© Madeline Bocaro, 2022. No part of this site may be reproduced or re-blogged in whole or in part, in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.



‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory’


Let’s all put our arms around Johnny’s memory…


July 15, 1952 – April 23, 1991


Ralph: You can’t put your arms around a memory.

Alice:  I can’t even put my arms around you!

This classic, infamous bit of dialogue between Ralph and Alice Kramden (on the highly popular 1950s television show The Honeymooners) became stuck in the mind of young Johnny Thunders, as well as many of us kids growing up. It was from the episode titled Better Living Through TV.

The line wasn’t meant to be musical – it was a joke about Ralph Kramden’s girth! (However, Ralph and Norton were quite musical doing the Hucklebuck,’ dancing to ‘Ragmop,’ doing the mambo, and let’s not forget Norton’s piano version of ‘Swanee River.’)

It was a hilarious line on the television show, but now – with all the losses that we have had in our lives, and in the music world – these bittersweet words mean so much more. We all feel an emptiness where there once was a hug.

Johnny wrote the song ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory’ before he joined the New York Dolls, and before he ever started taking hard drugs. It was a ballad about loneliness… Soon after he was born, Johnny’s father abandoned his family and never returned. This was the root of his despair and longing.

It was released in 1978 on Johnny’s first post-Heartbreakers/pre-Gang War solo album So Alone. Musicians on the album included Johnny on guitar and vocals, Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, and their guitarist Steve Jones, Walter Lure on guitar, Billy Rath on bass and many others. Peter Perrett from The Only Ones played guitar and backing vocals on this track.

The song and lyrics became a lot more poignant after Johnny’s mysterious death in New Orleans in 1991.

The late, great Ronnie Spector (whom we lost in January 2022 from cancer) did a gorgeous cover of Johnny’s song on her album The Last of the Rock Stars, released in 2006. Joey Ramone joined her on the track. Ronnie was the original punk girl. She befriended and hung out with The Ramones, DGeneration and many other New York City punks in the 1990s. Blondie has frequently covered the song, as well as Guns N’ Roses and Green Day.

It’s amazing that Johnny had nine lives and lived as long as he did, but when he died in April, 1991 at age 38 it was still a tragic shock. I attended Johnny’s wake, and he looked so beautiful lying there, like a porcelain Japanese doll with his spiked jet-black hair. His face looked flawless, angelic…serene. Sure, they had to put lots of makeup on him to hide the scars (and he was damned proud of those scars – he rocked hard for them)!

The multitude of guitar-shaped floral arrangements, banners which read, “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler crying with his head in his hands sobbing, “This could have been me!” were poignant reminders of what a waste this really was, and how sad. Poor Johnny survived New York City and London, but met his fate in New Orleans. Heartbreaker.

Our idols are all still with us, deep in our minds. We can wrap our memories in dreams, play the records and see them all come alive.

Johnny Genzale Thunders

July 15, 1952 – April 23, 1991

Oh, can’t you hear me callin’
I’m a thousand miles away
And I don’t want to stay
I’m thinkin’ words I gotta say…

My New York Dolls story:



Playing my favorite song by Thunders/Kramden. OK!

Listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgsC5aDDAew


‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory’

Johnny Thunders

 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,
Cause baby, you’re not at home.
And when I’m home
Big deal, I’m still alone

Feel so restless, I am,
Beat my head against a pole
Try to knock some sense
Down in my bones
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

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
They scars aren’t so old
And when they go
They let you know, OK

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

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


© Madeline Bocaro 2022. No part of this text may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated, re-blogged or reduced to any electronic medium or machine-readable form, in whole or in part, without prior written consent. Any other reproduction in any form without permission is prohibited. All of the text written by Madeline Bocaro on this site is protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without prior written permission.


madelinex.com is a non-profit blog created for educational and research purposes.

Any content that may violate copyright or free usage laws will be removed immediately upon request.


See more in my Playlist category:



About A Song


Main Menu:



Eat to the Beat


Orange Sunshine



6 thoughts on “A MEMORY

  1. Greetings, I was a Thunders fan as a teenager, catching the early Heartbreakers shows at Max’s in 1976 that inspired me to form a punk band to play the NYC circuit in 1977. After being signed to Jane Friedman’s management company in 78 (The Wartoke Concern,) she had us booked all over the City opening up for all the “greats” in all the hot venues. So in 1979 we opened for my all time hero J.T. & Gang War @ the UK Club in Gotham. He was having guitar amp trouble during the sound check, so I offered for him to use my amp, a 1963 Fender Concert Amp & he did. Well like always, he cranked it up to 11 (haha) during their set & blew that puppy up, smoke & everything! That is my only encounter with him, though I got to know Sylvain over the years fairly well, that was my only Thunders story, not much, but a story! Check this out.

    1. Thanks for your message Terry. I remember The The – love the name, but was not too familiar with the music.
      I LOVE your song. Awesome! Thanks so much for sharing.
      How cool that Johnny T. blew out your amp! What an honor!
      Are you on Facebook?
      Send me a friend request: Madeline Bocaro

      1. Hi Madeline, yes we were the original THE THE formed In 1977, that other British band of the same name was formed in 1979 but never released any music till 1980 & we broke up in 1981. We started of as a 3 piece punk band with influences of the Pistols. Clash, Ramones etc, but later changed our style to more of a punky power pop sound.That song you mentioned that you approved of on YouTube was one of our last songs I wrote for the band & I quickly released it under my name as a solo artist because the version we recorded of that song @ the legendary HIT FACTORY was confiscated by our management company when THE THE called it quits. CAN YOU GO BACK TO THE VIDEO & SUPPORT IT WITH A LIKE & BRIEF COMMENT? Thanks! https://youtu.be/dldNpUbs8zo

Leave a Reply