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Valley of the New York Dolls

The first time I laid eyes on the New York Dolls, they were drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of the Dancers. David Johansen had lost the high heel from one of his shoes. He said, “I not only accept loss forever, I am made of loss,” while inside the club, the group’s managerial brain trust planned the conquest of blue dawns over racetracks and kids from sweet Ioway. The rest of the band — Johnny Thunders, Syvain Sylvain, Jerry Nolan, Arthur Harold Kane — talked happily about early days spent practicing in a bicycle shop near Central Park. And me? I’m a fool. My heart went out to the hopeful sounds. We all thought the group would achieve success through the purity of their rock ‘n’ roll art.

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None of the above is true, of course — my apologies to Chandler and Kerouac — but some of it is, or could be. There was always a sense of American mythology about the Dolls, and those of us who spent three years of our lives working with them had to believe they were more than just another rock ‘n’ roll group, albeit the most misunderstood of recent times. We learned to measure our nights by Dolls concerts, spent even our holidays going to and from, and Mick Taylor’s cryptic putdown — “They’re the worst high school band I ever saw” — only further convinced us how right we were. Johansen shot back: “No — we ‘re the best high school band you ever saw! The kids will love us!” and the point seemed settled. For, after all, the New York Dolls tried to hit the longest home run in American rock ‘n’ roll: they tried to impose themselves upon a nation’s musical and cultural consciousness in much the same manner as had the Rolling Stones 10 years earlier.

***

Johansen: “In the beginning, we weren’t very good musically. That’s why we put up with each other. We were all fabulous people … We’re a lot faster than the Stones” … Laughter. “At least, younger.”

***

For all their claim to being a band of and for kids, the Dolls rarely listened to Top 40 music — like them or not, no one could accuse them of creating that music industry euphemism for art, “product” — and their notions of technique mirrored more the tough sparseness or Hammett, the avant-garde fragmentation of Burroughs, and the cruel inward-eye of Nathanael West than the easy flow of media favorites. The fact that AM radio reacted to their songs as if they had dropped from some alien sky was not, in the long run, surprising. Johansen-Thunders did not have the breadth of Jagger-Richards. While the Stones could have written “Bad Girl,” the Dolls could never have brought about “Moonlight Mile”: they lacked the smoke and duski­ness, and their nocturnal sojourn through the desert took them far too close to a deli for the tastes of most of Middle America. Whereas the work of the Stones could encompass the broad human comedy of a Breughel or a Bosch, the Dolls proved to be subgenre miniaturists. They were unquestionably brilliant, but finally too spare, too restricted, to reach the hidden places in suburban, small­-town hearts. In the end, they rode on real rather than symbolic subway trains to specific rather than univer­sal places, played for an audience of intellectuals or kids even farther out than they were; and, when they eventually met the youth of the country, that youth seemed more confused than captivated by them, and could no more imagine itself a New York Doll than it could some exotic palm tree growing in Brook­lyn. The Dolls appealed to an audience which had seen the end of the world, had in fact bought tickets for it but probably didn’t attend because lhere was something even funnier on television that night.

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Dave Marsh, who loved the group, put it best when he wrote: “The New York Dolls are the dead end of the ’60s approach. They presume a closed community of rock fans, a limited field with common interests closely held. The new kind of rock singers are different. They know how much greater the stakes are, for a rock star who wants to count, but they also know there isn’t any way to focus upon them, to make the meaning of having the whole world up for grabs come home.”

***

Nolan: “I suppose everyone will be like the Dolls in a few years. Like a fad. The public and people in general always pick up things from leaders, rock groups especially.”

***

To be the neo-Rolling Stones of the 1970s was to be a not-to-be, and, after two albums and much notoriety, the Dolls broke up in the final weeks of April; the legendary desserts having forever eluded them. If truth be known, the news of their death hardly produced a ripple throughout the nation they sought to win. Their demise was taken as inevitable. The dreams of rock ‘n’ roll’s Dead End Kids burned out like a green light bulb on someone else’s marquee, and nobody particularly noticed any loss of illumination. That must have been hard for the band to take, but per­haps no harder than some of the dates they had been forced to accept to remain even nominally solvent in the later stages of their existence. Somehow, everything had gone monstrously wrong, and, like characters in some tragicomic version of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” everyone closely involved was innocent, everyone guilty. The only solution, finally, was to walk away from it, but none of us — musicians, man­agers (Marty Thau, Steve Leber, David Krebs), myself (the A&R man who signed the group to Mercury Records) — really could,

***

August 7. 1972: I see Dolls at Mercer Art Center, want to sign them to wary Mercury.

