SYLVAIN SYLVAIN with PLASMA BLAST at B-Side (129 Peter), Friday (December 15). $15/advance, $20/door. 204-9660. Rating: NNNNNThe New York Dolls.
SYLVAIN SYLVAIN with PLASMA BLAST at B-Side (129 Peter), Friday (December 15). $15/advance, $20/door. 204-9660. Rating: NNNNN
The New York Dolls were better at selling haircuts than records. David Bowie, KISS and Aerosmith all copped the Dolls’ raunchy glam look. And after Patti Smith, Richard Hell, Blondie, Jane County and the Ramones took what they needed of the Dolls “fuck you” attitude to create punk, Malcolm McLaren scraped the remainder off the floor of Mercer Arts and used it to manufacture the Sex Pistols. Just about everybody who came in contact with the Dolls got rich except group members Billy Murcia, Sylvain Sylvain, Johnny Thunders, Arthur Kane and David Johansen.
They burned through whatever cash came their way on booze, pills and smack faster than they could earn it. Too Much Too Soon was the apt title of their album-length tombstone of 74. Since none of them fully understood the implications of the phrase “in perpetuity” that appeared in the fine print of their recording contracts, rhythm guitarist Sylvain isn’t planning to retire on reissue royalties.
Now closing in on 50, the remarkably well-preserved Sylvain – riff ripper behind such monuments of stoopid rock ‘n’ roll genius as Trash and Frankenstein – is still hustling from club to club with pickup bands.
But lately there’s been a change. Whether it’s a residual effect of the late-90s glam nostalgia that peaked with the release of Velvet Goldmine, or perhaps the beginning of a boy-band backlash, Sylvain has noticed his audience is getting younger by the day.
“When I put out my (Sleep) Baby Doll album and began playing shows again,” says Sylvain from his Atlanta home, having just returned from a triumphant tour of Spain, “I was hearing from these kids, like, 15 years old, who were excited about seeing me play. I’ve started doing all-ages gigs now.
“When I do shows, it’s not just my new stuff. I give people what I call my “300-year history of rock and roll,’ and seeing these young kids getting into those old Dolls tunes is a beautiful thing. I just got an e-mail from a kid who was at my Portugal show. “Many loud songs! Punk rock is still alive!'”
Although Sylvain was overshadowed in the Dolls by flamboyant frontman Johansen and dangerously unpredictable lead guitarist Thunders, his contribution to the group’s look and sound should not be underestimated.
Before joining the Dolls, Sylvain ran the Truth and Soul street clothing boutique, and his fashion sense helped shape the band’s daringly androgynous look. As well, the ideas for the Dolls’ doo-wop-style vocal hooks came from the R&B 45s Sylvain swiped from house parties.
It’s no wonder the Dolls’ so-called manager, Malcolm McLaren, saw a kindred spirit in Sylvain and wanted to build his Sex Pistols concept around him after the Dolls imploded. That Sylvain declined McLaren’s offer is part of rock legend, but according to Sylvain, it’s not quite accurate.
“Malcolm said, “Give me your Gibson guitar and I’ll take it back to England, sell it and send you a plane ticket so you can form a group with these guys who’ve been hanging around my wife’s clothing shop.
“So I gave him the guitar and the piano I used for the Red Patent Leather sessions, and I’m still waiting for that ticket. You know that white Les Paul Custom that Steve Jones used his entire time with the Pistols? Yep, that was mine.
“But wait, it gets better. Steve called me up to say he’s made a lot of money over the years off my guitar. He goes around buying white Les Pauls, heh heh, sticks a little pin-up girl decal on ’em and sells them as the original formerly owned by me!”
And what does Sylvain have? Well, he’s got his fame, although today he’s more revered by rock stars than people who actually buy CDs.
“Morrissey is a big Dolls fan. Poor guy, I think he’s still disappointed that Johansen wasn’t gay. He came to a gig I did at Al’s Bar in Los Angeles recently and all the reporters wrote was that Morrissey showed up.
“I just ran into Michael Stipe at a Patti Smith concert, and he said, “You were so great when I saw you back in 78, but you’re probably sick of people telling you that.’ Well, no. If it wasn’t for people like Stipe and Morrissey, I wouldn’t have shit.”
SYLVAIN SYLVAIN with PLASMA BLAST at B-Side (129 Peter), Friday (December 15). $15/advance, $20/door. 204-9660.1998 (Sleep) Baby Doll (Fishhead)