Great Punk Stuff on Tape

converse-punkAll Star Punk Footage

Here are some of my favorite documentaries, films or shorts about punk in general, a specific era, style or band. Each of them have this extra edge that somehow gave me an itch to watch them again.

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) 

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Penelope Spheeris’ documentary on the Los Angeles punk scene. Filmed between December 1979 and May 1980,  featuring Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, Catholic Discipline, Circle Jerks, Fear, Germs, and X was this was the first of a serie of 3 ”Decline movies”.

UK-DK  

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Featuring interviews, live concert footage, and a feature on how punk was transformed from a trend to a way of life, UK/DK is a comprehensive look at the skinhead/punk movement. Some of the most notorious bands on the scene are featured, including The Exploited, The Vice Squad, The Adicts and many more bands from UK.

Born to Lose – The Last Rock’n’Roll Movie 

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Veteran documentary filmmaker and hipster Lech Kowalski creates this film about his friend and hard-partying rock god Johnny Thunders, member of legendary proto-punk band the New York Dolls. Through archive footage and interviews with such musicians as Dee Dee Ramone and Sylvain Sylvain, the film details his stint with the Dolls, the formation of his other band, the Heartbreakers; his rise to fame, particularly in Japan; his descent into heroin addiction, and the mysterious circumstances of his death in a New Orleans hotel room in 1991. Born to Lose: The Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Movie also contains some rarely seen concert performances in Max’s Kansas City and the Mudd Club. The photo on the poster is by photographer Marcia Resnick.

D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage

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From the interviews with seminal bands in their earliest stages, D.O.A features live performances by the Sex Pistols, The Dead Boys, Generation X (with Billy Idol), The Rich Kids, the X-Ray Spex, and Sham 69, with additional music from The Clash, Iggy Pop, and Augustus Pablo to the live coverage of the first Pistols show in America, D.O.A: A Rite of Passage” is thus far the ONLY film to truly capture the feel, spirit and philosophy of the era. A near-comatose Sid Vicious is hilarious, as is the truly terrible, ersatz punk band Terry and The Idiots, whose leader is interviewed about the scene throughout the film. The depictions of a very bleak, “no future” England sum it all up as succinctly as the music itself.

Jubilee

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Jubilee is a 1978 cult film by Derek Jarman heavily influenced by the 1970s punk aesthetic in its style and presentation. Shot in grainy colour, it is largely plotless and episodic. Location filming took advantage of London neighbourhoods that were economically depressed and/or still contained large amounts of rubble from the London Blitz during WWII. Unlike the others this one is really a movie, not a documentary and that is why I thought it would be interesting to include it on the list.
The Plot: When Queen Elizabeth I asks her court alchemist to show her England in the future, she’s transported 400 years to a post-apocalyptic wasteland of roving girl gangs, an all-powerful media mogul, fascistic police, scattered filth, and twisted sex. With Jubilee, legendary British filmmaker Derek Jarman channeled political dissent and artistic daring into a revolutionary blend of history and fantasy, musical and cinematic experimentation, satire and anger, fashion and philosophy. With its uninhibited punk petulance and sloganeering, Jubilee brings together many cultural and musical icons of the time, including Jordan, Toyah Willcox, Little Nell, Wayne County, Adam Ant, and Brian Eno (with his first original film score), to create a genuinely unique, unforgettable vision. Ahead of its time and often frighteningly accurate in its predictions, it is a fascinating historical document and a gorgeous work of film art.

UK Subs – Punk Can Take It

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Fresh from making his cinematic debut with The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, director Julien Temple wrote and directed this short promotional film Punk Can Take It for punk band the U.K. Subs. The promo mixed live performances—shot during the U.K. Subs’ tour to promote the single “Stranglehold”—with a comedic pastiche of Temple’s source material—a Second World War propaganda film London Can Take It, which had shown the plucky Londoners’ resilience to Germany’s bombing campaign. In Temple’s film the U.K. Subs provided the “symphony of war” while Eddie Tudor Pole and Helen Wellington-Lloyd are embattled punks fighting for victory against crass blood-sucking commercialization of the music they love. The U.K. Subs (short for “Subversives”) were among the original bands who led the British punk charge in 1976. Still performing and recording today, this film captures the Subs at an early high point in their career under the pairing of Charlie Harper (vocals) and Nicky Garratt (guitar) who created a blistering output between 1979-1982.

BLITZKRIEG BOP (1978)

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If you were disappointed by the shitty CBGB’s movie made a couple of years back starring Alan Rickman, then you will get a better sense of the energy, talent and musical revolution that took place at CBGB’s in the mid-1970s with this hour-long TV documentary Blitzkrieg Bop . Focussing on The Ramones, Blondie and the The Dead Boys, Blitzkrieg Bop mixes live performance with short interview clips and a racy newscast voiceover. It’s recommended viewing.