Late August: Dolls ask Merc for $250,000 deal. Merc blanches, sends in more scouts.

September 24: Merc VP Charlie Fach sees Dolls at Mercer. Dolls go on three hours late. Fach stays 15 minutes, says no. I persist.

October 1: Merc VP Lou Simon flies in from Chicago main office, sees Dolls at Mercer. Dolls go on two hours late. Simon loves them, says nothing until he checks the current political climate in Chi, then says no. I persist.

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October 8: Merc A&R man Robin McBride flies in from Chi, sees Dolls at Mercer. Dolls go on one hour late. Thunders, wearing platform basket­ball shoes, kicks a hole in stage. Kane’s bass comes unplugged: he plays last four songs wlthout making a sound. McBride says no. I per­sist.

Late October: Dolls turned down by every major label, go to Europe. Merc President I. H. Steinberg and Fach see them in London, say no. I persist. Steinberg becomes enraged, calls Dolls worst band he has ever seen, says I must be crazy. Dolls original drummer Billy dies in England in what is usually ref erred to as a drug-related incident. Nolan re­places him.

Late 1972: I keep trying to con­vince very leery Merc.

***

The Dolls first performance had been in July at the Diplomat Hotel in the seedy Times Square area (“You all know Times Square,” Johansen used to chide his audience. “It’s where we all met.”), but it was at the Mercer they gained their reputation in a series of concerts which built in momentum until the nights one spent there with 600 similarly delirious people simply were not sane. Those vivacious evenings were like a be­nign “Clockwork Orange” filmed in a packed-to-the-rafters Hollywood Mutant High wired for massive sound. There was something mar­velous about the band’s all-out as­sault, fashioned as it was from wit, homage, honesty, self-parody, urban cunning, and the virtuosity of crude­ness.

The Dolls and their early following were those kids who used to sneak into the Fillmore East every Satur­day night; years later, when their musical time came, they couldn’t wait to build their own homemade rocket ship and send it flying toward the moon on a return trip to innocence. If the fuel was more amateur energy than professional talent — well, one had to make do with what was at hand, surely the primary law of the streetwise. And it was a wondrous thing to see the group play rock ‘n’ roll with the enthusiasm of five people who felt and acted as if they had just invented it, hadn’t quite worked out the kinks yet, but what matter? — it was raw flash, honest fun, erotically direct, and seemed to define them to, and make them inseparable from, their own kind. While they invented nothing, they did present a peculiar vision — lost youths roaming the nighttime city “looking for a kiss, not a fix,” cosmic jet boys “flying around New York City so high,” the teenager as group Frankenstein — and carried the music back to simpler times: there were almost no solos, and everybody played and sang as hard as they could until they got tired. Which wasn’t often. Although some found their world dangerous and offensive — and not at all the dark side of sentimentality — it never seemed threatening to me. It must have been like this in London when people first heard the Stones, I kept thinking, secretly ruing the day when the Dolls would become stars and go public.

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But when the Dolls left their milieu in New York City (the Mercer Art Center, Kenny’s Castaways, et al.) something was lost. The many times I saw them in big halls in front of crowds of several thousand, the essence of their particular insular magic somehow became diluted. Even at the Felt Forum, in their first “legitimate” concert before 5000 “normal” people (most of whom came to see Mott the Hoople), the band appeared nervous, ineffectual, and — how can one say it? — some­what lost and harmless. Defanged. They never quite succeeded in find­ing a way to convey their intimacy and personal charm to a larger audience which ofttimes regarded them as technically inept, emotionally silly freaks — or worse. If there were ever to be a meeting between performer and potential fan, work needed to be done. The Dolls were something special. They required specific, sensitive handling and firm control. Unfortunately, they did not always get it.

***

January 30, 1973: Merc head of publicity Mike Gormley flies in from Chi, sees Dolls at Kenny’s Cast­aways because he wants to, says yes. I am shocked. Gormley’s memo reopens Dolls case.

March 20: Dolls and Merc agree to a deal.

Late June: Dolls finish first album with Todd Rundgren producing. Mixing takes less than six hours. Johansen calls Rundgren “an expert on second-rate rock ‘n’ roll.”

July: Johansen falls asleep in Chi in front of Merc brass at special meeting to discuss Dolls. Steinberg isn’t sure whether or not to wake him.

