New York Doll

By Freeman, Tara | Notes, March 2007 | Go to article overview

New York Doll


Freeman, Tara, Notes


New York DoU. DVD. Directed by Greg Whiteley. Universal City, CA: Visual Entertainment, 2005. F10130. $19.98.

Be forewarned, this is not a typical "rockumentary" in the fashion of MTV or VH1. This is a comprehensive and deeply moving story about not only the group, the New York Dolls, but one individual's quest to live once more in his glorious past. This is neither a straight documentary nor is it a glamorized saga of the punk movement nor is it a singularly focused story of Arthur "Killer" Kane (the bass player from the New York Dolls); it is all of these things. Arthur Kane is a loveable, yet tragic character who was used up and left out to dry by the always turbulent world of rock music.

This film was produced out of a love of punk rock music. Its purpose is to shed light on one of the most influential punk bands that gave birth to the movement. The director, Greg Whiteley, had an audience of now aging punk and rock 'n' roll music fans in mind when he came up with the idea to create this film. The target audience is, but not limited to, pre-MTVgeneration music fans. Those who would most enjoy the film are the underground music lovers dating from the late '60s and early '70s and those who have ever loved '80s metal and punk rock. This film is an important history lesson even for those fans of music today (since the New York Dolls exercised a tremendous influence over all of the present rock genres in their own way) and is especially worth watching for its pop culture history factor. In addition to its cultural significance it is also a beautiful story.

Anyone who has ever been seduced by the idea of "living like a rock-star" would find this film illuminating because it tells the sordid tale of what life is really like on the dark underbelly of that world. Pioneers in music frequently suffer from financial loss, public rejection, drug abuse, and are left with broken hearts, empty wallets and, if they make it out alive, a fierce adherence to groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or in this case the Mormon Church. Arthur Kane was definitely no exception.

The New York Dolls (originally known as "Actress") before David Johansen (the singer) joined the band in 1971, was the first rock group to experiment with a transgender image (George Gimarc, Punk Diary: 1970-1979 [New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994], 2). They would all dress up as women (in the guise of street hookers) while performing in the early '70s. While it was unheard of and bizarre at the time, many later and vastly successful bands copied this fashion phenomenon and made millions doing it. These "copycat" bands eventually were dubbed "Glam-rockers" and included Styx, Kiss, Ratt, Motley Crüe, Cinderella, Skid Row, Poison, and the list goes on and on. However, as the original pioneers, the New York Dolls even today are relatively unknown since their fame was brief and their shows were mostly frequented by other up-and-coming artists such as David Bowie, Blondie, and even Lou Reed (Gimarc, p. 4). In the film, Morrissey (one of their biggest self-proclaimed fans), admits that they may not have been recognized in the mainstream but were listened to by "important people," alluding to the aforementioned pre-stardom rock stars.

The New York Dolls experienced only brief success which was then cut short by several unfortunate events including the drug-related asphyxiation of their drummer, Billy Murcia. This event was devastating to the band in that they were in the process of getting a major record deal which was then taken off of the table due to Murcia's death. Although the deal was quickly replaced with the appearance of their new drummer, Jerry Nolan, severe drug and alcohol-related abuse by several other band members, including Nolan, eventually led to the downfall of the band. In spite of rave reviews, the band could not overcome these excesses and after much touring and showing up late to shows, they split up in a dramatic encounter in Florida in 1975 around the same time that the Sex Pistols got together (Gimarc, p. …

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