Born to Lose
These days, at the foot of Johnny Thunders' pedestal sit loads and loads of pie-eyed faces, young men and women looking up adoringly, and casting the love, L-U-V. And it's a strange thing, too, 'cause Thunders was, in reality, just your basic junkie who was blessed with good genes. Like any desperate addict, he ripped off his friends, neglected his children, lied, cheated, and, for the most part, after the demise of both the New York Dolls and Heartbreakers, offered up songs that were, aside from a shiny side or two, marginal at best. In the end, Thunders was a tawny flushed Keith Richards knockoff, a Pentecostal pinup of junkie guitar worship, who expired broken and destitute just a few years shy of 40.
But as undeniable as maggots are to diseased meat, Thunders had aura, a gutter sexuality that revealed itself in a charismatic swagger, and took Richards' bedraggled lead to its illogical conclusion. It's this charm that became Thunders' main attraction; the "It" that simply made you want to know more about him.
Tempe punk chord kings the Slash City Daggers are of the opinion that Thunders deserves a more favorable legacy than history will likely allow. But that's cool. It's way cool, in fact. Rock 'n' roll is all about misinterpretation. The Stones misinterpreted the American South, the New York Dolls misinterpreted the Stones, and so on . . .
In the photos accompanying Backstabber Blues, the Slash City Daggers' second full-length, each band member offers up a personal burlesque of distinct eras of the Thunders myth: Guitarist Davey Graves could be the cover of So Alone; bassist Lucky Dagger is all Que Sera Sera; singer Abe Ruthless is the Too Much Too Soon-era version; and drummer Pickle looks like he could be tracing Thunders' steps through a Lower East Side shooting gallery alongside Dee Dee Ramone hunting down some Chinese Rocks. It's an overall élan that reeks of affectation, but it's fun as hell -- the Daggers are too scrubbed-faced and boyhood innocent to be dope sick, but too tongue-in-cheek to be accused of being pure shtick.
Cave Creek dweller and up-to-the-moment punk rock producer Jeff Dahl has gone lengths in cleaning up the Daggers' patented clang and amphetamine flurry. This time around you can actually decipher notes in the band's wall of Keef 'n' Thunders riffing. Drums bash ahead Jerry Nolan-style with little regard for groove or time but go lengths to show earnestness and a love of the form.
Mixing healthy doses of girl group shout-out harmonies with quite possibly the most wrecked guitar racket ever captured to tape, the songs themselves are hummable, trash-can riffs bobbing in a mantra of snot-nosed suburban woe.
If singer Abe Ruthless madly waves Thunders' cosmetic flag, his frothy delivery is all David Johansen. His throaty gravel on lyrics like "nothing matters but the TV, baby!" gives new meaning to teen boredom in the Valley. The record's best moment comes early in "TV and Pills," a tune that reverses (of course!) the Dolls translation of Bo Diddley's "Pills" with a wink, a nod and, we would imagine, a can of Budweiser.
On "Backstabber Blues," Ruthless hilariously laments having to suffer Phoenix's public transit system: "I was standing on the corner with my hair up in the air/I was waiting for my bus, man, to take me back to nowhere." He may sneer like David Jo on a subway train, but we can picture him standing sweat-soaked at some horrible Tempe bus stop, decked in leather trousers, polka-dot scarf and a smirk, as hordes of rednecks drive past in pickup trucks hooting and hollering.
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