And When They Go…They Let Ya Know

First, just want to tell everyone that I watched a movie on cable (Showtime on demand) that blew me away. It’s called “Speak”, and it’s about a teenage girl who gets raped at a party at the start of high school and subsequently shuts down socially. I am lucky that I never went through that particular experience but the movie expresses the isolation that comes with being a teenage social outcast better than most I’ve seen. “Welcome to the Dollhouse” almost got it, but it was too harsh and satirical. This movie summed up the first half of my own junior high/high school years almost exactly, even right down to art being the only outlet and the one teacher that sort of gets it, but still can’t make things better for you. I felt like I was watching my own life but I have a feeling that many others have had similar experiences and will be able to connect.

So people have been sending me emails asking me about Johnny Thunders and in my estimation he is most definitely blogworthy. I am not an expert by any means, but here is the sum total of my Johnny Thunders experience:

I loved the Dolls as a teenager (of course) and my favorite was always Johnny. He was just the coolest to me with his teased black hair and sharp taste in clothing. I just loved the way his voice rang out in, “Traa-aaaash”, you could always recognize it right away. Then just as I was discovering the Dolls, LAMF came out, and that blew me away as well. I was in remote Michigan and young enough not to understand the whole junkie thing, I knew it meant they were addicted to heroin, but I had never seen it up close so it seemed glamorous to me. And they sounded cool as hell, Johnny’s nasal voice cut through all the lame bullshit of my high school life, straight to the heart of rock and roll, the only important thing in existence anyway. I cut photos of Johnny out of magazines and posted them in my locker while everyone else had photos of John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. Then So Alone came out it and was also given a starring role on the musical roster, where it has remained to this day.

When I got to NYC I met Sonda Weber, a native New Yorker and a brilliant rock and roll clothing designer. She made custom leather pants for all the cool, cute guys and sold her beautiful velvet tops and dresses in Enz on St. Mark’s Place. Sonda was a short, chubby little firecracker with bright red hair and a sarcastic, wisecracking sense of humor. She hated that I was constantly picking up the boys she liked and designed for, but she was very funny and cool about it. When I got engaged to Slam Thunderhide from Zodiac Mindwarp (spur of the moment, for about two minutes, another blog some other time) she cracked like Mae West and said, “Finally, someone’s takin’ the bitch out of commission.” I loved her and was very sad when she moved to London years later after one of those idiots from the Black Crowes broke her heart. I never heard from her again and still wonder what she’s up to now.

Sonda sometimes designed clothing for Johnny and when he had a show at Irving she was invited to his hotel room beforehand. She knew I worshipped him and told me I could come along. I was thrilled, of course. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to hang out with Johnny Thunders! I planned my outfit very carefully and according to what I thought he would think was cool. At the time I didn’t understand that guys don’t want women to wear cool clothes, they want them to look pretty. So I was dressing exactly like the men I worshipped and I chose a pair of leather pants that Sonda had made for me, black with fringe down the sides, very Michael Monroe. On top I wore a t-shirt and old tuxedo jacket with tails, along with one of those flat on top, wide-brimmed western hats that everyone wore in the ‘80’s. I felt that this was an ensemble worthy of meeting the great JT.

So Sonda and I trekked through the cold to the Gramercy Park Hotel and took the elevator up to his room. I felt so glamorous, my first time in a hotel on my way to meet a rock star. She knocked on the door and after a moment of muffled thumping and shuffling Johnny opened the door and leaned on it, a little wobbly. He was wearing black leather pants and a tuxedo jacket. On the dresser behind him was a hat like mine. He looked me up and down slowly and said, “Ehhhhh…nice outfit.” Sonda snorted gleefully, I cringed…We spent the next two hours watching him and some very skeezy Noo Yawk type guy freebase with a miniature blowtorch while he tried on different jackets and shirts. This was before crack had been invented and I was so naïve that I didn’t quite understand exactly what they were doing, but I knew it couldn’t be very healthy. The room smelled of burning chemicals and in between puffs Johnny would open the window, throw his head out, and hack into the cold air like he was dying. Eventually Sonda and I got bored and left for Irving Plaza. The show sucked of course, he was far too wrecked to perform properly, but it didn’t dampen my regard for him.

A couple years later I met Kim Montenegro, also a brilliant clothing designer. I was modeling for Tripp/Trash and Vaudeville at a boutique show at the Javits Center and she had her own booth across the aisle featuring her crazy lift and separate zip up the butt pants, which became my uniform for the next five years. She thinks they are mortifying now, but I still believe they are one of the most brilliant pant designs created in the 20th Century–like a brassiere for your ass. In any case, it was love at first sight, I thought she was just the coolest person I’d ever seen. Twenty years later and I still think she is.

So we immediately became the best of friends, and since Kim lived in Philly, she would come and stay with me in NY a lot. I got a Pomeranian because I loved her Pomeranian and we would ride through the EV in her ’56 Buick, waving at friends and chain-smoking, wearing high heels and butt pants with our little dogs yapping out the windows. We were ridiculous but we thought we were the coolest.

