I Remember Johnny And The Way He Lived (A Side Commentary On Songwriting, Ghosts, Anglogalician And The Unconscious)

It’s funny how, with no special intention from the songwriter, signs of a whole subterranean world, a preexisting universe, begin to spurt here and there in different songs, connecting them and creating a bond with that dreamy soil that flows beneath us, under the facts that we consider solid and true. Does that soil belong to the writer, too? Well, let’s be clear: it is the writer who belongs to the soil, and feeds it, at the same time, though probably unconscious or only partially conscious of that fact.

In “New Town”, a song from Nazgul Says by Broke Lord, that flows in the Velvet Underground vein and depicts the moral misery of living in an old small town, I wrote about a guy called Johnny: “And I remember Johnny and the way he died / after licking life right to the bone from his / midnite bowl of rice”.

A Johnny -arguably the same- appears again in the new album, in another song with a “new” in the title, the more joyous, but also terribly sad “New motels”. There, “Johnny had a chrome red heart / soft at the core, rust on the edges / a neurotic eagle was ridin’ the hood”.

But a close listener would notice a third appearance, at least: in “Vermeer Hotel”, also from the new record, the narrator sings “I’ve been licking all life from the bone / I’m a lover / And I made a clean flute out of it / to blow in the dark”. That flute is, as the song advances, given to the Child-God that lives upstairs, for him to create the tunes he plays over and over, as a strange rhythm that helps to define the acts of the people living in that no-place called “Vermeer Hotel”.

So -not necessarily in the conscious mind of the writer- Johnny is beginning to take spectral shape as a guy that died that, while still alive, was the kind of shady type with a hidden golden heart that literature and cinema have widely provided our imagination with. He lived his perilous life to the max, had his ups and downs (the “neurotic eagle riding the hood” could point in that direction) and he had some kind of mystical encounter with a higher entity in which music (“the flute”) was important. His ghost flows through those three songs, pointing out that other similar bonds could be happening in the rest of the numbers, concerning other characters, places or situations, waiting for a sharp eye to get them and give them “real” life.

But, who’s that Johnny? A Porco Bravo? A close friend asked that question to me after listening to “New Town”. As a joke, I answered. “He is you”. Eventually, that quick, unconscious answer has come to be quite true.

When I think of Johnny these days –and I swear I din’t stop to think about him for a second while I was “writing” him- the image of Johnny Thunders appears in front of me, often, as spanish photographer Alberto García Alix portrayed him in the eighties. There, he’s the “tramp with the snowy eyes and the red wine cool”, an eternal gypsy wet dream of opium and free will, eyelids about to fall and the smog of a song still undone floating around him. But of course that image is a secondary response, a new creation, an intent to connect the deep spectral Johnny to something I can grab: a mirage. In my shortsighted vision, Johnny could lead to that disturbingly beautiful portrait, and it’s true he could have begun there also, on a faraway adolescent evening. But his meaning, as far as songs go, should lay deeper.

At some level, writing is letting the back of your mind work along with the “front” of your mind. It intends “channeling” a universe you are only partially aware of, and then letting that universe eventually erupt, and be fast enough, trained enough, commando-like enough, to get the lava in your hands before it solidifies and turn it into meaningful gems, into songs. Those songs would work, accordingly, on different levels.

First, as a common story, that could have been also written by someone with no contact with his inner self, or the dreamy soil we speak about. That’s the less important part, far from the core.

Second, as a cryptic guide to that underworld we talk about, where all the stories are connected. So, they are chapters of a strange novel that is still to develop or be discovered through the years, and that has its own rules.

Third -connected to the second, and appearing just when the writer is a poet- the expression of a kind of pure, hidden truth that cannot be told except using symbols. Something higher that cannot be “explained” and, in fact, shouldn’t be. It cannot be dissected by our usual logical thinking. Truth is never explained, but revealed – always through poetry (white magic, vision, Rock&Roll, give it the name that fits you). Truth itself is far from reach, but still there for us. And, paradoxically, closer to the listener that it is to the writer, whose mind has already been polluted by too much thought. It is the recipient that must be clean. The channel must be just cleaned from time to time.

Of course, getting to trace these connections would take a deep dive in the work of the songwriter, or an extreme purity of the thought to receive the message paying no attention to the white noise around. People are rarely inclined to do so or to have such purity, unaware as they are that that dive in someone else’s vision would be a dive in their own vision, too. Unaware that all visions are connected beneath our feet, where we are just one everlasting tide.

So, who the fuck is Johnny?

You are, probably. I am. They are.

Or, in other words, Johnny is. He just is.

And he’s kind enough to walk through “my” songs from time to time.