Punk: Attitude

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Punk: Attitude is a film by Don Letts. It explores the “punk” revolution, genre and following from its beginning in the mid-1970’s up to its effect on modern rock music and other genres. The cast is a veritable list of alternative musicians and directors offering their opinions on what has been called a musical revolution. One of the film’s celebrated attributes comes in the form of its cast, showcasing the who’s who of punk tock/alternative culture contemporaries like David Johansen, Thurston Moore, Henry Rollins, Captain Sensible, Jim Jarmusch, Mick Jones, Jello Biafra, Siouxsie Sioux, and Darryl Jenifer.

Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead

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From Lemmy filmmaker Wes Orshoski comes the story of the long-ignored pioneers of punk: The Damned, the first punks on wax and the first to cross the Atlantic. This authorized film includes appearances from Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones (The Clash), Lemmy and members of Pink Floyd, Black Flag, GNR, the Sex Pistols, Blondie, Buzzcocks, and more. Shot around the globe over three years, the film charts the band’s complex history and infighting, as it celebrated its 35th anniversary and found its estranged former members striking out on their own anniversary tour, while still others battle cancer.

Gimme Danger (The Stooges)

 

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Jarmusch has commented: “No other band in rock’n’roll history has rivaled The Stooges’ combination of heavy primal throb, spiked psychedelia, blues-a-billy grind, complete with succinct angst-ridden lyrics, and a snarling, preening leopard of a front man who somehow embodies Nijinsky, Bruce Lee, Harpo Marx, and Arthur Rimbaud. There is no precedent for The Stooges, while those inspired by them are now legion.“He added that the film “is more an ‘essay’ than a document. It’s our love letter to possibly the greatest band in rock’n’roll history, and presents their story, their influences and their impact, complete with some never-before-seen footage and photographs. Like the Stooges and their music, ‘Gimme Danger’ is a little wild, messy, emotional, funny, primitive, and sophisticated in the most unrefined way. Long live The Stooges!”

Blank Generation

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A movie by Ullie Lommel featuring Richard Hell, Andy Warhol and Carole Bouquet. Nada, a beautiful French journalist on assignment in New York, records the life and work of an up and coming punk rock star, Billy. Soon she enters into a volatile relationship with him and must decide whether to continue with it, or return to her lover, a fellow journalist trying to track down the elusive Andy Warhol. Also a 1976 documentary by the same name HERE featuring Patti Smith, Television, Ramones, Blondie and Richard Hell.

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“Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90)” is a documentary film that examines the early DIY punk scene in the Nation’s Capital. It was a decade when seminal bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Government Issue, Scream, Void, Faith, Rites of Spring, Marginal Man, Fugazi, and others released their own records and booked their own shows—without major record label constraints or mainstream media scrutiny. Contextually, it was a cultural watershed that predated the alternative music explosion of the 1990s (and the industry’s subsequent implosion). Thirty years later, DC’s original DIY punk spirit serves as a reminder of the hopefulness of youth, the power of community and the strength of conviction. There is also an earlier documentary called ‘A History of DC Punk” that predates Salad Days’ overlook of the DC Punk scene.

The Punk Rock Movie

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Roxy club disc jockey Don Letts was given a Super 8 camera as a present by fashion editor Caroline Baker.When Letts started to film the acts at The Roxy, it was soon reported that he was making a movie, so Letts determined to film continuously for three months.  The film features live footage of The Clash, Sex Pistols, WayneCounty & the Electric Chairs, Generation X, Slaughter and the Dogs, The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Eater, Subway Sect, X-Ray Spex, Alternative TV and Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers. Backstage footage of certain bands, such as Generation X, The Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees, is also included. All live footage was shot at the Roxy, except that of the Sex Pistols, who were filmed at The Screen On The Green cinema in London on 3 April 1977. The performance was Sid Vicious’ first public concert with the band.

DANNY SAYS

Danny Says is a documentary on the life and times of Danny Fields. Since 1966, Danny Fields has played a pivotal role in music and “culture” of the late 20th century: working for the Doors, Cream, Lou Reed, Nico, Judy Collins and managing groundbreaking artists like the Stooges, the MC5 and the Ramones. Danny Says follows Fields from Phi Beta Kappa whiz-kid, to Harvard Law dropout, to the Warhol Silver Factory, to Director of Publicity at Elektra Records, to “punk pioneer” and beyond. Danny’s taste and opinion, once deemed defiant and radical, has turned out to have been prescient. Danny Says is a story of marginal turning mainstream, avant garde turning prophetic, as Fields looks to the next generation. When I asked Legs McNeil what documentary I should watch, this is the one that he pointed out to me so imagine my joy when I saw it was featrured on Netflix. I’ve watched it twice in a row, and then some more…

