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.