Sunday, September 15, 2019

Review: Room 37 – The Mysterious Death of Johnny Thunders

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from the Internet

Room 37: The Mysterious Death of Johnny Thunders
Directed by the Cordero Brothers (Fernando and Vicente)
Industrialism Films / Cleopatra Entertainment / MVD Entertainment
101 minutes, 2019

When the trailer for this film dropped earlier this year, many Johnny Thunders/The New York Dolls/The Heartbreakers (etc.) fans lost their minds in the loosey-goosey way Thunders was portrayed. Yes, from the trailer. I’m also a fan of Thunders (d. 1991), and saw him play dozens of times.

But here’s the thing about biographic films: they’re nearly all filled with bullshit and inaccuracies. People and events are either omitted or combined, stuff is made up and changed for “dramatic purposes” and so there are going to be those who will see a biopic and cry foul, and others will just enjoy wherever the story leads as long as the soundtrack blasts it just right. Just look at the reactions to these three films released recently: The Dirt (2019; about Motley Crüe), Bohemian Rhapsody (2018; Queen/Freddie Mercury) and Rocketman (2019; Elton John). Love it or hate it, the accuracy level is pretty low or, more precisely, over the top.

Leo Ramsey at the beginning of the film
But there is another level of biopic which is for all practical purposes a separate category, and that’s the flight of fancy. This is easily seen in films like Sid and Nancy (1986; Vicious and Spungen) and especially Velvet Goldmine (1998; David Bowie and Iggy Pop). Here, we take a real person or situation and then take it to the metaphysical fiction. This is where I would place Room 37. It’s not really a biopic about Johnny Thunders (JT), it’s what they call in comic book land, a “what if” story. This is also the way it should have been promoted, in my opinion.

Another issue is the overlapping of the real. What I mean by that is while this is a largely fictionalized version of JT, when he gets a phone call from his ex-New York Dolls co-guitarist, Sylvain Sylvain, the voice – easily recognizable – is definitely Sylvain’s. And the music video that accompanies the film, “Crazy Kids,” is by Walter Lure, JT’s co-guitarist in the Heartbreakers, indicating there is some lukewarm credibility.

So, with that in mind, note that I will be reviewing this as a fantasy, not as a biopic (though with some overlap, of course, as Thunders was a real person, and so was some of his situations presented here). If you want the real deal about the man, check out Danny Garcia’s excellent documentary, Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders

In real life, when JT went to New Orleans to stay at St. Peter’s Guest House, he’d been reportedly clean for a while except for methadone, but was also in the later stages of Leukemia. Here, he is fighting to “get clean.” When he was in The Heartbreakers, they sang “Too Much Junkie Business” (which is also named dropped in the story, along with other Heartbreakers’ tunes) in the place of Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business,” as drugs are like having a monkey on your back, as the saying goes. Another metaphor for getting clean, of course, is going through hell, so this is where the film is leading us. Right from the start, the hints begin with the hotel proprietor (Jimbo Barnett, whose NoLeans accent comes and goes), in his red vest, saying “I’ll be damned if one of our maids haven’t already cleaned it for ya.” The opening hand has been dealt. And room 37 looks about as peaceful as room 237 at the Overlook Hotel; both also deal with the tub being central, but for this film, it is a symbol for death as the original drummer of the New York Dolls, Billy Murcia, died in one.

Here’s some notes about the film’s version of JT as opposed to seeing him in reality; I never did hang out with him (honestly, I was a chickenshit who was intimidated by him and the drug culture around him in general, so I’d go see the bands, have my one drink and nurse it through the night, and then go home to shower before heading off to Queens College without sleep). On stage, you never knew what you were going to get, the on-fire JT who would tear it up, running one song into the next, or the stoned JT who’s tongue would whip around his lips, or be so out of it that he had trouble fingering his chords (I remember one really bad night at Irving Plaza), but the latter was more rare. One of JT’s traits was to whip around the stage especially during the instrumental parts.

