dose, but Weiss never shies away from the banal existence of an icon.
This could have been sensationalised, but by showing the day to day struggle, it attains a warped nobility seen through the prism of stupidity. Weiss struggles with loving the music and shaking his head at the waste, whilst understanding the waste was the thing. This wasn’t meant to last, it was meant to please and inspire. And Weiss is caught entertainingly between loving the music and disliking the behaviour.
A great tale told with just the right amount to reportage and care, this book does Jerry Nolan the service he deserves.
Out From Backbeat Books
Remedy Rating : 4/5 No More Prescriptions