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September: Dolls play Whiskey and Los Angeles for first time. Five hundred kids line up each night. Thunders falls in love with groupie queen Sable Starr; they become rock ‘n’ roll punkdom’s Romeo and Juliet. Sylvain stays in biggest suite in hotel for week. How? I ask. “It was the room right next to mine,” he says, “and it was empty so I just stayed there.”

September 23: Johansen arrested in Memphis for stopping Dolls music while cops beat up a kid. He asks cops what they’d do if he were Elvis. “We’d love to get him!” cops reply.

Late 1973: Dolls named by Creem readers as Best New Group and Worst Group of Year. Despite Rundgren, the first album, “New York Dolls,” sells 100,000 copies.

***

“The Dolls are a vicious kick in the face to all that’s careful, passive and polished about today’s popular music. The record companies, most of which have a great investment in exactly the kind of music the Dolls are rallying against, have naturally been turned off …” (Bud Scoppa, Penthouse)

Kane, the shiest of the band, after having seen me for at least eight months: “Hi. I’m Arthur.”

***

If the Dolls were difficult to work with at times, it was because they understood nothing of the music business and recording, seemed naive or unable to learn about either, and were rarely encouraged to ex­hibit any kind or self-control regard­ing the bankbook or the clock. To say that their record company thought them a mere critics’ hype, did not understand them, and eventually grew to hate them would be an understatement; but, at the begin­ning, Mercury provided handsomely for the group’s every whim. Management started well, too: Thau, the band’s Napoleon, and Leber, their legal adviser and financial wizard, showed obvious devotion. As the months passed, trouble set in. The problems with Mercury rarely involved the Dolls personally, but had to do rather with mutual contempt among the men at the top on both sides, opposite viewpoints, management’s apparent disdain for necessary budgets and deadlines, the record company’s inability to get the group much AM or FM airplay, and — last but not least — money.

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The clash between the Dolls and Mercury was finally a classic confrontation between two immov­able objects: a company reluctant to spend any more money and a band that did not know how to stop spend­ing it. Thau and Leber’s penchant for potentiality required huge sums for bad-boy image-building and Stones­-style high living, while Steinberg preferred to drop anchor until the bottom line told him when to raise it. A hot war was being waged. Further, Thau and Leber had begun to quar­rel, a situation which proved very damaging at a time, when the band needed all the outer stability they could get. The bills were pilling up, and the hands at the controls had suddenly become fists.

One can learn much about the trouble among musicians, manage­ment and record company in these excerpts from a confidential report written by Patrick Taton, a Mercury employee in Paris, concerning the group’s 1973 French tour:

“November 28: Arrival at Orly. While camera went into action, Thunders got sick right on the airport floor and had to leave the scene for a minute to pull himself together and make a decent come­back. We spent the afternoon taking pictures at the hotel. The Dolls gave us a hint as to their drinking capacities, which we had to discover at out own expense. In the afternoon, Thunders got sick again and had to be replaced by one of the road managers for photo purposes.

“November 29: Press interviews began with the group, their ‘friends,’ and managers gulping down cham­pagne and cognac at an incredible speed, while we from Mercury were seated in the other corner of the bar. I was surprised when a not-so-sober Thau came up to us to remark that we weren’t really interested in the Dolls because we weren’t taking part in the interviews. When the interviews were over, I picked up the bill, which was incredibly high for so short a time. When I told Thau about it, he replied with utmost contempt, ‘Peanuts for a band like that!’ and continued with some of the most insulting remarks I’ve ever heard about a record company and its executives.

“Next was a live concert at Radio Luxembourg. Although they had been requested for rehearsals at 17:30, the group were not ready before 19:00 and went to the studio in a frightening state of drunkenness­ — one of the most nerve-shattering experiences of my ‘business’ life.

“December 2: Olympia concert. Surprisingly enough, by the time we went to pick them up at their hotel, the Dolls had already set up their gear and rehearsed. The hall was nearly sold out, and the evening ended in a triumph with two encores. The band were then taken to a top restaurant. They invited their friends — over 50 people altogether — all of them lavishly drinking cham­pagne and cognac, making an in­credible show of themselves, engaging patrons, and leaving us with a very nice bill.

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“December 3: The day started with the news that Thau and Leber had gone back to America. The group were penniless and urgently requested an advance before they would fulfill their commitments: pure blackmail. The Dolls had to go to a TV studio for a very important show. Believe it or not, it took us over three hours to get them out of their rooms while a frantic and irate producer was calling the hotel every five minutes, threatening to cancel the program and never again work with Mercury. Also, the band’s equipment was set up five hours behind schedule. Finally, after a few minor incidents, the show was taped.­ It was a success from the first minute. The audience reacted very strongly to the storm of noise pro­duced by the group. There was even a fight, a thing that pleased the Dolls very much, although they found French kids not so tough as those from New York.

