New York Doll

What if your dream doesn’t come true?

I wanted to be a baseball player.  My parents humored me, took me to Yankee Stadium, but as the years passed, I got the subtle message that this wasn’t a reasonable occupation.  I thought it was because my parents were judging the players, long before they made twenty mil a year, but really they wanted to protect me, wanted me to earn an educational insurance policy, so after I was gone I wouldn’t be working a menial job, wouldn’t be destitute in the alley.

But not everybody’s got parents like mine, watching out for them.  Many mothers and fathers are so overwhelmed by life that they allow their children to dream, and try to achieve that dream.

I don’t know what made Arthur "Killer" Kane want to become a musician.  But I bet it was the Beatles.  When they appeared on "Ed Sullivan" we not only started growing our hair, we began taking guitar lessons.  We needed to get closer.  We wanted to live the lives of these young lads from Liverpool.

You wake up one day and realize you’re just not talented enough.  You don’t stop playing, you read "Rolling Stone", and eventually "Billboard", but there are others still forming bands, still trying to make it.  That was Arthur.  And he got a good shot, in the New York Dolls.  They got a recording deal, and a ton of press, but when the band didn’t live up to commercial expectations, it imploded from within.

You don’t give up overnight.  Just ask Krist Novoselic.  You think you’re an integral part of your previous band’s success.  But failures, lack of traction, they eventually convince you to give up.  Years after your peers have passed you by on the economic gravy train.  You shot for the brass ring…  If you missed?

Arthur Kane missed.  He moved to L.A.  He worked as a movie extra.  He hocked his guitars.  He became despondent when his wife left him and he jumped out the window.

Too many of our citizens jump out the window.  Because nobody cares.  As kids we’re corralled by the school administration, the police, we’re under surveillance.  Hit our twenties and we’re on our own, there’s no hand-holding.  If you can’t make it?  So be it.

Recovering from his suicide attempt, a canopy having broken his fall from the third floor, Arthur Kane answered an ad for the Book of Mormon in "TV Guide".  Expecting a Bible to show up, instead missionaries knocked on his door.  After reading on his own, he had a religious experience, and converted.  Eventually he won a gig at the Mormon Temple, you know, the giant edifice on the green grounds just west of Century City.

Three times a week Arthur would take the bus from Hollywood to the Temple, where he worked in the archives, where reading obituaries he learned his own father had died.  Making him an orphan, his mother having died before he was twenty.  All Arthur had was God, and the church.

Thank god he had that.

"New York Doll", the 2005 Arthur Kane biography, is an incredible ad for Mormonism, Mitt Romney should sponsor screenings.  You see the clergy and the believers in the film cared about Arthur Kane.  Does anybody care about you?

If you’re lucky, yes.

But so many music fans feel otherwise.  It’s the music, and its makers, that gets them through.  That’s why today’s focus on image and sponsorship by corporations has eroded sales.  The essence has been eviscerated.  Rock and roll was the most popular church in America.  People prayed in their bedrooms, went to services in arenas, sometimes even stadiums, because it was this music that got them through.

But when the music goes, where do you turn?

To the window in Arthur’s case.  Thank god, he was rescued by Mormonism.

Not that Arthur forgets where he came from, who he was.  His life is one of nostalgia, telling tales of the way things used to be.  Angry with David Johansen because David made it, and Arthur did not.

But through the intervention of Morrisey, the Dolls are reunited, at a festival in London in 2004.  Johansen greets Arthur with open arms.  The gig is triumphant.  And then Arthur "Killer" Kane dies.

Oh, he doesn’t O.D.  He’s not hit by a car.  After returning to L.A., Arthur doesn’t feel well, he goes to UCLA Hospital, he dies mere hours later, twenty two days after returning from the U.K.

I went to see the Dolls at the Whisky, on the Sunset Strip, in the summer of ’73.

I’d driven my sister cross-country to graduate school.  I’d never been to the Mercer Arts Center, but I’d read about the scene in the press.  Before the days of the Internet, when the only way you could experience a performance was to go to the venue.

I drove that LeMans through downtown to get to the Whisky, not knowing you just jump on Sunset and drive east.  I was using a map, I was a tourist.

The venue wasn’t full.

And the songs were not that easy to pick out.

But the energy, the energy was unmistakable.  The band was trying to impress us, and it did.

I bought the debut when I got home to Connecticut, and the second album when it was released.

But I preferred David Johansen’s initial Blue Sky effort.  With "Frenchette".

Then David, not wanting to sink into the workaday world, became Buster Poindexter and I stopped caring.  Everybody’s got to make a living, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got to pay attention.

And my memories are frozen in time.  Not only of seeing David do his Animals medley at the Roxy, but of listening to the Dolls’ "Lonely Planet Boy" late at night in my college dorm room, as a senior, dying to get out but not sure where I wanted to go.

Some people want to go to the reunion.

I don’t even want to see the Stones.  It’s just too sad. I’d rather live on my memories.

And it turns out I’m not alone.  Bob Geldof’s kids won’t go to see the Dolls.  Even though they weren’t even alive when the band was together the first time.  But those records…they don’t want to see old, decrepit men, playing those records.

And the three remaining members are worse for wear.  Sylvain may not have lost his happy-go-lucky personality, but he’s constantly seen in headgear…  And Johansen comes to the first rehearsal straight from the stylist, in his old Levi jacket and pouffed hair.  This is not only Arthur’s chance at redemption, but David’s too.

And Arthur, the man known as the "Killer"?

He’s the kind of guy you probably wouldn’t know if he lived in the same apartment building. He’s got none of the danger rock stars are supposed to possess.  He’s got a halting voice.  He’s a nice guy.  And what do they say about nice guys?  They finish last.

Arthur "Killer" Kane is no longer with us, like three other Dolls and too many of our other players.  Some were killed by drugs.  Sometimes testing the limits, but oftentimes trying to numb the pain.  Others were felled by broken hearts.  But leukemia took Arthur.  If he’d had health insurance, if the disease had been caught earlier, would he still be with us today?

I’m no doctor.  But despite how the old song goes, we all need one.  Help.  Not only medical.

But it’s not easy to help people who are incorrigible, who won’t listen to reason, who’ve got to do it their way.

And that’s what rock stars are…  Incorrigible.  They’ve got their inner tuning fork, they’ve got to follow it.  They’re willing to give up education, safety, all the elements that those who own and RUN the business now possess, in order to follow their dream.

Sometimes their dream is a leg up from poverty.  But usually it’s love.  The musicians want love.

But most times there’s not enough love in the world to make them feel good.

But their efforts make us feel good.

One of the great things about technology is the loosening of distribution.  Used to be you had to see the movie in the theatre.  Then you could go to the store and rent the video.  But I doubt Blockbuster has "New York Doll".

But scanning through Time Warner’s On Demand service last evening, under "Free Movies", I found "New York Doll" and I watched it.

And it made me sad.  And it made me happy.  Just like the best rock music, the great albums of yore.

That’s why everybody’s still listening to the old stuff.  It possesses an unsullied honesty that we yearn for.

Tune into "New York Doll", you’ll get a hit.

New York Doll Movie

New York Doll Trailer

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