Near the beginning of the film, fictional JT performs while the album version of “Born to Lose” from the Heartbreakers’ L.A.M.F. plays on the soundtrack (why didn’t they use one from Live at Max’s instead, like “Let Go”?). Interestingly, the Dolls are often name-dropped, but not the Heartbreakers. When Leo Ramsey impersonates JT onstage, he kinda stays in one spot; JT was a whirler who would own the stage by covering as much of it as possible, sometimes jerking around it (and the chords on the guitar) like a ball in a pinball game. After a swan dive off stage in the film, JT states, “Happens all the time…” Oh, no it didn’t as far as I remember.

Ramsey plays JT as very low key for a big personality; from what I understand, JT could be a sweetheart with a sharp sense of humor or a conniving trickster, depending on mood or need of drugs. Here, he’s fidgety, more like late 1970s-early ‘80s days than near the end, but he’s actually okay as JT… at least a fictionalized version of him.

Devin McGregor Ketko
The cast does well in general, and the camera seems to love to focus on what seems to be the only maid in the entire hotel, Iris (Devin McGregor Ketko, who reminds me of a young Mary Woronov). She also seems to be there more for JT to talk to, as a device for the audience to gain some exposition. On a side note, it’s nice to see Kelly Erin Decker in a cameo as a hospital receptionist.

Lots of names are thrown around here (David, Sylvain, Jerry, Arthur; “The Kids are Back,” “Chinese Rocks,” etc.) that fans would recognize but the average viewer would be perplexed. As someone who knows the backstory, I could smile, especially when I recognized Sylvain’s real and easily-identifiable voice on the phone (though I wonder if he regrets lending it now; and get well, Sylvain!).

As the film progresses and JT spirals down after his money and methadone are stolen. JT’s hair seems perpetually greasy for some reason; as the story progresses JT gets more and more desperate and ragged looking. This may be the filmmaker’s way of indicating the leukemia, which causes sweating, a wan pallor and easy bruising (among other symptoms). JT continues to look more and more like a zombie/living dead creature, with racoon eyes and onion paper skin, stumbling around as he involuntarily detoxes. By the end, he’s looking more like MJ (Michael Jackson) than JT.

The big extras, of course, are the three discs, with the film available in High Definition Blu-ray, DVD, and the soundtrack CD. Other than that, what is offered is the trailer, a slideshow that is based on screen shots alone (while the acoustic version of “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” plays), and a bunch of other cool Cleopatra trailers. As for the soundtrack CD, well, the first six songs are great, but the rest is pretty much filler. Better to pick up the Dolls’ and Heartbreakers’ collections, and JT’s classic So Alone LP.

Leo Ramsey towards the end of the film.
The film tries hard for symbol-ism, and it’s very stylized with a dingy tone thanks to some lens filters. Some have said this is more “horror,” but more likely possibly supposed to be “drug influence” as LSD was found in JT’s system at time of death (no other lethal level of drugs), thanks to a large dosing by someone. And yes, his money was missing when they found him, though the story adds more mystery to it. The filmmakers imply that much of what is happening in the film is part of his hallucinations from the LSD, but does not indicate (wisely) what is due to cinematic reality or within the character’s (JT’s) head. This works pretty well most of the time, though there is a whole hospital sequence that begins the final act that is a bit ridiculous; that being said, a couple of good jump scares are included.

Overall, it’s not a bad film, but not a great one either. I realize a contingent of JT’s fans are boycotting the film, but while I understand that sentiment, I think it’s better to approach this as fiction rather than biographical in any way, as I stated earlier. That being said, the end of the film gives us some title cards about Johnny’s Leukemia and lack of high drug levels during his autopsy as if to atone for the fiction part of the story.

