published: 13 /
In her 'Raging Pages' book column, Lisa Torem finds that ' Stranded in the Jungle,’ the illuminating story of drummer Jerry Nolan of New York Dolls and Heartbreakers' fame, is a bold reality check into the life of a downward, spiralling talent.
“A Tale of Drugs, Fashion, the New York Dolls, and Punk Rock” is printed on the cover of this book and what you see is what you get.
The 1970s was the decade in which drummer Jerry Nolan found his fame in the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers. For this drummer, life may have been a two-headed sword; glitz and glamour took up a major slice, but also horrific drug use which caused his ultimate demise.
Chronicling such a life sounds like a painful enough journey, but Weiss, wise in that he extended his reach to those who were fundamentally there, cites examples from The Sex Pistols, the Ramones, Talking Heads and members of Blondie, but some of the best illustrations come from the non-rockers.
During the time that Jerry was with his post-Heartbreakers band the Idols, he met Lesley Vinson. A journalist, Vinson had interviewed Jerry, prior to developing a relationship and moving in with him to a New York city apartment. The first time she entered his then East Village “hovel,” she had been struck by the state of his living conditions: “cat hair and dirt and old food and cat piss and unclean litter boxes.” The author writes, “Lesley was touched by the sad state of Jerry’s living conditions, as well as his feelings for a cat named Cisco that lived there.” Told simply, the reader gets a fair glimmer of the disillusionment that will invariably follow — Vinson’s initial feeling of “sadness” would haunt her, although she asserts: “What attracted me to him is that he was...a sad guy.”
Jerry’s hard luck would continue when he ends up in the U.K. and discovers that because of a previous overstay concerning the Heartbreakers, he would have to head back to the U.S. immediately, practically flat broke and with no connections to an attorney.
The author also alludes to a growing rivalry between Nolan and New York Dolls and Heartbreakers guitarist Johnny Thunders. Both musicians were drug users, but Nolan claimed that his stage persona was not affected by it; but Thunder’s was. “He was very proud of himself that he was not a sloppy drug addict,” volunteers Vinson, who joins a long list of former disillusioned paramours.
The author goes on to illustrate examples of Thunders' onstage charisma and prized songwriting and how Nolan did not feel he could compete. “He knew it and it gnawed at him.”
Nolan’s drug use and dealings with the Rockats, another post Heartbreakers band created bitter memories for all involved, although it seems fair to say that band members’ patience was repeatedly tried. That band did experience major label success, but only after Nolan was dismissed.
Primarily, the picture painted of this musician’s life is bleak, but, alongside the self-destructiveness, the reader becomes privy to a chock-full of music history; for example, the fabric and colour of Max’s Kansas City club and bands that gained their footing there, is explored with great fervor.
Nolan’s history is explored clearly throughout the book; his mood swings and poor decision making, notwithstanding. Still, one wonders, what motivated this book? Was there a basic belief in the man’s talent or at least enough to warrant the well-executed research?
But it’s a worthwhile story, nonetheless, and is followed up by more well-researched attractions: an impressive bibliography, a selective discography and acknowledgments that encompass major players in the industry. Author Curt Weiss knows of what he speaks, having worked as a drummer himself with the Rockats and Beat Rodeo. The linear, accompanying photos tell their own story, always a treat…