“December 4: The band were ready to leave, but they had no money with which to pay their bill (rooms, drinks, numerous overseas telephone calls): over $3500. Stuck again. If I may offer a personal opinion, the New York Dolls are one of the worst examples of untogether­ness I have ever seen. Johansen is a very intelligent guy. Sylvain is really clever and nice, the others are quite kind in their own way; but put them together, add their managers (each of them doing his own thing), mix with alcohol, and shake, and you’ve got a careless, selfish, vicious, and totally disorganized gang of New York hooligans — and I’m really sorry to say so.

“Despite all this. I believe we have managed to do good business.”

***

Sylvain: “I want a Cadillac car. Or a Rolls. I don’t care. I’m just dying for a car. I’ve had three cars, no license. I guess I’m a lucky person.”

Johansen: “I used to be lucky. What happened? I grew up. It changed everything.”

 ***

In 1974, the Dolls released a second LP, “Too Much, Too Soon,” pro­duced by Shadow Morton. It sold about 55,000 copies, and, like the first record, made the charts and appeared on almost every major crit­ic’s best-of-the-year list. Not bad for a new band, under the most convivial of circumstances; but the Dolls, un­fortunately, were mired in the worst. Thau and Leber split, the group not talking much to either party; and Steinberg, all ire and ice, demanded the repayment or certain loans and a third album, to be made only when management and monetary problems were rectified. They never were, of course. The band had no money, and their destructiveness and unpunctuality had alienated many promoters who no longer wanted to book them. Leber valiantly put together a lucrative tour of Europe and Japan. Krebs persuaded Jack Douglas to produce the third album, but the Dolls themselves­ — disillusioned and no longer trusting anyone — didn’t take the offers seriously, and everything eventually fell apart. Legally, the group couldn’t break free from any of their contracts. There was not much left to do but to go home and die.

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The Dolls did make one small comeback, a series of concerts at the Little Hippodrome earlier this year, but even these did little but add to the misconceptions which had always surrounded the band. In the early days, they were constantly referred to as a glitter group, a fag band, five transvestites who played inexpedi­ent rock ‘n’ roll and who were very offensive onstage. Needless to say, all of these “charges” were false. None of the group is homosexual, nor did the band ever dress as women. The infamous cover for their first LP was conceived as a deliberate eye­ catcher — the ultimate satirical statement on makeup and glitter (the group appeared as they natu­rally look on the back of the jacket — ­but somehow all too many people again failed to recognize the Dolls’ nihilistic riff raff sense of humor. At the Little Hippodrome, the band tailored their comeback around the comic conceit of what it would be like to see a rock ‘n’ roll concert in Red China, and, true to form, were quickly branded as Communists by many in the audience. With that maximum absurdity, perhaps it was indeed time to quit.

***

The dreams of so many good people died with the New York Dolls. I can still remember the night we finished the first album. Thau and I raced over to Mercury to have two acetates cut, and later we listened, the ghostly sounds of more than a year’s worth of the  group’s concerts ringing in our ears. I put the dub on the turntable, sheer terror in my heart. Thau, who had discovered the band and had cared enough to spend the very best of himself and all of his money on the project, felt the same. It meant so much to us then. I think both of us suddenly realized that everything had, to some degree, passed out of our hands and into the hands of those kids from sweet Ioway whose legion ultimately said no! in thunder to the hopes of the New York Dolls. As Jean Renoir remarked: “You see, in this world, there is one awful thing, and that is that everyone has his reasons.”

***

I think those kids from sweet Ioway were wrong, or rather per­haps that they never really had a chance to encounter the group on any significant level: on the radio or as part of a major tour. Instead, the band’s philosophy or instant stardom and limited, headliner-only bookings proved to be the stuff of dreams. Even a cult favorite must eventually face the nation as a whole, but the Dolls never played by the rules of the game. Neither did the Velvet Under­ground, and their contributions will last. At times, when I am feeling particularly perverse, I can’t blame either of them.

