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immaculate what?!WWIB Presents… Lisanne McTernan: So the publisher asked me to write something Queens related and sends me this New York Dolls dvd to review. Uh… just how old does he think I am? Yeah, I’m from Queens but I was probably still in kindergarten when Johnny Thunders smoked his 200th joint! Don’t get me wrong, I luv (l-u-v) the Dolls but if you want to talk Queens music that changed my life, it would have to be the bands with no hair that came out in the early ’80s like the Mob, Major Conflict and Kraut. The Ramones? Yeah I liked them too but they were already “too popular” for me then. I was blown away by the bands with the kids who were the same age as me and in the true spirit of Rock & Roll were rebelling against the music the radio was pushing down our throat.

Now, like everything with age and experience, my appreciation changed. I am damn proud to be from the same borough as Johnny Thunders and Syl Sylvain. Their kind of New York attitude is a thing of the past in our gentrified era.


too much too soonThe New York Dolls in 1973 were young. They were tough. They could wear makeup, woman’s lingerie and platform shoes and walk through the streets of NYC unscathed. They were an outer borough gang that took over Manhattan and later the world. This documentary was made by ace rock photographer Bob Gruen and his wife Nadya Beck with one of the first videotape machines on the market. Gruen says in the liner notes that they bought the machine to use as a hobby because, at that time, there was no market for video. Live footage has the band performing all their classic songs from the first album with raw fervor. Backstage and interview footage are all interesting as the Dolls were a fidgety bunch that seemed to get bored easy. Groupies at their sides, they liked to interrupt and conspire.

David Johansen was the eloquent leader with the Staten Island accent. Syl Sylvain, the guitar riffing sidekick from Queens who strutted around the airport before their flight to LA wearing hot pants, tank top and high heels– didn’t he know it gets cold on an airplane? Nah, he was a New York Doll, fuck that! Arthur “Killer” Kane, the silent Frankenstein from the Bronx lurking in the background like an old silent film star. Jerry Nolan, the neanderthal drummer kid from Williamsburg, Brooklyn that became Johnny Thunders’ unfortunate partner in crime. Johnny Thunders, before he became the famous rock & roll junkie from Jackson Heights. The prototype for that New York Rocker look, short in stature but big in attitude (and hair) Johnny had energy back in them daze. And dazed they were, as I don’t think there was a scene without booze and other assorted vices visible.

The film opens with the Dolls dressed as gangsters hanging off a Volkswagen cruising down 14th Street, past the old Luchow’s restaurant to the New York Academy of Music (later the Palladium and now a sterile NYU dorm). It’s really wonderful footage of 14th Street in the day when it was much like 42nd Street without the neon lights. There are also scenes of the band playing to a packed room at Max’s Kansas City and Kenny’s Castaways but, for the most part this, was shot in Hollywood and San Francisco. They do a residency at the Whiskey a Go-Go and go to Rodney Bingenheimers English Disco, where they play Pong and dance with the girls. You can tell that the filmmakers were pals with the band because it’s all very casual.

flying v styleStand out scenes? Well, all… but David is a great interview and his description of the difference between New Yorkers and Californians? Something like this: ”These people have no drive, they don’t know what to do with themselves. In New York there’s always someone interesting to meet.” Watching the guys primp and make themselves up was a great window on their personalities too. Johnny (born John Anthony Genzale, Jr) was a short guy and the image of him jumping up to make up the 1 foot height difference to tease and spray Arthur’s hair was sort of touching to me. Rating: 5 bottles of Aqua Net

The Music Director adds: Lisanne is walkin’ boss of Found In Brooklyn, a groovy & unpredictable blog with a strong South Brooklyn (or Gowanus) accent & a keen interest in the celebration of useful street detritus. Another view on recent Dolls’ activities comes from fellow Flushing native, Robert Christgau.

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