IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

New York Dolls return, hoping for payday

Surviving members of iconic band release first album in three decades
/ Source: Reuters

It has been more than 30 years since the formerly cross-dressing New York Dolls released an album. Now that their third record is finally about to hit stores, they're hoping to make some money at last.

The Dolls imploded in a haze of drug addiction and mismanagement in 1975 after a brief but revered career that spawned countless punk and hair metal bands. Since then, four of the members died because of drug abuse or illness.

Now, the two surviving original members will release "One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This" July 25. It will be the first Dolls album since 1974's presciently titled sophomore effort "Too Much Too Soon."

"I got a nice check once when Guns N' Roses sang one of my songs, but that's about it," singer David Johansen told Reuters in an interview at the band's new recording company's offices.

While Johansen spent the better part of three decades playing bit parts in movies and singing as his alter ego Buster Poindexter, guitarist Sylvain Sylvain had it much rougher, at one point even driving a cab in the 1980s to make ends meet.

"My royalties last year maybe came up to like $3,000," he said. "So I hope this time I get paid, so I can pay my rent."

Besides getting meager royalties from their first two albums, they never saw a penny from merchandise sales while others were cashing in on bootlegged T-shirts adorned with the Dolls logo — the band's name written in lipstick on an imaginary mirror.

But unlike the other original band members, at least they're alive.

The Dolls that were
Their original drummer Billy Murcia died of suffocation in 1972 after party-goers poured water and coffee down his throat when he passed out from drink and drugs. Subsequent drummer Jerry Nolan died in 1992 of a stroke, guitarist Johnny Thunders died in 1991 after a long history of heroin abuse and bassist Arthur Kane died of leukemia in 2004.

"I want to dedicate this album to the New York Dolls that are no longer alive," Sylvain said. "I think about them all the time, especially Johnny. Me, Johnny and Billy went to the same high school together. We grew up in Queens, went out with the same girls, fought together over the same stupid (stuff)."

After the band broke up, Sylvain stayed in touch with them more than Johansen did, occasionally playing music together and witnessing their downfall.

"I saw Johnny before he died. He was homeless and living out of a garbage bag," Sylvain said. "I couldn't even say 'Hello' to him, and he couldn't remember anything."

Now, with new members such as former Hanoi Rocks bassist Sami Yaffa, the resurrected New York Dolls look nothing like the androgynous, hard-partying band that once played dressed entirely in red leather in front of a huge Soviet flag in a failed publicity stunt.

No more lipstickThe lipstick, mascara and high heels, are gone, replaced by more modest male attire. And while their boisterous parties played as much of a role in elevating them to legendary status as their raucous performances, these days they are more low key.

"David doesn't go out anymore," Sylvain said. "We're a lot older and a lot more grumpy."

Sylvain said he would have reformed the band 20 years ago, but Johansen held out.

"We'd always get approached by short, stubby-fingered vulgarians who would say, 'Boys, we're gonna make a million,' and you could just tell what a shambles it was going to be -- worse than where we left off," Johansen said.

Finally in 2004, British singer Morrissey, a former New York Dolls fan club president, convinced them to reunite and play a British rock festival.

"I thought David was going to do two shows and that was it," said Sylvain. "But the phones didn't stop ringing for gigs. Me, I was so happy. I knew the people wanted it."

Their euphoria quickly turned to despair when Kane died aged 55 shortly after the reunion. But the two continued to play together and their critically acclaimed live shows quickly led to a recording contract.

One night while playing in Austin, Texas, Johansen yelled from the stage that the band wanted to record again. A Roadrunner Records executive in attendance offered them a deal right away on the predominantly heavy metal label.

"I don't even know who these bands are, to tell you the truth," said Johansen, pointing to platinum records hanging on Roadrunner walls.

For a band that's been through so much turmoil, the title of their new album — a phrase from "The Aeneid" by Virgil — seems fitting.

"You look around and say, 'The whole world is going to hell in a hand basket, how can this get any worse,"' said Johansen. "But 10 years later you say 'Those were the good old days."'