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The New York Dolls sang and played terrific rock ‘n’ roll — their own and other people’s — and, in a better world, “Personality Crisis,” “Trash,” and “Stranded in the Jun­gle” would have been AM hits. (Perhaps two new songs, “Teenage News” and “Girls,” will correct the deficit on some future Johansen LP. ) Individually, each of the group will be heard from again — Thunders and Nolan have already formed a band called the Heartbreakers, Johansen and Sylvain have several plans, Kane is supposedly in California­ — but no matter. “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse,” someone once said. The Dolls went out with their high-heeled boots on.

They did it their way and got carried out dead, but with their pride intact. True, they did not grow old with the country, but that’s probably the country’s loss, not theirs. Corporation rock ‘n’ roll, wherein musicians like Bachman-Turner Overdrive are more gray-flanneled than the businessmen who kowtow to them, is so formularized, homogen­ized, and impersonal it must surely cause the death of anything that is at all out of bounds, mythopoeic, and rebellious. The Dolls were alive.­ Perhaps it killed them not to become stars, darkened their personalities, drove some of them into private worlds; but at least they had the courage to become figments of their own imaginations —and those creations were not altogether devoid of nobility. I will cherish always the friendship of each of them. Their last words on record were: “I’m a human being.”

***

”Listen, bucko, these are the New York Dolls, the sweethearts of Babylon themselves, the band you’re gonna love whether you like it or not …” (New Musical Express)

***

I do not claim they were the best, but the New York Dolls are still my favorite rock ‘n’ roll group, although I will understand if you do not like them. I will understand, but deep down I will not want to know you. ♦

1975 Village Voice story on David Johansen and the New York Dolls

1975 Village Voice story on David Johansen and the New York Dolls

1975 Village Voice story on David Johansen and the New York Dolls

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‘Max’s Kansas City Alumni Reunion’

Between 1965 and 1981, the Park Avenue South venue Max’s Kansas City was a downtown institution, hosting artists ranging from the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls to Ramones and Blondie. Tonight, a bevy of its regulars launch a four-concert reunion, headlined by transgender punk icon Jayne County. The ringleader for the event is Psychotic Frogs frontman Jimi LaLumia, and he’s brought in the Nihilistics, the Shirts, two bands with members of Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers, and more.

June 7-11, 6 p.m., 2012

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‘Personality Crisis’

This night, which might originally be construed as a New York Dolls cover band taking the stage at a baseball field, is one big misnomer. Instead, BK recording studio/all ages space Shea Stadium hosts an all-sorts bill, featuring band names both brilliant (Mother Courage, Bad Teeth), unmemorable (Nat Brower, Shapes), and inscrutable (Slothrust?). Among the acts, ironic Autotune indebted to Brecht, boy/girl glam rock, and the scorching vocals of a lady bluesmith inspired by Whitney’s downfall. Guess the venue takes heed from its namesake, which hosted both the Beatles and the Clash.

Sat., Jan. 29, 8 p.m., 2011

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LIPSTICK KILLERS

Only gravelly voice frontman David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain remain from the original New York Dolls, but the two have forged ahead with a reconstructed lineup, miraculously recapturing most of the vamp and bombast of their early days. They also recently announced that Todd Rudgren would produce their next album, 35 years after producing their debut namesake album that more or less founded punk rock. Expect a considerable age gap among the crowd tonight: Original fans—like Morrissey, who coaxed them into reuniting in 2004 after nearly three decades defunct—are still taken with the outrageous, goofy boys from Staten Island who lined their eyes, had aerodynamic hair, and were irresistibly defiant. With the Dirty Pearls.

Sat., Dec. 27, 9 p.m., 2008

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Sensualistic, Polytheistic

“So everybody gets makeup, OK? You look dead on TV without it.” Back in the Conan greenroom from a Camel-stoked walk to the Hilton with his girlfriend Leah, David Johansen was taking charge of the reconstituted New York Dolls, who didn’t really need the help. The sextet showed a lot of denim in rehearsal, but all manner of magpie finery came out at the witching hour, with red-on-black a theme—Jersey guitarist Steve Conte’s red-lined frock coat, keyb pro Brian Koonin’s red derby, the red rose in nice-guy bassist Sami Yaffa’s hair. The multiple accessories to Syl Sylvain’s colorful costume include a snarly-wolf wristband and Max’s Kansas City kidney belt painted by his wife Wanda in Atlanta, whom he called before he went on. And Johansen—whew. Jean Harlow (?) T-shirt. Stovepipe flares. Belts and rhinestones and silvery chains. They were a great band dressed to kill again.

