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Stranded In The Jungle – Jerry Nolan’s Wild Ride A Tale of Drugs, Fashion, the New York Dolls and Punk Rock

September 6, 2017

Curt Weiss

Backbeat Books

Behind the lamentably tabloid title –  drugs and fashion cited before music – lurks a sincere appreciation of Nolan, a much underrated drummer who provided the muscle behind a variety of bands. Weiss is himself a drummer, and occasionally he discusses Nolan’s technique in some detail: I wish there was more of this.

The story Weiss relates is a familiar one, though no less tragic for that. A father who left early on left Nolan insecure and lacking in confidence which he managed through self-medication leading to a premature AIDS-related death in 1991 at the age of 45. Weiss has talked to an impressive number of fellow musicians, friends and relatives but they all apparently say the same thing. On the one hand a phenomenal musician, a fastidious and stylish dresser and a wry New York wit with real charisma. On the other hand a racist, a junky and a ruthless exploiter of the many women who fell for him.

I checked the latter out with a number of musicians, writers and industry-types who knew Nolan during his time living in London. They give a very different picture of a man who was attracted to strong women and had no problem playing with black musicians. I wonder if Curt was tempted to play up these elements in order to make the book more attractive to a publisher. Context and balance are important here.

I would have liked to know more about the major relationship in Nolans life: the bromance with Dolls and Heartbreakers guitarist Johnny Thunders. The key quote comes from longsuffering Heartbreakers manager Leee Childers “Johnny and Jerry were one of the great unrequited love affairs…they fought like lovers, broke up like lovers, reunited like lovers. “  In her own books Nina Antonia has done a good job of covering the Thunders side of the relationship, it would have been fascinating to better understand the relationship from Nolan’s perspective. Thunders certainly looked up to the older Nolan as a father figure, respect that may have been undermined by the scuzzy drug-related behaviour documented throughout Weiss’ book.

Curtis started writing the book as a fan and amazingly he finished it 11 years later with much of his high regard for Nolan intact. Certainly even a cursory listen to either of The Dolls studio albums or the Heartbreakers sole effort will demonstrate how Nolan did more than hold down the beat. Instead he drove the songs, never flashy but always playing what the song demanded. In this book he is compared to Moon, Watts and Baker: Nolan himself would have preferred Gene Krupa. My favourite Nolan musical memory occurs during the Dolls’ feisty interpretation of ‘(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown’ when singer David JoHansen entreats “Gimme one, Jerry!”. As always, Nolan obliges. Remember him this way.

Postscript

Nina Antonia’s comments here https://ninaantoniaauthor.com/

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From → Books, Music

3 Comments
  1. Mike Baess permalink

    Nice review Simon. One typo at start of last block para – Curtis started I think it should be.

    Mike

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  1. Trackless Paths of Boundless Void – Nina Antonia

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