A Rock'n Roll Webzine


Freelance writer/photographer. Contributor to the New York Waste, and to MaximumRocknRoll.

Friday, July 30, 2004

The New York Dolls. Rock'n Roll's Great Big Kiss.

An edited version of this article was published in NY Waste. It was before the Dolls re-union, therefore, Arthur Kane was still alive.
The article appears here in its full version.

It's a historical event which is about to take place at the London Meltdown Festival in June.
At the request of Meltdown's host Morrissey, the legendary New York Dolls will be reunited for a unique show.
To general surprise, the surviving members of the lipstick killers- David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain and Arthur Kane- agreed to get back together for the festival, some 30 years after the band was initially formed.
All of the members of the Dolls played in NY bands before they got together in 1971. The band, which was supposed to be called Actress, first consisted of Guitarists Johnny Thunders and Rick Rivets, bassist Arthur Kane, and drummer Billy Murcia. They were soon joined by lead vocalist David Johansen. Early in 1972, Rivets was replaced by rhythm guitarist Sylvain Sylvain. The New York Dolls were born and the group started to play on a regular basis in Lower Manhattan, establishing residency at the Mercer Art Center.If they quickly gained a dedicated following, their well-known cross dressing wasn't going to be of any help and record companies were afraid of signing them. The New York Dolls toured England in 1972. Record companies started to be interested in them, but Billy Murcia died of drug overdose during the England Tour.The band went back to the USA, deeply hurt by the death of their drummer.If they were already hated by some people because of the way they were dressed up, now they would also be labeled `drug addicts'.The death of Billy Murcia could have put an end to the Dolls, but they decided to find a new drummer.Marc Bell (who would later change his name to Marky Ramone) showed up to the audition, but eventually Jerry Nolan got the job.After Nolan joined the band, and despite their noncommercial sound, the Dolls finally secured a record contract with Mercury Records.The band eponymous debut album, produced by Todd Rundgren, was released in the Summer of 1973. If it received positive reviews, it failed to make a major commercial impact, peaking at number 116 on the US charts.The band's next album, biographically entitled `Too Much Too Soon', was produced by legendary Shadow Morton. Released in the Summer of 1974 it didn't make better than their first opus .Mercury Records dropped them, and that's when Malcolm McLaren came in.Despite an attempt made in reviving the band, Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan left the group in the mid-75 to form the Heartbreakers.Johansen and Sylvain soon got rid of Mclaren and assembled a new lineup of the band, but in 1977 they decided to break up the band permanently. Johansen went on to a solo career. Sylvain played with him for two more years before he also went solo.Johnny Thunders died on April 23, 1991. The same year, his pal Jerry Nolan also passed away.The New York Dolls two studio albums never went out of print since they were released.Their influence over generations of musicians is incalculable.No one thought the remaining members of the Dolls could decide to get back together. It will be the first New York Dolls show since 1977.It was said that fans can't expect any sort of comeback tour yet.It won't be the Mercer Art Center, but trust me you better be there.When I say I love them, you best believe I love them…Someone once asked me what I would do if I had a Time Machine.I remember I answered that I would go back to the early 70s to see the New York Dolls…I wasn't kidding.They used to call them fags, drug addicts and alcoholics, but who were the New York Dolls?Some people in the music industry did everything to stop them, why?Yes the Dolls were wearing make up, lipstick, and girl clothes. Yes the Dolls lived what they thought it was to be a Rock Star.But the truth is that they were out there just to play Rock'n Roll. So let's talk about them for their music, because its really all that matters.Some people said they weren't good musicians. Just one more of those stupid clichés. Anyway, it takes lot more that musical skills to make great music.The Dolls had a soul.I remember the very first time I heard them when I was just a kid, I thought they were great.The next day I went to a record shop seeking for their albums.I knew that they dressed like women, but I wasn't quite prepared for the sleeve cover of their self-titled record. When I saw it, I had that short second of hesitation. I thought to myself `I'm not going to buy that' .It lasted for one second, and I found myself quite stupid for having such a reaction. I'll always remember that feeling, as short lasting as it was. I'm not homophobic, and I never was. Next thing I did was to buy the album, that second of hesitation made me love them even more.I guess the Dolls just showed me that even people who believe themselves to be tolerant have a residue of human stupidity hidden deep in their heart. Human stupidity is everywhere. It has been in our very essence since the beginning. People are afraid of what is different.I was often treated as an outcast. The one everybody looks at weird or disrespect because he is not like people would like him to be, or because he doesn't have as much money as they do. So how could someone like me hesitate to buy a record just because of the way the band looked on the cover?Later on, I always proudly wore my NY Dolls T-Shirts.When I first listened to the Dolls album, I had a great feeling inside of me. It seemed like it was the music I had desperately been waiting for, I was totally hooked up. I also loved the fact that, even though it had been recorded in the early 70s, it sounded like it could have been recorded the day before. The music was still up-to-date after all those years. I realized that there's something un-temporal about them, they'll never be 'has been'.If the first thing I loved about the Dolls was their music, I soon got interested in their story, and in what they represented.They were misunderstood. People despised them and said they were fags, or communists.The Dolls were just having fun, and the fact that so many people couldn't get it proved something important about society. They were the children of that society.Isn't it what the song 'Frankenstein' is all about?'Is it a crime for you to fall in love with Frankenstein?'That line says it all. Where's the crime? What's the problem with the Dolls? What's your problem?That very line will always remind me of my short second of hesitation when I bought their self-titled album. Didn't that reaction came from what society had managed to put inside of me against my will?Not only that, but the song is biographical for the band, and for any outcast out there.And I know what I'm talking about.The Dolls came as a reaction to stupidity that surrounds us. They were everything a rock band should be. They were a light of freedom glamorously glowing in darkness.Musically speaking, they turned everything upside down. Of course their roots and influences were in 50s and 60s Rock, and Rhythm & Blues. But out of that they started their own thing, which is very rare. The Dolls paved the way for everything that followed.You can find everything in their music. Rock, Glam Rock, Old school Rock, Hard Rock, Punk Rock . If I like Rock'n Roll it's because to me - at its best- it looks like life. If you grew up in the streets, if you ever spent a night outside with nowhere to go and no one to talk to, if you ever laughed, if you ever cried, if you ever took a walk in the rain, if you ever felt frustration, if you ever had dreams, …then you know what I am talking about. Rock is like that. It's a mix of despair and hope. But its fun too, because one as to be able to smile at fate.Both because of their music and what they represented, there's not a single band that could better define Rock.The New York Dolls are the ultimate in Rock'n Roll band. The best Rock band ever.Despite all the attempts to stop them on their way- and despite the tragic end of the group- the New York Dolls are like a lipstick mark left on your shirt by the girl you love. You love her so much that you never want it to fade away. And it makes you smile, because you know that anyway it could never be washed away.They will always be there, no matter what.
The New York Dolls ended up being a Rock'n Roll crash...but they really gave us the best ride we've ever had.

In memory of Billy Murcia, Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, and Arthur Kane.


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