It’s pretty common knowledge that my favorite rock and roll bands in the glorious history of rock and roll are the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls.
I have a vivid memory of the death of Velvets founder, singer, songwriter, and guitarist Lou Reed. One evening I got an email telling me I had a story accepted for publication. It was “The Prince Who Went Up a Hill,” and it was in the now out-of-print anthology Veterans of Future Wars. I made a whole $10.34 in royalties on that one.
The next day Lou Reed was dead.
A buddy asked me what kind of day I had, and it was like, “I sold a story. Lou Reed is dead.”
Like the Velvets, the Dolls were broken up by the time I discovered them. Unlike the Velvets, who were like unto gods, though, you could relate to the Dolls. They dressed in women’s clothes to freak out the squares. They went out and had a party on stage. They sucked at fifty paces and rocked harder than a barrel full of Chuck Berrys.
That’s David Johansen in front. You might know him as Buster Poindexter.
From left at the back: Johnny Thunders. He died of a drug overdose. Billy Murcia. He asphyxiated when they tried to revive him after a drug overdose by pouring black coffee down his throat. (Billy’s replacement, Jerry Nolan, died of AIDS he got from sharing needles.) Arthur Kane. Leukemia.
And on the right, Sylvain Sylvain Mizrahi, born in Egypt in 1951, brought to America at age 10. He might have been a tailor if they’d stayed, and all through his life he had that to fall back on, but it was America and to get the chicks you had to play guitar. Well, you didn’t have to, but it helped.
He named the band. He spotted a shop called the New York Doll Hospital, and the rest, as they say, is history.
After the Dolls he had a minor solo career. I have a copy of his Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops here in my collection. It’s pop-y rock-y with a smidge of rockabilly and a punk edge; a good sound, nothing special. The big news was that he and the drummer, Rosie Rivets, were an item.
By the ’90’s he was back to tailoring. You can always fall back on tailoring if you know how to do it.
In the mid ’20’s the Dolls sort of got back together. Steve Conte replaced Johnny, there were a couple drummers, and after Arthur died Sami Jaffa came in. They made three more albums, two that were pretty good and one, Some Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This, everlovin’ fookin’ A brilliant, just like the two they cut in the ’70’s, The New York Dolls and The New York Dolls in Too Much, Too Soon.
When my car radio antenna fell off and I couldn’t get the good stations any more, I put Too Much, Too Soon in the CD player and left it there. I hear the boys every time I drive.
David butterflied off to his next project and Syl kicked around. He did a David-less Dolls tour of Japan, played with ex-Sex Pistol Glen Madlock on the Sex Doll tour, sang in little clubs and living rooms, even. Everywhere he went he played “Teenaged News,” the song he wrote that never made it onto the third album the Dolls were supposed to make but they broke up too soon.
He even wrote a book, There’s No Bones in Ice Cream. It’s pretty good and you can bet he made more than $10.34 on it. Not a lot more, but more. I hoped I could meet him and get him to sign my copy. I mean, him and me were writers, right?
They announced on Facebook a couple years ago he had cancer. There was a GoFundMe and I kicked in $100; barely working musicians don’t have health insurance.
Last week it killed him. RIP Sylvain Sylvain Mizrahi.