It doesn’t pay to try all the smart boys know why
It doesn’t mean I didn’t try, I just never know why
Feel so cold and all alone, baby you’re not at home
And when I’m home, big deal I’m still alone

Hardly an obscurity nowadays, Johnny Thunders‘ signature song has been covered by a variety of artists such as Guns n’ Roses, Ronnie Spector, Devendra Banhart and many more, over the years.

A cult punk/rock n ‘roll icon and former New York Doll, Thunders released several albums with his playmates, The Heartbreakers, in the mid-seventies and toured the world, strung out on music, strung out on desire.

You can read into the lyrics as you like, in many different ways, but ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory’, with its title taken from a line in the Better Living Through TV episode of The Honeymooners sitcom, is a haunting gasp of beauty straight from the gutter, where young love is burning wild in the winds of passion. This song might have been written for his close friend Fabienne Shine, and is said to be about Thunders well-known heroin addiction. Interestingly, it is also said by biographer Nina Antonia in her book, Johnny Thunders…In Cold Blood, that the song was written long before he was even a member of the New York Dolls, and years before he had ever tried heroin.

Either way, this is a love song because heroin/love – in case you don’t know – are often the same ecstatic, whirlwind of emotion. It can be the cheapest fuck, or the love of your life, and it makes you slide from a high to a low in one fragile heartbeat. That state of euphoria is what we all long for, whether you’re hard rocking bastards on the brink on doing something unique with your life, or if you’re the local happy/unhappy geezer working in the local Woolworth. So basically, this song is for everyone. We’re all reaching for the sky, in some way or the other.

Oh, and speaking of heroin, Peter Perrett, from the English new wave band The Only Ones, supplied guitar and backing vocals on this stand-out classic of a song.

You’re just a bastard kid
And you got no name
Cause you’re living with me,
We’re one and the same
And even though they don’t show,
The scars aren’t so old
And when they go,
They let you know
You can’t put your arms around a memory
You can’t put your arms around a memory
You can’t put your arms around a memory
Don’t try, don’t try

Johnny Thunders died, allegedly of drug related causes, on April 23rd, 1991.

Words: Anders Knudsen
Photo: Kees Tabak