ROCK’N’ROLL HIGH SCHOOL

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Vince Lombardi High School continues to lose its school principles. The students are more concerned with rock ‘n’ roll than their education until the new principle, Miss Evelyn Togar is hired. She promises to set Vince Lombardi High School straight, and get the students focus back on education. However, a Ramones concert is coming to town, and Riff Randall, the biggest Ramones fan at the high school, plans on getting tickets to the concert in order to give them a song that she wrote entitled “Rock N’ Roll High School”. A series of events including Miss Togar taking away Riff’s tickets, a record burning and a taking over of the high school by Vince Lombardi High students and the Ramones, leads to a school evacuation by the police and an even more surprising ending!

The Great Rock and Roll Swindle 

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Let Malcolm McLaren show you how to achieve fame and fortune by making your pop group the most despised band in the world! This film about the brief but eventful career of The Sex Pistols primarily focuses on McLaren, their manager, as he presents his ten-point program on how to achieve success through chaos, ineptitude, and abusing the music industry. Despite some remarkable footage of The Sex Pistols’ infamous Jubilee Day performance and clips from their final concert in San Francisco, there’s surprisingly little screen time devoted to the group actually performing. Instead, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle offers McLaren’s agit-prop philosophies on music, culture, politics, and the entertainment industry, as well as an amusing (if often inaccurate) account of the band’s rise and fall. Along the way, we’re also offered some curious animated sequences, “film noir” episodes starring guitarist Steve Jones, footage of the band recording with exiled British train robber Ronnie Biggs, and Sid Vicious singing “My Way” (he had been dead for over a year by the time the movie was released). The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle began life as “Who Killed Bambi?”, a project written by Roger Ebert and directed by Russ Meyer, which closed down after two days of shooting when funding fell through. By the time McLaren and Julien Temple got it off the ground (with a radically different script), Johnny Rotten had left the group, which explains why the band’s front man is hardly in the movie. The rest of the group broke up a few months later. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Punk’s Not Dead

 

Of course that doesn’t cover them all but it’s a fairly good start. There is also very good documentaries about The RamonesMC5, The Velvet Underground, The New York DollsCrass, The Stranglers, Joy DivisionThe Dead Kennedies and Black Flag (just click on the band to acess link) Enjoy the view!

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Donna Santisi

LA Punk Scene in the 70’s

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Debbie Harry kicking ass!

Donna Santisi was one of the very few and lucky photographers who were able to capture the new punk rock craze and scene that had spread from New York to Los Angeles. On any given night Donna would be at The Whisky A Go Go, The Starwood, or any number of clubs with camera in hand to capture on film what would soon be  the hardcore punk scene. I don’t think anybody was ready for this explosion, especially The parents of the newly found punk rockers that their children turned out to be. Ask the Angels!

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Kristian Hoffman & Lance Loud (Mumps),Tomata de Plenty & K.K. (Screamers)
Tom Verlaine from Television
Tom Verlaine from Television ©Photo by Donna Santisi
Tommy Gear and Tomata du Plenty from The Screamers
Tommy Gear and Tomata de Plenty from The Screamers ©Photo by Donna Santisi
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Iggy Pop ©Photo by Donna Santisi
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John Cale (Velvet Underground)
Sex Pistol Drummer Paul Cok and Genny Body from Bacjstage Pass
Drummer Paul Cook (Sex Pistols) and Genny Body (Backstage Pass) ©Donna Santisi 
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Danielle Faye (Zippers) wirh Vicki Blue (Runaways)
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Joan Jett and Debbie Harry ©Photo by Donna Santisi
Lita Ford from The Runaways
Lita Ford from The Runaways
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Vicki Blue from The Runaways
The Zeros
The Zeros ©Photo by Donna Santisi
Lita Ford (Runaways)
Lita Ford (Runaways)©Photo by Donna Santisi
ATA Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads)
ATA Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads)
Missy, Maggie and Mercy of The Heaters!
Missy, Maggie and Mercy of The Heaters!
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Patti Smith
Joey Ramone (Ramones!)
Joey Ramone (Ramones!
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Leather! Joan Jett and a helping BFF! ©Photo by Donna Santisi
Joan Jett, Tropicana Motel 1979 ©Photo by Donna Santisi
Joan Jett, Tropicana Motel 1979 
Bowie '90 Sound and Vision Tour
Bowie ’90 Sound and Vision Tour
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Debbie and Joan Jett © Photo by Donna Santisi
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Joan Jett with Chrissy Hynde (The Pretenders)
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Siouxie Sioux
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Patti Smith
Alice Bag, lead singer for The Bags
Alice Bag, lead singer for LA Punk band The Bags
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All Pictures in this article by © Donna Santisi

All copyrights on all images © Donna Santisi

White Trash Punk Playground

The two books go well together, giving a representative look at the intersection of music, art, scene-making, fashion, hustling, and hanging out that made the early New York City punk scene so indelible.

