Thunders, Kane & Nolan: You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory [DVD]

Charlotte Robinson

It is a don't-miss DVD for fans of the Dolls or the Heartbreakers.

Kane & Nolan

You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory [DVD]

Display Artist: Thunders, Kane & Nolan
Label: Music Video Distributors
UK Release Date: 2005-10-31
US Release Date: 2005-10-25
Amazon affiliate

Thanks to a lengthy and ultimately fatal addiction to heroin, Johnny Thunders has been relegated to also-ran status in the history of guitar heroes. That's unfortunate, because Thunders possessed almost as much talent and charisma as he lacked self-control. Born John Anthony Genzale, Jr. in 1952, Thunders' closest brush with fame came in the early 1970s as the lead guitarist in the New York Dolls. Although the band's rowdy mixture of Stones-like swagger and outrageous glam style didn't look or sound much like what punk would become, it helped set the movement in motion. After the Dolls' breakup, Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan formed the Heartbreakers, a band that, with classic songs like "Born to Lose" and "Chinese Rocks", was nearly as influential as its predecessor and even more notorious in its excesses.

Although the Heartbreakers occasionally reunited throughout the years, the band was effectively over when Thunders issued his first and most lauded solo effort, So Alone, in 1978. The album's highlight and Thunders' finest post-Dolls moment is "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory", a plaintive ballad about loneliness and addiction that seemed to sum up the sadness of Thunders' short and largely wasted life. Thunders' reckless lifestyle ensured that his recording career would be erratic, and he recorded just two more official studio albums -- 1985's Que Sera, Sera and 1988's Copy Cats (with Patti Palladin) -- before his methadone-related death in 1991.

Thunders' former bandmate Jerry Nolan, also a longtime heroin user, passed away in 1992, but the deaths of two-fifths of the band didn't stop the remaining New York Dolls from staging a reunion at London's Meltdown Festival in 2004 at the request of longtime fan Morrissey. Although bassist Arthur Kane died of leukemia shortly after the reunion, singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain have continued to tour under the Dolls name. This begs the question, how many members of a band does it take to constitute a "reunion"? If two people can claim to be the New York Dolls, then couldn't the new DVD credited to Thunders, Kane and Nolan just as logically be called a Dolls reunion, since it features three band members? The trio, along with Barry Jones on rhythm guitar, reunited at the Roxy in Los Angeles for this January 1987 show, which features material by the Dolls, the Heartbreakers, and Thunders, as well as a lot of classic covers.

This release should be of interest to any Thunders or Dolls fan because it captures the guitarist, who was unsurprisingly known for erratic performances, in fairly lucid form. The musicians sound good if occasionally sloppy, and for a recording of a club show, it's decent quality. The 90-minute show was filmed with a single camera to the right of the stage, but that one camera works at getting both long and tight shots, even if Thunders gets most of the screen time. The band rips through the Chantays' "Pipeline" (the opener on So Alone) and Booker T. and the MG's "Green Onions" as if it owns them, leaving no doubt that Thunders could be a powerhouse when he set his mind to it.

While the hipster audience starts off in a subdued mood, it perks up, oddly enough, when the band exits mid-show and Thunders plays five songs on acoustic guitar. "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" gains even more poignancy in this stripped-down form, but the surprise of the set is Thunders' bare-bones cover of "Eve of Destruction", which rouses the crowd into a sing-along. After decisively winning the crowd over with the acoustic set, Thunders is rejoined by his bandmates, and launches into the rest of the set with considerably more confidence. While he's nowhere near the front man David Johansen is and his nasally voice could at best be called an acquired taste, Thunders shows here that his guitar chops, rock star preening, and genuine love of rock 'n' roll could carry him pretty far.

Despite an overreliance on covers, low-tech film work, and some grating backing vocals from Kane's wife on a couple of songs, You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory is a don't-miss DVD for fans of the Dolls or the Heartbreakers. It's also a bittersweet viewing experience, because in it you can glimpse the potential of Thunders, Kane, and Nolan even as you can see that their time was past.







Great Peacock Stares Down Mortality With "High Wind" (premiere + interview)

Southern rock's Great Peacock offer up a tune that vocalist Andrew Nelson says encompasses their upcoming LP's themes. "You are going to die one day. You can't stop the negative things life throws at you from happening. But, you can make the most of it."


The 80 Best Albums of 2015

Travel back five years ago when the release calendar was rife with stellar albums. 2015 offered such an embarrassment of musical riches, that we selected 80 albums as best of the year.


Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.