City Slang: “Gang War!” revisited

Dec 7, 2011 at 6:47 am

Back in 1979, MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer teamed up with New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders for a project called Gang War. The project didn’t quite last a full year before it imploded, and no records were released. Years later though, Jungle Records put out this live album / authorized bootleg.

At the time, idealists were hoping for big things. Thunders and Kramer were darlings of pre-punk, embraced wholeheartedly by the punks, so hopes were high for what they could achieve together. You only had to scratch the surface slightly, however, before realizing that Gang War was destined for failure. Thunders was in the midst of a heroin-fueled hell, while Kramer was fresh out of prison and not mentally equipped to deal with a barely functioning junkie. In fact, there’s a quote from Kramer on the back cover of this CD that reads, “Music is important to me and I value the honor, the opportunity, to be an important musician. Johnny, on the other hand, didn’t consider himself a musician. He considered himself an entertainer.”

That’s a telling quote, even if it downplays massively Thunders’ musical impact on the world. Yet amongst the chaos, the two made for a compelling pairing. Kramer is forced into the role of the “steady Eddie”, the glue holding the whole thing together, as Syl Sylvain had been with the Dolls. Thunders, then, is able to be loose and free. He couldn’t play any other way.

Kramer still manages to stand out. A throwaway riff here, a cute mini-solo there, the man is unarguably brilliant. This album is not brilliant, but it is fascinating. A set of standards and covers performed by a rowdy bar band. Nothing wrong with that.

“I’d Much Rather Be With the Boys” and “Endless Party” are highlights, but really, this is less about musical awesomeness and more about capturing a moment, an aural car crash, on disc.

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