Vintage Photos of New York City’s 1970s Punk Playground

David Johansen of the New York Dolls and Richard Hell of Television backstage at CBGB. From White Trash Uncut by Christopher Makos, © 2014, published by Glitterati Incorporated

Two notable recent books from Glitterati Incorporated take readers deep into New York City’s 1970s punk underground. Playground: Growing Up In the New York Underground by Paul Zone, with Jake Austin (of Roctober fame!), features photos and firsthand accounts from a foot soldier in the rock and roll wars waged in the city’s now infamous clubs, including Max’s Kansas City and CBGB. White Trash Uncut, meanwhile, comes out of Andy Warhol’s factory scene and, as you might expect, takes an artier look at the New York scene.

Given that my tastes tend more towards the Ramones/Dead Boys/Dictators and less Warhol/Waters, Playground hits a real sweet spot. Zone’s photos pull back the curtain on that time and place in a way few other books on the ’70s NYC scene have done. Being in a band at the time (The Fast), Zone was in the thick of it from the beginning. Sure, you get plenty of (mediocre) performance photos. But that isn’t why you’re here. Where Playground shines is in its casual photos of friends—famous and not—behind-the-scenes, after hours and off guard, almost 240 pages of them. It also brings Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s awesome oral history of the early New York punk scene, Please Kill Me, to life. It’s a perfect companion.

With the recent passing of Tommy Erdelyi/Ramone, Playground is particularly timely. It’s an exciting visual romp through a unique period in the history of rock and roll. Looking through the photos, it’s hard not to notice how many of the people featured have died, many way before their prime: drugs (too many to list), AIDS (which also took Zone’s brother, Miki), cancer (three of the original Ramones) and weird car crashes (Stiv Bators). How the hell are all the Stones still alive and the Ramones all dead? Here are some samples from that book:

Sylvain Sylvain, Johnny Thunders, and Jerry Nolan (New York Dolls) at Max’s. (August 1973)
Tish and Snooky at Manic Panic on St. Marks Place (1978)
Debbie Harry (Blondie) at Max’s. (1975)
Dee Dee Ramone and Connie Gripp in Max’s kitchen. (1975)
Wayne County at the Coventry, in Queens. (1973)
Crayola at Max’s. (1977)
Originally published in 1977, White Trash Uncut, by Andy Warhol Factory devotee and one time Interview staff photographer Christopher Makos, quickly went out of print and became something of a collector’s item. Finally reprinted, the book consists of a mix of artsier photos—close-ups of body parts and portraits of players in the art and music scenes, focusing on that point of intersection between the two in venues like Max’s Kansas City. It leans heavy on photos of the well-known, if not outright famous: Richard Hell, Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, the Dead Boys, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, David Bowie, Divine, Man Ray, John Waters, Marilyn Chambers and plenty other luminaries of that era. The reprint includes 25 photos not included in the original book. Here’s a sampling:
Punk Rock fans, New York City.
David Bowie in Los Angeles.
Divine and John Waters
Hustler, posing. (Jeans by Fiorucci, Milan.)
Earring by Gillette.

PLUS!

CBGBS BLITZKRIEG BOP FEAT. RAMONES , DEBBY HARRY & DEAD BOYS 

LONDON SCENE 1978

The Way They Were

Old Punk documentary from Granada TV on Channel 4. Features (in order):- Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello, Buzzcocks, John Cooper Clarke, Iggy Pop, Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury, Penetration, Blondie, Fall, Jam, Jordan, Devo, Tom Robinson Band, Johnny Thunder, Elvis Costello, XTC, Jonathan Richman, Nick Lowe, Siouxie & the Banshees, Cherry Vanilla & Magazine….. The tape fails there! I have left the adverts in for historical reference – TSB, Once, Cluster, Coke is it, Roger Daltrey in American Express, Ulay, Swan, Our Price, Gastrils, Cluster & Prestige. All content remains the copyright of the current holders ~ I claim none.

 The Punk Rock Movie

A revealing look into the bands comprising the 1978 London punk-rock scene, and a peek back-stage at the lives behind the facade. Includes performances by Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees and other concurrent bands.

Most of the bands were filmed at the Roxy club in London, where Don Letts worked as a DJ. Letts filmed the bands very simply with a Super-8 camera, and also filmed on the tour bus and at shows with The Clash and The Slits. The Sex Pistols were filmed at Screen on the Green in London on 3 April 1977, Sid Vicious’s first show with the band.

