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Johnny Thunders | Madrid Memory

One of the troubled glam-punk guitar hero's standout shows resurfaces on DVD.

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Johnny Thunders was not exactly a consistent performer. Unless you count the fact that he was consistently inconsistent. One night the glam-punk legend could have it together; the next would be a trainwreck. I only saw him once in my life — in Winnipeg, of all places, back in 1989 — and it was definitely much closer to the latter than the former. Of course, I already knew that going in; the afternoon of the show, the promoter had phoned the paper where I worked to try to find methadone for the eternally troubled, unrepentantly hard-living New York Dolls guitarist — who was fresh out of rehab, if I remember correctly. I assume he had been in Hazelden in Minnesota, which would at least partially explain how he ended up in Winnipeg, though I really don’t know for sure. What I am positive about is the show was a fairly sad affair. I recall a rough-looking Thunders shambling around the stage, half-assing his way through whatever he could remember while random audience members got onstage to play behind him. Not surprisingly, he got heckled a fair amount, prompting him to respond with the only comeback he ever seemed to remember: “I forgot more than you’ll ever know!” At one point, I recall yelling back, “Yeah, but I know more than you ever forgot!” Not my proudest moment. But on the whole, probably not his either. Thankfully, not all Thunders gigs are that embarrassing. Madrid Memory, which features most of a 1984 set co-starring Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and drummer Jerry Nolan along with Heartbreakers bassist Billy Rath, captures Thunders in far more formidable shape. Taped for Spanish TV and widely bootlegged since, the 50-minute show includes solid versions of glam-punk standards like Born Too Loose, I Love You and Too Much Junkie Business, along with covers of Pipeline, Green Onions and the DollsPersonality Crisis, plus some acoustic numbers featuring a flamenco guitarist. It’s far from perfect: Thunders’ guitar is mixed way too low for most of the show. Thankfully, his vocals are decent enough to almost make up for it. Bottom line: You can’t put your arms around a memory — but if you’re a Thunders fan, it’s worth getting your hands on one of his few consistent performances.