I met a guy leaning over the bar in The Prince. We were battling elbows for the space to order beer when I noticed it. Inked across his forearm as badly as my own, 'L.A.M.F'. I held by elbow in check, no longer jabbing at his trying to slide it off the bar with the pools of slipped lager.
'Your a Johnny Thunders fan?'
He turns his face to me and retorts in pure yam yam, undiluted black country hills smothering his words with more success than the Saturday night in full swing around us. The words therefore being irrelevent I caught his eye with my finger and led it down to the ankle of my jeans which I rolled up revealing my own dotty green tribute to the crown of junkies the king of new york punk that brooklyn guinea all sneer and doped up calm, Johnny Thunders.
He says that not me. He sez it rather. He invites me outside for a fag with a flick on the packet that sends a straight poking out. Outside we lean against the old red bricks that once made up a side of the neighbouring building, a poundland with a carpark on top where we did our first attempts at skateboarding, graffiti, spliff rolling and for some fucking. Gone now. They left one wall standing I suppose beacause over the years every brick had been garnished with a name scratched by key or knife. The competition was to get yours highest away from the piss and scratchouts. Some names were lonely from their height clearly attained by two people, one hanging the other by the feet risking life and limb for a local bit of honour. My name was mid way up, I'd stacked chairs and crates. I was glad they had left the wall, it felt too sentimental for developers intent on building appartments next to the local. Fuck it, word was in the right corners and I often wander into right corners, whatever they tried to built would be torched and good riddance. Local hands against gentrification and I'm grinning as he leans in and offer me a lighter for the cigarette.
'yeah mate been a Thunders devotee a long time now, funny actually see I was born to be junkie, old man would like to say I was born to be a rockstar but thats the problem'
He's a chainsmoker and it's never wise to stop the flow of smoke and stories at this point. Kills everything.
'see my old mans a proper old rock and roller says his prayers to Gene Vincent and all that, but he comes from a small town in Scotland where 80% percent of the population are on skag, like proper on it everyday. He never touched my stuff the old man, my old dear well she's a different story way he tells it he had to drag here down here and played her Chuck Berry until her soul was clean, no joke thats the words he uses. Like when I say rock and roll is a religion to the man it ain't a turn of phrase, I've seen the man on his knees praying to a cut out of Elvis.'
He bares his teeth this time. Smiling is such a primal human interaction, showing eating holes it's almost the quintessental human sign of peace, our jaws locked but clear to see. I wonder how it got so that people feel they have to smile when they don't want to, when something so honest got perverted then it comes to me, it happened when everything else happened. At some point, at some point when I wasn't there.
'anyway I raised with the old original rock and rollers as the gods of olympus, there was a guitar in the house but my dad couldn't play and I couldn't be arsed to learn I'd much rather read the books, look at the photos taking in the girls and clothes, mimicking the way they held their fags and swung their limbs. When I was a proper little kid I'd sit at me dads feet listening to these stories about all this old singers like they were parables and you know I was learning and it was alot more interesting than what they taught me at school, there was a sense of danger of mystery my dad never touched but was eager to share with me.'
He takes another cigarette out and throws the empty packet to the ground, he grips the cigarette with authority between his teeth and speaks through the leaking smoke.
'well then I found punk didn't I. And it was everything. It was all the stuff my dad showed me turned up a notch, fuck the skill fuck the passion fuck your parents, this was the shit for me the women, the danger, the threads and the pinnacle of it all it seemed to me, the junk'
'so I left home got bad tats'
slaps his arm.
'wore tight jeans, the same pair for months on end, deliberatley burnt with fags and drenched in spilt whiskey. I chased the ghost of punk. Ended up spending a lot of time in squats, a few stints on the street and taking alot of skag. One night it all got to me. I was holed up in my room fixing, a photo of Richard Hell my only company in the empty room tacked as he was above the fireplace. So by this time I didn't have much right, but I had a load of good gear, china white it was and I thought fuck I'm going to go out in style. I only had one record left, a Thunders tune 'can't put your arms around a memory' so I started fixing up a lethal dose of the china white. Just before I shot It I layed out on the floor, I put sunglasses on. Lit a tab, then played the record. I let the music play for a moment then I got ready to fix'
He actually looks pretty sad, and considering he's standing in front of me talking and just about breathing betweent he creaking of his lungs it actually feels like he's about to describe death to me.
He's out of fags and without the stick to gesture with he suddenly shrinks, that and then serious turn the conversation's taken weighs me and him both to the spot.
'so its all set for my big punk ending. And I stick myself, but just before I push it the record skips,then skips again and screeches to a stop. Suddenly all I can hear is the awful thump techno through the walls from the neighbours mixing with the bad R&B of the girl upstairs and I'm lying their with an unpumped needle hanging out my arm'
he smiles again, this one says I should get it. And suddenly I worry I've been taken on a wild goose chase. Lost in one of those stories that turns out to have two heads and big fuck off hole where it's heart should be.
But he gives me the compliment of making sense.
'so you see I knew then it was all bullshit, all of it bullshit'
chuckles. Cracks his knuckles.
'it's all bullshit. Just music ennit, just music and clothes. Drugs ain't anything. Anyone can take drugs. Thunders weren't great cause of drugs he was great cause he could talk through a fretboard, when Johnny played it was like he was singing'
I agree with his sentiment, although he's stolen the words from Morrissey about Thunders playing that is, the drugs bit is just true.
silence. I ask him if he's carved his name on a brick. He says he hasn't and I give him a foot up and the lend of my leatherman and he scratches JIM into a midway brick the LAMF into the brick adjacent hesitating then adding another line to the bottom of the F. We share a laugh and he buys me a Guiness, The Prince is getting more pricey and they've done the inside out all posh.