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New York Dolls

All Dolled Up!

A New York Dolls Story – Found Tapes:

In the early 70’s Bob Gruen and his wife Nadya Beck bought a video camera and filmed around 40 hours of footage from the New-York Dolls. This is a must see!!  

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Artist Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

The New York Dolls created punk rock before there was a term for it. Building on the Rolling Stones‘ dirty rock & roll, Mick Jagger‘s androgyny, girl group pop, the Stooges‘ anarchic noise, and the glam rock of David Bowie and T. Rex, the New York Dolls created a new form of hard rock that presaged both punk rock and heavy metal. Their drug-fueled, shambolic performances influenced a generation of musicians in New York and London, who all went on to form punk bands. And although they self-destructed quickly, the band’s first two albums remain among the most popular cult records in rock & roll history.

All of the members of the New York Dolls played in New York bands before the band formed in late 1971. Guitarists Johnny Thunders and Rick Rivets, bassist Arthur Kane, and drummer Billy Murcia were joined by vocalist David Johansen. Early in 1972, Rivets was replaced by Syl Sylvain and the group began playing regularly in Lower Manhattan, particularly at the Mercer Arts Center. Within a few months, they had earned a dedicated cult following, but record companies were afraid of signing the Dolls because of their cross-dressing and blatant vulgarity.

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Late in 1972, the Dolls embarked on their first tour of England. During the tour, drummer Murcia died after mixing drugs and alcohol. He was replaced by Jerry Nolan. After Nolan joined the band, the Dolls finally secured a record contract with Mercury Records. Todd Rundgren — whose sophisticated pop seemed at odds with the band’s crash-and-burn rock & roll — produced the band’s debut New York Dolls, which appeared in the summer of 1973. The record received overwhelmingly positive reviews, but it didn’t stir the interest of the general public; the album peaked at number 116 on the U.S. charts. The band’s follow-up, Too Much Too Soon, was produced by the legendary girl group producer George “Shadow” Morton. Although the sound of the record was relatively streamlined, the album was another commercial failure, only reaching number 167 upon its early summer 1974 release.  dolls

Following the disappointing sales of the Dolls’ two albums, Mercury Records dropped the band. No other record labels were interested in the group, so the Dolls decided to hire a new manager, the British Malcolm McLaren, who would soon become famous for managing the Sex Pistols. With the Dolls, McLaren began developing his skill for turning shock into invaluable publicity. Although he made it work for the Pistols just a year later, all of his strategies backfired for The Dolls. McLaren made the band dress completely in red leather and perform in front of the U.S.S.R.’s flag, all of which meant to symbolize the Dolls’ alleged communist allegiance. The new approach only made record labels more reluctant to sign the band and members soon began leaving the group.

courageous-cat-04By the middle of 1975, Thunders and Nolan left the Dolls. The remaining members, Johansen and Sylvain, fired McLaren and assembled a new lineup of the band. For the next two years, the duo led a variety of different incarnations of the band, to no success. In 1977, Johansen and Sylvain decided to break up the band permanently. Over the next two decades, various outtakes collections, live albums, and compilations were released by a variety of labels and The New York Dolls’ two original studio albums never went out of print.

Upon the Dolls’ breakup, David Johansen began a solo career that would eventually metamorphose into his lounge-singing alter ego, Buster Poindexter, in the mid-’80s. Syl Sylvain played with Johansen for two years before he left to pursue his own solo career. Johnny Thunders formed The Heartbreakers with Jerry Nolan after they left the group in 1975. Over the next decade, the Heartbreakers would perform sporadically and Thunders would record an occasional solo album. On April 23, 1991, Thunders was found dead in his room at the St. Peter House in New Orleans, Louisiana. Nolan performed at a tribute concert for Thunders later in 1991; a few months later, he died of a stroke at the age of 40.

MI0002490791In 2004, former Smiths vocalist Morrissey — who was once the president of a British New York Dolls fan club — invited the surviving members of the New York Dolls to perform at the 2004 Meltown Festival, a music and cultural festival that was being curated that year by the singer. To the surprise of many, David Johansen, Syl Sylvain, and Arthur Kane agreed to the gig, with Steve Conte (from Johansen’s solo band) standing in for Thunders and Gary Powell from the Libertines sitting in on drums. The group’s set was well received by critics and fans (and was recorded for release on DVD and compact disc), which led to offers for other festival appearances, but only a few weeks after the Meltdown show, Kane checked himself into a Los Angeles hospital with what he thought was a severe case of the flu. Kane’s ailment was soon diagnosed as leukemia, and he died only a few hours later, on July 13, 2004, at age 55.

