Glam masters-slash-punk pioneers New York Dolls storming San Antonio
Published: June 7, 2011
New York Dolls w. Mötley Crüe and Poison
7pm Thursday, June 9
One AT&T Center
It’s frequently not the most successful bands that have the most lasting impact. Case in point, the New York Dolls. They were a crucial act in the development of both punk and glam rock, and planted the seed for the New York scene that a few years later would produce bands like Television, the Ramones, and Blondie.
Formed in 1971, the Dolls’ sound built on doo-wop, the R&B-inspired flavor of the British Invasion, and ’60s girl groups. Indeed, clad in lipstick, dresses, and all manner of odd garb, they looked a little like a girl group — dragged through a Manhattan gutter, kicked a few times, and handed a big satchel of drugs. They sang about “Pills,” “Trash,” and offered their scathing, cockeyed take on a “Personality Crisis.” It’s no surprise then that their scandalously decadent sense of irreverence inspired acts ranging from the Sex Pistols to Mötley Crüe.
From the beginning it was about expressing an unbridled individuality and excising boredom. “We were like the Little Rascals and had their approach to show business,” explains guitarist Sylvain Sylvain. “We were so bored with what was going on we said, ‘Hey man, let’s put on our own show.’ What had sucked about it was that our heroes from the British Invasion and stuff like that were now singing rock operas. For us, rock had lost its pizzazz and sex appeal.”
Their outrageous sense of style came naturally to them, though Sylvain and founding drummer Billy Murcia were actually connected to the fashion industry as well. They’d started a knitwear company called, naturally enough, Truth and Soul. Indeed, Sylvain’s family had long been associated with the garment business in New York. It was actually at a New York fashion trade show that they met Malcolm McLaren, who would not only manage them (and later, the Sex Pistols) but provide some of their stage wear.
Their guitarist, Johnny Thunders, would become an enormous punk icon influencing the playing style of countless acts to follow. The oft-addled junkie had a very direct, unpretentious but aggressive playing style that meshed well with the spirit of punk.
“His greatest gift was his simplicity,” Sylvain explains. “Not that he even appreciated that, because he wanted to be Jeff Beck. He was a wonderful writer. His phrasing, the way he sat in the song too. And his songs all came from a true life story, not homework. I’m a purist when it comes down to it. It’s got to be from the heart and the fucking balls. It’s got to be about your life and shit.”
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