CD Soundtrack Listing:
1. Born to Lose – Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers
2. Stranded in the Jungle (Live Paris 1974) – New York Dolls
3. Alone in a Crowd – Johnny Thunders
4. Crazy Kids – Walter Lure and The Waldos
5. There’s Something Wrong – Sylvain Sylvain
6. You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory (Rare Version) – Johnny Thunders
7. Ms. Alexander – Jürgen Engler
8. Ghost in the Hall – Jürgen Engler
9. Dreaming Within – Jürgen Engler
10. Crow in the Tub – Jürgen Engler
11. The Wheels Under the Door – Jürgen Engler
12. Jimmy’s Blood – Jürgen Engler
13. Eagle’s Lair – Jürgen Engler
14. Bourbon Street – Jürgen Engler
15. Head Phones – Rusted Robot
16. The Guitar – Rusted Robot
17. The Morgue – Rusted Robot
18. Hospital Chase – Rusted Robot
19. Pillow Talk – Rusted Robot
20. Namira – Rusted Robot
21. Give a Man a Mask – Rusted Robot
22. Not Afraid Anymore – Rusted Robot
23. Room 37 – Rusted Robot

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Three Essential Yet Underemployed Microsoft Office Tools

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from Internet or as noted

Photo by Robert Barry Francos
When creating a document, everyone has their own way to doing things. Having worked in an office nearly all my life, I am conscious of getting as much done as efficiently as possible. That is why approaching some common tools in a new perspective are important.

The Undo Button

Undo is arguably the most important button in the Microsoft universe, no matter what the software (such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Publisher). Most people are familiar with its backward pointing arrow in the upper left corner of the screen, on the Quick Access Toolbar. Obviously, it gets used when a mistake is made – and rightfully so – to bring it back to where you were before the error. Unlike the delete button, which is considered a forward action, this is taking a step back.

The other way to approach this button is to know that you can use it to increase your knowledge of the software, as it gives you the chance to experiment and try new things. Because of the Undo button, you will not harm anything. Try something: if it works, great; if it does not, then just undo it. I have found many shortcuts and increased my efficiency by losing the fear of the unknown, since I am aware I can undo it when necessary.  

The short cut for Undo is to hold down the CTR key and then hit the letter Z. You can usually use it numerous times in a row, depending on your particular computer’s settings.


One of the biggest mistakes most people make is that they will open a new document and do the work necessary on it. Then, at the end, they will Save As. This is not only a bad idea, this can be a dangerous and potentially time-costing one. Here is the better way. As soon as you open up a new document, while it is still blank, use the Save As. Then, as you create the document, get into the habit of regularly saving, rather than just doing it at the end.

If you forget to save when you try to close a document, a window will pop up and ask you whether or not you want to save it. However, if there is an electrical problem such as a brown- or blackout, or computers being computers, if it locks up and freezes, you will lose everything since the last time you saved. There is no reason to lose anything more than a paragraph if you get into the habit of saving often. You can Save numerous times in a row; it will not harm the document.

There are three ways to save: one is to go to the FILE tab on the Ribbon and click on either Save As or Save, or click on the floppy disc icon on the Quick Access Toolbar on the upper left corner of the screen; the third way is to use the keyboard shortcuts, which is F12 for Save As, or hold down the CTR key and then hit the letter S for Save.

Photo by Lyndall Mack
Make it Fun

Learning any new software can be tedious and frustrating. Plus, if it is not used often, it is easy to forget what you have already reviewed. The best way to get past that is to make it personal, and thereby make it more fun.

Unlike proprietary software that is designed explicitly for a company or is job-specific, the Microsoft Office is malleable to working on projects that are more personal. For example, if you are learning Word, work on your resume and cover letter, or create a year-end letter to share with friends and family. For PowerPoint, create a slideshow of your travels, or a topic close to your heart. For Excel, a household budget will improve your skills enormously. Then, when it comes time to get to work on an employment-related project, you will already have the knowledge on how to proceed.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

A Ken’s Eye View: THE SLICKEE BOYS [1982]

Text by Kenne Highland / FFanzeen, 1982
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2019
Images from the Internet

This article was published in FFanzeen, issue #9, dated 1982, by ex-O. Rex, ex-Gizmos, ex-Afrika Korps, ex-the Korps, ex-Hopelessly Obscure, ex-Johnny and the Jumper Cables, ex-Kenne Highland Puppets, ex-the Cryptic Edge, ex-the Grovellers, ex-the Psycho Daisies, ex-Kenne Highland and His Vatican Sex Kittens, Kenne Highland (now known as Kenneth Highland).