With Sam Yaffa (of Hanoi Rocks) on bass, the remaining Dolls played a hometown tribute to their fallen brothers at Little Steven‘s International Underground Garage Festival in New York City on August 14, 2004, reuniting again (this time with Brian Delaney on drums) in 2006 for the all-new CD/DVD One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This. The Todd Rundgren-produced ‘Cause I Sez So appeared on Rhino in 2009. A fifth studio album, Dancing Backward in High Heels, featuring both Johansen and Sylvain and produced and mixed by Jason Hill, appeared from 429 Records early in 2011.

The very controversed red leather look Malcom McLaren gave the New York Dolls, also using a communist flag backdrop for their concerts. Not very long afterwards McLaren was flying back to UK. The Dolls were history and McLaren was about to enter it. With a keen eye for trends, McLaren realised that a new protest style was needed for the ’70s, and largely initiated the punk movement in the UK, for which he supplied fashions from the Chelsea boutique ‘SEX’, operated with his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood. The issue of a controversial record, “God Save the Queen”, satirising the Queen’s Jubilee in 1977 was typical of McLaren’s shock tactics, and he gained publicity by being arrested after a promotional boat trip outside the Houses of Parliament. The Sex Pistols became more associated with the Punk movement than any other band.

Here’s one last clip from the red leather era.

Did Sid Really Kill Nancy?

Explosive New Evidence Suggests the Punk Rocker May Have Been Innocent

The murky half-light of a bleak New York winter’s morning had yet to penetrate the small rear bedroom of an airless apartment in the city’s bohemian Greenwich Village.

Stepping over empty bottles and half-eaten plates of spaghetti (the untidy remnants of the previous night’s party), two police officers from the tough 6th Precinct stood in the doorway and surveyed the scene.

Pushed up hard against the far wall was a bed. Lying amid the crumpled sheets, illuminated by the unforgiving glow of a single light bulb, was the naked dead body of a young man.

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Tragic love story: Sex Pistol Sid Vicious was accused of the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen (February 27, 1958 – October 12, 1978)

To Manhattan’s hardened policemen, it was hardly an unfamiliar scene. But the death of the 21-year-old in the messy ground-floor flat at 63 Bank Street did offer the New York Police Department a rather convenient solution to a potentially messy murder investigation.

Because the dead man, John Ritchie, who had taken his last breath just hours before, was better known as British punk rocker Sid Vicious  –  the prime suspect in the murder of his American girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.

Now, however, the Sex Pistols bass guitarist, who was on bail charged with stabbing Spungen to death at their Manhattan hotel four months earlier, was dead and the file could be closed with the minimum of fuss.

He killed Nancy, they assumed, then died of an overdose. End of story.

But many of those who knew the couple have always questioned this official version of events. sid-and-nancy

And on the 30th anniversary of his death, a new film is set for release which presents the fascinating theory that Vicious was innocent of murdering his blonde lover.

Its makers claim to have uncovered evidence which reveals that a series of police blunders and apathy by detectives led the authorities wrongly to pin the blame on the star.

In fact, the film contests, medical tests carried out on Vicious at the time of his arrest showed the musician would have been incapable of the attack, because he was out cold at the time after taking so much of a powerful sedative that it would have killed all but the most hard-bitten drug users.

Instead, the film Who Killed Nancy? asserts for the first time that 20-year-old Spungen, the daughter of a wealthy middle-class Philadelphia family, was killed by another resident at the hotel  –  a shadowy British man named Michael, who spent that last fatal night in the room with the couple.

As the murderer robbed and killed Spungen for the huge stash of cash they kept there, Vicious, it is claimed, slept through the attack, only waking to find his lover’s dead body in the morning.

The documentary’s British director, Alan G. Parker, who has spent 24 years investigating the life and death of the star and has written a series of well-received books on the subject, tracked down more than 180 witnesses and unearthed previously unseen police reports.

He also spoke to several witnesses who are adamant that Vicious was innocent. Crucially, Parker says police found the fingerprints of six people who had been in the couple’s room at New York’s rundown Chelsea Hotel in the early hours, but none was ever interviewed.

One witness, who subsequently became a priest, tried to tell detectives that he thought Vicious was not the murderer, but was given the brush-off by investigating officers.

Meanwhile others pointed the finger of suspicion at the man known only as ‘Michael’, who one friend of the couple swears remained alone in the room with them during those fateful final hours. He disappeared after the murder and police made no effort to track him.

sid and nancy
Troubled: Spungen and Vicious in London, 1978

‘I have followed this story for over 20 years,’ says Parker. ‘The more I researched and dug around, the more I became convinced that Sid was innocent. The police thought they had their man, and when he died the whole thing could be put away and forgotten about.’