Many reunions never get past the tour that’s never as hot as true believers claim. And the creditable albums some bands manage never live up to old glories. The Dolls’ new album doesn’t either, but that’s compared to my desert island discs—with this band, I’m the true believer. Their second shot took nearly 30 years, a decade-plus more than Blondie or Mission of Burma or Gang of Four. With junko partners Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan gone since 1991 and 1992, three of the original Dolls survived till Morrissey engineered a London one-shot two years ago. His dream fulfilled, bassist Arthur Kane died of previously undiagnosed leukemia a month later, leaving David and Syl to ride the one-shot’s reverberations. But though the pace has slowed and the execution filled out, though Thunders’s squalling sound and drop-dead time are irreplaceable, they’re still the New York Dolls.

The Dolls came together at one of Queens’ less distinguished educational institutions—Sylvain, Thunders, and classic drummer Billy Murcia, who died in a 1972 drug bollocks, all attended Newtown High School, and Kane grew up nearby. Staten Islander David Johansen they met downtown, and he was different. Bluntly put, what Sylvain calls the Dolls’ “skyscraper soup” wouldn’t have been all that tasty without Johansen’s genius as songwriter and frontman. The forced rhythms and slapdash musicianship of this fast, noisy mix-up—comprising, Sylvain reckoned, girl group, blues, Eddie Cochran, Young Rascals, and Little Rascals—read radically anti-hippie and now just seems quintessentially rock and roll. But it presaged punk, and it influenced thousands of bands—none of whom sounded remotely like the Dolls because none of them had Johansen’s eye for a joke, nose for a hook, clothes sense, appetite, or humanity. Nobody does.

Since the Dolls fell apart without having approached the megasales dancing in their heads, Johansen has enjoyed a solo career that included a long stint as cruise-ship popmeister Buster Poin-dexter and a briefer one yodeling in the canon with the ad hoc Harry Smiths. But give the new album half a chance and it stands as a miraculous demonstration of how much this modestly cultured middle- class New Yorker—dad an opera-singing insurance salesman, mom a librarian—benefits from the proximity of dead-end kids. He’s written hundreds of songs with collaborator Koonin. But when sound-check riffs evolved into songs and then a deal with the metal heavyweights at Roadrunner Records for the first Dolls album in 32 years, Johansen knew he had to generate fresh material. “It’s like being the speechwriter for a party,” he told me, coyly leaving out the “political.” Fools will grouse about a 56-year-old pretending he’s 22 again, just as Mojo‘s Kris Needs recently groused that New York Dolls and In Too Much Too Soon were “neutered,” “limp” renderings of the band’s pansexuality. The Dolls always were over some people’s heads.

I’ve held off on the album’s strange title because it says so much: One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This. The “even” is preemptive; those who level the self-evident charge that the Dolls don’t jam like they used to should check their own jam level and say something new. But what’s more mind-boggling is that after 30 years Johansen isn’t looking back from his earned maturity—he’s looking ahead. He has internalized his mortality so thoroughly that he realizes he won’t be 56 forever. This is a true Dolls album—as in the Conan-featured “Dance Like a Monkey,” which bids a “pretty little creationist” to shake her “monkey hips” now that “evolution is obsolete,” or the opening “We’re All in Love,” with its “Jumping around like teenage girls” and its “We all sleep in one big bed.” But it also expresses the worldview of a lean, strong-piped guy who understands what makeup is for and knows that he may not be pretty in pink forever.

Johansen scoffed at my suggestion that his new album harbored religious feelings, and I didn’t push it. Instead I’ll just mention the booklet’s Kali Yoga shout-out and quote a few lyrics. “Feel exiled from the divine,” for instance. Or “Nature with its true voice cries out undissembled, ‘Be as I am!’ ” in the one that ends “Sensualistic/ Ritualistic/Alchemistic/Polytheistic.” Or the loose talk about infinity in the two songs that lead into the perorating “Take a Good Look at My Good Looks,” which begins, “Spirit slumbers in nature/And awakens in mind/And finally recognizes/Itself in time.” The ghost track “Seventeen” is tacked on as a corrective. Begins: “I was down on the corner one night.” Continues: “I was made all of light.”

