New York Dolls
By Kenney Silvers
Photos by PUNKassPHOTOS.com
"It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing, while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful, and good, and we must hunger after them...." (-George Eliot)
"I was pretty vanquished, when you came along/I was only singin' lonesome funeral songs...."(-David Johansen)
"Don't let the W.T.O. take the focus off where it belongs, and it belongs on the human face behind the label and behind the product. The exploitation, the starvation wages, the armed guards. That's where the focus belongs."
"There's no compassion, there's money going on..." (-Hannah Petros)
SOMEONE IS ALWAYS PERISHING....
Like many of youse, I've long been a heavy, dues-paying member of the Cult of Thunders. Johnny Thunders was a beautiful, flawed, and gifted cat. It's a sad vacation, indeed, if his only lasting legacy is the Nikki Sixx haircut, and all those Junkie Romance kids. Johnny, Jerry, Arthur were all lovely, man. 'Thing is, David Jo and Syl are both STILL HERE, and even if the Thunders-Cult loyalists disapprove of Steve Conte not being a mere three-chord copycat clone, look at it this way: every town has five bands of tattooed dudes who are already rehashing the same, tired Thunders licks, if that's all you ever wanna hear. I sez other people are allowed to be beautiful, and say something new, as well as, the much revered dead guys. Steve Conte plays like Johnny Marr-effortlessly summoning ominous, sorrowful; or joyful, and exuberant; but always picturesque, notes and chords, tailor-made for the wise and weary story-telling of Mister Johansen.
It's obviously a testament to the power of Johnny's blastoid-persona, that each successive generation's producing another defiant brace of angry, black-haired fuck-ups eager to take immediate possession of the Thunders Mythology...I'm just sayin' Steve Conte takes too much shit, man. You don't hear nobody complainin' about Sami Yaffa "replacing" Killer Kane, now, do ya? That's cause all the young Thunders-worshippers loved Hanoi Rocks, too. This is a reconstituted band, and the New Guitar Hero is absolutely brilliant, in his own right.
My only real gripe with all these punk'n'roll tribute bands always comin' down the conveyor-belt, is that they tend to capitalize, almost exclusively, on an established artist's image, iconography, originality-minus the CONTENT. There's always buzz about this, or that, current group that LOOKS "just like" the Clash, or Jesus and Mary Chain, or Lords Of The New Church, or whoever, but play 'em, and there's all-too-often, no meaning, no message, no poetry, or point to 'em. Just more spoilt middle-classers, with nothin' to say, who like to play dress-up on the weekends, and regurgitate tired Ramones/Thunders chord-progressions with thoughtless cock-rock lyrics. One only gets lured into discussions about these same old tedious time-wasters when their associates attempt to rationalize their (ir)relevance, but the bottom-line is, we mention these usual suspects only because they're the only ones with the disposable capital to press CD's and tour. Their music's almost always another sadly-derivative bore, and unless you're part of their fringe-benefiting entourage, your eyes are always gonna glaze-over when they perpetually pay for position/air-time, on the scene. Are they any good, or did they just have money? It's almost always money. The voices that got something sincere, or relevant, to convey, are usually, the ones that get shut-out of the whole debate. Ya see, the corporatist, neo-conservative W.T.O. oligarchy has not gone away. It's just gone into hiding behind those beautiful Obama "Hope" silk-screens, and a really dumb Black-Eyed Peas song, heard on Oprah.
Urban-dwellers on the coasts can't rightfully fathom how segregated, misled, oppressed, and hopelessly ill-prepared people are, in the rural midwest. Opportunity is so narrow and restricted. If you have next to no income, you can't afford luxury items like computers and tech-toys. Everyone WANTS to boycott Wal-Mart (...Even though-lotsa middle-class liberals ignore the inconvenient fact that Sam's Club's the same company...) but for millions of Americans, trapped in these dead-end shitvilles, up and down the Interstates, it's really a hostage situation. They're all a captive audience, there aren't any alternatives to Wal-Mart, and what little "competition" still lingers, in the way of independents, their prices are twice as high. For alot of folks, if Wal-Mart don't carry the new N.Y. Dolls C.D., it may as well not exist.
WANTED: BAND THAT MATTERS!!!!