Kim would sometimes rent a suite at the Gramercy to show her clothes, and on one occasion instead of selling she got totally high with Cheetah Chrome and his girlfriend in the bedroom while I got really drunk and made out with some random guy I didn’t know on the living room floor. Finally we threw everyone out, fixed our faces and got out of the room and into the elevator to go out for the night. When the elevator doors opened I tripped and fell, WHAM, face first into the lobby. She laughed and laughed, hysterical and itchy, while I laid there, also laughing, as horrified hotel guests stared at us. Good times, people, good times.

Anyway, digressing as usual…Kim had dated Johnny when she was just a teenager, and continued to make clothes for him. They were friends up until his death, and if you want to see more photos of them together she’s in my friend list, but please don’t hound her too much. On one of her trips to NY she said, “I’m having lunch w/Johnny, wanna come?” Well, of course I did! So I met her at an outdoor café and we had a fairly uneventful meal with Johnny Thunders. He was very sweet and they talked about old friends and what they were doing. At this point in time he was well damaged by drugs, his skin had that pasty junkie pallor and he looked like an old man. He spoke with that high-pitched whine that people get after years of being high. But it was still lunch with Johnny Thunders and I was happy to just be a part of the equation.

A couple of days later Kim called me and said, “So, Johnny wants to go out with you. I hope you don’t mind, I gave him your number.” I shrieked, “You did what??” I mean, I worshipped the guy, but he was a total mess and a gazillion years older than me! Sexual attraction was unthinkable. How would I get out of this?

I was totally freaked out and every time my phone rang I jumped. But a few days went by and he didn’t call, so I relaxed, thinking he must have changed his mind. Then, of course, as it always does when you don’t want it to, and never does when you want it to, the phone rang. My sister picked it up, said hello and handed it to me:

Me: Hello?
Man w/heavy NY accent: Raffaele. It’s Jahnny…Jahnny Thundahs.

(I put the phone against my chest and mouthed the words, “It’s fucking Johnny Thunders!!!” My sister looked at me blankly. She is notoriously uninterested in good music or rock stars and just wanted to use the phone.)

Me: Um…Hi Johnny.
Johnny: So, hey, it was nice to see you again the other day.
Me: Yeah, totally…
Johnny: I was thinking…maybe we could go onna date. Ya wanna go on a date?
Me (frantically running through excuses in my head): Well…thanks, Johnny, that’s so nice, really…um…but I have a boyfriend.
Johnny: Oh, that’s too bad. It’s probably one of those heavy metal guys, isn’t it?
Me (feeling like crap for lying): Uh, yeah…it is.
Johnny: Yeah…I hate those heavy metal guys. But, that’s cool. Just thought I’d ask.
Me: Well, I’m very flattered.
Johnny: Okay, so I’ll see you around.
Me: Yeah, definitely. Take care…
Johnny: Bye…
Me: Bye…

A few months after that I ran into him at a club on the West side, I can’t remember what the name of it was, it was a short-lived venture. There were bands playing and a lot of fun people were out that night. Kim and I hung out drinking and chatting with Johnny at the bar. Somehow I remember it that he was alone, but I don’t know how that could have been possible, I’m sure he must have had someone hanging around with him. He always seemed to have one druggie pal along, never an entourage.

Eventually Johnny was talked into getting onstage for some jamming, and I was shoved up there as well to sing backup. That’s where the picture on my photo page comes from. Unfortunately, the truth must be told that we never got through a song. He fucked around, starting and stopping tunes, and I am just not a real singer. I can’t even remember my own lyrics, let alone anyone else’s, and Johnny was in no frame of mind to walk me through it. So we goofed around and giggled at each other and eventually we hopped down and went back to the bar. At least that’s the way I remember it, and that’s how I came to obtain photos of me with Johnny Thunders on a stage.

And that was the last time I saw him. I did end up going on a tour of Canada as a backup singer with Sylvain, but I never ran into Johnny again and he died a few years later. Kim was very upset and I felt a great sadness. Throughout the years I had seen him play some really shitty shows, and I didn’t know him very well. In retrospect I realize that I shouldn’t have been so uptight and should have just gone on the damn date, if only for the great story. But I have never changed my opinion of him; to me he was always rock royalty, a great songwriter, a trailblazer, a sharp dresser, cooler than pretty much everyone on the planet, and a very sweet person. I consider myself blessed to have the minimal contact I did.


Convo on song possiblities…check out the Axl guy in the corner!

Kim, her leopard jumpsuit (had one of those too!), Johnny, and her car.

Author: Raffaele

Rock and roll juggernaut, writer, muse, animal lover, Cycle Slut from Hell, friend, lover, sister, daughter, nerd, fagwoman, Slytherin, killer queen.

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