L.A.M.F. Live At The Bowery Electric is a document of three live 2016 performances of Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers’ classic album, rather than a documentary.
Walter Lure is the Jerry Lee Lewis of his generation; the last man standing. Most of his various band mates and peers are dead, and although Lure swam in the same strong currents, he only got wet. He’s the last of The Heartbreakers, unless you count Richard Hell who was very briefly in the band, but didn’t appear on L.A.M.F., their only studio recording. Lure resembles W.C. Fields, yet still manages to be cool… no doubt a byproduct of a life lived in the limelight.
The stage lights at Bowery Electric are meant for live performance rather than film, so the performers on the left side of the stage are usually awash in red, while performers on the right are a blur of blue, but it suits the D.I.Y. punk rock mentality as Walter Lure & friends rip through L.A.M.F. in its entirety.
The Heartbreaker’s L.A.M.F. album exists in more editions than almost any other release. It seems every few years a new mix, or a collection of every take from the sessions is released. The most complete version has four CDs containing the LOST original ’77 mixes, the original mixes released on Track Records, the original demos, & the best of reels and reels of tapes of remixes by various band members and friends. Another version includes live shows recorded at London’s Speakeasy, which are some of the band’s best performances.
The mix that was originally released didn’t seem to be anyone’s first choice, and its release lead to drummer Jerry Nolan leaving the band only to rejoin them as a hired hand.
The now classic album’s muddy sound hamstrung the highly-anticipated album’s sales but, as bad as it sounded, everybody seems to have heard it. One theory restricts the muddy mix to the vinyl version, and many purists prefer a hard-to-find cassette version released at the same time. But the drug-fueled sessions would have benefitted by a single strong personality stewarding the songs through the entire process.
The album’s title is NYC street gang abbreviation for: “Like A MotherFucker” and L.A.M.F. lands Thunders’ Keith Richards riffs one stagger closer to punk than his previous band; The New York Dolls. The Heartbreakers are sort of the missing link between The Dolls’ glam rock/girl group fandom, and The Ramones’/Sex Pistols’ school of punk rock. The more time passes, the more it all tracks like “rock & roll” which soaks up new sounds like The Blob absorbs co-stars.
The film is edited from three shows in two nights, which were certainly well-received by those in attendance. The MC5’s Wayne Kramer straps on Johnny Thunders’ guitar for “Chinese Rocks” a song about the cheap but potent heroin that was available in Chinatown at the time. It’s the best song, & the best performance, of the film.
Chinese Rocks’ authorship is the source of much debate. Richard Hell & Dee Dee Ramone (of The Ramones) maintain that Dee Dee brought the song over to Hell’s apartment 75% completed because straight-laced Republican Johnny Ramone didn’t want to do a drug song. The two friends finished the song and Hell, who was in The Heartbreakers at the time, brought it to rehearsal. He points out that he always sang it live–because the band’s rule was that whoever wrote a song sang it.
Hell expressed surprise that the band kept performing the song after he left, and they crossed the border between insult & injury by adding their names to the writer’s credits to boot! Apparently Thunders and Nolan simply “made off with” partial credit, which is pretty typical junkie behavior. An active addict’s thinking is: “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine.” As the song’s lyrics outline: “I’m living on a Chinese Rock, all my best things are in hock,” and rightful ownership has never stopped a junkie from hocking anything.
When the song’s popularity lead to it finally making it onto a Ramones album, it was credited to D.D. Ramone/R. Hell, but subsequent releases credited it to The Ramones as a whole. What a mess. Writing credits were rectified on later releases containing the song.
The fact that it’s easily the best song The Heartbreakers ever recorded indicates that it was probably written by someone else. To my ears, it’s a Dee Dee Ramone song through & through. Only the “Ooh’s & Ahh’s” aren’t a regular ingredient of Dee Dee’s bill of fare, but they’re evident in Richard Hell’s spice rack. Somehow, the suits at ASCAP & BMI unraveled a long-standing heroin-addled dispute between four musicians. Their online databases credit the song to just Dee Dee Ramone and Richard Hell.
Jesse Malin sings lead on “Chinese Rocks” and does a capable job, although Joey Ramone can still lay claim to the definitive version.
Walter Lure is well-supported for the performances. Wayne Kramer is probably present because he played with Johnny Thunders in Gang War. The Dead Boys’ Cheetah Chrome joins in on “Pirate Love.” Liza Colby jumps onstage for “I Love You.” I’m not following you around or anything, but I can guarantee you’ve seen better performances at a karaoke night. Cheetah Chrome has the good sense to leave the stage when Liza comes on & rejoins to take the mic for “Goin’ Steady.” One gets the feeling Cheetah was making a statement.
Clem Burke has become the drummer of choice of every band who lost, or can’t stand, their original drummer; from The Ramones to The Romantics. Burke brings the back beat and delivers a raucous; “Can’t Keep My Eyes On You.”
Tommy Stinson is the other half of the rhythm session, and sings lead on several songs, as he did with his band Bash ‘N Pop. Stinson was barely a teenager when his first band, The Replacements, started, and he did stints in Soul Asylum & Axl Rose’s “Chinese Democracy” version of Guns ‘N Roses.
The last song; “Do You Love Me” is butchered with slightly less flair than when Johnny Thunders butchered it.
L.A.M.F. Live At The Bowery Electric is a 45 minute concert with interviews to round it up to an hour, but if you love Johnny Thunders, The Heartbreakers, their L.A.M.F. album, or the guys who came together to pay it tribute, you’re going to be glad you saw it. I was.