Mel (our editor) told me about this event organised by Tight Lip literary promotions. Born in
Me and Phil arrived in the small dark basement bar, positioning ourselves front of stage. Events were explained: two readings from Nina accompanied by Jerome (The Skuzzies) on guitar, interview with Woolfy Jones, (Tight Lip journalist and writer), plus set from
Nina apologised in advance for her first real reading. She began from the start of Johnny’s life. “On the outskirts of the city where ivory was still the colour of soap not the polished handle of a switch blade, a little kid with heavy black hair lay in bed listening when he should have been sleeping, to the music that came dancing across the landing from his sister’s room. The teenage romance ruins of The Shangri-Las, The Crystals and The Angels seeping into his dreams”. Jerome’s guitar provided atmosphere, sounding brilliant. Was I the only one to laugh at Thunders nearly calling himself ‘Johnny Volume’? Fantastic descriptions of this time encouraged me to buy a book, which I’ve since realised wasn’t read paragraph for paragraph.
The short interview seemed slightly stilted, many questions being asked in a monotone voice from sheets of paper. A very articulate Nina remained polite throughout (especially when asked who she’d like to write about today). Transcription follows below:
WJ- I enjoyed reading the book, it’s really great to meet you.
NA- Thank-you so much
WJ- I wondered what it’s like revisiting cold blood after some time, does it feel strange?
NA- No, it feels really good. Writing a book, it’s a bit like having a runaway child, it always comes back to you. ‘In Cold Blood’ is always going to be part of my life.People are still reading it and Johnny remains an inspiration.
WJ- OK, I want to start at the beginning and talk about the appeal of the music with you. You said the New York Dolls particularly appealed to alienated teens and you were 13 when you discovered them. What do you think attracted you at such an early age to the very particular subversive breed of rock n roll that the dolls made their own?
NA- Because they were exciting, because they were gritty because I knew it would upset my parents.
WJ- Good reason. In the book your affection for Johnny Thunders is very clear. At what point did you single Johnny Thunders out as your favourite Doll?
NA- I think from the first time I saw a picture of them in a teeny magazine and Johnny just had this sneer and a great jacket & I thought “that’s rock n roll; he’s the one for me”.
WJ- OK, another of your biographies is about the Only Ones singer Peter Perrett who you refer to as an ‘homme fatale’. In many ways all the musicians that you write about and appear to fascinate you could be described as seductive, enigmatic and yet dark and dangerous. What do you find so captivating about the self destructing rock n roll star?
NA- Well I think also they’re very talented and I’m interested in people that are marginalised that are cult, that are underground.
NA- It’s like the Jessie James thing- outsiders, like all the boys that the Shangri-La’s and the
WJ- Are there any women that you feel the same way about?
NA- I would like to have written about Nico but there are already two great books about her and I actually like to write about people that haven’t had biographies done before.
WJ- You did sleeve notes for Nico which were brilliant. So, if there weren’t two other books, you would?
NA- I would definitely have considered Nico, yeah. I really like people who have mystique especially these days when celebrity culture is so transparent. Everyone knows if Gwen Stefani has a bunion and I respect people that transcend that.
WJ- That’s cool. You mention there was an element of Johnny Thunders audience who thought it was cool for him to turn up half dead on stage. Where do you draw the line about what is cool or uncool about the dark side of somebody like Johnny Thunders?
NA- Well, I suppose it’s like watching someone walk a tightrope, if they fall off then it’s really bad.
WJ- OK, lets move on to the writing of the book then, as far as ‘In Cold Blood’ goes when you decided to write the Johnny Thunders biography, how did you fit in as an author on that scene?
NA- I don’t think I fitted in as an author, I probably didn’t consider myself as an author at the time and felt like I was chronicling Johnny’s adventures and misadventures. It wasn’t a conscious decision to become an author I hadn’t thought about it as a career it was just something I felt I had to do.
WJ- How did you decide to write the book in the first place?
NA- I went to a bookshop & saw all these books and none of them were about Johnny Thunders. I wanted to know about him, I wanted to know what his story was. I was fascinated by the way he played guitar.
WJ- What was it like when you first met him? Was it difficult to get in there?
NA- It was very flukey, I was very lucky. I think possibly because he’d been raised as a single parent family he took to the fact that I was raising my daughter by myself, he understood vulnerabilities.
WJ- What was it like being around him? How much time did you spend with him?
NA- Whenever he was in town, but it was more like surveying the whole scene, the whole milieu of what was going on.
WJ- Was he living in
NA- He was in
WJ- What was the closest you felt you came to separating the public myth of Johnny Thunders from the actual person?
(At this point a techie climbs onstage to mend Nina’s ailing microphone)
NA- He was a performer; he was Johnny Thunders, rock n roll master, rock n roll hero. In his own time he was Johnny Genzale, a very sweet vulnerable guy.
WJ- Did you feel that you became friends with him?
WJ- It seems like you’re in a very unique position of a female author commenting on a very masculine genre of music. Do you feel like your genre played a role? How, if you do?
NA- Being a single mum and just being myself I suppose.
WJ- But writing about that type of thing, there weren’t many women doing it- probably.
NA- The rock n roll writing game is very sexist but I didn’t find those boundaries within Johnny Thunders scene. Maybe because it was a bit of an outlaw scene, it didn’t adhere to the boundaries that we have to live in now.
WJ- Was the scene divided into factions. Were there different elements?
NA- Yeah, yeah.
WJ- Could you elaborate on that?
WJ- OK, when you went back to the book, other than obviously the sad fact of his death, what new information came to light?
NA- I revised the book in 91/92 after Johnny died. I wanted revisit it and put in new information and also to have a look at it with hindsight and wisdom.
WJ- What sort of new information did you want to put into it?
NA- I wanted to update it from the time that I signed off with cautious optimism in 1986 and you have to look back at what hardcore drug use does to a person.
WJ- If you were going to write a biography now, who would it be about?
NA- I’d like to write about a band called the Skuzzies, they’re really great and I’d like to write short stories.
WJ- If you had to pick somebody musical would you be able to find someone, do you think?
NA- The Skuzzies are musical
NA- I think Amy Winehouse is great but there’ve been quite a few biog’s already about her.
WJ- Finally I was just wondering what you’re doing now.
NA- I do the odd thing. My dream would be to get an advance from a publisher that I could live on and be able to write- that would be like winning the lottery.
WJ- You were talking about writing stories aswell.
NA- Yeah, short stories.
WJ- What would they be about?
NA- Dealing with the modern world.
WJ- And would they still be based on rock n roll?
NA- It would always be rock n roll.
WJ- Thank-you very much.
Another short reading about Thunders’ time leading to his death accompanied by Jerome’s excellent guitar playing followed. The whole event only lasted thirty minutes, although Nina stayed around, signing books and chatting. All very enjoyable but maybe an audience Q&A would’ve been interesting too.
We didn’t watch the band…not my cuppa tea. Pity they weren’t The Skuzzies.
Report and pics by Shelley Guild