Rich Howells

ARCHIVES: All dolled up for Scranton, legendary New York Dolls as cheeky and rebellious as ever

ARCHIVES: All dolled up for Scranton, legendary New York Dolls as cheeky and rebellious as ever
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Some may see Mötley Crüe and Poison’s current tour as a throwback to classic rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s the New York Dolls that will truly take audiences back to the roots of modern rock music this summer.

All three bands will be playing in Scranton at the Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain on Sunday, July 31.

Formed in 1971, the New York Dolls are credited with laying the foundations of punk music, shaping the New York rock scene, influencing the glam and hair metal movement, and serving as an inspiration for countless other bands that would follow them. When he hears such high praise, founding guitarist Sylvain Sylvain enjoys the compliment but questions the payoff.

“It makes me feel great. I never became rich at this, so if that’s the only way they’re going to pay me and reward me, I appreciate it,” Sylvain said with a laugh.

“We’ve made it to be successful financially in terms of getting by and to live a good life, but we never really saw those huge, huge paychecks, when the bank calls you and says, ‘Man, go out and spend some money! You’re rich!’ I never got that phone call. … My real name is Sylvain Sylvain, but usually they call me Complain Complain.”

The band was a direct contrast to everything that was popular at the time, and while mainstream entertainment never quite understood what hit it until it passed, he feels that they were just doing what came natural to them, which was to rebel.

“When we came out, it was a rebellion to what was going on, which was stadium rock, where the song became an opera instead of like a three-chord, cool, sexy little swinging riff, you know? We couldn’t stand all those drumming solos and all that kind of stuff. The guitar player is just showing off instead of really turning you on,” Sylvain explained.

“I don’t do too much practicing. I learn my craft right in front of the audience because the audience makes it the reason why they call it a performing art.”

When asked about his legacy, he talked about how he invented the two-note power chord and their consistent refusal to conform to record companies and society in general, but he believes their true trademark is their odd sense of humor.

“I think the legacy is going to be our sense of humor that no one still gets through our songs. I mean, c’mon, we dared you to have sex with Frankenstein right off the bat on our first album,” he noted.

“We’re still doing it. Like ‘Cause I Sez So’ or ‘Dance Like a Monkey’ on our first reunion album, if you want to call it that, in 2006. ‘Dance Like a Monkey’ is about that whole evolution debate that’s still going on. Is it God or is it science? And so we still sock it you in a way, like the beat poets influence that is in us.”

Things have changed very little musically for the band since their 1973 self-titled debut album. After following up with “Too Much Too Soon” in 1974, the Dolls broke up in 1976 and, despite many offers to get back together, they turned them all until the time was right. That time came in 2004 when The Smiths’ Morrissey, an admitted fan, asked the surviving members to play the Meltdown Festival in London.

“The minute we got on the stage the very first night, I think a big rush came,” he recalled.

“The songs weren’t just wishy washy. They were important forever, not just for that particular moment. Then, of course, the phone didn’t stop ringing and it hasn’t stopped yet, thank God.”

Tragically, bassist Arthur Kane died soon after that reunion show, but Sylvain and iconic singer David Johansen went on to produce three new studio albums, more than they made in their youth. This came from a strong desire to still write and perform music, and Sylvain considers their latest record, “Dancing Backward in High Heels,” their strongest release yet, and fans agree, as it’s already outsold their 2006 comeback as well as their 2009 follow-up.

“When you go out and buy a New York Dolls album, just like the very first one, it’s a surprise to everybody. Call it shock or whatever it is. I think that’s one of the ingredients that I really dig about this last album – it’s a surprise too.”

On this tour, Sylvain and Johansen are joined by Kenny Aaronson on bass, who has played with Bob Dylan and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts; Earl Slick on guitar, who has performed with both David Bowie and Robert Smith; and Jason Sutter on drums, formerly of Smash Mouth.

The irony of opening up for Poison and Mötley Crüe, both influenced by the legendary Dolls, is not lost on the now 60-year-old guitarist, but Sylvain may actually be having a bit more fun on tour than his younger colleagues.

“They’re all born-again Christians, and they’ve got family and kids. I’ve got kids, but mine are all grown up and they moved out, so I can fool around again,” he cracked.

“They have to behave, but we’re still as nutty as ever.”

Mötley Crüe and Poison
with special guests New York Dolls
Location: Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain (1000 Montage Mountain Rd., Scranton)
Date: Sunday, July 31
Time: 7 p.m.
Cost: $29.50-$99

From the Archives reprints articles and photos that were published before this website was established and backdates them to their original publication date to preserve a little local history.