Almost exactly two years ago, a promoter friend smuggled me into the former CBGB to see Michael Monroe, former frontman of early 80s Finnish glam hooligans Hanoi Rocks. At some point during the show, the still-wiry 48 year old mounted an amplifier, thrust his mic towards the crowd, cut his head on an overhanging light, and then proceeded to not give a fuck that he was bleeding everywhere and continue destroying the present John Varvatos Store.
At some point after that, I met a 6’4”, elegantly trashy guy named Tommy Rockstar. The first question I asked was “Is your last name really Rockstar?”. The business card he produced answered with an emphatic “Fuck yeah my last name is Rockstar”. The second question was “What’s that tattoo?” The design in question turned out to be Axl Rose’s signature, which Tommy’d had inked just below his shirtsleeve, an exact duplicate of the one Rose had originally signed on his skin with something less permanent.
Apparently I hadn’t seen anything yet. Tommy rolled up his sleeve to reveal three more signatures, representing 4/5th’s of the original Guns N’ Roses lineup. The only one missing was Izzy Straddlin, who for nearly 20 years had been so reclusive, I hadn’t even realized he’d become a recluse. Tommy’d been determined to fill out the quintet, but despite a crisscrossing nationwide pursuit his efforts had so far proven fruitless. I told him someone ought to do a documentary about his quest. Now, that’s actually happening.
So first things first, even though I’m presenting them second: Tommy Rockstar isn’t a professional groupie, or even an amateur groupie. He was a founding member of the 90s punk band Latex Generation, who climbed from overexciting teens in Long Island high school gyms to pummeling Europe on a grass (and probably other drugs) roots tour to throttling teens and twentysomethings and probably some awkward thirtysomethings on the Warped main stage. They didn’t go much further after that, but they went further than your band, unless you happen to be in Guns N’ Roses, in which case thank you for reading, can you play Rocket Queen?
(Listen to Latex Generation’s “Come Along Sorry Ass We’re Going Places”)
After the band broke up, Tommy started his current business — Underground Press — printing up tour merch for more bands than I’d thought existed in the world. He also plays the roadie character in Mr. Brownstone, a tongue-firmly-in-cheek G ‘n R tribute that once caused David Letterman’s censors to bleep things.
I’m going to walk a fine line giving the following details, because those are for the movie to fill in, but Tommy got his first G N’ R sig in January 2009, at the NAMM music product trade show in lovely Anaheim. After spotting his personal idol, bassist Duff McKagan, signing autographs at a friend’s booth, he texted our mutual friend Jake, the owner of NYC’s Rocks Off promotions, and told him what he was up to. “You should get him to sign your arm and get it tattooed in!” suggested Jake. (Jake wears a full-back tattoo of himself as a motorcycle centaur, so if you’re ever on the fence about body ink, definitely ask somebody else for advice.)
Tommy googled the closest parlor, and up popped an omen: Fanatic Tattoo. Afterwards he texted Jake a picture, to which Jake responded “I was just kidding!” What followed was a saga involving egos, bitterness, deception, compatriot bouncers, thrilled crowds, Fashion Week, surprisingly warm approachability, and tuna melt sandwiches as Tommy secured Steven Adler (Jan ‘09), Slash (Jan ‘10), and Axl (Feb ‘10). But still, no Izzy.
Since leaving G N’ R in 1991 — the height of their fame, but also well after shit had gotten plenty weird — Stradlin has put out 10 studio albums, starting with 1992’s Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds, which was basically Keith Richards’ 3rd solo album. That’s more records than G N’ R has in total, including EP’s and Chinese Democracy.
But Izzy’s not exactly bumping Mr. Brownstone off Letterman to promote his career. Based on tips and rumors, Tommy’s flown to California several times trying to track him down, and abused pretty much every contact he has, to no avail, because Izzy Stradlin is hard-rock Salinger. Tommy couldn’t give up though: even though McKagan’s his man (they play the same instrument), he considers Stradlin Guns’ most integral member for his songwriting work on Appetite and Lies alone.
A few weeks ago, out of nowhere his best shot presented itself. Filmmaker Craig Hymson, who worked on both the Dixie Chicks and Wavy Gravy documentaries, approached Tommy about doing a feature-length, now working-titled WHERE’S IZZY? One Fan’s Quest for Rock’s Most Reclusive Guitarist. Plans are to fly him out to LA to revisit the locations where he nailed down his first three tats (rock clubs! convention centers! Jewish delis!), and, more importantly, follow him to Cleveland for the original five members’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Unless Izzy sends the rhythm version of Buckethead as his proxy, that’s the one place he will definitely surface.
I asked Tommy if Izzy was his White Whale, and he said “I’m cautious not to ever step into the ‘stalking’ arena that my friends joke about. I respect the man’s privacy and wouldn’t feel comfortable invading it too much. Then again, I’m just looking for a fucking autograph, man!”
Thrillist Exec Editor David Blend owns a copy of Izzy & the Ju Ju Hounds, but can’t find it. Follow his ass on twitter at @daveblend.
On April 11, Tommy’s throwing a fundraising bash in Brooklyn. There’ll be a full-costume Guns N’ Roses cover band performing a Lies-style, “highly entertaining and thoroughly comedic” acoustic set covering all the classics. Here’s the info. Make it happen.
What: Tommy Rockstar’s GNR Hall of Fame Induction Kick Off Party & Film Shoot
Date: Wednesday, April 11th (the night before I leave on my trek to Cleveland for the Induction Ceremony!)
Location: Grand Victory, 245 Grand St, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (347) 529-6610 (http://www.thegrandvictory.com/)
Cover: $10 at door, or at ticketweb.com
Time: Doors at 7pm (stage times tba)
Age: 21 & Over only
Headliner: Tommy Rockstar & Friends
Dave Weston (as Izzy Stradlin)
Schaffer the Darklord (as Steven Adler)
Tommy Rockstar (as Duff McKagan)
Brian Gallagher (as Axl Rose)
and a surprise guest! (as Slash)
Main Support: P.C.P.
A full Rock N’ Roll set featuring the lead vocal stylings of Phil Costello, frontman for Tragedy: All Metal Tribute to the Bee Gees and Beyond
Opener: Owen McCarthy (ex-The Everyothers)
Rock legend performing his solo acoustic hits
DJ Punk Ass Jason spins cock-rock all night!
Free giveaways! The first 25 people paid receive a free “Where’s Izzy” shirt compliments of Underground Press, Inc (http://www.theundergroundpress.com)
Free publicity! The documentary crew will be filming the entire night & performance for the upcoming film. Here’s your chance to be in the movie!
WHERE’S IZZY? - One Fan’s Quest for Rock’s Most Reclusive Guitarist
Directed by Craig Hymson
Shot by David Becker
Produced by Scott Long
Starring Tommy Rockstar
© 2012 Mighty Fine Entertainment