New York Dolls, the end (and Malcolm McLaren has something to do with it...)

New York Dolls, the end (and Malcolm McLaren has something to do with it…)

1975 began in the worst possible way for the New York Dolls, penniless, at odds with Mercury Records, abandoned by management and Marty Thau. In practice the project would seem doomed. But, like in a B-series movie, on a cold day at the beginning of the year in New York (the precise date is not known, but the event can certainly be placed between the second half of January and the first half of February 1975) a fortuitous meeting takes place destined to resurrect the group – or, if we want to be more realistic than the king, to prolong his agony.

Sylvain Sylvain is walking past the entrance to the Chelsea Hotel, at 222 West on 23rd Street, when he sees a familiar face emerge from the lobby. This is my English friend Malcolm McLaren. They say goodbye, Malcolm asks him how things are going with the band and the answer surprises him: «Ah, pretty shitty. We're about to break up.” Here's the reaction And Man, I like the band. Can I help you in any way? I'll do it willingly, for you.” And so begins there'it was McLaren of the New York Dolls, with the future deus ex machina of the Sex Pistols in command of the operations.

Given the situation, the only way to keep the band alive is to focus on intense live activity, in order to guarantee an income of money. McLaren first rents a loft on 23rd Street, where the Dolls can try out a new set based on a basic concept created by him: it's the period of red patent leather (red leather, from the title of the song of the same name, a new composition by the band) in which the five appear on stage all dressed in red, with a flag with a hammer and sickle as a background. A real provocation in the United States, where communism is seen as the number one enemy, and also a sort of dress rehearsal for what will happen with the Sex Pistols, when McLaren will dress up Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten with T-shirts on which features a swastika.

Sylvain Sylvain is enthusiastic about this second chance, but in reality the worms of ego and addictions have already irremediably undermined the future of the Dolls. Furthermore, McLaren isn't exactly liked by everyone, as Sylvain says: «Another problem was that Jerry and Johnny didn't like Malcolm. Jerry always said, “he IS really stupid! AND really stupid!”. McLaren was always a bit of an idiot, he always joked with that English sense of humor that no one normally understands… let alone two people who do heroin. Plus he had that kind of dorky look: sometimes he'd wake up with that curly hair all blown out, and he had those fringed pants and shit. In short, Jerry (in particular) and Johnny never took Malcolm seriously. Jerry had a lot of influence on Johnny at the time and would tell him, “Look at him. And we're supposed to become like the Beatles with this idiot's help?” Johnny agreed and thought, “he's right. This guy is an idiot.” They never took it seriously and it was a mistake.”

The group, however, tries with dedication, despite everything, preparing a new set list with some new songs and some covers.

Malcolm is determined to clean up his pupils as much as possible, so that they can perform at their best live. And so he sends Arthur Kane to detox from alcohol, while Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders end up in treatment to fight their drug addiction – in all three cases, however, things don't go as planned and bad habits are just put on hold -by for a little while. McLaren would later recall, with no small amount of irony: «In that period I was a standard manager, the kind you could find flipping through the Yellow Pages. I was just trying to do my job, like: “I'm English and that's how we do things. Okay buddy, you're drinking too much, we'd better send you to this clinic for a while. Arthur, you need to show up at nine o'clock sharp, I'll pick you up at home, be ready and pack a bag. You'll be gone for a few weeks, but you don't have to worry; everything will be fine and I will come to see you every three days. Sure I'll send you Johnny and David, in fact I'll come in person with them, no problem. Yes, you will have some money with you and you will only be able to eat one boiled egg every day. And after that I absolutely want him to only hang out with librarians.”

From February 19, 1975 the band returns on the road and within a couple of months he performed in around twenty concerts troubled by logistical problems, less than enthusiastic reactions from the public and chronic lack of money. This until we reached the fateful first days of April 1975.

The Dolls are located in Florida, at the Crystal Springs Hotel in Zephyrhills (near Tampa): it is the structure managed by Nolan's mother and the band uses it as a base for concerts in the area. One evening David, Johnny and Jerry end up having a big fight. The singer, in the grip of alcohol fumes, tells the guitarist and the drummer at dinner that he could continue on his own, even alone, and that each member of the group is “replaceable without problems”. At that point Johnny and Jerry decide they have had enough and leave the New York Dolls on the spot, during the tour, without the slightest remorse. Jerry Nolan: «I got up from the table and said: “I'm leaving”. Then Johnny also got up and said: “If Jerry gives up, I'll do it too”.

Sylvain Sylvain even accompanies Nolan and Thunders to the airport by car and thus remembers the moment of saying goodbye: «I shouted: “Hey you two! And what will become of the New York Dolls?”. Johnny didn't even turn around, he kept walking, but Jerry turned around. I swear to God, he said, 'Fuck the New York Dolls.'”

According to Nolan, however, after the scene Johnny still seems to have some hope of mending the breakup with the Dolls, but his friend and drummer points out to him that it is now impossible: «Even while we were flying on the plane, Johnny seemed convinced that it had just been an outburst like so many others. So I said to him: “Johnny, look, it wasn't one of those usual arguments that you have in the evening and then the next day you get up and everything is over. This time it's something very serious.”

Johansen's version of the split is, obviously, different: «I don't remember the exact sequence of events, but we were in Florida in some sort of Bates Motel-type place owned by Jerry's mother. There were some old caravans that were used as hotel rooms: we were supposed to settle there, then go out and do concerts and then come back. The band imploded because those two (Johnny and Jerry) couldn't manage without heroin, so it became impossible to carry on. You know, big rock stars have valets and minions at their service, but we never had any of that bullshit.” In fact, it's not pure and simple malice: Jerry and Johnny are really in trouble, there in the middle of nowhere, because they can't get the heroin they need to keep the monkey they now carry on their shoulder at bay. Yet Nolan's version of the role of drugs in the dissolution of the Dolls is different: «At the beginning, in the Dolls, I was very good friends with David, but later I became very close to Johnny. Since we eventually became serious drug addicts, which we were not at the time, the implosion of the New York Dolls was made out to be the result of our behavior. But it's not true. Johnny and I were excited about the prospect of touring Japan and recording a third album.”

Commenting on the demise of the New York Dolls, Thunders later stated diplomatically: “I thought the band had done everything they could. Towards the end Malcolm was managing us… he wanted us to dress in red leather and stuff… Jerry and I believed it was more important to renew the repertoire. We had five or six new songs and we wanted to go back to New York – we were in Florida – to work on them, but David thought we should stay with Malcolm.”

At this point the Thunders and the New York Dolls part ways.

The Dolls will continue for a few more months, changing lineup at least a couple of times and also embarking on a Japanese tour, as well as staging a reunion in 1976 (about thirty shows with just Sylvain Sylvain and Johansen, often advertised under the name The Dolls). , and then finally imploded. Between 2004 and 2011 the New York Dolls reunited for several shows (the line-up initially included Sylvain Sylvain, Arthur Kane and David Johansen as original members, and then changed several times) and three unreleased albums. They declared their final dissolution in 2011.

This text is taken, courtesy of the publisher, from “LAMF, the legend of Johnny Thunders” (Tsunami), written by Andrea Valentini.