But just how much of the film’s thesis stands up to scrutiny and how much is based on the plethora of wild conspiracy theories that have grown up about the deaths of Sid and Nancy over the past three decades?

Certainly, Spungen’s killing did seem, at first, to be a routine murder investigation. A rock groupie who had turned her back on her genteel Jewish upbringing and become a heroin addict, funding her habit at one time by working as a stripper and prostitute, Nancy was found dead in her underwear in the bathroom of Room 100 of the Chelsea Hotel.

The monolithic Chelsea had once been a Mecca for writers and artists. Dylan Thomas, Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan had all once lived there. But by the late 1970s, it was little more than a sprawling drugs den populated by a seedy coterie of Manhattan low-life.

Spungen, who had been dating Sid Vicious for a year, had been stabbed once in the stomach by a hunting knife that London-born Vicious had bought days earlier to protect himself when he ventured out into New York to buy drugs.

It was Vicious himself who phoned police to say he had found her dead body, and an hour later on the morning of October 12, 1978, in a holding cell at the Third Homicide Division, Vicious famously confessed: ‘I did it because I’m a dirty dog.’

The police, it seemed, had their man. With his taste for violence, animal torture and swastikas, Vicious was, after all, the repellent face of punk rock in all its snarling ugliness. sid-and-nancy-portrait

His band, the Sex Pistols, had shocked Britain with their foulmouthed rants on TV and their anti-monarchy hit, God Save The Queen.

He had killed his lover, it seemed, in the ultimate act of rock debauchery while out of his mind on drugs.

But Vicious was later to retract his confession, claiming he could not recall anything about the night Nancy  –  dubbed ‘Nauseating Nancy’ by the star’s own mother  –  had died.

Hardly surprising, perhaps, given that the police report obtained by Parker reveals Vicious was dosed up on powerful sedatives at the time of her murder. Indeed, witnesses who were at an impromptu party in their room the evening before her body was found claim he took up to 30 Tuinal tablets  –  a strong barbiturate.

Few could survive such a massive dose, claims Parker, and even those who could would be put into a deep coma for many hours.

Certainly, several witnesses who passed in and out of the couple’s first-floor room in the early hours say Vicious was out for the count. And at least two say the previously unknown Michael, who lived on the sixth floor of the hotel, was with Sid and Nancy as late as 5am  –  around the time she was stabbed.

So what could have been a possible motive for the killing? In a word: money. Vicious, who had quit the Sex Pistols nine months earlier after a bitter fall- out with the group’s lead singer Johnny Rotten, had gone on to have a Europe-wide solo hit with a tuneless version of the Frank Sinatra classic My Way.

Just days before Nancy’s death, he had received $25,000 in cash  –  royalty payments from Richard Branson’s Virgin Records.

Witnesses say that on the night before Spungen’s death, the room was awash with money. The following morning, however, the cash was gone, and Michael was later seen carrying a large wad of cash secured with one of Nancy’s purple hair ties.

So just who was the mysterious Michael? Details of the alleged killer are sketchy, but he was described by witnesses as a young, slim, blond man with a penchant for alligator shoes. He spoke with a British accent and had moved into the hotel recently, befriending Vicious and Miss Spungen.

Several of the couple’s friends remember seeing him with them in the days before Nancy’s death, and one, musician Neon Leon, who had been with the couple on the night of the killing, says he rang Nancy shortly before the time that she is estimated to have been stabbed. He says he could hear the man he knew as Michael talking in the background.

Another resident of the Chelsea, Victor Colicchio, also stopped at the couple’s door shortly before the stabbing and says Michael was inside.

But none of the witnesses knew Michael well, and his last name remains a mystery. Only one hand-drawn picture by the couple’s friend, singer Steve Dior, offers any evidence of what he looked like: slimly built, with shoulder-length hair.

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Vicious on stage in San Francisco with fellow Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten in 1978

Dior is adamant that this is the man he believes killed Nancy and who disappeared soon after with the bundle of the couple’s cash.

Another resident at the sleazy Chelsea Hotel was a would-be actor called Rockets Redglare  –  who had been born ‘Michael Morra’. Interestingly, within days of Nancy’s murder he allegedly confessed to a friend that he was the real killer.

Redglare, who was raised in a tough district of Brooklyn, had been an unofficial minder and drugs dealer to the couple. He was a well-known figure on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and went on to star with Madonna in the Hollywood movie Desperately Seeking Susan and with Tom Hanks in Big. One English friend of the couple, Zoe Hansen, met Redglare after the killing and says he admitted to her he had been in the room that night and told her: ‘I did it.’

Redglare, himself an addict, died, aged 52, in May 2001 of a combination of kidney and liver failure caused by his years of drug use.