I would like to assert that David Johansen's pained eloquence and vociferous Willie Dixon-growl...along with his righteous cohort, Sylvain Sylvain's Classic-Bubblegum/Shangrillas/Brill Building pop-sentimentality is a refreshing reprieve from the past decade's jack-off hate-metal and bored art school hybrid-genres. "Punishing World" and "Maimed Happiness", from their excellent come-back record, "Someday It Will Please Us To Remember Even This", are every bit as vital, alive, and wide-awake, as "Lonely Planet Boy" , or "Human Being" from the old days! David's always been a wonderful, clever, poignant lyricist and his writing just keeps getting richer, more soulful, and insightful, and profound. Jagger, Tyler, and Stewart can hardly claim their writing's gotten any better. Perhaps their status as money-making machines has become more successful in recent years, with their savage marketing and overpriced tours, and shitty cover albums for old people who like the Eagles, but none of them are writing wonderful songs, anymore. Maybe the Dolls ain't got the money their former peers are so tainted by, but they've still got the real rock'n'roll heart and soul. The NY Dolls remain a genuine political threat, just by their audacious example, and by virtue of their willingness to express truthful emotion. They still stand tall--after countless years of hard luck, rip-offs, obscurity, and abuse, all while witnessing KISS and Aerosmith make corporation jelly-roll billions, with their syrupy song-doctors, reality-shows, and gimmicky product bullshit.
The Hanoi Rocks-style, "calypso-version" of "Trash" oughta land 'em some much deserved air-play on public radio. The song, "Drowning" sounds hit-worthy to me, but I'm not exactly on the pulse-beat. Public radio-programmers might even prefer the Anti-Government Surveillance, title-track, with it's big, glossy, commercial-rock guitars.
One of the newest tunes might remind some of the Who-at their best, but me, personally, I PREFER Johansen and Conte to Daltrey and Townshend. His blues song's a total gas: "A man of my stature can't live like this!" ...I can dig it, brother! That ain't no jive-ass rich whiteboy "House Of Blues" richman singin' the blues, like all dem video-game shills and theme park endorsers.
I am particularly fond of "Temptation To Exist"-their latest spaghetti western torch-song. Only Tex Perkins, Chris Isaak, and Nick Cave really seem to excel at that type of song, anymore-the whistling old prairie ballad, so it's a beautiful thing when the Dolls step forward. I dunno if it's this bootleg disc my old guitarist so thoughtfully, burned for me, or if it's the major investment we made for this six dollar Goodwill C.D. player to listen to it, but my long-awaited copy of "Cause I Sez So" skips about half way through. That's typical of both my plight and the Dolls'. If I'm ever granted an income-stream again, I'll likely purchase a playable, "real copy", of this album, with all those old-fashioned, "fancy extras" like art-work, and track-listings, like all you big-time, citified folks. Maybe that's the sad core of the whole NY Doll's tale, right there: that even their most faithfully fervent, and abiding, fans are often luckless, jobless, losers, like me. Of all the thousands of dollars I've spent on NY Dolls ephemera, throughout the years, probably only $30, or $40 ever actually ended-up in the pocket of a Doll, even briefly, and that was only when I paid cash at the door to see various members live, or for the t-shirt I bought at the Johnny Thunders Memorial Show.
The NY Dolls were never KISS. They weren't money-grubbing, elitist businessmen, merely status-seizing, while posing as rockers. They were the band all the fakes and opportunistic snake-oil bullshitters copied. They ALWAYS got fucked over by their managers, girlfriends, and record companies, and they never had effective straights protecting their merchandising, like Aerosmith and KISS, did. I've owned probably close to forty different NY Dolls t-shirt designs, over the years, and they probably never saw dime one, off any of 'em. The NY DOLLS weren't really ever about blind ambition, suburban greed, vicious self-nterest, or big-business, y'know? They REALLY WERE A PEOPLE'S BAND, and I URGE you people, who are still fortunate enough to have jobs, to buy their most recent discs. I assure you, you'll treasure 'em, --and go see 'em live! Johansen's still got plenty more to teach us, than the correct way to sport an apricot scarf. He's really becoming like a Rock'n'roll Bodhisattva-one who refuses to abandon this punishing world of suffering and illusion, until all the broken hearted boozers, and dead broke losers, can accompany him. They are still Kings of Soul. If you ever loved the NY DOLLS, it was surely not without just cause, so what cause withholds you now, to swing wit 'em again?
My Favorite New Glamsters Who Don't Suck: