Cameron Carpenter: Rock’n’Roll Rewind – Cuz I Sez So – The New York Dolls

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A short rewind this week to May of 2005 and a road trip to Cleveland to see the re-united New York Dolls. It first appeared in Gasoline Magazine which was owned by Darryl Fine from the Bovine. It was a great full-colour glossy free mag but ran out of money when the ads stopped coming. Darryl, photographer Laurence Laberge, and I loaded into my Toyota Highlander and headed off to the home of the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.

Gasoline Dolls

I was fully enjoying my second day of being 15 when my life changed for good thanks to sex, drugs and rock & roll. I was just about to see the New York Dolls perform at Massey Hall in Toronto (June 15, 1974) with a then unheard of opening act, Kiss. Afterwards, like a lot of other people, this boy was changed for good.

My introduction to the Dolls came in the fall of 1973. I was grazing through the racks of records at Yonge Street’s ‘Sam The Record Man’ when a black and white album caught my eye. The cover featured five of the sluttiest looking people these innocent eyes had ever seen. Flipping the record over it became apparent that all of these sluts were men. I had to have it. Just to be on the safe side, masculinity-wise, I also picked up ’16 And Savaged’ by Silverhead. I knew the photo of the girl on the Silverhead was a real woman; my manhood would not be questioned at the cash counter.

Dolls LP

It’s hard to explain the relevance and importance of the New York Dolls to a generation who has grown up on pre-fab disposable rock & roll. I’m sorry, but Good Charlotte is about as dangerous as ‘N Sync. Videos, internet and general overexposure have made today’s bands too available, too shallow. There’s no mystery. When the Dolls first formed, you would be lucky to see a mention in Creem magazine, and when they did Don Kirschner’s ‘Rock Concert’ in 1974, it was a moment you talked about for months. Bands might make it to your town every couple of years, radio wouldn’t play the cool ones and there was no video; mystery.


Stumbling out of the boroughs of New York with a little too much makeup, attitude and horniness the Dolls were punk, glitter and glam before those terms were used in a rock & roll context. Equally ripping off The Rolling Stones and the Shangri-Las, the Dolls burnt out before their fire spread, but their smoldering ashes ignited a blaze that helped create everyone from the Sex Pistols to Guns ‘N Roses. The Dolls were that important.

Sylvain_Sylvain“They say that everybody bought a Dolls album and formed a band,” guitarist Sylvain Sylvain tells me backstage in Cleveland before their show last month. It’s a quote that has been used regarding the Velvet Underground for years, but I think the same can be said about the Dolls.

Yet, while the Dolls are praised in some circles, they still aren’t given their due in others (i.e. the band’s non-inclusion in the horrific Rock & Roll Hall of Fame).

“I’m so bitter,” David Johansen offers sarcastically, going on to explain that they wouldn’t really want to go to a party from which they have always been excluded and where the hosts continue to exploit, and make money from them even after their ‘death’.

New_York_Dolls_Picture_syl and david

Syl and David

Fuck the Hall of Fame, I want the Lifetime Grammy Award.” Syl pipes in. Syl is the one who has always kept the dream of the Dolls alive. He’s the Shirley to Johansen’s Laverne. He never stopped touring or recording and R and R Hall of Fameeven re-recorded Dolls and Johansen songs that he co-wrote on his solo records. Some of the material slated for the never-recorded Dolls third album ended up on his classic 1979 self-titled solo album. He lives and breathes the Dolls and always has. Johansen had solo success and a movie career, but Syl always just had a guitar and a need to perform. Backstage he is excited as a kid on Christmas morning taking about his pride and joy.

“The Dolls are really the only pure thing out there,” he says. “Everybody is always trying to be like the New York Dolls, jamming on old blues songs and putting it all out on stage every night. We’re doing that now. We’ve got a dynamite little band.”

The dynamite little band is also writing together (as witnessed during sound check and on a great new Johansen/Yaffa (from Hanoi Rocks) song that they would perform later that night, ‘We’re All in Love’), and hope springs eternal that they will record together.

