As original member and guitarist for The New York Dolls, Sylvain Sylvain inspired countless kids in bedrooms around the world to pick up their guitars, dab on a bit of rouge, and start a band. The Dolls’ influence on rock and roll is well documented and will continue as long as there’s a need for loud, campy rock and roll–and that need never goes away.
But Sylvain also inspired my all-time favorite rock show heckle; one that I use to this day, regardless of the artist or situation. Like the Dolls themselves, it is equally specific to the moment it was first uttered and evergreen.
It was at The Cactus Club in Milwaukee where my new bandmate and pal Mick was reunited with his band Men From Mars to open for Sylvain. I was late because I couldn’t find my way to the club and passed my turn several times before catching a glimpse of the front door and swinging a hard left on a wet road. I made it in to catch the end of Mick’s set and caught up on beers and chit-chat with Mick. Then it got loud.
Sylvain’s band kicked in hard. I can’t remember what song they opened with but I am pretty sure it was a Dolls’ tune. You know, to get the crowd ready to roll. They were pretty tight but swinging and Sylvain sounded good. He worked up a sweat quickly and eventually wandered into the crowd, guitar in hand so we could all get hot, hot, hot together. This was a few months after September 11, 2001 and we were all looking for an opportunity or reason to find some community. As a New Yorker, Sylvain obviously had some very close and personal feelings about what had happened in New York and what was happening in America as a response. He lit into a rant…a preach for loving each other and not giving in to prejudice or paranoia. He was hitting a high when the heckle rang out like a shot:
Play “Trash,” hippy!
It was incredibly offensive and incredibly hilarious, the perfect interruption for an emotional moment as only a Midwesterner can deliver. Sylvain laughed and nodded his head as if to say, “Yeah, yeah. Ok.” and we were back to rocking and sweating.
Sylvain died today after a two and a half year battle with cancer. Of the original line-up, only David Johansen remains. We have the records, we have the songs, but we’ll never get to hear Sylvain play “Trash” again. That’s a real drag.
The New York Dolls were not grounded by the Icelandic Volcano. They arrived in London on their tour bus after playing in France. This was their only UK date, and I got the feeling they were playing here because they are free spirits and…because they can.
This band did not disappoint, quickly building a connection with the crowd starting with “Looking For A Kiss” – but they’re not resting on their past. The recent songs such as “‘Cause I Sez So” and “Tommy” kept the crowd moving as much as the inspirational early material.
Back in May I was lucky enough to shoot the first gig of the ‘Cause I Sez So world tour in London – tonight I am here in Scotland’s capital to document the last date of this tour.
This band is no nostalgia act churning out the same one liners and old songs. They have released two critically acclaimed albums since 2004. Their 90 minute energetic set was as fresh as the Scottish air as they played a mix of old and new songs.
London, 14th May 2009 and the New York Dolls are playing their first date since the release of their new album ‘Cause I Sez So, linking up again with Todd Rundgren who produced their debut album which influenced so many of the punk bands that followed them.
It was fitting that tonight’s gig was at the legendary 100 Club on Oxford Street, home of the breakthrough Punk Festival of 1976. In the audience was Paul Simonon who played at the festival with the Clash – he was enjoying the night accompanied by another Dolls fan, Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream.
Iggy Pop was fucking the camera. Lithe like a Romanian gymnast, his lifelines disappearing craggy into low rise jeans, the punk father writhed onstage like a human snake razor blade, and the camera beamed it into outer space. A veteran sex simulator and the energy source of his reconstituted Stooges, Pop’s completely unfakeable yowls, tumbles and cabinet climbs were typical of a show that delighted in refreshing the stale rock festival concept. There were a few flecks of grey in this 21st century version, and the occasional mohawk’d toddler waddled on by. It also took place in the shadows of a giant orange mocha frappucino. But with his Underground Garage Festival, Little Steven Van Zandt made his vibrant music id a touchable thing, and the jabberwocky prattlecock of today’s industry faraway for at least a day. And New York City rocked like a hurricane.
Our umbrellas were consfiscated at the gate (they could be used as weapons, I was told), but that was the only down note in the entire day and night of Little Steven’s Underground Garage Festival on Randall’s Island. My friend Kathy and I got there at 1 pm, having bagged an overly ambitious plan to be there for the beginning at 11:00 am (who can rock at 11:00? Apparently James Gandolfini, and missing him was a drag, but we caught a few other Sopranos who were hanging onstage, like Big Pussy Bompansero and Paulie Walnuts, along with some other of Little Steven’s pals like, oh, Bruce Springsteen, who sauntered on now and then to introduce a band). It was a day of dazzling but casual star power; everyone was friendly; there was a minimum of insider/outsider vibe, and the unpretentious, inclusive spirit of the show evoked legendary 60s rock events like Woodstock (the love vibe) and Altamont (the confiscated umbrellas, the revved-up aggression in the music) and made peace with that past by connecting it to the present.