The Slickee Boys were definitely a great band, no question. I saw them play (MAG III, in Highland terms) a couple of times at CBGBs, and they were always fun to watch. Honestly, I was a bit jealous of Kim Kane, because he was about the same weight as me, thin as I was, but he was much, much taller, so was even more gaunt.

As for Kenne, I hung out with him quite a few times in the first half of the 1980s, when I would go visit Boston twice a year for long weekends (Memorial Day and Labor Day). It was there that I mentioned about something being “hopelessly obscure,” an expression he loved enough to name his band after it (hence the multiple use of the term in the article). The whole Romeo and Juliet thing he mentions is based on a tale I told him about my high school (find it in HERE). 

Kenne is not what one might call PC. His copious use of words that many will find offensive come off from him as just that, descriptive words used to incite; besides, this is 1981, before the word “Oriental” was deemed offensive (one of my local movie theaters in Brooklyn was named the Loew’s Oriental). As for the Italian descriptor, I never use it, as I grew up in Bensonhurst.

I have a large bunch of postcards from Kenne while he was in the Marines in the late ‘70s, and
all of them are dated 1966 or ’67, so I’m never really sure when they are from; but it does explain some of the comments made here.

The last time I saw Kenne was about a decade ago, while his Vatican Sex Kittens band was playing in Brooklyn at Hank’s Saloon, sharing a bill with the wonderful Canadian band, the Poisoned Aeros. – Robert Barry Francos, 2019
* * *
Editor’s note (i.e., me) from 1982:
Having known Kenne a while now, I can honestly say that this article is identical to the way he speaks – I’ll go as far as to say the way he thinks! There are places where a [sic] would have been appropriate, but if I added them in every place they belong, I think this article would be twice as long! If you wish to further info on anything here, write to Kenne care of
Boston Groupie News [they are on Facebook now, HERE  – RBF, 2019], where he writes a semi-regular column. Kenne is a great guy in my book, and it’s not for no reason he’s known in Boston and around everywhere else simply as Krazee Kenne.

I. Hot! And Cool! (1976-1977)

It was Elizabeth’s fault – she introduced Kim Kane to Marshall Keith. The two giz-tarits met Xmas of ’75 and noodled and doodled, begetting the band Turquoise I-Flats (with an acetate that rivaled Virgin releases). A long-running joke on Steve Lorber’s WGTB radio show in Georgetown (D.C.) was of a ‘60s obscure band called the Slickee Boys, only requests became so intense that Kim and Marshall recruited Martha Hull (vocals), Andy Von Brand (bass) and Chris Rounds (drums) from the band Loneoak, to form a one-shot band by that name.

The Slickee Boys practiced six times and on 6/76, went into the studio and recorded their Hot! And Cool! EP, on Dagoit Records. Kim grew up in Asia nurturing an Oriental fetish; “slickee boy” is Korean for punk and “dagoit” is Burmese for bandit. The EP had four great ‘60s covers, ranging from British R&B (Downliner Sect’s “Brand New Cadillac” and Yardbird’s “Psycho Daisies”) to local ‘60s punk (Hangmen’s “What a Boy Can’t Do”) to an instrumental (Marshall’s guitar sounds like Jeff Beck-meets-Steve Howe on “Exodus”), to Kim’s lone original (“Manganese Android Puppies”), which coined the phrase “Slickeedelic.” Martha’s voice really sounds like Grace Slick in her prime, and Kim’s melody owes a lot to Quicksilver’s “Pride of Man.”

I saw this version of the Slickee Boys innumerable times the first half of 1977, but come June, the rhythm section split: Chris over music direction and Andy to attend law school. Before they went, they recorded the Separated Vegetables LP. One side was Slickeedelic originals by Kim, Martha and Marshall, while the other side was recorded live at the Keg (and not one of the better performances I saw by Slickee Boys MAG I, but a documentary nonetheless). At this time, Kim, Marshall and Martha were session guest stars on the Afrika Korps’ debut LP, Music to Kill By, with Kim writing two songs and Martha singing the best ones.

II. Mersey, Mersey Me! (1978)

Photo by RBF
The Afrika Korps gig at Ft. Meade, Maryland, 9/77, also unleased a horrific debut by Slickee Boys MAG II w/ Howard Wuelfing (from the Look) on bass and Dan Palenski (from the Derbies) on drums. Subsequent practices and many opening gigs for the Razz at the Back Room in the University of Maryland College Grill unloaded what, to me, was the most eclectic – but again short-lived – version of the Slickee Boys. With the addition of Howard’s unique talent of writing catchy pop melodies with Lour Reed eclecticism, four out of five Slickees were now writing! Only one problem: like the Beatles, everyone’s songs were definitely their particular songs; plus they were all pretty mellow, experimental things.

The Mersey, Mersey Me EP, released Summer of 1978, is a clear example of what I mean. It opens with another Kim Kane weirdo classic called “Put a Bullet Through the Jukebox” (originally the flip of a hopelessly obscure tape – i.e., two copies made – recorded especially for my wedding). “Bullet” is an anti-disco number (hey, this was back in the days of punk 1977) and features innumerable references to myself, which I dug greatly. Next up was a cover of the Grass Roots’ “Live For Today,” which has the chorus sung in wop “Yo, Juliet!” “Who cawls?” “Yuh Mutha!”) by engineer Don Zientara. Side two opens with another hopelessly obscure Talking Heads tune, “The Girls Rather Be with the Girls,” which Howeird culled from a Talking Heads practice and loads better than the version the Jealous Heads released on (No) More Songs About Buildings and Food. (What Goes On.) The EP ends with Howard’s masterwork, “Heart On” (which Tina Peel subsequently covered [Tina Peel would transform into the Fuzztones shortly after this was published – RBF, 2019]). The reason the “Mersey” melody works so fine is that it’s stolen from two Hermits songs!

III. Gotta Tell Me Why (1979)

Photo by RBF
Memorial Day ’78, Howard quit and formed the Nurses, while Martha quit a couple of months later for the DCeats, with her boyfriend/guitarist Keith Campbell (not before making their debut on the second Korps LP, Hello World, where Martha turned in a pisser performance on “(I Wanna) Burnout,”  which she covered with both the DCeats and her current band, the Steady Jobs). With another 40% Slickee Boy loss, Dan and Marshall packed it in, leaving Kim Kane holding the bag that Fall, but true to fanatical form, Kim soon recruited two more boys and Marshall, and Dan rejoined (or something like that; the Marine Corps was hopping me between Maryland, Massachusetts and Suck Carolina that Fall, so I may as well have been on Mars!).

I first saw the Slickee Boys MAG III on the tenth anniversary of Woodstock at Ft. Reno Park 8/15/79, and though I wondered how bassist Emory Olexa and signer Mark Noone would fit in three years on, things are lots better going than previous Slickee incarnations. By now, the Slickees were covering three of my songs (see, my legacy was gone but not forgotten!): these tunes were “Jailbait Janet” by the Afrika Korps (Tina Peel do it, too), “Mean Scream” by the Gizmos, and “Dynamite,” which woulda been on the third Korps LP if the USMC hadn’t switched me to SC where I (shudder) played bass in an all-Marine heavy metal band.

Fall ’79 brought what to me was the best Slickees LP since Hot! And Cool!, mostly coz it had another groovy Downliner Sect cover (“Glendora”). Also repeated was the Mark Noon-sung “Golden Love,” which Martha sang on Separated Vegetables, and a good performance, despite the competition. Side one (geez, that was side two – ass backwards!) opens with Mark Noone’s “Gotta Tell Me Why” – actually a Boston radio classic up here! Mark sings like Bryan Ferry over a “Sonic Reducer” lick. “Forbidden Alliance” is also super-cool, lyric-wise!