Fools may wonder why Johansen needs dead-end kids to write like this. Where’s the party? But the Dolls were dead-end kids in transcendence mode. Their goal was and is the unbounded, humorous humanism apparent in Bob Gruen and Nadia Beck’s circa-1973 All Dolled Up DVD, a far more vivid memento than any concert bootleg. Their summum was Too Much Too Soon‘s future Guns N’ Roses text “Human Being”; their big drug slogan was “I need a kiss not a fix.” They were anti-hippie only insofar as hippies were passive (the Dolls rocked nonstop) and pretentious (David and Syl rail at 20-minute guitar solos as if they just tuned one out on WPLJ). Heterosexuals all, they believed in universal love the way disco utopian David Mancuso believed in universal love—with a sloppy touch of the Cockettes. “I’ve been trying to convince Syl that what we had in the ’70s wasn’t sex,” Johansen explained at Randalls Island in 2004, and again at Irving Plaza in 2005. A Monica Lewinsky joke, he couldn’t resist. But think of it this way—maybe what they had in the ’70s was love.

One attraction of Johansen’s newfound Buddhist rhetoric is that it doesn’t shy away from the carnal. The knowledgeable lust of “Fishnets & Cigarettes” and the pussy-worshipping “Running Around” counter the lived despair of “Punishing World,” “Maimed Happiness,” and the hope- deprived “I Ain’t Got Nothin’.” And that draft for a suicide note leads into a redemptive earthly-love triptych that dovetails plausibly, if not definitively, with what is known of Johansen’s personal life, in which a long marriage to photographer Kate Simon was followed by his relationship with Leah Hennessey, whose teenage daughter designed the 10-page comic that comprises the notes. He remains a votary of l-u-v.

That is, he remains a New York Doll. “This is the most fun way I can think of right now to not work,” Johansen told me, but he has big plans for his lark. No “bar band” or “preaching to the choir” for this mature professional entertainer who began his career believing he was about to take over the world. “This is going to be a big record. It’s like there’s no rock and roll records out there. It’s a fait accompli.”

It isn’t, but don’t tell the folks at Roadrunner. Tell them they’ve underwritten another desert island disc. Because it’s quite possible they have.

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Music

Blessed be the day that the ’80s revival is over. The never ending reliving of the decade of synths and asymmetrical haircuts makes Recall Lab, a party thrown by French label Recall, featuring Frenchie DJ Cam and Grand National, a breath of fresh air, even if Cam is actually pretty old-school. The night serves as a celebration for Revisited By, a new remix record of Cam’s tracks, with dubby, moody slices of electronic bliss from Kenny Dope, Attica Blues, Four Hero, and of course, Thievery Corporation. Brit duo Grand National, whose debut, Kicking the National Habit, is a hybrid of ’60s sunshine, house music, and jangly guitars, builds on their buzz with a live acoustic set. All together now: The ’80s are so 20 years ago! Wed @ 9, Hiro Ballroom, 363 W 16th, 212-240-4200


And it wouldn’t be a holiday weekend without a Motherfucker. Motherfucker is always special in that certain way—Michael T and Justine D and their minions dress up and scare the bejesus out of you—but this particular installment is extra-delish, as the remaining members of the New York Dolls are reuniting for a performance. You could even draw the conclusion that without the New York Dolls, none of us would know the meaning of sex, drugs, and glam. Special guest DJs Optimo and Tim Sweeney join the usual suspects, including Theo and Misstress Formika.Sun @ 10, Avalon, 212-807-7780


Author, comic, andgenius Mike Albo headlines Earl Dax’s new performance salon which also features the high school prep squad you always wanted, Varsity Interpretive Dance Squad, Julie Klausner and Sue Galloway, and Lesbian Overtones and the People’s Lution. Laughing hysterically is not optional.Tue @ 7:30, Galapagos, 70 N 6th St, Bklyn, 718-782-5188

tromano@villagevoice.com

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Long Island Dolls Next Door Opt for Midnight Snack Over Fix and Kiss

Powerpop never really went away, but it ought to be revived anyway. Young bands could make it something cooler. All it needs is to be sexed up, and glam is the way to go. Long Island group Milk ‘n’ Cookies figured that out way back in the early ’70s.

They actually sounded like the New York Dolls at times, this new reissue demonstrates, but this group didn’t exactly want a fix with their kiss. (What did they want instead? Milk ‘n’ cookies!) Still, singer Justin Strauss is not without his elements of danger, and he’s got no time for homework. He’s devoted to his girlfriend, but maybe a bit too much: “I want love/I don’t want nothing else/If I can’t/I’m gonna kill myself” (after which the band dramatically cuts out and the guitarist lays down a savage gauntlet riff).

Justin manages to be the boy next door and a foxy glam alien all at once. “Don’t wanna be no man/I’d rather stay Peter Pan.” Indeed. But he proves you can be Peter Pan just by wearing jeans and a cute T-shirt. He also knows that Peter Pan only sings for really dynamite bands.

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Sometimes a roil works even if it’s planned well in advance

“No Surprise,” the first single from Theory of a Deadman’s Gasoline, almost belongs on side two of GN’R Lies; it’s got swingin’ acoustics and some good-natured self-pitying misogyny. The only thing missing is any kind of spontaneous off-the-cuff feeling. Wussy story: When my ska-loving college roommate and I needed manly background music to build a sturdy shelving unit, the closest thing we had was New York Dolls, which was fine through “Personality Crisis” but then not so much. Gasoline would be perfect for the job; all its songs sound planned out well in advance, and originality is not a priority, as evidenced by the song titles “Santa Monica,” “Since You’ve Been Gone,” and “Save the Best for Last” (none of them as good as their doppelgängers). It also lacks that signature Lies/Dolls feeling that the singer and drummer are not reading lead sheets.

Ha! We kid, the Theory and I, but I actually like their CD quite a bit. The boys display a peculiar wit in such tight-lipped lines as “She fills my bed with gasoline/You think I woulda noticed.” With their relentlessly roiling riffs and serviceable melodies, all 13 songs manage a satisfying Stone Temple crunch. In short, TOAD sound as good as you can sound while still sounding exactly like Nickelback.

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What I Learned About Germany

Franz Ferdinand are a popular band who I like OK, but not many people know it is also the name of a famous Archduke in Austria who was killed and so started World War I. They called it the Great War, even though it was bad, because they didn’t know there was going to be another one. Germany got beaten twice, so it must have sucked to be German, especially if you were from Dresden which was firebombed and you died.

The Dresden Dolls are also a band, but they aren’t as popular. I think they are making fun of the name of the New York Dolls, who were a band in the ’70s. They talk about the ’70s a lot, like using lyrics from the Doors, Disco, and the Rolling Stones, who were all bands in the ’70s. This is because people then played “glam” which liked German cabaret a lot, and so do the Dresden Dolls. Cabaret was even the name of a musical in the ’70s, except it was about America. I saw it last year, in a movie.

The Dresden Dolls sound like a glam record my mom has called Berlin, which is also a city in Germany. They are two people and the piano makes the “walking bass” rhythm a lot, which is a type of “boogie.” People in Germany in the ’30s were really into black music like that. Sometimes the piano doesn’t walk but just plays a chord really fast, like in Rent, which was really about Bohemia, which is also in Germany. Bohemia was the home of the Reformation, which was fought against Catholics like the Kennedys.

The drummer reminds me of Buster Keaton, because he paints his face all white, which lots of German actors did in the ’30s, because they couldn’t talk. They were very crazy and sad and sometimes didn’t know if they were boys or girls, and also always very confused and scared of commitment in relationships. In conclusion, I like the Dresden Dolls a lot because they are pretty and fun, and learning about Germany has made me happy that the U.S. hasn’t ever got beaten in a war.

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Beware the Real Low-Rent Puke-and-Boogie Blues, Buster

A story in the L.A. Daily Snob recently mentioned how New York’s David Johansen was avidly embracing the blues. He was appearing at a swanky university on the West Side, a place where the trouble and suffering the locals have seen cannot be estimated. Solo and with the Harry Smiths (no relation), David said he was into the real blues. He brought the legitimate blues to the New York Dolls, you know—not the horrible “rock boogie till you puke blues” that made him feel “soured” on the music.

Ha. Good thing I had Dave and the Snob for bullshit detecting, else I might have given Eric Sardinas’s Black Pearls a nice review. Just in time I realized the title song—while being about tits and ass, I think—was not properly dried up and ancient. Sure, Sardinas had a good voice and could sneak hooks in. And his blurbs mentioned Big Bill Broonzy and Barbecue Bob. He’d even been able to trick record store flunkies into stocking his CDs in the blues-ghetto rack. But it was still the rock booglarization that has so soiled the genre.

Sardinas’s “Bittersweet” has a kicking beat, but it’s an amplified shuffle. And the man plays a Resonator—a real blues guitar!—but it’s loud and distorted, the snarl and snap appealing to low-rent boogiemen who bought Johnny Winter records when he was in the arenas. “Sorrow’s Kitchen” wasn’t a strict swamp country blues, either, but a triumphant “see what ya done” unloading on a disloyal girlfriend. Worst, Sardinas doesn’t even look the part of a bluesman. His previous album took a feeble stab at upholding the image, showing disfiguring tattoos, but there was no hiding “the face” and more of those boogie-fied slide numbers. Christ, he looks a little like Steve Vai!