But despite his mysterious confession, witnesses insist that Redglare  –  who was American, dark-haired and 25 stone  –  was not the man they blame for Nancy’s murder. That Michael, it seems, vanished without a trace.

And so, with no other suspects to hand, the police charged Vicious with Nancy’s murder. He was remanded in custody, but his manager, the colourful Malcolm McLaren, hired a top New York lawyer called James Merberg to win him bail.

Within days, Vicious was free on a $50,000 licence which had been put up by his record label boss, Richard Branson. jason_adams_3

A little more than a month later, however, Sid was back inside the maximum security Riker’s Island jail after glassing a man in a fight in a New York club. He spent nearly two months behind bars in the prison’s detox wing before he was again released on bail.

By then, Vicious had a new girlfriend, a would-be actress called Michelle Robson. On the day of his release  –  February 1, 1979  –  Vicious, his mother Anne Beverley and a few friends went back to Robson’s apartment for a celebration meal.

After eating spaghetti bolognese, Vicious asked his mother  –  herself a hopeless addict  –  to find him some drugs. He complained that what she brought him was not strong enough, and another friend was dispatched to get some more.

But unknown to Vicious, this second batch of heroin was more than 95 per cent pure and nearly three times stronger than most of the heroin sold on the streets of New York. After taking it, Sid collapsed.

He was revived by his girlfriend and mother, but they decided not to call an ambulance because they feared he would be thrown back in jail for breaking his bail conditions. It was to prove a fatal mistake.

Later that night, alone in the bedroom, he injected more of the powerful heroin. The following morning, he was found dead. sid-vicious

A pathologist who examined his body said the star’s tolerance to the drug had been weakened by his period behind bars. That, and the potency of the heroin, had killed him.

Police quickly announced they were not looking for anyone else in connection with Spungen’s death.

Meanwhile, Anne Beverley discovered what appeared to be a suicide note in the pocket of her son’s jeans. Written some days earlier, Vicious told his mother he wanted to be reunited with ‘his’ Nancy.

The discovery of the letter led some friends to speculate that Nancy’s death had been a suicide pact that had gone wrong, and Spungen had administered the fatal knife wound herself.

In fact, ten days after her death, Vicious had attempted to slash his wrists, and just a few months earlier the couple had told a British music magazine of their plans to take their own lives.

After his death, the punk rocker’s mother requested he be laid to rest in the same plot where Nancy was buried, but her parents refused. The following week, Anne flew with her son’s ashes to the Philadelphia cemetery and secretly sprinkled them over Nancy’s gravestone.

His mother, who committed suicide in 1996, remained convinced of her son’s innocence until her dying day.

‘Before she died, Anne told me to clear her son’s name,’ says Parker. ‘Everything I have found out since makes me believe that Sid was innocent.’

It is unlikely we shall ever now know for sure. But could it be that the undeniably unpleasant and violent Vicious really was the victim of an injustice after all?

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”I maybe an outrageous person but I’m no murderer”-Sid Vicious, (May 10, 1957 – February 2, 1979)
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The police all treated this as ”who cares? Just another dead junky…”

Sad thing is that nobody seems, even to this day to care to know who killed Nancy Spungen. Even if they would would have found a way to accuse Sid and get him to court for that, which I’m pretty sure they would have, they would have had a real hard time convincing a jury that he was guilty. So if we take into consideration that the option that he was most probably not the killer than who is it?? I think some guy tried to steal their money and Nancy caught the guy and used Sid’s knife that was always planted in the wall in their room at the Chelsea to kill Spungen whom without the shadow of a doubt would not have let him take the money without doing anything. She wasn’t strong but she had been through some tuff shit in NYC, enough to be absolutely certain that she would have done everything in her power to try and stop that guy.  That evening everyone remembers that Sid was totally out of it and he just never heard anything, he must have felt aweful discovering his beloved soulmate dead on the floor under the bathroom sink, I bet it’s an image that followed him for the rather short remaining of his also very short life.  He died from an overdose after being bailed out for the second time for hitting Patti Smith’s brother with a beer bottle in a NYC bar. He was clean when he got out of jail and he was with his new girlfriend and his mother and some friends.  What a sad story.

What Makes Nancy So Great by Sid

aid johnny and hell

Spungen was so fucked up back then in New-York that a friend told fer she should move to the UK, that she would be able to relax there because unlike the US they were treating the drug addicts good there so she could have a ”normal” life. So when the New-York Dolls were called to tour with the Sex Pistols she decided to go mainly to try and get with Johnny or some guy from  the Dolls and by hanging out with the Dolls she met Sid who was like a ”fish fresh out of the water”. He was anything but Vicious. Everyone agrees on that one.

But then….

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Click to watch UK 2009 documentary Who Killed Nancy by Alan G. Parker