New York Dolls: History All Dolled Up

We never really made a fortune. We know all kinds of bands that made stupid money and they still come to me and say, 'How the hell did you get all that press?' I think it's all those years really learning our stuff, being in front of the audience and learning our craft right there.



All of this didn't go unnoticed, particularly by Kane. In the documentary New York Doll it's clear that the success of other Dolls tore Kane apart with something akin to jealousy; no such opportunities had come Kane's way.

David Johansen by Dominick Conde
"It was a shock he was not as successful as the other Dolls, which is not really fair, but that is what happens," Sylvain said. "The beautiful thing is that [his return to a place in The Dolls] was all captured in New York Doll. He was so good and so proud. The story is beautiful and heartbreaking."

When the band reformed in 2004 at the prompting of one-time New York Dolls U.K. Fan Club President Morrissey, it seemed all those differences were set aside and Kane's concerns about a showdown with Johansen were unfounded.

The film shows Kane, who worked in a clerical position and had become a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, not only reconciled with his bandmates but clearly moved and delighted when Johansen and Sylvain joked with him on and off stage, and called attention to his "killer" bass work during the show.

Some of the most poignant clips show Johansen striding to Kane, taking his face between his hands, and kissing him affectionately. Sylvain seems especially appreciative the reconciliation occurred before Kane's sudden death in 2004, reportedly just hours after he was diagnosed with Leukemia.

"All I can say about Arthur is that instead of 'Killer' he should have been called 'Sweetie Pie'," said Sylvain sweeping away rumors of hard feelings between the members. "The only thing that kept the Dolls from regrouping earlier was we had many contracts we had signed and we were all successful in ways. We had records and commitments."

And now, of course, they have maturity, sobriety and a new appreciation for their friendship.

Dolls Recharged

New York Dolls by Max Lakner
Eavesdrop on a recent conversation with Sylvain and he sounds more like a music professor – or perhaps a music historian – than a founding member of the New York Dolls. He talks extensively about the New York music scene, but not the CBGBs punk crowd you might expect. Instead, he talks knowingly of the 1950s and 1960s blues scenes, the clubs, the classics, the movers and shakers.

Melt away the sexy stage antics, the pounding rhythms that almost created punk music, and the devil-may-care onstage talk and you have a man deeply appreciative of the musical geniuses that came before him, a line he's proud to help continue.

"We never really made a fortune," said Sylvain in a recent phone conversation. "We know all kinds of bands that made stupid money and they still come to me and say, 'How the hell did you get all that press?' I think it's all those years really learning our stuff, being in front of the audience and learning our craft right there."

After recording the critically acclaimed One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This in 2006 – with special guest appearances by Iggy Pop, Michael Stipe and Tom Gabel, plus a bonus track with Bo Diddley - the group found the magic still there, even heightened a bit with the new lineup.

"We incorporate the news guys, they're not replacements for anybody" said Sylvain of guitarist Steve Conte, bass player Sami Yaffa and drummer Brian Delaney. "They are part of the band and contribute to the songwriting and all other aspects." The just-released 'Cause I Sez So was such a collaboration, with the music conceived literally on the fly as the group headed to Rundgren's studio in early January for a fun yet calm and productive recording session. And just what should fans expect when they hear the album?

"People shouldn't expect anything. They shouldn't judge it against anything," said Sylvain. "If they enjoy it, then we did our task. We don't sit around a roundtable [writing music]. We didn't do that in the old days and we don't now. We fly by the seat of our pants, and we don't even have the safety belts on."

New York Dolls tour dates available here.

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[Published on: 5/21/09]

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