Justin Dean Thomas, Closets
Justin Dean Thomas

How can you not fall in love with the brooding sensitivity of a musician with the looks of the archetypal rude boy and an Albert Camus poem hanging on his wall? In full on '50s and '60s rock and roll, blues, rockabilly and punk-inspired clothes, he read to us, "A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened." He says, "I think music is how I first opened and that feeling has never changed, never.”

The romantic influences of Justin's past are poignant - the way his white creeper/oxfords resemble the ones Joe Strummer wore and his skull ring is cast from the same mold as Keith Richards'. Justin's aunt, Barbara, babysat for Jack Kerouac and he remembers a picture of her, smoking in a pencil skirt with the legendary author in front of a '49 Studebaker. Justin read "On The Road" at thirteen, which prompted him to hitchhike all over the country later in life and echoes his childhood, growing up with "vagabond" parents who moved around a lot. His father was a drummer for Island Records and met his mother, a former model, when he picked her up while driving a taxi. Justin's mother turned him on to records, including Paul Revere and The Raiders, Pet Sounds and The Monkeys, which prompted him to start playing music at ten years old. To this day, Justin is obsessed with studying the roots of music, like how the Stones were into Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and all of the Delta Blues musicians. In deference to his mentors, Justin got into poetry through songwriting when he read that Dylan said, "If you ever wanted to be a great songwriter you have to study the greats." He has now read lots of the classics, including Tennyson and Yeats. Lord Byron is one of his new favorites, of whom Justin poetically says wasn't wearing any sensitive sweaters and crying in his Earl Grey, but "left this earth in a malestrom of women, hedonism and revolution."

Lord Byron said, "Every day confirms my opinion of the superiority of the vicious life." Accordingly, Justin describes his band, The Bowery Riots, as floor to floor rock and roll with a social consciousness, an appreciation of the past that strives to have the impact of a band like the Clash, who took a stand by painting a picture and not drawing hard lines. The romance for nostalgia is everywhere from his Levi's jeans, original Rat Fink jacket and windowpane plaid pleated trousers with a foulard shirt to his longing for the time of session players when they all knew each other and it was a community. Justin has a photo of "The Million Dollar Quartet" -comprised of Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lewis and Elvis - which he keeps as an example of the possibility of being in the studio with icons before they were icons. Referring to the internet, Justin says, "I don’t think there’s the same player aspect of knowing different musicians, like Paul Butterfield when he was back in Dylan’s band, or The Band who was playing with Ronnie Hawkins, they knew each other. Jimmy Page was a session player for so many different albums from The Kinks to The Who because Townshend couldn’t write his own solos, and so Page had to come in and play on the album for 'My Generation.'”

The folklore surrounding musicians of yesteryear is missing for Justin. Gone is the time when they gave themselves their own names, dressed a certain way, projected certain things and created a world that had mystery. You bought into that world and it meant something to listen to the whole of the album to share in the obscure meanings, as opposed to the lost context that comes with the iPod. Justin feels that people used to take music more seriously, "look at the liner notes...see who wrote the song, when it was recorded. Now you’re just that band that got on the Twilight soundtrack." Similarly, fashion for Justin is more about craftsmanship, like his interest in old cars and his collection of two-toned wingtips. In a Paul Smith watch plaid classic trench or a distressed leather jacket from the '50s, Justin says, "It's just a world I live in, everyone has one. Call it whatever you want."

If you love Justin, you may also like Philip Crangi, Sibyl Buck and Ashton Michael.

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