“We’re always looking for a record deal,” says David. “Then you get one and you’re looking to get out of it. My feeling is this; I wanna play hardball. I wanna play with the big boys. I fuckin’ wanna play against Britney Spears and those other bands whose names I don’t know. There’s no point at our age to go out there and be an indie band. It doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve done that. I’ve always made records for the sub-genres. I wanna make records for all of the people. I wanna make records that everyone in the world knows.”

“We wanna keep everything that we did then that was great except for the part where we didn’t sell so many records” adds Syl. “We didn’t make any fuckin’ money. We still want to do our own thing, be ourselves and bring everything that we’ve got on stage and put it on a record.”

too-much-too-soon-4ff98c4216fbcSpeaking of records, the Dolls only really released two official studio albums in their sad, yet vibrant history: the eponymous debut album (produced by Todd Rundgren) and the second album, Too Much Too Soon, produced by Shadow Morton. As substance abuse reared its ugly head and Too Much Too Soon proved a prophetic title, the Dolls began to disintegrate.

Legend has it that a gentleman by the name of Malcolm McClaren came in to try and save the band. He became their new manager but would garner his own infamy as manager of British punks, The Sex Pistols. At the time, McClaren ran a clothing shop on King’s Road in London called ‘Let It Rock’ with his business (and romantic) partner Vivienne Westwood.

malcom_mclaren“We first met Malcolm back in ’71 at ‘rag’ shows in New York,” says David. “‘Let It Rock’ was a Teddyboy store. Teds would bus down all the way from Scotland just to hang out. We would come in and go ‘Get the fuck outta our way ya big fuckin’…’ and Malcolm was afraid these guys were going to start fighting us. The Teds were afraid of us because of our tough talk. They heard our accents and thought we were gangsters. So anyways, me and Syl wrote this song called ‘Red Patent Leather‘ and we wanted to get outfits to go with the song so we had Malcolm make them for us. He was our haberdasher; he wasn’t our manager. He later said he was our manager because he wanted to have some cred and that’s fine because it helped him.”

new_york_dolls McLaren Dolls

Sylvain adds, “It’s like Morrissey saying he was the president of our fan club in London! We didn’t have a fuckin’ fan club!”

But they do now as the venue fills up. For the alleged home of rock & roll, downtown Cleveland is deserted. It just doesn’t have much of a vibe to it. That soon changes as the venue lights dim and Johansen strides on stage.

“When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love…L-U-V,” he screams as the band rips into ‘Looking For A Kiss.’ Classic after classic follow as ‘Puss ‘N’ Boots’ jumps into ‘Subway Train’ and ‘Trash,’ ‘Jet Boy’ and, naturally, ‘Personality Crisis.’

A few covers are thrown in the mix as David releases his inner Janis with ‘Piece of My Heart.’ The Shangri-Las are paid tribute to with ‘Out In The Streets’ and Syl honours those Dolls that have gone before (Billy, Jerry, Johnny and Arthur) with Thunder’s ‘You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory,’ which effortlessly segues into ‘Lonely Planet Boy.’ Sam Yaffa proves himself a perfect fit on bass, and Steve Conte looks and plays like he has been a Doll his entire life. Brian Delaney (drums) and Brian Koonin (keys) more than capably round out the 2005 Dolls.

They say you can’t go back, but maybe…just maybe sometimes you can throw your arms around a memory.

Have a pint and hear Cam spin cool retro tunes every Wednesday night beginning at 5 PM at The Kensington Lodge


Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

Follow Cam on Twitter @CC59.

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DBAWIS ButtonCameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener, The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY, New Canadian Music 

One Response to “Cameron Carpenter: Rock’n’Roll Rewind – Cuz I Sez So – The New York Dolls”

  1. Thanks for the column Cam. I think maybe 3 of their LP’s sold in Kingston, and I was one of them who got the message. Most of Johansen and Slyvain’s solo records are in the collection as well. They have been on my R n R bucket list to see for a few years now, they haven’t played much the last few years in North America. Thanks for the concert review. That iconic LP is in an album cover frame on the wall at my house. Cheer’s

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