IV. The Brain That Refused to Die (1980)

Got to catch the Slickees live again at Danceteria, opening for the Blasters 10/4/65 (I mean ’80!) and if you New York punks reading this rag missed it, you deserve Lydia (Lose Your) Lunch! Slickees only got one set, but they also had their new 45 which, unfortunately, didn’t come up to where they are live – I mean, Slickee Boys MAG III is such a pisser live act that you won’t think me insane when I call them my favorite band! (And they’re up there with the Lyres / the soon-to-be defunct Taxi Boys / the now-defunct Insect Surfers / the Chesterfield Kings / Tina Peel / the Runes / the Dawgs…)

But “The Brain That Refused to Die” is still pretty neat. Kim Kane came up with this pseudo-Cramps riff one practice and it eventually turned into a pseudo-Cramps type song (or everyone in the Afrika Korps told me it would, though that was with Miriam [Linna, the original Cramps drummer – RBF 2019], but the Slickees – and Kim especially – have turned out better songs. In fact, true to form, I love the hopelessly obscure live cover (production by Chance and we don’t mean James!) of the chocolate Watchband’s “Are You Gonna Be There at the Love-In.” I remember it being better, tho, at the Psychedelly 8/17/69, when me and famed Rock Institute Duce Joe Sasby pogoed and threw peace sings – Joe actually was there at the Love-in (Woodstock, of course!), but doesn’t remember it; musta been too much Rock Therapy). Still, all peeps should buy “The Brain That Refused to Die” / “Are You Gonna Be there.” I found four in a Nuwave bargain bin at a buck apiece, but two other geeks beat me to ‘em! (Musta been Juliet!). And Kim Kane’s cover art is typically weird as he is; trashy pop culture with Oriental overtones.

V. The Slickee Boys – Here to stay (1981… or is it ’66?)

Caught MAG III Slickees again on Spring break ’81, when they played the University of Maryland. Kim Kane and I, and his groovy girlfriend Carole Albert (whadda doll!) were driving thru the campus and Kimbo mutters, “College kids, college kids – I want a little mustache like the college kids.” I wrote the tune in ten minutes backstage, stole a bunch of Pebbles licks and recorded it Labor Day ’66, with this rag’s publisher on sheer ‘60s maracas! [That was the Hopelessly Obscure, recorded just a few blocks from the Rat. It was me and Donna Lethal on maracas and handclaps, if I remember correctly; I still have the demo cassette somewhere… – RBF, 2019.]

Which brings me to “Here to Stay” / “Porcelain,” the current Slickees ‘66; again, great Oriental cover art with a samurai Slickee and the (a-sexual) side is a true pop classic by Mark and Marshall, which gets airplay every day in Boston (a former Beauracrats roadie bought it last week due to my incessant ravings and wearing of a hopelessly obscure Slickees t-shirt (100 made) – felt the 45 sounded like Pastiche (a fine pop-art band) really letting loose for once, but  just that Mark Noone and Ken Scales come from the Bryan Ferry School of Warbling. But my heart belongs to “Porcelain” coz Kim wrote this fuzzy four-note lick and you know he was listening so hard to his Pebbles LPs.

In fact, “Porcelain China Kittens” (or whatever it’s called; ask Joe Bagdady of the Runes what Costume Jewelry means!) is s’posed to be the follow-up to “Manganese Android Puppies,” and it is truly Kim’s greatest classic since then. I was there for the mixing by ex-Razz bassist Ted Nicely, even!

But hey, folks! Hold the presses! On the 13 of August 1966, the Voxx Battle of the Bands played New York (lack of advance ticket sales in Little New York – a/k/a Boston – cancelled the 15th gig). Slickee Boys played with Chesterfield Kings and ‘Kings do “Are You Gonna Be There,” which leads into Slickees doing “Glendora” /“Going All the Way” (the Squires!) on Bomp’s Battle of the Bands LP.

It’s like 1966 never left with the Slickee Boys!